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John L McDaniel Jr to Editor, 1918

LETTERS FROM THE BOYS OVER THERE

The following letter has been received by the editor of the New Bernian from his friend, John L. McDaniel, Jr.:

                                                                                    Cry, France, Dec. 8, 1918.

Dear Mr. Dawson:

I am now located in the town of Cry, a sad name, but not a sad place. We have just finished a ten day hike from the firing line, and with the exception of a few blisters on my feet, I am well and o.k.

As we are now allowed to write a brief story or outline of the experiences such as have confronted us since our arrival in France, I will endeavor to relate a few of my own experiences.

I arrived in Brest, France, on May 30, 1918, after nine days at sea on the largest boat afloat, the “Leviathan,” formerly the German liner known as the “Vaterland.” The weather was ideal and I had a very pleasant trip over. During our voyage we sunk two German U-boats, and this was, what I thought at that time, the narrowest escape I ever had, but later found out quite differently. After arriving at Brest, I went by rail, which in France means a box car about one-half the size of an American car, which accommodate forty men, and their full field equipment, to Calais, which is a very large seaport city. While at Calais we were equipped with English rifles and ammunition and in a few days were sent to an English Training Camp in a small town by the name of Roulet. While at Roulet, on a beautiful June night, about 11:30 we were visited by a squadron of German airplanes, who the day before had located our troops, and decided to give us a warm reception and surely they did. At the time I was on sentry duty around the officers quarters and suddenly I  heard an anti-aircraft gun open fire rapidly and I gazed up in the sky and as our search lights illuminated the heavens I could easily detect the enemy planes. Such a queer feeling I never had before. I awoke all the boys who were billeted near my post, and we watched our first air raid. In a few minutes bombs began to explode not more than 100 yards away, and such a report I thought I never heard before. Much louder than thunder and the whole earth seemed to tremble, and so did I. A few minutes later the planes came nearer and sure enough we were in grave danger, but finally our anti-aircraft guns drove them away after bringing down two enemy planes. The next morning we all went over to see the victims of the raid and as I gazed at the dead bodies of the German airmen, I said to myself, “Well, Sherman was right, war is hell.”

But I hadn’t seen war, even in what I might say now was the mildest form then, and of course at that time I had no conception of what was before me.

After about two weeks of advance training in trench warfare by the British we were sent up for our first time to relieve the British on the Albert sector on the Somme, and again I will admit that I had a peculiar feeling when I saw the body of one of my comrades dead. This was our first casualty, a fine chap from Pittsburgh, Pa. This made me mad, and then like all Americans, I wanted to get even with them, and we all were anxious to mix it up. At that time, I was a sniper and observer and had to wade in mud up to my knees in order to reach my O.P. or observation post. Gee, I thought this was awful, but later I found out that it could be worse. While in the trenches for the first time we were taught the sound of the different kinds of enemy artillery shells, or as the British Tommies would say, Jerry’s Iron Rations. I was also taught how to duck when the big shells would come over.

During our first experience in the trenches we had rainy weather during the whole 9 days, and of course this meant we got poison gas shot at us every day, but with little damage. It was during my first visit, after a few nights of so-called rest in a dugout, that I became associated with those smaller animals known as cooties. Life I imagined, or as I would say to myself, is getting almost primitive, but I found again, that it could be worse, and it was after this first experience that I began to realize that a soldier had a hard road to travel. At first it worried me, but one day one of my new pals, a British Tommy, said to me, old chappy, don’t worry, ye lads will make good[.] unless Jerry has your name and address he can’t hit you. Gee, they (the British) are a jolly bunch, and brave too, and I found them to be fine comrades. Well after nine days we were relieved, and after a few days rest we went up for the second time, and at this time I killed my first German, at a distance of about 300 yards. He was firing a machine gun on our front line and I got him on the first shot. This was somewhere near the 25th of July. After being relieved by the British we were sent over to the American sector and on September 26, when the big final drive began, we were there. Such a hell on earth. Oh, it would be impossible to express it in words horrible enough. The whole sky was illuminated and the earth trembled. Ene-[appears a line is missing] most as thick as hail and such destruction of land, buildings, towns and worst of all human flesh. Of course we were sending about two shells to his one and you know the Americans are good shots, and I will leave the rest to you.

We were in reserve from Sept. 26 to Oct. 5, when our regiment, the 318th of the 80th division, went over the top, and we more than made our objective, and it was in this battle that we won our good name for our gallant work, as well as the admiration of every fighting man over here. After making our objective, we were relieved, and went back for refreshments, and when the last and most awful battle of the war began we were called upon and on October 30th we were scheduled to drive Jerry a few kilometers the other side of a town named Bazaney, which was in the Germans possession, a distance of 11 kilometers, instead, we drove him about 40 kilometers, or, in English, about 25 miles, capturing huge stores of ammunition, machine guns, a great many big guns and we liberated about a dozen towns from the German yoke. This was the most beautiful sight I ever witnessed, the liberation of the French women and children. Such an experience of joy I have never seen, and they were more than grateful to us, and Old Glory was flying everywhere. As we captured town by town we would place a sign on the streets with an arrow pointing north reading “To Berlin”. The boys would shout, “Hell, Heaven, or Hoboken by Xmas,” and I guess they will get Hoboken, at any rate they got heaven in ending the awful war.

I will now close, hoping that you and all my friends will have a merry Xmas and happy new year, and that soon I can return to dear old N.B. I beg to remain,

                                                                                    Yours truly,

                                                                                    John L. McDaniel, Jr.

Morning New Bernian, Sunday, February 2, 1919, p.3, col. 3-5.


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