One hundred years ago today, June 20, 1918, Jay wrote to Rinda from Camp Devens, Mass with good news, he’s cooking and more, he’s planning meals and ordering food. Tasks like those were beyond that of a doughboy frying liver and onions. There just might be a promotion in the future.
After being in the U.S. Army for 90 days, Pvt. Shetler has finally found his place. He is now part of the Unit A, 301st Engineers, 76th Division. What are Army Engineers? These are the men who build roads and bridges, erect buildings, build pontoons to cross rivers, build ammo dumps. That’s what they built. At the front, they re-built road, bridges, buildings, pontoons, ammo dumps and anything else that had been destroyed by the Germans. You can’t get the dead and wounded from the front without roads and bridges and you can’t get the replacements for those dead and wounded without roads and bridges. The Engineers performed an absolutely vital role in the war.
Jay was not an engineer, he had no training or experience in the field. But he was experienced in food preparation. He had been a cook for many years in the hotels he owned and operated in the Upper Midwest. Family lore says that from the time he had been drafted, he had been trying to get into a position of cook. I think that’s why he was at Camp Devens, that he had found out there was a better likelihood of landing a position in the kitchen.
We will see in future posts that being a cook, being at a kitchen behind the other men was no sure thing for staying safe but at least he wouldn’t be digging in destroyed roads where unexploded ordnance lay buried or working in areas where German snipers might be around.
He also mentions a former neighbor who was killed the previous week. The neighbor, Pvt. Philip S. Lovejoy from Gaylord, Michigan actually died on April 30, 1918 of disease…..influenza? Whenever I hear of a death in 1918, my first thought is influenza, particularly if its a person in his/her 20s-30s. That’s the age influenza was really attacking. And sadly, I’m often correct.
Dear Rinda –
Your letter of recent date received and will endeavor to answer after some delay as I have been very busy on new work and guess you know I always become a little nervous at first on new jobs. But things are settling down in good shape now and I am getting wise to the work more each day. But sure is one hell of a task to feed men for 45 60/100 cents per day with food at present prices. Corn beef is $57 per 200# bbl’s. Compound 19 cents and we used to buy it in the (International) Falls for 9 cents. I now belong to the 76th Div and this Div will soon go over seas. So my stay in the U.S. won’t be much over two months if that long we are getting in shape now to recon on short notice that is after July 1st.
Been wondering of late a great deal if you and R had move yet? Do hope that you can remain for the summer. Country life and plenty of good fresh food will sure do you both bbl’s of good.
Received word from home today stating a boy who formerly lived there and was in the 16th Engineers was killed overseas last week. Some years younger than I but can well remember him when he was a boy his people lived about four doors from us his sister died a short time ago with lung trouble. He also had one brother about my age. But married.
Co is not filled to war strength as yet but next draft will undoubtedly fill it to more than that.
The mess sergeant I am working with is a mighty fine young feller coming from New England states. Sorry you made such a mistake and address me as you did in your last letter as I am only a private and should be addressed as such. So here after don’t make such mistakes as they might or would undoubtedly get me in a serious trouble at this end of line.
Been rumors afloat about the Co we were to receive 4 day passes before going overseas some men have already received them but four days would do me no good. We all drew our overseas clothing other day. 2 suits of woolen uniform belt bayonet and gun belt. I never use my gun at all haven’t drilled one day since coming to this Co.
No more to write this time so will close.
Love to you & R a plenty.
Your soldier man J
Co A, 301st Engineers as Private