Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A World War I Letter from the "Schmidt Collection" to Commemorate Veteran's Day

A happy Veteran's Day to all our servicemen and women and veterans out there, including my Grandpa Alvin Weigel (WWII, 70th ID, 725th FAB, Battery B), my uncles (Air Force and Army, Vietnam and Cold War), my daughter's boyfriend, John (Marines, Iraq), and everyone else in my family who has served with honor.

Below is an interesting (and even cheeky!) letter from small (but growing!) collection of ephemera, written by an American doughboy on his way across the Atlantic. Enjoy!


(It's hard to put a heading to this letter because we don't stay in the same place - but I'll try)

On a large body of water (Name concealed by camouflage)


65(degrees) Fahrenheit
20(degrees) Centigrade

Going East

Time: (10 o'clock when I looked but it may be 12 now for all I know the way time flies on this boat. I hope it don;t change at meal time any more!)

Now I calculate it's nigh time to start the letter

Dear Roberta:

Please pardon the junk up above. I am the company censor, not only reading the letters of 250 men, but also my own. So I like to vary them a little to break the monotony. I may be conceited but I really enjoy reading my own letters most.

In fact what I read is mostly my own letters for part of my men can't read or write, you know. Rather fortunate for the censor. Then besides I have cautioned my men so carefully that when they do write they don’t write much. Also fortunate for me. Oh! Fine.

Oh yes! One thing I forgot in the heading - the date. But it is not best for official censors to give dates. I don’t know about making them. I can't talk French anyway. But my acting first sergeant taught it 4 years so I shall use him as my interpreter.

I still have your good letter which I answered from the guard house but I'll answer it again. It's the one with the touching close - the bit of verse about Lizzie. No, your hopes were realized. I had not heard it before.

I wonder if you are still keeping house. I had a hunch that your mother had gone to camp with Zibby and would spend the summer there. I would, had I been in her place. Knowing that the Gilmore family was in such good hands, she need not have worried. Probably by the time this letter reaches you, your mother and Zibby will have returned. I make a guess that this letter reaches you August 20th. See how close I come to it. So if your mother is back by then you will have plenty of time. To get ready for school. You only need a few days anyway. A sophomore needs less preparation anyway. Duck a few freshmen for me this fall, if you please.

Speaking of ducking, we have gotten along very nicely on our trip so far. This finishes our eleventh day. Thanks to the U.S. Navy we have not had to resort to swimming. Some of these perfect days with the sea very clam, I would not mind going for a row in one of these boats we have strung along the upper deck, or take a ride on a raft. But I'd hate to have to get up at midnight and take a dive, all for the sake of some sub captain getting an iron cross. I guess there are more of them getting wooden crosses than iron ones these days. The more the merrier.

When I wrote to Hazel I raved a lot about the wonderful U.S. Navy. I do in all my letters. So I won’t rave about it so much to you. All that I will say is that I am strong for that service. I've seen some mighty impressive things on this trip. There is one feeling that I do get from watching these ships, day by day, forging steady Eastward. That is the feeling that the Huns, with all their system and fiendish methods, can never stop the U.S. It's a confidence that you can't get in the training camps back home. And it's a confidence that will probably be greatly increased after we land in France and see the preparations our country has made and the work they are doing. That's the only time I feel serious, Roberta.

I am enjoying this trip so much that I sometimes find it hard to realize that there is a war ahead. I thought of it tonite while we sat at supper. All the navy officers, from lieutenants to senior grade to boatswain, chatting gayly, and we army officers feeling just as good but sobered a little by some wonderful old pieces that the steward was turning off on the Victrola. It seemed to me then sort of like a dream - until the sailors came in, making their rounds of closing the portholes to shut off all light. Then I came to earth again.

The time was moved up to that of our final destination today and it gave us a long evening. We are now 5 hours ahead of New York time, so the sun was unusually high at 7:30 when the boatswain's mate came swinging down the deck, blowing his queer sounding whistle and in a deep voice announcing - "There will be no more smoking above decks." These sailors, especially the old timers, are a great bunch. Most of the lads here are young and fairly new to the service. They are very optimistic and expect the war to be over very soon. So do the officers, except the captain, by rank a lieutenant commander, who thinks it will be six years. I hope he is far sighted (meant literally).

The time has gone by fast for me on this trip. I sure have enjoyed it. Have had more leisure time than I will have for some time after I land.

Our YMCA secretary on board is an interesting man. He is Prof. Lockwood , a teacher of English Lit. He was at Allegheny College for 15 years and claimed he is familiar with all of western Pennsylvania. Says he has made commencement addresses and prohibition talks and Teddy Roosevelt speeches all thru those counties. Did ever hear of him or hear him?

Have you people been to Pumpkintown yet? I'm wondering if by chance I shall see Clare over here. I had it sort of figured out that Hazel's brother might be somewhere in this convoy but he may have gone last week. Oh it’s a big world. Oh! Fine! Give my best regards to your father and to Hugh and Zibo and Gertrude and Franklin.


Censored HZ Brant, 2nd Lt

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