May 19, 2019 – A long-forgotten souvenir

Ehrenbreitstein 1919

When I was growing up, this small black-framed photo was in the family desk.  I never really thought about it, never paid any attention to it.  Somehow it ended up in a box of my mother’s things after she died and I inherited it.  When I started this project of Jay in the Great War and learned that he had been in Koblenz (then Coblenz), that framed photo came to mind.  I dug it out and realized it had been a souvenir Jay brought back after the war.

High on the east bank of the Rhine River, opposite Koblenz sits Ehrenbreitstein Fortress.  Above is a photo of that souvenir Jay brought home depicting the Fortress and below, a photo of Ehrenbreitstein from where I stood a few weeks ago.

Ehrenbreitstein 2019

Today there are several souvenir stands in the area of the Kaiser monument.  I’ve learned that in 1919 there were many such shops and stands doing a brisk business selling souvenirs to members of the US Army.  Jay would have purchased the framed photo there.  Again I found myself walking in his footsteps, seeing many of the same sights he saw, 100 years later.

 

 

 

May 13, 1919 – Best Cared For Army

In 1919, the 2nd Army published 13 issues of a magazine, ‘The Indian’.  On this date 100 years ago, this article was published in the Indian.  Some of the activities we read here have already been presented in previous blog posts but there is a lot of interesting information about what these guys were doing while they waited to go home.

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The Best Cared For Army

The Indian Magazine
Volume 1, No. 5 — May 13, 1919

Author Unknown

Never in the history of warfare have armies been as well cared for as the American forces overseas. Of these forces the divisions that form the Army of Occupation upon the Rhine are in a particularly favorable position.

To begin with the officers and men of the Army of Occupation are quartered in comfortable billets. Beds are being obtained for every man. They are located in towns that have been the mecca for tourists for years. And they are part of the best fed army in the world today.

In a general way, the days are divided into two parts. Mornings are devoted to drill, tactical exercises, and the care of equipment. Afternoons are devoted to athletics and play, and evenings to entertainment.

Of the mornings, nothing need be said. After all, this is an army in an enemy’s country, and soldiering is soldiering, the world over. Of the afternoons and evenings there is so much to be said that lack of space forbids anything but the barest mention of the hundred and one activities of the men.

 

Take the Rhine river excursions for instance. Every day in the week two big excursion steamers make the trip. One goes up the Rhine as far as the Lorelei rock, the other down the river as far as Bonn. The boats are crowded to capacity, and, by the way, everything is free. There is a brass band on each boat, a good hot lunch is served at noon, and a lecturer points out the various castles and objects of interest and explains the historical significance of everything. This is a trip tourists paid big money to take before the war, and spent the balance of their lives talking about.

“Leave centers” have been established at various towns. A leave center is a place where visiting soldiers from other towns find beds, food and entertainment galore during their short stay while on leave in the area. This is just by way of a change, and has nothing to do with the regular big leave that comes every four months as regularly as clockwork. At some of the leave centers are famous mineral baths where millionaires and kings tarried in other days. American soldiers splash about in the palatial tubs now.

Shows? There are soldier shows, shows from gay Paree, shows with real American girls in them, band concerts, musical comedies organized by soldiers with “a carload of special scenery,” singing leaders and lectures. Good shows seem to grow on trees. Movies most every night, and in the big towns every afternoon too. All free, of course.

There are clubs for officers, which are real clubs in every sense, and there are clubs being organized for the enlisted men. The Red Cross, Knights of Columbus, Salvation Army and Y. M. C. A. cooperate in the distribution of magazines and newspapers, and the maintenance of reading and writing rooms in the various towns.

Each division has its own big division sales commissary, where the men may buy at low prices candy, clothing, and foods of various description, if they wish to add a bit to their messes, and each separate regiment now has its own regimental sales commissary. The men dine in large mess halls that have been erected, and many of the companies have gathered together real plates, cups, knives, forks and spoons, and have the table set just like home, packing their old field mess-gear away.

Circulating libraries are being established, tennis tournaments are in full swing, and two big baseball leagues have been formed in the Second Division. Each company has its own team also, and competitions are so arranged in athletics that every man in the company has to do something himself, and does not spend all his time on the side lines, cheering for a few good players.

Chaplains and athletic officers cooperate in all these things, and amusement officers look after the shows.

Last, but not least, come the schools. An opportunity has been extended to each man of the Second Division to equip himself mentally and physically, so when the time comes for him to enter the peaceful pursuits of civil life, none need fear being handicapped in competition with those whose studies were not interrupted by the course of events over here.

An Educational Center has been established at Rengsdorf*, where spacious buildings have been secured with ample accomodations for 600 students and 40 instructors. Courses including agriculture, mathematics, history, English, business branches, econom­science (general,) barbering, photography, lithography, mechanical drawing, sign painting, lettering and a variety of other trades.                                 .

Five hours of recitations or supervised study constitute a day’s session, with one hour military instruction. In connection with the agricultural course are forestry and field work on Saturdays. It is under the personal supervision of Maj. W. E. Finzer, assisted by an able corps of trained instructors.

At other schools about the division are taught horse­shoeing, blacksmithing, motorcycle and automobile repairing, maintenance and driving, and a general knowledge of carburetor, tire and magneto repairing.

One thing more deserves special mention. This is the “Comrades in Service” movement, under the guidics [sic], science (general,) barbering, photography, lithoance [sic] of Divisian [sic] Chaplain Oscar Lee Owens. This is an organization of the enlisted men within each company and separate detachment, whereby they elect officers, and manage their own debating societies, entertainments, and other morale-building activities.

 

 

 

 

May 4, 1919 – That little town on the Rhine

HQ 3

 

 

One hundred years ago this week, the first week of May, 1919, Company A left Coblenz and returned to Brohl.  They were tired and ready to go home.  There were plenty of rumors that they’d be shipping out soon but none were coming true.  But it wouldn’t be long before they were making their way back to America.

During my recent visit to the Rhineland, I was able to spend an afternoon in Brohl (now Brohl-Lutzing).  All the descriptions of the town from 100 years ago painted a pretty dull picture.  There just wasn’t much going on there.  My visit proved there still isn’t much activity.  But many of the old buildings remain, the streets are still narrow and winding.

In Brohl-Lutzing I was able to again walk in Jay’s footsteps.  We (Peter Wever and I) found several of the locations that had been captured in photos from 1919.  Several of them are posted here (some have already been shown in previous posts).

Immediately as we drove into town, we noticed the building that had housed the Regimental Headquarters.  We wandered around a bit and made our way to that building, now a nice looking antique shop.  Across the street was the only business (other than the gas station) that was open in town, a small coffee shop.  We (ok, Peter) chatted with her (in German) and told the story of how Jay had been there 100 years before and that the building outside her window had been the HQ.  She was a lovely lady and happy to hear the story.  I left the print of the 1919 building with her.  Not much seems to happen in that sleepy little town but I have no doubt everyone knows that the grandson of one of those Americans from 100 years ago had stopped by.

“The sixth month on the Rhine. Though the desire to go home was as keen as ever, there were some compensating features in remaining on the Rhine.  The weather was ideal; the sun’s rays first grazed the ridges surrounding the bowl in which the town was built and descended upon the gray-green waters of the great river, outlining the cliffs on the opposite shore.  The spring foliage changed the brown winter landscape to green, the blossoms of the magnolia and horse-chestnut filling the air with their fragrance.  In the yards of some of the humblest homes were large masses of lilac.

“In such weather baseball was at its best and the field on the river claimed a large daily attendance.  The new large Y.M.C.A. auditorium afforded opportunity for the presentation of really good shows and movies.

“Daily association with the townspeople, even though they were an enemy people and the provisions against “fraternization” notwithstanding, could not but result in friendly relations, and in all fairness it cannot but be said that the treatment accorded the regiment art the hands of the people of Brohl was excellent – whether with ulterior motive or not.”

– The Three Hundred and First Engineers – A History 1917-1919

More photos from 1919 and 2019:

Motor pool
Motor pool 1919 and same place 2019
1 c
Along the river, 1919

 

1 b
Along the river, 1919

 

1 a
Along the river, 2019

 

 

 

April 27, 1919 – All work and no play makes Jay a dull doughboy

Sergeant First Class Shetler, Company A, and everyone serving in the 301st Engineers were ready, very ready to go home.  They suffered from homesickness and boredom.  The U.S. Army wasn’t ready to help them with the homesick issue but it did everything it could to fight boredom.  Boat trips to Coblenz, visits to the Andernach Geyser, passes to explore the local towns, castles and countryside were given.

Carnival poster

On this date 100 years ago, the four day Third Army Carnival drew to a close.  The Carnival included athletic events, games, horsemanship contests, even wagon maneuvering competitions.  Company A was still posted in Coblenz during this period and its men surely would have taken part in the festivities.  It is very briefly mentioned in one of the books written by members of Company A.

Carnival 2

Carnival 1

Photos provided by Armin Bode-Kessler

 

 

 

April 18, 1919 – Out of the hospital

One hundred years ago today, Sergeant First Class Shetler was discharged from Evacuation Hospital Number 49 in Coblenz, Germany. Back to the kitchen, grandpa.

He didn’t have far to go.  Company A was quartered in a former German barracks known as Telegraphenkaserne, just a five minute walk as we learned in his previous letter.  Here are photos of the place from 1919 and one hundred years later.  The buildings are now apartments and have been altered over the years.  But they have a very long history.  Jay and Company A are part of that history.

Telegraf kaserne 1

 

Barracks.jpg

 

April 8, 1919 – Company A boys on film

Castle watch

During and after the war, photographers of the U.S. Army Signal Corps took thousands of photos.  Many of these photos showing the utter devastation that occurred in France were taken by them.  After the A.E.F. moved into the Rhineland, the photographers continued their work where their work took on a little more relaxed nature.

On February 8, 1919, Sergeant First Class Charles Mace took this photograph and on this date 100 years ago the Signal Corps received it.

It is a photo of two Company A men checking out Burg Eltz, an “old castle near Moselkern, Germany”.  Seated is Corporal Frank Grandel.  Standing is Corporal William Benoit.  Benoit was one of the cooks working under Jay.

The photo was taken by Sergeant First Class Charles Mace of the Signal Corps and provided to me by Peter Wever.

Castle watch - Copy

April 6, 1919 – The last letter home

1919.04.06 161

 

My grandfather wrote 25 letters from the time he was ‘called to colors’ in 1918 until his discharge 16 months later.  The majority of these letters went to Rinda but after her death he wrote to his brother and to Gertie, Rinda’s sister who was then taking care of my dad.  The letter posted here is the last of those he wrote while in service.

In this letter, Jay explains to Gertie why he is in the hospital, influenza.  In his past hospital stays, he often referred to his lungs, that they just weren’t healthy and never had been even before his time in the Army.  Those hospitalizations also occurred while those around him were hospitalized (some dying) for the flu.  But this is the first time he mentions that it is influenza from which he suffers.  He somehow escaped contracting the disease in the first and second waves of it in 1918 but it finally got him down in the third wave.

It was also in this letter that I learned the locations of the hospital and where Company A was billeted.  Jay writes that the camp ‘is only about five minute walk from the hospital’.  My recent visit to Koblenz proved that to be correct….it was in fact only about a five minute walk. Huge thank you to Armin Bode-Kessler for finding the exact locations and Peter Wever for taking me there.

 

Coblense Germany

April 6th, 1919

Evacuation Hosp. No 49.

Dear Sis:

Sunday once more and it finds me in hospital where I have been for past 16 days. During second week in March we had some very bad weather snow rain and cold.  My work took me out of doors a great deal.  Contracted a very severe cold which I was unable to shake from my lungs.  On March 20th I went to Medical Dept and was sent to hospital where I still remain.

Flu leaving my lungs somewhat weak and needless to say they are far from being strong at present.  Much improved over what they were when I came here.

Have had more or less trouble with my lungs since coming to Europe over eight months ago. During our long walk from France to Germany weather was bad and hardships great and needless to say I suffered in silence.

Don’t know for sure but think I will be released from hospital this week and sent back to Co.  Our Co. is now stationed at Coblence having billets at Signal Park.

The park is only about five minute walk from the hospital.  As I am up and can go out as I please now I visit Co nearly every day.  Was down town this p.m. with a fellow soldier first time I have been down since coming to the hospital.

We are with in walking distance of the heart of the city taking about 15 minutes to walk down from Co or hospital.  Coblense is a beautiful city one of the oldest in Germany housing a population of 60,000 people.  Located upon Mosel and Rhine Rivers.  Mosel emptying into Rhine here. I am enclosing postal showing view of the statue of Kaiser Wm. Which is a huge affair.  We climbed up into base of statue coming out of the opening which I have marked with an X.  This statue sets on a point of land extending out into Rhine at point where the Mosel enters.  Sure as an ideal place to construct such a statue.  There are many interesting sights to be seen in and about Coblence.  Sorry but I haven’t saw many of them but when I return to Co may have a better chance.  We were only in City of Coblence a few days before I was sent here.

Our Reg. headquarters is still at Brohl on Rhine some 30 kilos from here.

Our Co. is on what is a detached service being attached to 3rd army headquarters.  We belong to no Div.  We are what is known as auxiliary troops of Fourth Corp which make up 3rd Army or Army of occupation.  42nd and 32nd Div are booked to leave France during April.  They are both members of Fourth Corp and last Divs to be removed from army of occupation until new troops are recruited for the present army of occupation.  New army is recruited from the men in ranks here and new men over seas.

So we are sure out of luck as far as an early sailing is considered.  Looks as if we would have to remain most of summer if not all of it.

Your good letter of March 6th reached me a few days ago and sure was pleased to hear from you.  Thinking my letter to you might have gone astray.

Glad to learn Dell forwarded you the funds and I will assure you he won’t forget to send them until such time I am able to take care of the same. Also glad to learn the amount was satisfactory and came when it was needed.

Sorry to learn Ray and your daughter had been ill and awfully glad to learn they are both back to good health.  Hows Raymonds limbs are they bowed?  Last time I saw him they were quite bad.

Yes I will visit you at Mpls a short time after my return.  Hope to have a very interesting and pleasant talk.  Seems as if I had really met you as Rinda was always speaking of you.

Glad to learn you are going to send me one of his pictures sure would like to have one.  I am planning on having some postal photo taken and will mail you one if they are good.

Pleased to learn Raymond is good to mind an untrained child is not the best for child or parents.

I will close for this time as I am some what tired after my long walk today.

I will close with kindest regards and best of wishes and good health to all.

Sincerely  J.

Sgt Jay E. Shetler

Co “A” 301st Engrs.

A.P.O 755

A.E.F. France

*********************************************************

Photo of the Kaiser William I statue in Coblenz that Jay and his friends had climbed up into. It’s not the actual postcard he sent to Gertie but is one that a cousin brought back from Germany after the war.  The statue sits at Deutches Eck, a point where the Mosel River empties into the Rhine.  This postcard photo would have been taken from across the Mosel.  The wall at the lower left marks the point where that river flows into the Rhine.

1919.04.06a.jpg

The Statue was destroyed in WWII and eventually rebuilt. Here’s a then-and-now photo from when I visited a couple weeks ago.

1919.04.06a (2)

Credit: thumb and finger provided by Peter Wever.

March 28, 1919 – Scenes from Evac Hospital #49

One hundred years ago on this date, Jay was still being treated at Evacuation Hospital #49 in Coblenz.  We will learn in his next letter what was going on but for now, here are more photos of the hospital.  Jay definitely would have been in several of these rooms and locations.

Nurses reception room
Nurses in their reception room
1 x-ray dept
X-ray department
1 Sterilizer and portable equipment
Sterilization and portable equipment
1 operating room
Operating room
1 bath house
Bath house
morgue
Morgue – Jay wasn’t here
venereal ward.jpg
Venereal disease ward – he wasn’t here 🙂

 

March 20, 1919 – Back to the hospital

1 receiving ward and barracks
US Army Evacuation Hospital 49, Coblenz Germany

On this date in 1919, Sergeant Shetler was admitted to Evacuation Hospital 49 in Coblenz.  This is one of many hospital stays Jay had since his entry into the Army.  In previous letters, he often wrote that he had problems with his lungs.  In an upcoming letter to Gertie, he explains what he is hospitalized for.

Today, one hundred years to the date of his admission, I am standing at the former site of the hospital in Koblenz (modern spelling).

The hospital complex was huge, I can see many of the original buildings spread across many acres, all repurposed into apartments. There are schools and modern apartment building interspersed between the old buildings.

Here are some photos of the hospital exterior and grounds:

1 Hosp 49 from Armin
Evacuation Hospital 49 buildings – 1919
B062D5A7-2A4D-4A0B-929E-746D9F393E81
Evacuation Hospital 49 Building – 2019 – now an apartment building  

 

Other side of hospital bldg -1919
General view
General view 1919

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 16, 1919 – A visit from Black Jack

1919.03.18 label is wrong

(This photo is mislabeled.  Pershing reviewed Company A in Coblenz on March 16, 1919, not in April.)

On this date 100 years ago, Company A of the 301st Engineers was reviewed by General “Black Jack” Pershing at Coblenz, Germany.  Company A was in Coblenz on a work assignment. Two days later, on the 18th, he reviewed the rest of the 301st near Brohl.

In the photo posted here, Jay’s there.  Somewhere.

But it’s still an interesting vignette about the March 18 review:

“Early in March it became known that it was the intention of the Commander-in-Chief to review the divisions and units of the Army of Occupation, the date to be the 18th.  Great care was taken to have the men of the regiment prepared for this event; uniforms were replaced or cleaned and there were one or two rehearsals in the formation to be used.

“At 4:55 a.m., the 18th, the entire regiment (minus Unit “A”) were transported by truck to a large plain near Kaisersesch.  The day was unfavorable.  The snow-covered ground and the wind kept the men uncomfortable, but the wait was not so long as upon other occasions.

“At the approach of General Pershing, “General’s Call” was blown and at the command of General Wells, Chief of Staff, all units presented arms, after which the inspection began.  Front ranks about-faced, and the General passed through questioning and commenting.  The Inspection completed, the troops closed in about a small grandstand and listened to the General’s address, returning by truck to Brohl.”

– The Three Hundred and First Engineers – A History 1917-1919