The Minnesota Historical Society preserves and makes available a wide range of materials chronicling Minnesota's history and culture. The goals of the Collections Department are to collect and preserve; provide access and interpretation; and engage in education and outreach. This blog is a tool to share these stories and let people know what is happening in the department.
"German Submarines Sink U.S. Vessels Off Jersey Coast; Boston Port Closed" and "Germans Attempt Pust Westward on Marne; Battleline Huge Semi-Circle" - Bemidji Daily Pioneer. June 3, 1918
Sergeant Fritz "Fred" Gustafson was from St. Paul, Minnesota. During the war Gustafson did his bit by serving as a recruiting officer for the Marine Corps. In this letter home, Gustafson compares the act of recruiting men to missionary work. He says he goes to churches and open air meetings, anywhere that men congregate, in order to recruit, and he plans on using a short bible verse to convince men to join the cause. Gustafson became ill on October 26th, 1918, the day he was supposed to sail for France with the Replacement Battalion. He died of pneumonia a week later on November 2, 1918, 9 days before the Armistice.
June 2, 1918
Just a few lines this beautiful Sunday afternoon[.] I just returned from a recruiting trip to St. Charles. We had a fine time and were successful in securing recruits. [...] I have been speaking at open air meetings and at the theatres, now I am going to make a round of the churches. You understand we must speak wherever men gather. A sort of Missionary work. [...] I am going to use that little verse, "What greater love hath man shown than that, that he lay down His life for a friend." I am going to compare this with the war. And tell the men that when they enlist they are doing as the Scripture says, that we should obey the government even though it be against our convictions. [...]
With love to father, sister and brother-in-law.
With warm love
Citation: "Gustafson, Fritz A." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.4.3B
In the final of three letters written by First Class Private Elmer J. Ecklund to his family, he describes a rush into no mans land that he participated in. He tells his family that he experienced some "excitement" while on the front when they ran out and were being shot at by Germans. Ecklund tells his parents that it was in that moment he fully realized that he was in war.
June 1, 1918.
Somewhere in France.
Dear Father + Mother, Lawrence, and Eva,
[...] I have been to the battle front three times and the last time I was there we had a little excitement. We jumped "over the top," ran across the barbed wire entanglements and charged on the enemy. In crossing "no mans land" we began to realize, however, that we were really in war.
The german machine guns became active but still our troops advanced. And we gained the desired object, what we sought to gain and held it and our troops made the "square heads" run. We beat them back with our rifle fire, and even at the point of the bayonet. One German threw up his hands and said "Kamarad". A soldier in our company said "Kamarad" hell, "this is war" and then finished him. A german soldier is afraid of an american when it comes to hand to hand fighting. But a few americans gave up their lives during that battle. Some fell on the left of me and some on the right, but the losses wern't very heavy. [...] But my nerves were very much shaken for I had some big shells explode near me. [...] It seems cruel and heartless to shoot a man when you have him in your mercy and when he says "Kamarad" while on his knees, but if you didn't he would stick you with a knife when you had your back turned. [...]
And now dear folks good bye, with lots of love to all.
Pvt. Elmer J. Ecklund,
Co. L. 28 Inf.
Citation: "Ecklund, Elmer J." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.4.3B
"Liquid Fire Machines Captured by Americans in Raid" and "May Bear Brunt of Next Attack" - The Caledonia Argus. May 31, 1918.
Today's entry comes from a volume collected by members of the Hamline community, detailing the war work of the Hamline women serving as nurses and with the Y.W.C.A. overseas. Keith Clarke, a woman working as Director of Publicity for the Y.W.C.A. in France describes spending from 8 PM to 8 AM the next day with three other women feeding and comforting the refugees coming through the train station near where she was stationed. The refugees were fleeing the Chateau Thierry area, as this was the beginning of a battle which lasted until July 18. Clarke describes a midnight raid that necessitated moving a thousand refugees into the subway station underground and then back up to the canteen when the raid was over to continue serving them. She also tells the story of an old man sitting alone in the train station, ignorant of the commotion around him. The man had been separated from his wife two days prior, and knew he would never see her again. Clarke's heart went out to the man, and she did everything she could to try and help him, offering him both soup and coffee, and keeping an eye on him throughout the night.
"As to my great day, the day which is unforgetful, I think that can be befinitely [sic] dated May 30th, 1918. It was a day that ran twenty fours hours and more, and it was the day of the taking of Chateau Thiery. [sic] [...] Because the Red Cross and the Y.M.C.A. were both having monster out-of-town picnics, there was no one to serve in the canteen at the station. Actually no one. The four of us improvised aprons out of towels, and from eight in the evening until eight the next morning, without ceasing, without resting, we fed and tried to comfort the refugees who parted through the station on the way- to anywhere. Thousands of them whole families, fragments of families that had been shattered that very day. A pair of twins was born in the station, Life in the midst of death. [...] Near midnight a raid. It was necessary to marshall the thousand of refugees of the moment, down the steps into a station of the subway. They went at meekly as they had come from their homes. [...] The night crept on, the tracks which had been wrecked by a bomb during the air raid had been mended, the trains began pouring in. We were enormously busy, We could scarce look at these refugees as individuals, so swift was the massed necessity. One man sat alone, I offered him soup, He did not see it. I offered him coffee, He did not even refuse it, he sat there, simply sat there, and saw and heard nothing. I went to the Lieutenant for counsel, He saw the old man and reported to me- lost his wife, separated from her two days ago, he'll never see her again. One more of those rending tragedies, and we went on with our serving, and the night went on, and the old man sat there. [...]
Citation: 1917-1921, Hamline in the Great War: articles and extracts. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P1560
"Allied Troops are Slowly Falling Back" and "Italian Alpini Win Victory on Mountain" - The Duluth Herald. May 29, 1918
When someone applied to work for the Red Cross abroad, they were required to prove their loyalty to the US and the war effort by submitting several letters of recommendation. This document shows the investigation into Miss Mabel Gregory of Saint Paul, summarizing the information received, and stating that none of the references gave any reason to doubt her loyalty. Miss Gregory was, by all accounts, the ideal loyal American who would not succumb to enemy propaganda.
[...] Dear Sir:
The loyalty of Miss Mabel Gregory who has applied for a position in stenography work abroad, has been referred to this department for investigation. As a result of this investigation I feel certain that Miss Gregory's loyalty cannot be questioned. I had personal interviews with Mr. Wheeler, Miss Daggy and Miss Chara E Melbye, whose letters accompany this and they all are very empathetic on this matter. Miss Daggy says that from the beginning of the war in 1914, Miss Gregory had been very out spoken in her denunciation of the methods employed by Germany in carrying on the war, and there has never been a time when her sympathies have not been on the side of the Allies.
Mr. Wheeler is Miss Gregory's Employer, and has known her for a long time. I think his letter leaves nothing further to be said. Miss. Belbye is employed in the same office with Miss Gregory, has know her for six years, and is certain that her entire sympathy is enlisted on the side of Allies. She is confident that Miss Gregory would not be susceptible to any enemy propaganda of any any kind, and that she is a thoroughly Loyal American.
Very truly yours,
DEPARTMENT OF INVESTIGATION
Citation: American Red Cross, Northern Division, records, 1915-1921. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P781
This is an excerpt from the diary of Edward Gilkey which was taken off his fallen body and returned to his parents after he was struck by a high explosive shell in The Second Battle of the Marne. His parents had the diary published in memory of their son. On this date in 1918, Gilkey writes that he went to see the British band play. During the concert, he states he got lost in his thoughts and found himself returning to Minneapolis in the summer, sitting on rooftop gardens or in the park. He says the music, "stirred something in me that had been dead for some time."
Monday, May 27th.-- To work same as Sunday, got through a little earlier; notice on board to be ready to move this afternoon, was countermanded, will move tomorrow afternoon. After supper hiked over to Mieveaux, one kilo, with flag, British band have their daily evening concert. They certainly played good and stirred something in me that has been dead for some time; my thoughts were thousands of miles away in memories of summer evenings spent on the roof gardens and in the parks back in far away Minneapolis.
Citation: Gilkey, Edward. Edward Norman Gilkey: His Diary of His LIfe in the War Zone, France. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.4.3B