Welcome to my blog, Jay in the Great War. Jay E. Shetler was my grandfather, my father’s dad. This is Jay’s story based on letters he wrote from 1918-1919 to my grandmother and others as well as excerpts and information I found in three books written after the war by members of unit Jay served in:
“Our Memoirs: Company A, 301st Engineers” – published 1919
“A Short History of the 301st Engineers” – published 1919
“The Three Hundred and First Engineers – A History 1917-1919” – published 1920
Jay was a Mess Sergeant. I’ve found a lot of information about the food that was prepared and fed to the doughboys and will use information from the book,
“Manual for Army Cooks 1916”
I’ll also use maps and battle information from the ABMC book,
“American Armies and Battlefields in Europe”, published in 1939.
Additional information came from the U.S. Archives. I was able to get copies of Unit A’s (Jay’s Unit) Daily Record book entries from June to September, 1918 and January to June, 1919.
I’ve found a lot of information online, especially lately as the world commemorates the centenary of the war’s end. And, best of all, I’ve gotten a ton of help from friends here and overseas plus people on the many pages dedicated to The Great War on Facebook.
The Spanish Flu was a huge event during 1918 and played and had an important place in my family story. I’ll be using information from the book,
“The Great Influenza” – published 2004.
For the next 15 months I’ll be posting from letters he wrote between March 11, 1918 when he entered the US Army until his discharge on June 20, 1919. I’ll also post information from the above resources that documented where Jay’s unit was, day by day in France and Germany with the Army of Occupation. I’ll include photos from the books, from WWI web-sites and some I took while at the Western Front in 2017. With any luck, more from that area when I visit again later this year.
A little note on the letters: Jay typically closed his letters with the words “oceans (or barrels) of love to you and Raymond” and signed them, “Willie”; must have been a pet name Rinda, my grandmother had for him.
Jay E. Shetler was born on October 9, 1887 in Brandon Township, Oakland County, Michigan, close to Flint. By the early 20th century, the family (father Edwin, mother Mary, brother Dell, and Jay) was living in Gaylord in northern Michigan. In 1912, Jay was in Waterloo, Iowa, managing a cafeteria. It would have probably been about this time he and my grandmother, Rinda Marie Johnson met. She was from LeRoy, Minnesota not far from Waterloo. They packed up and moved to northern Minnesota where Rinda and Jay managed restaurants as well as worked in logging. On May 23, 1916, Rinda gave birth to my dad, Raymond Jay Shetler in Black Duck, Beltrami County, Minnesota.
During their time in the north, Rinda was hospitalized a couple times with pneumonia. She suffered from lung issues all her life. Times and the weather were hard on everyone and they left northern Minnesota for southern Minnesota and Iowa, closer to Rinda’s family. The letters from Jay to Rinda during this time, 1915-1917 were from when he was on the road in the Upper Midwest as a salesman for the Escanaba Mfg. Co. He also traveled often to Gaylord to see his aging parents and brother.
He registered for the draft in his hometown of Gaylord on June 5, 1917, the first National Registration Day when all men between the ages of 21 and 30 were required to register. Then, he waited to be called. Here is a portion of the letter he wrote to Rinda in Waterloo, Iowa on August 19, 1917:
Must tell you I have been called for draft or rather called for examination tomorrow Aug 20 at 8 a.m. So, I will know my fate long before you get this letter. Must tell you mother is a nervous wreck about me being called. Because she worries so much & cries nearly all time. Especially when I am out. Talks to Dell and Pa about it all time. Dell says pa has even cried about it & it was something new for him.
They have both worked so hard all their lives & now that they can take it a little easier to have something like this come up sure does break their hearts.
Rinda I was going to write before but I could not tell you where I was at or anything.
As my mind has been in such an up roar & could not settle upon any one thing.
But now the government has settled matters for me. Guess they will end an ill spent life of mine.
Of course, there is about one chance in one hundred that I will not pass the examination.
But it is the case of fate again hope you know.
If I am gone can have mail forward. I am too blue & discouraged to write more so good bye & love to you & R.
As ever Willie
He passed that physical and waited to be called.
So tomorrow, March 11, 1918, the Jay in the Great War blog begins.