March 22, 1919 – Letter to Robert’s father:
Your letter of March 2nd came this morning. I am surprised to hear that you are not getting letters from me regularly. I write often but when we are anticipating a move toward home the days slip by faster than usual.
The men in B Co. are receiving a great many news clippings telling of the hardships the 35th encountered in the Argonne. Everything that has been said is true I guess but why do they keep it up? That is over long ago. I did not expect to find a grocery store in No-Man’s land when I started. I knew that I had sixteen oz. of corned beef, the same of hard bread + 1 qt. of water to last till I got out. They told us that before I started in. A man can live on it too.
“The Lion that eats a full meal will lose a battle with a starved wildcat.” I am afraid if they don’t quit the 35th may get to stay here. They might spoil things for us.
I am still a corporal so do not worry about that, and it sure pays to be one now too. All we do now is grade roads in this camp + non-coms act as bosses. I never did care much about pick + shovel work anyway. Today is the first day I have had to be boss even. I just sleep or read.
I am sorry that you are having cold weather now. It may make a late spring which is bad for fruit.
There will be four divisions returned in April before the 35th. We are supposed to go to St. Nazaire April 1st and will sail about the 25th. I do not think they will hold us long in the states so I should be free by May 15th.
In every letter I get from you, you mention a different job for me. They all sound good but I will not decide til I can talk things over with you.
I notice that Mr. Miller is preaching sermons on war subjects. I would like very much to hear what he has to say. You know a “Y” man sees a different side from the soldier, usually. “Y” men have a full stomach and no pack on their backs.
The reason I do not write any more about my experiences is that I can’t do them justice in a letter and anyway I would rather tell you all about it when I get home.
There seems to be some talk still about the amount of venereal disease in the A.E.F. There is a prison here built by the Belgian Army when they had this camp. It covers about 4 city blocks + has a 20-foot barbed wire fence about it. I passed a guard on duty there this morning and asked him how many prisoners they had. He pointed to a group of men and said there they are. There were about 50 I think. the camp here is for all men passing through the Le Mans area.
Well Dad there is plenty of food + rest here. It is better than ever before. We get 15% more food than regular issue. There are shows in the many YMCAs but time drags pretty much and I shall be mighty glad when the next six weeks will be up. I think I will get no mail for about three of those weeks which will make things worse but I guess I can stand it if the rest can.
If you have promised the green cottage to Bess or anyone else, Elinore + I could get one at Lake Sarah or somewhere else but I would like to be at Rebecca. I want to be there where I can see all of you till you get tired of seeing me around. I am especially anxious to see Ruth. I bet she has changed an awful lot. Not in nature but in looks. I believe Ruth is my favorite sister if I have one at all. I love them all so much that I never had any favorite.
I am tired of France + the army and want to take a rest.
Aunt Aggie sends the Gartshores’ love to the Wests.
Your loving son, Corp. Rob.
P.S. I hope Mother is over the bronchitis now. Rob.
You have to admire Robert’s attitude about the hardships he and the 140th faced in the Argonne. I’m not surprised that they were seeing newspaper clippings about it, because the Governor of Kansas, Henry Allen (who had been in France with the 35th Division back in July) had delivered some fiery speeches in Washington D.C. in January and February about the Division’s shameful lack of supplies and artillery support. He also accused the Army of underestimating the number of casualties suffered in the Argonne. It was a very big story in newspapers across the country. This is from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 18, 1919:
Also, regarding Robert’s fear that the 140th’s complaints could cause them to be kept longer in France: it may not have been something to worry about, but Robert was not alone in feeling this way. From Richard S. Faulkner in Pershing’s Crusaders:
One doughboy recalled, “Everyone said that getting assigned to a transport depended on good behavior. There were stories of outfits being kept two months at Brest because they straggled when they marched, or were shy the proper number of tent pegs per man. We believed everything we heard.” A rumor spread that one regiment was yanked from the ship taking them home because one of its members had yelled, “Who won the war?” to the dockside MPs.
Interesting that Robert made a point of saying he was still a corporal, and even underlined it in his closing line. I’m not sure if he needed to tell his parents that he had not been promoted again, or if he was telling them that he hadn’t been busted back down to private.
Where was Robert today? See the timeline.