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World War I, Comanche County, Kansas

The Western Star, December 20, 1918.


Ward Butcher, Fritz Harbaugh, Vernon Pepperd, Fred J. Schenck and Fred Wideman.

From Ward H. Butcher. On board the U. S. S. Finland, Newport News, Va. December 12, 1918

I received the bundle to Stars today and I'll say it is some pleasure to be able to read the home town news on the Atlantic when my prospects of getting any mail for a month is so poor. I get a great deal of pleasure out of the letters from the boys in the service.

Well, at last, I am at my destination. Monday evening I was in the liberty party at Bay Bridge to go to a 6:30 dinner in Brooklyn when I was called out by our sea draft. We packed up in a few minutes, but our bandmaster had already gone shore so we were held at Bay Bridge that evening and we stood by all the next day to go to Norfolk, Va., but we did not leave for New York City until Wednesday morning. They were sending 273 men back to Great Lakes to be mustered out which delayed us some. By the way, the day before I left I just happened to see Ray Crites and Harlan White together while coming back from chow. Ray especially looked like Navy life agreed with him, but like all boys in the Navy, they would like to go home, now that the war is over. They had made nine trips across. White is a 2d class cook, the same as Oliver McCay. The Northern Pacific, which Oliver is on, came into New York the day before I left, bringing 1100 wounded soldiers and a few others. We were in a truck on our way to the Pennsylvania station, N. Y. city, when the George Washington carrying President Wilson and convoyed by a number of destroyers steamed past on their way to the Peace Conference. All the whistles blew till the noise was deafening and everyone in the government freight house where we left two sailors on a draft, left their work to see the fleet go past. The whistles blew nearly as loud a few days ago when the Mauretania, a big four stacker, carrying 4000 returned soldiers came up New York harbor. New York went wild to greet the first boys to return from overseas. It was a very pretty sight to look across the bay from Bay Bridge and see 40 or 50 ships, a Gelgian Relief ship, the Sweiz, a Red Cross ship, the hugh transport, ferry boats, freighters, patrol boats shooting past cutting the water, the battleship, Pennsylvania, near the Jersey side and the famous Statue of Liberty to the North.

We left New York at 9 p.m. Wednesday after waiting since noon in the railroad station, which is 2 blocks long and 1 block wide. I was given a pair of wrist lets, a helmet and two pairs of socks by the New York Red Cross on 5th Avenue. We had to buy our own meals till we got aboard ship and I ate supper in an outdoor canteen on 5th Avenue near the public library and opposite the table where I sat was a wounded soldier who came back on the Northern Pacific. Before he enlisted last March, he was a traveling man out of St. Louis, has a wife and baby and is 35 years old. He fought with the English, French and Americans in northern France at Verdun and other big battles. On October 6 he was hit in the cheek by a piece of shrapnel which broke both jaws and came out on the right side of his neck. He said you could have put an egg in his mouth through his cheek. The saliva runs continually out the hole in his neck into a big pad. If the wound is closed his head would swell up twice its size like it did once in a field hospital. He told me many things that I could scarcely realize and showed me three pieces of money he took out of the pocket of a German he "manicured." He gave me a 5 centimes piece of French money, which I will show you when I come home. He also was shot clear through one leg by a machine gun.

We left New York at 9 p.m. on a Pennsylvania Line Pullman and rode all night through New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, to Cape Charles, Va., where we took the steamship Maryland to Point Comfort and on to Norfolk, Va., a typical southern town with a sort of run down appearance and full of coons with their easy going ways. From the Norfolk Navy yard we went in a big motor boat to get our baggage then to a freighter which took supplies to the Finland which was coaling at Newport News, about 16 miles away. They unloaded us on a coal barge and we clumb up the side of the ship (20 feet or more) and hauled our baggage up after us. I was glad to eat chow that evening for it was the first square meal I had had for 36 hours, as we missed out getting paid when we came back from Chi. before going to eat. When anyone enters a new home they notice a few things about it and here are some of the features of my new home. The Finland and her sister ship the Kroonland are in Class 5 of the ships in the American Navy. That means that only four ships and their companion ships are larger. The Finland is a transport which on one trip across carried 5600 soldiers. She is 580 feet long, has a 60 foot mast, weighs 12,000 tons and has a crew of 614 men. It has two complete steam power units driving a twin screw propellor 80 revolutions per minute which in good weather makes a speed of 15 knots an hour. These engines burn 4,200 tons of coal on a round trip. The ship is equipped with electric lights, radio receiving and dispatching stations, printing office, carpenter shop, bakery etc. It requires an 8 page telephone directory to list all the phones on the ship. There is a fine bunch of sailors and officers aboard it seems to me so much different than at the training stations. I feel just as safe on this big ship as on any train I was ever on. We will leave for France Monday, I understand and as this is a bad time of year to travel it will take us 11 or 12 days to go across. We will stay in France 6 or 7 days so I will probably spend Christmas in Europe. How would you like to be 5000 miles from home on Xmas day? I think I will like it. I understand that we will bring 2000 wounded boys back to their friends in the States.

I live two decks down from the upper deck and there are two more below us. We are above the water line even with the port holes in the fore part of the ship. The boys say that when we get to sea the waves entirely submerge the prow of the ship. I'm going to tie cords on my socks, so I don't care if I do get sick.

Our bandmaster will get back from Philadelphia today with our instruments so we can start playing at once. Am well and enjoying life as usual.


c/o Postmaster N. Y. City, U. S. S. Finland (Band)

From Vernon Pepperd.

November 15, 1918

Dear Folks,

Just sat down to write you this afternoon when here came a bunch of mail, first I had gotten for a long time. Then before I had it read we had to tote the ammunition about 50 yards away, so will now make another attempt if this candle don't run out.

Your last letter, only got two, in fact, so know there are many lost or delayed, was written October 14, but one from Bessie was dated October 19 and she hadn't gotten any of my letters from the front yet, which seems queer that you haven't at least gotten one.

Well, the big stunt is all over, except for the shouting and some of that is already over, will do the rest when the Statue of Liberty comes in view.

We are still in the same position that we were when we fired the last shot a 11 o'clock Monday morning. The main thing that worries us now is, which way we will move. One report is that we go on into Germany. Another is that or Division will be one of the first four to go back, which I surely hope is at least nearly correct.

The only thing I regret at present is that I am not near where I could send a cablegram to you or Bessie. If we get to where I can soon I surely will.

Am glad you had missed the influenza so far and hope you continue to do so. Haven't seen much of it around here, one or two went to the hospital with it.

War isn't so bad to take just now, though. We have a tarpaulin stretched for the top part of the tent and a bunch of shelter halves for the end and sides and a little old German stove in the front end. And it is quite comfortable at least when the fire is going. Six of us sleep in the domicile.

It is beginning to get pretty dinged cold though. Has been below freezing at night for several nights now. Three of us sleep together to keep warm. I think we will move one way or the other before many days, so will know what to expect. I wouldn't mind going over and occupying some of the Hun's territory named in the armistice, but would much rather beat this letter home and may be home to take New Year's dinner yet.

Was glad to get Jay's and Bee's letters and believe me, Jay, the Kaiser is done licked and I'll soon be home.

Well, will say good night, hoping this will find all well. I have been feeling all right except for a little attack of the neuralgia yesterday and day before. Will have another job for Dr. Korff fixing up my teeth when I get back.

With love to all,

your son and brother,


From Fred J. Schenk Jr.

The following are extracts from a letter written by Fred Schenk Jr. to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Fred Schenk, of this place;

With the American Expeditionary Forces

November 13, 1918

Dear Home Folks,

Well, I have got here to my destination for a while at least. I am feeling fine, as good as ever. I think this country is great. Everything looks green except the trees. There is lots of garden stuff to be gathered from the fields yet. It sure looks good to me. They grow lots of turnips, or sort of beets here. There are carloads piled up along the roadside. I guess pa knows what kind of turnips they are, for he has told us about them. It rains quite a lot here and is cloudy and foggy most of the time. Most things here seem to be odd and old fashioned from the way things are in the United States. The people have their old ways, the ways they had at the beginning of this eastern continent, but they always told me the old ways are sometimes the best. The French people are good natured and good hearted people. The only thing wrong is that I can't understand them or talk with them. Did you get my permit for a Christmas package? A person is only allowed one package to be sent them, that is why we all got a permit for one. They are debating now if a soldier can send a package home.

They think they can, but don't advise sending anything very expensive, as it may get lost, and I would advise you the same way if you send anything. From what I hear the war is about at a close. The French people have had a real celebration, or "feast" the night before last, by taking a drink or two or three on the Kaiser, and blowing whistles, the band playing, and dancing, etc. I was in town night before last, and there was sure a crowd out. Everybody was out, and as happy as could be on account of the war coming to a close, and they are still celebrating. They have gone through lots of hardships and are now rejoicing. Any Frenchman you may meet and ask him how the war is coming on, if he can understand you at all, he will tell you it is finished.

I don't know how long a time or how short a time I will stay here at this place. Did you get the package I sent you from Camp Upton? Well, I could write lots more, but if I did it probably wouldn't all pass the censor. I will write as often as I possibly can on account of the time. Tell the boys "Hello" for me. Lots of love to father, mother, brothers and sister.

Yours as ever,


Base Hospital 103.

From Will Wideman.

Camp Funston, Kansas

December 10, 1918

To The Western Star, I will write a few lines back to Comanch-co. people, as I have got pretty close to home again. I expect to be out of the army soon, as I did not get to go to France. But I have had a nice time of it after all. I was sorry I did not get to go across, but am anxious to get out now. I sure have had a nice time since I left Camp McArthur at Waco, Texas. I left there November 4 for Camp Merritt, N. J. We went through Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York and got in Camp Merritt N. J., on November 8 and stayed there until the 10th, and marched five miles to a ferry boat at the Hudson River, carried a 75 pound pack, rode the ferry to New York and loaded on a transport ready to go across, and on the 12th we were unloaded and sent back to Camp Merritt. We had an easy time while we were there, did not have to drill any except to take a few hikes. I got to take two trips to new York. It is a very nice little town to see. I was transferred from my Company the 6th of December and started for Camp Funston the 7th. Left Camp Merritt at 3:30 p.m. Came through New York, where we saw lots of snow Saturday night, and when we woke up Sunday morning in Cleveland, Ohio, it was warm and the sun was shining. We got into Indianapolis, Ind., about 3:30 p.m. Sunday. We took a nice hike there, then came on through Illinois and to St. Louis at 1 a.m. Monday. We got to Kansas City at 8:30 a.m. and to Funston about 4 p.m. yesterday. I like this camp fine, but hope to get out in a few days. I just got in the army in time to see a good time and see a lot of country, but I sure would like to have got to France to that country over there, I think I will get home Christmas for a while. Expect to get back to see my old friends at Coldwater before long.


Camp Funston, Kansas.

From Fritz Harbaugh.

Somewhere in France

November 15, 1918

Dear Mother and all,

I sure have neglected writing a fright, so I am going to write you a line this morning before I go out. Well, I expect there is a great change at home, Coldwater and all the world, for that matter, as far as the war is concerned. We boys here think it must be a great rejoicing back home, but we assure you all it does not exceed it here none AT ALL. But it sure seemed hard at times to think hostilities have ceased and the whole world is again at peace. The next great question is going home which is in every American's mind overseas, but we hope the 1st of the year can tell us something of that, which I sincerely think it will. As far as I know all of the Comanche-co. boys are in fine shape and good health and came through our part of the struggle as well as we could wish for. We are now on the front, but do not know how long we will hold here, as we may be relieved any time. We are on the Verdun front and very near the city of Verdun, so you see we were there to the finish. I had a very interesting job here at the regimental headquarters, as I was in a detail of seven men to do observation work, and our post was right up with the infantry and we could see all that was going on. It was a rather dangerous place to be at times, but I was never very scared, although the shells would drop pretty close at times. Yes, I happened to be on duty the morning the doughboys went over the top for the last time and that is a sight very few artillery men get to see and the next morning at 5 o'clock the armistice was signed and at eleven o'clock every gun on the entire front ceased firing. We sat in our observation post patiently counting the minutes till eleven o'clock and everything was quiet, you could have heard a pin drop. I would not have missed being out there for a million. After I was relieved next morning, I went down with some of the boys to the line and looked the Boche over. You never saw a happier bunch and all talked about going home. Several could talk English and passed around cigarettes and to watch them you would have never dreamed they were fighting one another a few hours before. One thing they have on us is they can pack up their stuff and start for home, which they sure were doing right off the bat. Well, anyway, we can now have lights at night and fires at all times and the day of camouflaging is past. I was down to the rear echelon (rear camp) where the balance of our regiment who are not at the front stay and got me a new pair of pants, also a new blanket and, while there the band was giving concert, and it sure sounded good to hear "Huckleberry Finn" once more. We have not received any mail for about two weeks now, so we are expecting a pile of it soon. Golly, how I would like to be home now. Expect you are busy now getting ready for Thanksgiving and I know just how that turkey is going to taste. But when you get this letter you will probably be looking forward to Xmas. Well, I am not to worried now as I think we all ought to be satisfied that the war is finished and I know it will not be so very long before we will be staring the Statue of Liberty in the face once more. Does Bay think she will be home for Xmas? Have not heard from her for several days, but guess I owe her a letter. I wonder if Hod ever got started across or not? Guess Chad must be here some place, but have not heard from him. Expect all the boys in the training camps are rejoicing, that they will not have to come across now, but I tell you I would not have missed it for a million. Well, Mother don't forget to tell the others who write to be sure to put in a chocolate bar or some flat candy in my letters, as I sure like candy. Will write you more punctual next time.

Your loving son,
130th F. A. Battery, F. A. E. F.

Thanks to Shirley Brier for finding, transcribing and contributing the above news article to this web site!

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