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.
In this letter to his mother, Corporal Maurice E. Masterson, resident of Barnesville, Minnesota, describes his journey to and arrival in France and his feelings about the war in his initial days in the military. He tells his mother that he is glad to have come because the people of France are suffering, and need the help of U.S. troops. He also mentions some people he has met, and tells her not to expect to many letters but to write him as much as possible, and also to send candy from home.
This letter is one of several included as a copy in Corporal Masterson's Gold Star Roll file. He was killed by an enemy shell on November 1st, 1918.
On Active Service
American Expeditionary Force
Nov. 6, 1917
Well, it's been rather a long time since you've heard from me, hasn't it? I hope you haven't worried too much, and are enjoying yourself as much as I am. In spite of everything, I really do enjoy it. The going will not be smoother, it has long since ceased to be that way, but there will always be one "dude" that's happy. That's going to be yours truly.
Our trio across was blessed with an abundance of good weather and almost a total lack of seasickness. I personally was not sick for a minute, but landed in the very pink of condition and am still that way.
[...] The place at which we are now stationed is just what I had imagined it would be, only more so. Picturesque, beautiful, a scene resting to the eye, a picture such as no artist could paint. Yesterday I came along one of the busier streets of the village, turned a corner and walked along a side street. At the end of this street I saw one of the prettiest scenes I've ever had the chance to see. It was only a peasant farmhouse, but it was such a farmhouse as the poets write of. It appealed to me as beauty, a peaceful spot in a world at war. It's only one of the many new things that I'm seeing, one of the things that will stick in my memory.
Before I left the U. S. I felt glad of the chance to come. I thot the cause great and wanted to strike a blow in defense of humanity. Since I arrived my heart is filled with regret that I did not come before. [...] And since I have seen the desolation war can bring would gladly die a thousand times rather than have you or any American mother witness its horror. And I have but seen the outer edge. Be only glad that you have sons to give to help a people who have given their all.
[...] I want a letter the worst way. Keep the supply up to its former standard. By the way, I want all the home made candy my friends are willing to send. Sweets are at a premium here and we've got to have them. Pass the word, Love to all, this is a family letter.,
Your loving son
Citation: "Masterson, Maurice E." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota 114.D.4.4F
Andrew H. Halseth was a U.S. Navy Gun Captain from Bemidji, Minnesota. He died on this date in 1917 after falling out of his hammock on board the U.S. De Kalb and sustaining brain injuries. Halseth's Gold Star Roll file includes a photograph, newspapers clippings, letters from the Navy regarding his death, and copies of his letters. The Base Chaplain in Nazaire, France, sent Halseth's father a letter describing the funeral, expressing how highly everyone viewed him. His body was eventually sent back to his family in the U.S. after several months of delays.
November 7, 1917.
[...] My dear Mr. Halseth:
You have already been informed of the sad death of your son Andrew. I am writing you the particulars regarding the funeral services knowing that it will be a comfort to you. You son died in Hospital No. 101 of concussion of the brain resulting from a fall from a hammock. The funeral took place this morning (November 7th) at eight o'clock. The procession moved from the Hospital to the Cemetary where full military honors were shown the deceased. The escort consisted of two squads of seamen. The Captain, two other officers and 22 sailors of the U.S.S. DE KALB were also present. The Burial Office was read by the Rev. Thomas S. Cline, Chaplain of the 19th Engineers (Ry.) now acting as Base Chaplain. After the service the three volleys were fired and the bugler sounded taps. The Chaplain said in his address that according to the word of the Captain of the DE KALB Andrew M.Halseth was an excellent seaman, faithful in the performance of every duty, commanding always the honor and respect of his officers and fellow seamen. May I express to you my sincere sympathy in the loss of your son but at the same time may I congratulate you upon his honorable record. The officers of the ship have arranged to take the body back to the United States which will be a great comfort to you, no doubt.
Very faithfully yours,
Thomas S. Cline
"Halseth, Andrew M." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.4.3B
Percy Christianson recalled spending his eighteenth birthday on his transatlantic journey to France. Only two of his friends in the Marines knew that it was his birthday, so that night the three of them sat on one of the gang planks at the front of the ship (in secret) and ate white bread and blueberry jam. Christianson's friend Harry had bought it for $50 from the mess hall. This was quite a treat for the servicemen on a military transport ship.
[...] At, almost, precisely the middle of the Atlantic ocean I became eighteen years old on Nov. 4, 1917. This was one of the most memorable birthdays that I ever had or perhaps will have. There were only two other marine buddies that I informed it was my birthday. They both agreed that we must have a celebration of some kind. Harry, one of my two buddies was full of the devil all the time. His worries about anything was minus. He was likable and the most wonderful pal I ever had. He always had three or five hundred dollars in his money belt. From his story, the family was wealthy and sent him five hundred dollars before he left the U.S.A. He didn't brag about it. Just laughed and said "Hell, they want me to have a good time on a mission like this, with a German torpedo, probably waiting for a broadside aim!" He would laugh again. You couldn't help but laugh along with his way of expressing it.
After talking over this birthday celebration idea, there wasn't much we could think about doing. Pretty soon Harry jumped up and said, "I've got an idea!" He asked us to wait right where we were until he got back. We waited for a good hour. It was getting late and we worried some about him. Finally Harry got back with a bundle under his arm. He put his finger to his lips to indicate quiet. He signaled a "come on" with his fingers. He lead the way and we followed. He crawled out on one of the gang planks used to load troops from dock to ship. The gang plank was laid parallel with the fore part of the ship and strapped down. He found a place for us to set. We were alone. He opened the package. The greatest surprise I ever had was placed in my hands. A quart can of blueberry jam and a large loaf of white bread. Both my boys said, quietly so no one could hear, "Happy Birthday." We broke the bread in three pieces. We opened the jam can with a knife. We dug the jam out with our fingers, smeared it over the bread. Blueberry jam!!! To a sugar starved Marine, this was a taste treat to stimulate every taste gland in the mouth. The treat was out of this world.
I asked Harry how in the world he ever managed to buy bread and jam on a transport ship. He laughed, as usual and replied "Fifty dollars goes a long way even in the mess hall kitchen of a battle ship!"
Citation: Percy B. Christianson Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P2371
On this day David Backus became an officially licenced pilot. His diary does not make much note of this event, instead descibing his practice flight and landing activities, including practicing "spirals." In this context, a spiral is a defensive manouver where the pilot takes a spiraling dive, and then pulls out of the spiral close to the ground. He does alude to his graduation from flight school in one instance, writing, "Did a spiral both ways for the fun of it + landed-- Brevet-- Rah!!" In French, "brevet" can refer to recieving a promotion or certificate--or to the winged badge a pilot recieves upon completing their flight training. A few days later, Backus and some his classmates would relocate to Paris upon completion of their training in Tours, France.
Saturday Nov. 3
Well no voyages this A.M. so I went over + made 12 landings in 1 hr. 15 mi. Then made a Petite Voyage--five barograph-- to Vendome + return took me 1 hr. 5 mi. there and return-- got some chocote [sic] + crackers. Then went out, John Young Carver, Taylor + I made our Spirals, used Le Rhone motor, cut at 600 meters over T + spiral down landing on T. Then went back on Anzani, made 9 landings in one hour, fifteen minutes dark. Did a spiral both ways for the fun of it + landed-- Brevet-- Rah!! [...] Went over with Dick + bunch to little village above green hanger, had a corking dinner.
Citation: David Backus Collection. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 123.D.10.6F
"Russia Now Appears To Be Out Of The Great War" and "Schools Must Teach English" - Rochester Daily Post and Record. November 2, 1917
These orders were given to the 350th Infantry Regiment, part of the 88th Division, and directs officers and soldiers to be dilligent in keeping their orders and movements secret, so that troop movements aren't publicly known. Secrecy is stressed for the protection of troops as they travel, as it was feared that troops could be more esily targeted if their movements were known. Attacks by German submarines on ships crossing the Atlantic were particularly feared.
This memo also blames women for spreading such information about troop movements, saying that "much publicity was obtained through information imparted by officers to female members of their family."
HEADQUARTERS PORT OF EMBARKATION.
Hoboken, New Jersey.
November 1, 1917.
MEMORANDUM for Chief of Embarkution Service, Washington, D. C.
1. The prevention of publicity in regard to the movements of troops and transports is a matter of the utmost concern to the welfare of the Army and of the Navy which is charged directly with the duty of safely convoying vessels. Either through lack of explicit orders or through gross carelessness, much information in regard to our troops and our ships becomes public in spite of the best efforts to the contrary. A single individual who gives publicity to these movements may do harm which the best efforts of all others concerned cannot remedy. From some specific instances that have come to my knowledge, much publicity was obtained through information imparted by officers to female members of their family. Once the publicity is started, it gathers force as it goes, and movements which should to kept strictly secret become a matter of common knowledge.
(Signed) David C. Shanks.
Major General, N.A.
Citation: U.S. Army, 350th Infantry Regiment, Co. G, records 1917-1919. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. BG6/.U584/350th
"A Real European Halloween Scare" and " Italian Troops Fighting with Great Valor" - The Duluth Herald. October 31, 1917
Food conservation was a major concern for homefront families. Americans at home were asked to be diligent about not wasting any food, and to refrain from using specific food groups on certain days, such as Meatless Tuesdays and Wheatless Wednesdays. Americans were asked to conserve meat, sugar and wheat so that these products could be sent overseas to America's allies where food supplies had been interrupted by the war. Even the Hill family of Saint Paul participated in these conservation efforts, as Mary Hill recounts in her diary.
October 30, Tuesday
St. Paul. 20 this morning. No wind however. It is predicted that sun may shine today.
To-day is meatless day. I do not mind it.
Citation: 1915-1920. Mary T. Hill Papers. 64. C.5.6 Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 64.C.5.6
In his diary David Backus describes his first "petit voyage," which is logged in his flight notebook as over 120 minutes in the air. He and a group of classmates left from their base in Tours, France, and took barograph readings. They landed for a lunch of peach bread and butter with apples, and then Backus departed for Châteaudun, a small city to the northeast of Tours. There he reports that a Lieutenant took him to an excellent dinner at a hotel. Backus also stayed the night in Châteaudun, on a feather bed.
Backus refers to the Le Rhône, which is a plane engine. Backus and his classmates take barograph readings while flying with this engine. Backus also refers to the Anzani, which is the plane engine he uses to fly to Châteaudun. Backus also takes careful notes about his altitude and timing in his diary.
Monday Oct.29 - 17
Well, Robert, Lachid, Sewall, Hoppy, Dickie, Bradshaw + me went direct to Voyageur Class. Left at 9 [...] in 25 minutes, made good landing, right back then stocked up in Le Rhône for altitude. Barograph broke had to come back get a new one. Had a corking machine went up again, took 15 mins to make 2200 meters, 8 more to 2800, stayed at 2800 meters for one hour + twenty five minutes (85 mins) made a perfect Barograph reading. Came down 2000 meters in 4 min. Our ears hurt so came down the rest slowly. Got peach bread and butter, couple apples. Got my machine, Anzani's, used on Voyage work [...] left for Châteaudun there at 4:35 - found Hanger easily went at about 800 meters. Lieutenant took me down to town in sidecar had some dinner at St. Louis hotel + rolled in at 8:20 - wonderful bed - feather [...].
Citation: David Backus Collection. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 123.D.10.6F
Frank Kreuz, a cook with the 356 Infantry of the 89 Division, enlisted on this day in 1917. Kreuz died in a train accident on July 1, 1919, while serving with the Army of Occupation in Trier, Germany, the same village where his father was born. His file includes a photo of him holding a spatula, a letter from the Chaplain who performed his burial, and a hand-transcribed news article about his death. Kreuz was from Saint Paul, Minnesota, and was scheduled to return home before his death. The train accident may have occurred as he was returning from visiting his father's family.
Copy from Daily News July 20 1919
Accident Caused Death
F.H. Kreuz was Cook with Army in Germany. Army Cook F.H. Kreuz of St. Paul attached to the cooking corps of the 356 Infantry of the 89 Division died in Germany from accidental injuries July 1 according to word received in St. Paul by his parents, Mr. Mrs. Hub. Kreuz 263 University Av. He was 36 years old. Cook Kreuz had been in France with the american Force about 19 mos. He was scheduled for transport home shortly prior to his death which occurred at Trier, Germany, while with the Army of Occupation. Kreuz prior to his enlistment in April 1917 had served 3 years with the regular Army in the Phillipine [sic] islands according to his mother in 1903 to 1906. He died in the same village that he visited when he was eight years old in Co. with his Father Hubert Kreuz. He had visited his Uncles and Aunts in Irrel, Bitburg, Germany and found a big change allthough [sic] he could remember a lot of the years gone by.
Citation: "Kreuz, Frank H." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.4.4F