Veterans Day in the U.S. honors military veterans from all branches, those who served in war and in peacetime.
Its roots, however, stretch back a century. At 11 a.m. Nov. 11, 1918, the Armistice with Germany that ended World War I went into effect. Nov. 11 was marked as Armistice Day until 1954, when the holiday became Veterans Day.
To remember the end of World War I, the Lodi News-Sentinel is reprinting several letters originally printed in the Lodi Sentinel in 1917 and 1918, sent by Lodi men who served as soldiers in Europe and a nurse.
December 15, 1917: ‘Vic’ Myers Tells of Life in a French Army Camp
Getting Lots to Eat, But Wouldn’t Give ‘the Whole Works’ in Trade for California
The following letter received Thursday was joyful news for Mr. and Mrs. Harry Myers. It is from their son, Victor, who is “somewhere in France” together with the contingent of Lodi boys in the Engineer Corps. The letter will be of great interest to others:
“Some Place in France.
“Dear Dad and Mother:
“I haven’t written since I left the post. There has been nothing of interest to write. I am seeing a lot of country but wouldn’t trade the whole place for California.
“The people are so far behind the times in this country. They don’t know the Civil War is over. They still use oxen to plow with and some of the plows are made of wood, shears and all. I don’t believe I have seen a wooden building since I have been here, all of them being made of stone and clay with tiled roofs. Sanitation — they don’t know what that is.
“Food is awfully high, eggs selling for 95 cents per doz. and butter 80 cents per pound. I guess that’s not bad. I am dog robber for the officer. We have a French woman doing the cooking and I serve it to them. Between the woman’s cooking and mine we manage to get a little to eat three times a day. I keep the captain’s and Lieutenant Wade’s room for them. The beds are high, and old fashioned, with canopies over them. [Note: A "dog robber" was slang for a soldier who acted as a gofer for higher-ranking officers.]
“Lieutenant Hughes censors our mail. He’ll have a job reading this. I don’t know how a Dutchman would read it.
“I received the letter Dad wrote me on the 20th of October — all I have received since I have been here. I sure was glad to hear from him.
“All the boys are well. I am feeling fine, good eats and a good place to sleep and nothing to do.
“I guess I have written about all I am allowed. Regards to every one.”
July 9, 1918: Lodi Man Describes Terror and Misery of French Refugees
Boche Bombs Dropped All Around Train, But Rev. S. C. Patterson Slept Through It All
The booming of artillery and the bursting of great shells on the American sector of the French front, near Rheims, constitute the anthems for the work which Rev. Samuel C. Patterson, former pastor of the Lodi Congregational church, has undertaken in France. In a letter just received by Mrs. Patterson at Berkeley, written June 2, he tells of his experiences. The letter follows:
“I wish I could tell you all I have been through and seen since I last wrote you, about nine days ago. I have traveled far, been under fire and seen villages and cities shelled, and for hours waited to fall back because of a German advance. The Americans have been in action, and well have they acted.
“One night our train was camped by a roadside near a city. The boche planes came and dropped bombs within a hundred yards. If he had held his bombs two seconds longer he would have bagged big game, probably half of our train, for it was loaded with ammunition.
“At 1:30 on Friday morning I was awakened and told that we moved at 4 a.m. I arose at 2:45, packed my goods, had breakfast and was ready at 4. Orders had been changed and our destination was to a place where the Germans had made an attack. We were off about 5 and were all day on the road.
“This road was traveled by military trains all day, a continuous line almost. The dust was suffocating. No stop for food, mile after mile we rushed. I received a piece of dry bread and lunched on it. About 9 p.m. we stopped outside a city which the enemy was threatening.
“We expected to move at any moment. We were there until 5 the next morning. This was where we were bombed. The enemy was trying to get the bridge and railroad station. He succeeded in getting the former the next night.
“The military authorities ordered the village evacuated because of the approach of the enemy. The people gathered their belongings together and started. We passed group after group.
“In one group which passed us Sunday morning, first there came an enormously fat woman pushing a baby carriage packed with her possessions; on top of a feather tick was a fat baby, dirty and forlorn.
“The poor woman was scared and was almost trotting. God knows how many miles. Her fear gave her energy. Then came another woman with a carriage and a baby, followed by two women, one of whom was sick. They literally staggered along.
“Then came a group. A girl about 16 years old, in the lead. She had a rope across her chest. There were two small boys, then an old man in the shafts of a push-cart. On this were piled household goods. Behind was a one-armed youth and two more boys.
“They were all evidently very poor. Other groups had horses, cattle, etc. All were sad, and we looked on and were sad and hungry. Many of the old people refused to leave the villages, and these presented a pitiable appearance as we rushed through.
“This day, Sunday, we were in great suspense. Reports came of a retreat of our forces, and momentarily we expected orders to run.
“Orders were coming for ammunition and cars were rushed off with it. Troops were passing, infantry and artillery with big guns were rushing by. In front the cannons boomed, and several times during the day airplane fights occurred overhead. It was a Sunday long to be remembered. Ambulances rushed by filled with wounded. In the afternoon we began to hear the Americans were holding their ground and that the Germans were not advancing. So we spent the evening hoping and fearing.
“The guns to the east kept up their fire, which we took to be a good sign. You may be sure it was an exciting time. About 11 I unrolled my blanket and laid down on the roadside beside the truck. Sleep was not deep because of the passing of troops, the thunder of guns and the hum of the planes. Some shells were reported to have dropped near us, but no one was hit. Our outfit has been most fortunate — none has been wounded. Today we are waiting orders and listening to the battle in the distance.”
August 27, 1918: Donald E. Bradner Describes Soldier Life in France
Donald E. Bradner, serving with Democracy’s forces in France, under date of July 24th sends the following interesting letter to his father, Rev. E. J. Bradner, pastor of the Lodi Methodist Episcopal church:
“We are now about 200 miles from Paris, enjoying the scenery and trying to find some way to spend our money and get something worthwhile. I find the best results in eggs, which only cost 10 cents each. I ate four for dinner, besides the company mess. But I was hungry from a six-mile hike we took to the ol’ swimmin’ hole.
“Candy may be bought here — if you know where to go, and costs five cents for a square the size of a cube of sugar.
“The railroad system of France is surely remarkable. If you wish to go 30 or 40 miles you must pack along a good lunch or run the risk of starvation on the road. In two days and nights we made nearly 200 miles. We figured it out it would take 30 days to cross the United States at this rate. We were lucky and got passenger cars. Most soldiers ride in the freight cars. The French name for a car is wagon, and it surely looks it — four wheels and hooks and eyes for couplers.
“We are camped in a little town, billeted in barns. Barns beat tents 20 ways. Last night we slept on straw, twisted like ropes. The place looked like a jute mill, with the soldiers tearing away at the ropes. The stuff looks like shredded palm leaves, but makes a good bed. ...”
December 24, 1918: Lodi Soldier in Midst of Big Battle
Angelus Costa, Reported Dead, Overjoys Parents By News He Is Still in Land of Living
The following letter written November 23rd by Angelus Costa to his parents here has set at rest much anxiety entertained about the young man for he had been reported as having died from wounds:
“Tomorrow is Father’s day and we are allowed to write quite a bit for this letter will not be censored. I am still in the hospital but I am better, and as they won’t send the boys back to their company, I guess I will be home soon. I have been shaving the boys around here, those that are wounded in the hands and arms; I do it to pass the time away, and I am full of pep. I wasn’t wounded this time, just got sick, and I was sure sick for a few days. [Note: In 1918, Father's Day was on Nov. 24 and was a day where fathers on the home front and sons deployed overseas were encouraged to write one another. The war ended on Nov. 11 of that year.]
“I got wounded twice — this is my third time to the hospital. I sure have (seen) a lot of fighting for I guess you have often heard of the 91st division; that is what I am in. We have been shock troops since last July. All we would do was to make a drive, (illegible) out awhile and then chase Fritz again and when those damned squareheads knew the 91st was ahead of them they would pick up and run. I was in the first American drive on the Somme front and the next one at Soissons on the 13th day of July. I got wounded there the first time; got my eye bone broken by a piece of big shell, but you could never tell I was wounded now by looking at me. On the 12th of September we were in the St. Mihiel drive and I was not wounded that time; it was a walkaway. We got in by surprise. October 4th we made another drive in the Argonne forest; drove every day for 14 days and it was sure hard going for it was all hills and thick forest. I was scout, too, and had to go ahead of the company and find the enemy. I got enough of scouting for I was 200 yards ahead of the company and one day Fritz opened up on my on three sides with machine guns. I was down in a little shell hole and every time I moved ...”
The letter continued on Page 12, but that page was missing from the News-Sentinel’s archives.
December 24, 1918: Sergeant Neil Shank Writes From Belgium
Mr. and Mrs. William Shank are in receipt of the following letter from their son, Sergeant Neil D. Shank, who is with the Loyal Lodi Lads in Belgium. The letter is of date November 21st:
“On the move all the time but don’t go very many miles either way, home or Berlin. Things look as if all the A. E. F. men will be home before many months for as you know all hostilities have ceased and not much do-lag now.
“I have again made an advance in the army, this time to sergeant, and I shall try my best to do my duty in the new position that the Captain has given me, so hereafter address me as Sergeant instead of Corporal.
“We are billeted in a Belgium farmhouse and things are much different than in the states as all the buildings are built around in a square and all the refuse from both barn and house is thrown into this low place. Much against our teaching in the army of sanitation but we have to stand it.
“The people seem to live on not much more than vegetables, potatoes and turnips, and the dairy products from the few cows that the Germans left for them.
“News is very scarce just now and all the things that I cannot write will wait until I get home and then Roy and I will see who has been in the best fights.”
July 6, 1918: Lodi Girl is in the Thick of Big Fight
Letitia Aldridge Tells of Meeting Otto Billigmeier, Lodi Soldier, Now Battling Huns; Gives Interesting Description of Battle-Scarred France ...
Mrs. M. S. Aldridge of 420 North Church street has received an interesting letter from her daughter, Letitia, who is a Red Cross nurse with Army Base Hospital No. 30, now on duty in France. Miss Aldridge is in the thick of the fighting, and her base hospital has been attending men injured recently. The letter follows:
“On our way back we stopped at a little farmhouse where the madame had just milked the cow. We followed her into the house and asked for milk. We gave 60 centimes for a liter. We carried it home in a bottle, and it is the best milk I ever tasted. I am going every day with a bottle for some of that milk as long as we are here. Nearly every one you pass on the street is carrying a bottle filled with Vichy water. There were not many people here when we arrived, but people are coming from Paris now for the summer — and the water.
“This morning we went to the station to see an American hospital train come in. Afterward we went through the train. It was the most up-to-date thing we have seen since leaving San Francisco. Each car carries thirty-six patients. They are steam-heated and each car has several electric fans. There are operating rooms, diet kitchens and a lovely big kitchen with a real stove in it. Also there are rooms for nurses, and there was a real bath room with a real tub in it.
“We are all anxious to get to our own place and get to work. Several nurses from our unit have been put on temporary duty here, but there is not enough for us all to do. So we walk seven or eight miles each day to keep in good condition. Except for a few wounded soldiers in the streets, it is hard to believe we are in France at last. ...
“We were two days and two nights on the train. At the stations where we stopped any length of time we all got out and washed at the pump and brushed our teeth, but there was always a water mark left. ...
“And at last we arrived “here.” It is said to be one of the most beautiful cities in France. But there are the same narrow streets, where one walks in the middle rather than on the sidewalks, and where a wagon is seldom seen. But occasionally one of our ambulances or a French one drives along. There are trees everywhere on both sides of the street.
“This base has taken over several hotels. The nurses have one for their headquarters. We are with them now, although we are not to remain here, but to go to a town very near.
“We can buy nearly everything here except sugar or real jam or candy. ...
“Yesterday we went out into the country about two miles to a beautiful wood and picked lilies of the valley. There were oceans and oceans of them, and so fragrant; also there are forget-me-nots, buttercups, red poppies, daisies and primroses.
“A few days ago we were out walking when three boys stopped us and asked to be allowed to talk with us for a few minutes. After talking for a short time I found that one of them was Otto Billigmeier of Lodi. He is in the field artillery. We had a delightful chat about Lodi.”