July 13, 1918 began in the wee hours with Sergeant Shetler, Unit A and the rest of the 301st Engineers on that train headed for New Jersey.
Reflecting on the passage I quoted in yesterday’s post from the book, “Our Memoirs” I seriously wondered what Jay was feeling and thinking during the march to that train siding and then ‘today’ as the train moved south toward Hoboken and New York City.
In Jay’s letters, he never, ever showed any enthusiasm for the war and what the immediate future held for him. Before he was drafted, he expressed a lot of worry and fear about fighting in the war. Yesterday’s passage from the the book just doesn’t ‘feel’ like what Jay and his fellow doughboys would have really been feeling. They were going to war. And after hearing about that meat-grinder war in the press for the previous four years, I can’t imagine anyone was ‘excited’ at what the future might hold for them.
So at this time, noon on this date one hundred years ago, the first leg of the 301st Engineers’ journey Over There was complete. They are in Hoboken, ready to be ferried to the Bush Terminal in Brooklyn where their troop ship awaits. They’ll spend their last night in the U.S. sleeping on that ship.
“Having entrained at the Q.M. siding, in short order we were soon under way, en route for a port of embarkation, which port we knew not – one might have guessed Halifax were it not for the fact we were somewhat familiar with Connecticut and Springfield, around which we seemed to have “looped the loop” – far into the night and early morn. We did not stop at the latter place long enough to take a long last gaze into the glimmers of a few of the charming dames we were leaving behind; and to taste their very palatable and never-to-be-forgotten “eats,” and, after having exchanged a few pleasant remarks as “hello” and “good-bye” we went speeding on our way, presumably Hoboken-bound.
“It was high noon when our train pulled into the terminal and we slung our packs and fell out – No we didn’t get hurt, Mabel, that’s just an army expression for ‘alight’. It sure was a grand and glorious feeling to put your feet in little N.Y., which recalled the ‘nights of peace’ up there on Broadway with a chicken and cold bottle. These phantasms of the mind soon vanished as old Doc, Pill, aboard the ferry, slapped you on the vacant back and said, “you’ll do.” You began to realize then that you weren’t a cripple and what they meant when they spoke of the flower of the country whose duty it was to go forth into the unknown and, there taking up arms against a deadly foe, safeguard democracy and suppress for once and all autocracy. The more these little thoughts twirled and whirled themselves around in your buzzer, the more you wanted to get over and knock the hell out of the “Jerries.”
“Nature in all her beauty seemed to be revealing herself more than ever as we ferried across to the Bush terminal (in Brooklyn). On either side of the river we saw life at its best; and even the children at play stopped long enough to say good luck and good-bye. Just as the sun was sinking to rest we were hurried into the body of the great ship.”
– Our Memoirs: Company A, 301st Engineers
That night, the 301st Engineers were on the ship that would take them Over There. I wonder how many of them were getting any sleep.
Bush Terminal, Brooklyn, New York: