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.
ATTENTION: The following letter and transcription contain language that is derogatory. We have chosen to include this letter and it's complete transcription as it provides evidence of the racism many African American soldiers experienced while serving during the War. However, it may be offensive to readers.
In a diary entry from this day, Victor Johnson gives insight into race relations in the army. He writes about how an African American soldier and a white soldier from C Company got into a fist fight. Based on Johnson's writings, it seems that the African American soldier came out on top, which led to all of C Company going in search of the man with loaded rifles. In the camp segregated existed, which Johnson called "The Mason Dixon line". Even though African American soldiers were fighting against the Germans and putting their lives against the line just as much as any white soldier, discrimination still remained.
Today they changed the shifts so now we go to work at 1.30 am this week and get thru at 12.30 am. Here in this camp they have quite a few niggers (One Regiment) and some time ago one of the boys in C Co. got into a fight with one of them and got cut up pretty bad. Right then and there, there was Hell a poping (sic). The whole company took there rifels (sic) and went on a hunt for the so said nigger and if they had gotten him before the guards did he would have been one numbered among the dead. Now they have taken the rifels (sic) and amunition (sic) away from them. They gave the niggers a good some as none of them have looked for trouble since. Here in camp they have what is known as the Mason Dickson line (one of the company streets) where the niggers are not allowed to go over to the white side not the whites to the niggers side.
Citation: Victor O. Johnson Diary. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P1987
This draft assignment was for Tela Burt sent by the President of the United States on August 1st, 1918. Burt completed a tour of duty in France as a supply sergeant with the 809th Regiment of Pioneer Infantry. He loved music, and after his tour of duty he studied the saxophone and clarinet at MacPhail School of Music.
Citation: Tela Burt Materials. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 142.G.7.4F-2
Oscar Dahlgreen moved to the frontline in Ypres, France in August of 1918, where he experienced "No Man’s Land" and trench warfare for the first time. He wrote in his diary about some close calls he experienced during this time, saying that the experience is hard to explain and only those who have experienced it can truly know and understand.
[...] We finally found us getting near the front line trenches. We could see the flares of the vary lights got up and iluminate the sky. And we certainly felt funny to know that we now look out upon no mans land at last for the first time. The sight and feeling of such a time is hard to explain and only those that have experienced it can know. [...] Myself was on the first relief as guard on post together with an English Soldier a young lad. I started the watch on no mans land. The English soldier instructing me as to go at it. As it was terribly dark it was no easy matter to see as there were stubs of trees shot off and brush and werds and one almost thot we seen Germans prawling [sic] everywhere. The Eng. soldier told me not to look over the parapit too long at a time as it would strain the eyes so you would see Germans where there aren't any. [...] The enemy swept the trenches now and then with their machine guns and many times the bullets whistled close to my head. In places the trenches were so low that my whole body was exposed. [...] I bumped up against two men so suddenly and unexpectedly no knowing whether enemy or friend quick as lighting I grabbed the one and shoved him up against the other one. for along time we hung onto each other at least it seemed ages. Finally the flare light went up on us and I found one I held was trying to run a bayonet into me. The point was at my [he...th]. O God I could not utter a word or a cry. Finally the others started to say whats the matter whats the matter and then I realized they were English and I said the password which was whiskey that night. [...]
Citation: Oscar R. Dahlgren World War I Journals, 1917-1919. . Minnesota Historical Society, Saint Paul, Minnesota. P2745
Lee Prentice enlisted at Fort Snelling on August 15th, 1917 as Army infantry and aviation. He was killed in air battle in Vigny while serving with the 104th Aero Squadron of R.A.F.U.S.S.R.C. The night before his death, Prentice wrote a letter to his wife Beth, telling her everything she should do in the event of his death.
Granny starts off this letter with a story about a Danish ship coming into port. When the ship arrived, the soldiers gave them a salute and when Granny saw two Danish girls on the ship he gave them a "good Minnesota smile,'' and blew them a kiss, (proving Minnesotans were charmers even in 1918). He then goes on to give his father several pieces of advice as to how he should interact with soldiers, or "boys in Khaki." He says that a handshake goes a long way, and that he should always make a conscious effort to remember a soldiers name. Granny also said that "the boys" really appreciate when people introduce them to other young peoples or when they make an effort to invite and include them. Granny says that he knows his father already knows this, but reminds him nonetheless, showing the camaraderie he feels with American soldiers all over the world. He closes by wishing his father a "Happy Birthday".
San Leon Aerial Gunnery School,
Houston, Texas, July, 1918.
[...] We saw a ship (steamer) from Denmark to-day pulling into Texas City. We fired a salute and circled around about fifty feet from them and thirty feet above the water. There were two ladies on the bridge, with the captain looking at us through the glasses, so I took off my goggles and helmet and gave them a good Minnesota smile and threw a kiss. The kiss was immediately exchanged for two Danish ones which my pilot claimed when we got down. I let him tell his story and then I explained to whom they were really thrown. [...]
Must close now, as I start flying at 6:45.
Love and birthday greetings.
Citation: Gutterson, Granville. Granville: Tales and Tail Spins from a Flyer's Diary. Minnesota Historical Society. D570.9 .G76
On this day, David Backus took his plane out for a flight. He states he flew for 20 miles and then the "stick" went out at 800 meters. But, being the experienced pilot he was, Backus seemed pretty unfazed by the whole ordeal and says he landed in a field was was okay. Later in the day he and his friends went for a swim in a nearby lake.
Dee Smith was an office worker from Minneapolis for the Red Cross at the Bureau of Personnel in Paris. On her way to Paris, she spent some time in Britain sightseeing while waiting for transportation across the British Channel to be arranged. In this letter to her parents posted from London, Smith closes by saying "You can see I am having a wonderful time, tho' I am anxious to get to work, I never felt better.[...] I get my slippers and kimono (we call them cellar robes now) out every night in case we must see a bomb shelter. I never give it another thot[sic], & sleep like a top all night. I wouldn't be any where else for any money."
July 28 & 29, 1918
At last I have a breathing spell and can write a little. I was too tired to stop at the writing room so came to my room, took a good hot bath and am writing this in bed.
You have probably received my letter mailed on the steamer by this time. Some day I can tell you a wonderful story, but the censor wouldn't stand for it now. It was a great adventure and was worth many times the risk. We did not leave the boat for some house after we landed at Liverpool- the port official came aboard and examined all our passports before anyone was allowed to land. Everyone was happy to see land and Liverpool is a wonderful city. The customs officials were fine to us but you should have seen us wrestle for our baggage. Everyone climbs over everyone else's things and collects all his luggage in one spot, waits for the official to stamp it, and then personally sees it loaded into a van. It was great fun. We are all delighted with the English people but the girls tease me because I like them particularly. [...]
If you would like a pdf of the whole letter, please request a copy by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Citation: Dee Smith Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P441
Willard W. Bixby was an ambulance driver with the Red Cross in Italy. In this letter to his mother and dad, Bixby describes the friends he has made in his section. (He even makes a pun when talking about their quartet singing group) He also writes to his family about the dangers that ambulance drivers face even when not on the front lines. Bixby relates the story of "a squeak" that happened to him while he was driving a few days earlier. He was going up "M" [presumably a mountain from the events of the story] when he met a three horse wagon and they decided to try to pass each other even though the road was only wide enough for one car. As they passed, the horses reared "shoving the car over and knocking me off like a peanut." He was able to grab a bush about 10 feet down (rather than falling the 200 foot drop) and he later got 15 men with a rope to pull the car to safety.
July 27, 1918
Dearest Mother and Dad,
[..] We have a quartet composed of Bob Bennett Base, Elbert Duncan from Dartmouth Baritone - Caroll Bobb from New Orleans 2nd Tenor and Yours Truly 1st tenor. We sure do have some fine times these moonlight nights with the guitar and mandolin and tear off some real barber shop har. (mony). While I was up on Post last, We had quite a little local fight and it sounded like old times to hear the old shells come screaching in and the guns booming for all they were worth. The wounded don't phase me any more although I carried quite a bunch night before last working till 4 A.M. […] The other day I had quite a squeak although it was of a different nature than many of the close ones. I was going up M____ when I meet a three horse wagon. The road was just comfortably wide enough for one car and it was too steep and narrow for either of us to back we decided to attempt a pass. Well the road was already crumbling under the outside wheels of my car and I thot I could hold it a little if the horses bumped and it started to slide. I sure was a nut as just as they were passing the horses reared shoving the car over and knocking me off like a peanut. I went over backwards and was all primed for a 200 ft. drop when the Bon Dieu intervened and had a little bush for me about 10 ft. down I made a wild grab and it was only my lightness and gymnastic work that saved me as I hung on and was pulled to safety. I was so sore at that driver that I didn't get scarred till about fifteen minutes after and then I was nervous as heck. I got about 15 men with a rope on the car and we pulled it to safety, me meandering merrily on my way. [...]
With loads of love,
Your own Son,
Citation: Willard W. Bixby and Family Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. A/.B624
"Allied Troops Sweeping Steadily Onward" and "Entire Position of Huns Within Marne May Fall Any Time" - The Duluth Herald. July 26, 1918.
"Exceptional Coolness and Accurate Firing" - Soldier Awarded Certificate for Gallantry in Action Days Before Death
Ernest G. Wold enlisted in the Army- Infantry but trained towards aviation. On July 25, 1918, First Lieutenant Wold earned the Certificate for Gallantry in Action during the Chateau-Thierry offensive. While on a reconnaissance mission his plane was surrounded and attacked by seventeen enemy planes. Thanks to his "courage and tenacity", Lieut. Wold was able to to complete the mission, obtaining "information of the greatest possible value". A few days after these events Lieut. Wold was killed in action on August 1st, 1918 while on a photographic mission.
France, 23 July, 1919.
[...] 1. The award of the Certificate for Gallantry in Action to your son, 1st Lieutenant E.G. Wold (Deceased) 1st Aero Squadron, was based on the following recommendation made by the 3rd Army Air Service Commander on 10 February, 1919: "On July 25, 1918, during the Chateau-Thierry offensive, Lieutenant Wold with Lieutenant Corley, as Observer, while on a reconnaissance mission, was attacked by a patrol of seventeen enemy planes. The enemy patrol descended through a hole in the clouds and had surrounded Lieut. Wold's ship. In spite of the overwhelming odds, Lieut. Wold, through exceptional coolness and accurate firing, succeeded in eluding the enemy, shooting one down out of control. Although the enemy remained in the immediate vicinity, he recrossed the line three times more, being driven out each time. Due to the courage and tenacity of Lieut. Wold the mission was finally completed and information of the greatest possible value obtained. Lieutenant Wold was killed in action 1 August 1918, while on a photographic mission. He was driven out several times by hostile patrols. On his fourth attempt he was attacked by five enemy planes and although wounded twice by machine-gun bullets, he recrossed the lines but his controls had been shot away and the plane fell in vrille."
For the Commander-in Chief:
Citation: "Wold, Ernest G." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.7.1B