Letters Home

 

Capt. Loomis Black

Letters Home

from 88th Division, Some where in France

 

 

LeMars Sentinel

LeMars, Plymouth County
Friday, January 31, 1919

DESCRIBES HIS IMPRESSIONS
Capt. Loomis Black Writes of Experiences in France

Capt. Loomis O. Black, of the Machine Gun Co., 352 Infantry, whose wife is with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. John V. Harker, of LeMars, while he is serving his country in France, has written a letter describing some of his impressions and the experiences of the 88th Division, from which we print the following extracts:

 

"We have been billeted in over twenty different places and that in itself is very interesting, the people we have met, the places where they have put us and our attempts to learn this language over here all have been good. We have asked the simplest questions and received the strangest replies, sometimes very embarrassing. Nearly all French beds are very comfortable but one of the officers in our company was assigned one which was too short for him and when he tried to tell the old lady about it, well she did not understand him correctly. I was assigned to one place where my bed was a real work of art and at night the dear old lady would always take it down for me so that all I had to do was climb in . One night she forgot it. I did not understand how it worked, I was afraid I would not fold something properly, so I took my blankets and slept on the floor, which really was no hardship at all. I was used to doing that, but I nearly broke the old ladies heart, really it was pathetic. The natives generally do all their cooking over a fire place and it is very surprising how well they do. And the finest biscuits I have even tasted, our cooks prepared in old fashioned ovens, in which a fire is built, the oven heated, then the fire pulled out and the biscuits put in.

Nearly every village has a beautiful Catholic church. They are truly wonderful and the strangest part of it is that practically all of the were built during the years 1000 and 1100. The Gothic architectures predominates, though sometimes, it took so long to build them, two or more styles are evidenced. Those churches were pretty old when Columbus discovered America and have not been changed at all. In fact everything in the villages is quite permanent including the dirst, smells and public buildings. So much over here convinces a man that he is a mere worm, and that his stay on earth is very brief. I am also convinced that all the reasons for the French Revolution were not realized.

Our division did not take part in any great battle or little one either for that matter, so I have no historic event to report from a personal experience viewpoint. I know it is easy for one to say that he is either very glad or very sorry that he did not participate in a big battle. Had the war lasted forty-eight hours longer, we surely would have been in an historic engagement. When peace came, we were in the St. Mihiel sector, ready for real action, and judging from previous reports from the sector, my chances fro coming out whole would have been considerably less than fifty percent. At first thought, I was very glad, very glad and of course am so still, yet later, I stood by the grave of some American soldier, with its little wooden cross and it seemed almost selfish to be alive and sound, that soldier had given so much and I so little. Deep down below every other thought, I can not help but feel very seriously, that he has won an honor, which I have not, an honor deeper and more glorious than I can ever hope to win.

When I wrote the other letter, we were in the Belfort sector. It was a so-called peaceful sector, but that was true only when the French were in there. Our division had only a little trouble, but the U.S. divisions in there before us had caught "hell." We were looking for the same treatment and the constant strain was not agreeable. Our regiment lost some men there, I don't know just how many and the division lost some more but altogether not very many. One of my friends, a captain, was killed and among twenty-five or thirty prisoners taken were two captains. You, of course, did not read about us in the papers but I can assure you that for about three weeks, the men of the 88th were on their toes for awhile. It was surely a rare experience.

Taking a company into the trenches is, to say the least, very interesting. We had bee just back of the trenches for quite awhile, we had heard about the casualty reports, we had seen some of the "big ones" coming over and had been rather near a real bombardment and I'll say our imaginations were keyed up the night we went in. Still at that, you would have been proud of the temper of the men. I really do not believe the American soldier as a whole knows the word fear.

It was a black night and a black night in France means something, when we, that is our company, took over our part of the machine gun positions. We had to go through two or three miles of thick forest. The Hun positions were not so very far away and big guns were booming all the while but their noise was not constant enough to kill the rattle of our carts, how they did rattle that night. They sounded to Berlin, I can hear them yet, and we knew the Hun had the range to our road for he had shelled it a day or so before. But we got in all right. The only time when we became really excited was when a guard called, "Halt," he supposing we were a wagon and a team of mules; of course we halted the head of the column but the tail of it was not easily or quickly halted. I guess the guard thought he was being attacked, he kept calling, "halt" and so did the rest of us in front. We knew he had us covered and had a right to shoot but he did not.

Our regiment shortly after we got in was bombarded and raided on our left. I can hear the sound yet also. We lost some men there but so did the Huns. And then one a.m. at just six o'clock a bombardment started on what I thought was the right of our own company position. It lasted for an hour and a half and as I fully believed one of our platoons was knocked off, I can truthfully state that I suffered. The fog was so great that we could not see two rods. Fortunately it was ____ and right on some African troops, who are real soldiers by the way. All we got was some stray machine gun bullets.

My dugout was in a hill from which, a week before, the Huns had captured two French majors and the place was alive with rats and all sorts of false alarms. We wore our gas masks at the alert all the while and had our guns ready for instant use. A man was not allowed to move around alone; the ground had all been captured from the Huns, they knew it far better than we. When I come home, I'll tell you more about our life there and that bombardment. I can't in a letter.

After peace came, a few of us had the opportunity of going over the St. Mihiel sector. It is an awful sight; village after village just flat from bombardments, not a person in them for miles and miles. It was all very depressing to me. One of us picked up a Hun rifle and fired at a Hun helmet down the main street of a good sized town and not a soul heard that shot but ourselves.

I went to Metz a few days after the armistice; we crossed the Mozelle river at the Point a Mousson and wend down the east bank. It is a beautiful river but there was ruin everywhere. Metz is a fine city and the Huns had just left there. We secured an excellent meal for $1.25 and nearly everyone was talking Dutch. Wood was used for shoe soles and rope for bicycle tires. A life size statue of the Kaiser was pulled over and children were walking on its head.

Then I went down the east bank of the Meuse from St. Mihiel to Verdun and from there out to the Verden battlefield. Of course, all through this country there is nothing but destruction. Both St. Mihiel and Verdun were nice little cities, really beautiful and the country near them must have been wonderfully beautiful, but it is not so now, everything is completely ruined.

In reference to the battlefield of Verdun, I suppose that during the war 2,000,000 men have been killed there and it looks it. Before the war there were woods, productive fields, and villages there; now nothing for miles and miles but complete ruin, not a tree, not even a stump, not a wall, not a green living thing is left, all has been bombarded into a mass of debris, sprinkled quite well with human skeletons. It all has the appearance of a great, awful, rolling white desert with signs of death everywhere. I could write pages and then you would have little idea of the horribleness of it all. The worst though was the numberless skeletons on top of the ground and in the strangest positions, a half of a skull in a helmet, a pair of shoes with the feet still in them, and I saw men there trying to put those bones together, using them as puzzles, just for the fun of it. And do you know that you cannot tell a Hun skeleton from that of an American or a Frenchman or an Englishman. Well, some Carlyle, two hundred years from now, will show how brainless it all was.

The hills of Verdun have become sacred ground, if the highest human endeavor can make them. Those men died for a great cause, they will not have died in vain if out of and because of this war, war no longer is possible. At home and over here there are people waiting for them to come home. But many of those men, all that is left of them, are lying on the many Verduns of northeastern France, the millions of rats have eaten their flesh, and bombardment after bombardment has blown their bones from shell hole to shell hole. My heart goes out to some sad, lonesome homes-the tragedy of it all, I am so sorry. I hate war.

I have lost some friends over here, fine fellows, they died facing the terrible enemy of civilization. We had worked together, we used to "fall in" in response to the same bugle call, we camped together and ate our mess served from the same kettle, and now they are gone, they have "fallen out" for the last time over here, but for some reason I am not troubled. I feel sure of the reveille yet to be, and my friends will wait for me, then we will "take up the march" and "carry one" from over there.

We are now located at Bonnet, near Toul. We have been here for a month. We do not know how long we will be here or where we will go from here. We really know little or nothing about when we will be home, but it is about all I am thinking about and all the little reports are listened to with great interest.

What a wonderful thing for me my home coming is going to be, with Blanche and little Mary, whom I hardly know. I think we are going to live in Boone, at least we hope so, I have planned on my office there.

Please pardon this long letter. I did not mean to write so much. It is not all elegant. I have not tried to make it such. I was not writing about an elegant subject. I have not used my imagination. I have just tried to tell you a little of what a real battlefield looks like and means."

 

-transcribed and Submitted by Linda Ziemann
Iowa GenWeb County Coordinator, Plymouth, Monona, Sioux counties http://www.iagenweb.org
Iowa Old Press IAGenWeb Special Project Co-coordinator http://www.iowaoldpress.com/index.html