Letters from the Front
Part 2 WWI Continued
The Rainbow Division first saw action fighting alongside the French in February, 1918,(WWI) where it remained in almost constant contact with the enemy for 174 days. A letter from Amos Baird, of Lawrenceville, dated March 6, 1918, described the action.
“We are on the second line trenches just four miles from the Dutch line. . . The guns aren't but two miles from the Dutch line. Yesterday a German airplane came over and was shot down by the French anti-aircraft guns. There were some came over today but none were brought down. Shrapnel shells were falling all around me. The American Infantry can hardly be handled by three commanders, they want to go over the top and get the Dutch.”
Jess Tharp who along with Miles M Adams dropped out of LTHS to join the Army in WWI sent his mother, Orpha, a letter dated March 15, 1918.
“I received your letters and box today. I have been on the front ten days. I'm going back tomorrow. We have been blowing up the Kaiser. Ha! Say, Mother, I know you never expected me to be fighting the Dutch so quickly. We haven't lost any men yet and I hope we don't, for it is a dreadful thing to be gassed and I do hate to wear those gas masks. We have two of them, the English and the French (ones). I saw some Hindu soldiers. They look odd. There are some Italian soldiers here, too. Miles Adams has a German rifle for a souvenir.”
Baird sent another letter April 20, 1918: (“Boche” was a contemptuous term used to refer to a German soldier.)
“Things are going along fine except those shells that come over once in a while. I don't think the Boches want to hurt us, they only want to play, but they want to play awful tough sometimes. Of course, that is the game but I don’t hardly see it that way. The other night while holding court, the Boches threw a few shells over and disturbed us a bit. I am close enough that we can get one of those Boche with our rifles. The Dutch sure do enjoy throwing over gas shells. A detail of 32 men are away from the Battery now igniting gun pits, and a Battery is firing now. I expect to get the answer from the Boche for that is the way they do, just wait until one fires at the other, then fire back. The 168th Infantry of the Iowa boys went over the top last night but never found a Boche. They either got afraid and went into a hiding place or got killed. Of course, we don't care for them getting killed, so long as they don't get us. And they will not get us, as long as they stay in their hole.”
Baird sent another letter April 23, 1918, telling his little sister, that he was only about 1500 yards from the Boche line of trenches. Adams boasted that:
“I am enjoying real good health and having a good time heaving iron at the Boche. I am permanently a cannoneer. I was on the first set of gun squads but they were all mixed up with new ones, so I am now on the second set of gun squads. I am still in the Sgt. Maxedon’s section. (Ed Note: Robert Maxedon was from Vincennes.) At present, I am writing this seated just behind our piece. It sure is some Howitzer. We are all fine. Jess Tharp and Amos Baird are all right so far. I would love to capture or kill some Boche, if there is any chance. Some of the fellows were out looking for old boards (and believe me they are scarcer than hen’s teeth) and they thought that they saw an enemy somewhere back of the lines, and they started out later to get him but failed to find him. I would love to speak out with my rifle and some ammunition and get myself a few Dutch. One of the Sergeants of the Alabama Infantry captured a Dutchman. He could speak only a little bit of English but he managed to tell the Sergeant (when he told him to "march on,") to "go to hell," and Mr. Sergeant probably took out his trench knife and cut off part of the Dutchman's rear system which made him only too anxious to go… The Americans mean business.”
Tharp, who had in an earlier letter stated how much he hated the gas masks, experienced first-hand the devastating effects without one, according to a letter written from a convalescent camp on November 10,1918.
"I'm feeling pretty good now but I have a few sick days yet. But I'm lots better than I was. Mother, there is nothing the matter with me but a severe dose of chlorine gas and you can imagine what all follows it up. One thing, I can eat and not throw it all up anymore. There is plenty of excitement here now. We get lots of news about peace, but I will never believe it until I see the Kaiser over on this side, riding on the point of a bayonet. Mother, I think I will be back as good as I was before, if I take care of myself. You know one can take care of himself better than anyone else. Believe me, I have thought of what you taught me all my life and mother, if I get back alive, I'm going to know how do appreciate a good home and a good mother like you."
(Ed Note: What mother would not want to receive that last sentence...)