Veterans Day Letters Will Make You Laugh, Cry
In honor of Veterans Day and to salute all veterans, I present some very special letters my uncle wrote from the front during World War I. Carroll Hosbrook, a farm boy from Ohio, found himself in a small French village on Nov. 11, 1918. Bells in a bombed-out church were still intact and rang out the good news of the Armistice having been signed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. On this historic day, my Uncle Carroll was writing home, part of a series of letters that chronicled his service from boot camp to battlefield. He had a wry sense of humor, an eye for girls, and a strong sense of duty to family and country. Here is a selection of his letters:
Battlefront offers headache cure
Camp Sherman, Chillicothe, Ohio, May 6, 1918.
Well, I fired the machine gun for the first time this morning. It made my ears ring as if someone had hit me. Then I got my second inoculation shot; it was a bigger shot but has not made me sick (yet). You said sister Harriet had the headache. Let her come up here and take some of the stuff I got to take, and it could cure her headaches.
I haven’t got a girl up here, so get a real petty one down there to write me. That shot in my back has started to work on my knees — they feel like they are going to fall off. But don’t worry about me. I will take care of myself.
— Carroll Hosbrook, 324th Machine Gun Battalion.
Fights harder when warm
England, June 27, 1918.
I arrived over here safe and sure had a wonderful trip. Don’t worry a bit about me because Uncle Sam will take care of me. The weather is very cool, and I’d like to have a sleeveless sweater as soon as possible. I will fight a lot harder for you if I am warm. Ha, ha.
— I remain as ever, your grandson, Carroll.
Air support is music to his ears
Somewhere in France July 17, 1918.
We are billeted in an old house on the outskirts of a nice French village. We saw some churches and other buildings 300 years old. No doubt, they have a great history, but I am not over here to study history. As I was writing this letter, two aeroplanes went over where we are stationed. They were allies but I couldn’t make out the nationality. Gee, I like to hear their engine hum — it’s music to me. Tell Grandma not to worry. I am coming back to all.
— Goodbye, Carroll
Gott Mit Uns
France, Sept. 19, 1918.
I am in a British field hospital. My sickness is the diarrhea. The sicker boys have beds, and the ones that ain’t so sick sleep on stretchers. There are nine Tommies (British soldiers) in this tent with me, and they are trying to sell me some of Jerry’s stuff, so I have a hard time writing. The Jerries are what you would call the Huns. The boys bring in stuff from the front they get off the dead and from prisoners. I just looked at a nice leather belt with “Gott Mit Uns” on the buckle. This means “God is with us.” Do you think God is with them? I remain as ever your Grandson.
— Pvt. Carroll Hosbrook
Whipped, but stubborn
France, Oct. 29, 1918.
Our roof got damaged in the fighting. It does all right when the weather is fair and is too wet to work on when it rains. I just learned that Austria has given in to President Wilson’s peace terms. Next will be the Huns. They are whipped but too stubborn to give up. I see lots of them, and most look like they are fed up to the neck with war. Listen, Grandma, don’t worry anymore about that sweater since I got one issued to me. My pipe went out so I will close for now.
— Pvt. Carroll Hosbrook
Relief at last, armistice signed
Somewhere over here, Nov. 11, 1918.
This has been some day. We got news this morning that the Huns had given up and signed the Armistice. There is a big church here that is partly destroyed, but it has a bell still intact, and it has been ringing since noon. The Yanks sure gave the Huns a good hot chase. I guess they will think twice before they start out to take the world again. I’ll soon be walking in your door on a nice clear day and can then tell you what I have seen of this Great War. I never thought that one’s part would be such a small part. But I found out that it is true when you say you are going to do your bit — it is a little bit. You will read something very great about us in history. We are wanted to take part in a big parade in England because we have been fighting with their boys. Good night. — I remain as ever, Pvt. Carroll Hosbrook
With censorship ended, my uncle’s later letters traced his service in France — from landing at Le Mans, a first German raid at Etaples, “marching through the mud in pursuit of the Huns” from Doingt to St. Souplet and then action at La Sabliere Woods. He wrote the Armistice Day letter of Nov. 11, 1918, in the French village of Corbie, just a few miles from where the armistice was signed in a railroad car in Compiégne. Uncle Carroll returned home, found his own “pretty girl” and settled down. After the war, he never cared much for marching, machine guns or doctor’s needles. By historical standards, he was not a great man — but he was a good man, one of the many men and women whom we honor on Veterans Day so that they and their service will never be forgotten.
Dr. Jim Burns is a professor emeritus at the University of Florida.