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.
"Rainbow Division Repulses Enemy" and "Enemy Ruthless Against Neutrals" - The Twin City Star. March 16, 1918
In this undated letter home to his parents, Elmer Ecklund tells them that he has said goodbye to America and hello to France, indicating that the letter was written in early March. Ecklund was very serious about following military law, so he never included his location in letters home to his parents. All his letters are sent from "Somewhere in France," so he would not accidentally reveal his location should his letter be intercepted by the enemy. Ecklund was killed in action on July 18th, 1918, in the Battle of Soissons by an exploding artillery shell.
Somewhere in France
I have said good bye to American, and hello to France.
I hope the day comes when I can say hello to America. We were not long at sea when the sight of land was lost from view. After a few days at sea we encountered a storm lasting for over two days. The waves were very high and the wind blew fiercely, whistling and singing in and about the riggings of the big ship tossed and rolled. We could scarcely keep our feet from sliding under us. In the "mess" hall tables would fly nearly across the space set for them and it was amusing to see a man trying to eat and stand up at the same time. Scarcely a man wasn't sea sick and many were to sea sick to eat. During the entire trip I wasn't sick and I felt good all the time. I had no desire of letting any meals go by. But the storm soon passed and we had still weather the rest of the trip. [...] I wish I could tell you the name of this city, but I must not. I must obey military law now. You will never know where I am, or what I am doing while in France. Foreign custom is certainly different, especially to an american. The houses are different and there is some difference in dress. Some of us study a little French every day. An american soldier who would like to open conversation with a beautiful French girl or "madamoiselle" would be in an unhappy affair if he couldn't speak a little French I suppose. [...] I must close now, I am anxious to hear from home, and I must wait a longer time after this. So good bye and you will hear from me very soon again. With lots and lots of love and hope for our wellfare in the future, again good bye.
Pvt. Elmer G. Ecklund.
Citation: "Ecklund, Elmer J." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.4.3B
This is the second letter William McFarland sent to Mrs. Cyrus Wells. In this letter he recounts his family history, stating that both his parents were born and married in Ireland and moved to the United States before that had him. He tells her that his parents passed away when he was young, so he was left to fend for himself in the world. But despite this disadvantage, he got a good education and found a way to persue what he was passionate about, engineering, which is was he is now doing in the army.
Everman Field Texas
Mar. 14, 1918
Dear Mrs. Wells
You letter at hand and was certainly glad to hear from you and to know that you good women are taking an interest in the boys of the army. I for one sure aprechiate [sic] it and I know that many more of the boys feel the same as I. You were almost right when you thought that I was Scotch I am Irish though borne in this country my parents were both borne and were married in Ireland they came to this country and settled in Illinois not far from Springfield There I was borne but they both passed away and I was left to fight the world alone and I lost track of my relatives in Ireland. But nevertheless I managed to obtain a fair education and at the same time to get some experience with machinery. After leaving school I took up steam engineering but when we saw what the gass motors were able of doing I fell for them and for the past four years I have put every opportunity that I have had in on them. That is how I am holding the position in the Aero Corpse that I do today. [...] I do not know when [we] will go over men are leaving here almost every day but my Squadron is supposed to be a training squadron for others and we have a large training school here. My Commanding officer told me that I would be held here as an instructor but I don't know yet[.] I spoke about going across and he says we must have men here to teach the others so they will do as they like not what I want but then I don't kick[.] we are in the Army to win and what the Goverment sees best to do that suits me. [...] hopeing to hear from you in the near future[.] I remain as ever with the colors.
Citation: William McFarland Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P120
In this letter to a Miss Palmes, Raymon Bowers writes about what training is like in Jackson, South Carolina. Like a true Minnesotan he complains about the heat a great deal, commenting on the humidity, not being able to use his blankets at night and the lack of rain. He also recounts a trip into town where his company went to a dance. Bowers states that this was the first time he had the opportunity to talk to a girl since he enlisted. This night back in the normal world was special for the soldiers, as they will not get to experience that again for a long while. Bowers also comments on some of the cultural differences in South Carolina versus Minnesota, like that musicians would sometimes change the cadance of the waltz, and that when a dance ended they would take the men by the arm and talk with them around the room instead of sitting down.
Mar. 13, 1918
My Dear Miss Palmes,
[...] When we'll be shipped, the devil only know. We were told on arriving in 3 weeks and again and again we've heard the same onl story. I'll not attepmt to say when; I will obey however I hope it won't be long. I'm very anxious to get across and then there's the fear of having to stay down here all summer when it will be so beastly hot that a certain place will seem cold comparatively speaking. [...] A week ago tonight our company went to town and had a great time at a dance. There were plenty of girls and good music and everyone had a great time. They dance down here much the same as they do up north, one peculiarity is that during a waltz they sometimes change the time increasing or decreasing the cadence. Perhaps the most unusual thing is on finishing a dance, the girl takes the boys arm and around and around the hall you go, they rarely sit down between dance: but promenade instead. [...] Lights out in ten minutes so I guess I'll have to stop. I hope this finds the entire Hist. staff well & the weather as fine as it could be.
Citation: Raymon Bowers Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P111
"U.S. Troops Again Raid German Positions" and "British Foil Hun Raids Near Arras" - The Duluth Herald. March 12, 1918
This stained glass window fragment was recovered from the ruins of the Reims Cathedral in France. It was discovered by Frances Rogers while she was working as an ambulance driver for the American Fund for French Wounded. The Reims Cathedral was a beautiful piece of architecture that was unfortunately destroyed over the course of the war. Early on in the war, the Cathedral was set abaze by German artillery, shattering its beautiful and ornate stained glass windows. It would come under fire again and again throughout the war, destroying everything but the stone walls of the Cathedral. The Allies used the burning of the Cathedral as propaganda to portray the Germans as barbaric men who had no regard for culture.
Citation: Minnesota Historical Society Collections. 8594.2
"German Lunge is Beaten Back" and "Russian Troop Ships are Sunk" - The Daily People's Press. March 10, 1918
Gold Star Roll of First Class Private Louis Sayer. Included is a letter misdated 3/9/1917 as it is from his time in the hospital after he was gassed in the Battle of Toul on February 28, 1918. He was in the hospital until March 10th and then returned to war. Sayer was killed in action in June, 1918, by an exploding gas shell, and buried in a Paris cemetary.
Mar. 9 1917
Rec'd your letter of the 2 of Jan a few days ago. and was glad to hear from you. I have been in the Hospital the last 10 days or so or would have answered sooner. I got some of the Boche gas the last time we were up to the front, but I don't think it will hurt me any as I didn't get very much. am feeling as fit as ever now. Things were pretty lively up there lately. you probably read about it in the papers. Two of my old Bismark chums got killed. Well how is Clem & Hank[?]
Citation: "Sayer, Louis C." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.4.6F