January 16, 1919 – The Letter

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On this day one hundred years ago, Jay finally received news of Rinda’s death in a letter sent by her sister, Gertie.

Jan 16th, 1919

Dear Sis,

Your sad letter of Dec 23rd reach me to day and I will lose no time in answering.  Sure was some shock to read of Rinda’s death.  Of course I knew her lungs were weak and one more attack of pneumonia would sure prove fatal last winter.  We were at Black Duck (Minnesota) she was very sick last winter also Raymond at one time.  I thought they would both pass away.  We were five miles from a doctor and awfully hard to get one to travel in that country during Jan.  Do not remember the date of last letter received from Rinda but think it was written in Nov.  Mail travels so slow at times but your’s came through quickly.

How long was Rinda sick?  Did she make any requests regarding Raymond’s care?

Was there any thing she wanted me to do?  Poor girl I can’t make myself believe she has gone from us.  How did your mother stand the shock?

Yes Rinda wrote me some time ago about your troubles and I fully realize you have your hands full and have my deepest heart felt sympathy. Now as you say you must have aid in caring for little Raymond very true.

Realizing I am many miles from America and attached to Army of Occupation and chance of its being many months before I reach home.

If I ever do as I have been sick with flu and just returned to duty last week.  Has left me sick and weak and doubt if I will ever be man I was once.  But that matters not there are more important things to think of to night.

What you need is cash to help care for Raymond.  I have decided to write to my brother at once to forward you $15 the first of each month until I can again hear from you as to amount of funds you will need each month.  Sort of emergency fund. By so doing cash would be reaching you much quicker than sending it from here.

Soldiers pay is small and allotments & insurance has eaten mine up.  I will write my brother to night informing him to mail back funds for Dec, Jan, & Feb which will be $45 so that should give you a start.

This letter will no doubt reach you early in Feb and by middle of Feb the cash should be at your disposal.

Don’t know how this plan will appeal to you but hope it will assist you for present anyway.

Please pardon pencil as I have no ink to write and I am half dead with cold.  No snow in Germany where we are can go about with but an over coat.  I was in Mpls one year ago.  In fact I used to spend about 2 mo time twice a year there when upon road.  Had a good position but war changed many a man’s life.

Wish to thank you very kindly for taking Raymond and giving him a home and a mother’s care.  Sorry to say that is more than can do for poor little fellow now.

But when I get back he should have best I can afford.

I am tired and will close hoping to hear from you upon receipt of this letter.  Love to Ray.

Best of wishes to you and your family.


Sincerely yours,

Sergt J.E. Shetler

Co “A” 301st Engrs

American Exp. Force\France

He also wrote a letter to his brother on this date.  In it he explains the situation and that Dell is to send money to Gertie for Raymond’s care right away and then on a monthly basis until Jay gets home.

He was much more emotional in that letter than he is in this one.

January 9, 1919 – What about this little town on the Rhine?

The 301st Engineers had come to the end of their march from Flirey on December 18 when they arrived in the town of Brohl, Germany.  What can we learn about this little German town on the Rhine?


“The town of Brohl (present day Brohl-Lutzing) stretches along the west bank of the Rhine on the Coblenz-Cologne highway at the junction of the Brohl River.  The almost perpendicular sides of the hills to the north and south slope almost to the river-bank, elongating the plan of the town to a thin line, excepting where the Brohl Valley allows it to extend back three or four hundred yards between the hills.  Under normal conditions the civil population is rated at about seven hundred people, but, like all other German towns, the generous supply of Gasthausen and Wirtschaften (hotels) provided a great and more flexible billeting space than would be available in an American village of the same population.

“Unlike the country both farther up and down the Rhine, the river at this point is comparable with the picturesque regions of Saint-Goar and Boppard, for here the level, delta-like stretches that surround Coblenz are again the hills and vineyards which have become so famous for their beauty.  While not unpleasing, the town itself did not quite live up to the standards of the natural setting.  The brick-paved streets are narrow and winding, and with few exceptions the two-story brick buildings set too close to permit a sidewalk, but it has not the quaintness which the old German architecture has given to some of the older and more historic villages.  This, however, becomes an asset rather than a loss, in so far as living conditions are concerned, for adequate running water and sewerage, together with gas and electricity, are rather more to be desired by troops than the discomforts which almost invariably accompany the picturesque.  On the edge of town are several very pleasant residences, and fairly well up the north slope of the Brohl Valley is the rather imposing old castle, Schloss Brohlbeck, built in 1809, which is now being used as a boys’ private school and which adds greatly to the appearance of the setting as a whole.”

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

Despite the aforementioned large number of hotels and guest houses…..

“The task of billeting was not an easy one, for instead of merely resting for the night, this was to become the permanent station, and the comfort and efficiency of the organization depended much upon the arrangement of the different units.  Such information as could be given by the town officials was incomplete and so inaccurate as to be almost useless; it was therefore necessary to start at once with a house-to-house canvass.  On the whole the population were not unfriendly and no great trouble was experienced in making the adjustments during the next few days, but the majority of the men were forced to sleep on the floor until the time when the supplies and material necessary to build bunks could be secured.  Company “A” was placed in the north central part (of the town).”

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


January 1, 1919 – Happy New Year


Today and every New Year’s Day we say ‘good-bye’ to the ‘miserable’ year that has just ended and look forward to the fresh, clean year starting up.  I can’t even imagine how the American Doughboys felt about the fact that 1918 was finally over and that they had survived.   Our passing years are nothing compared to what they went through.  They had a lot to look forward to, especially getting back home.  But it would be a while, there was still work to do.

Jay still had not heard of Rinda’s death by New Years Day, 1919.  I believe she had been a prolific letter writer; he must have been concerned that he hadn’t heard from her for weeks.  But then, he and the 301st had been on the move, its possible everyone’s mail was delayed so he might not have been too worried.

December 25, 1918 – Making the best of Christmas

1918.12.24 OL

The war is over but no one’s home for Christmas yet.  It must have been depressing but it sounds like things turned out well.  As well as could be expected anyway:

“Christmas was a day that the majority looked forward to with dread but it turned out to be not quite so bad as they had feared, for the “9x3x4’s” arrived from home, and the regimental celebration helped the day along.    On Christmas Eve the companies were formed and marched by their First Sergeants to the flats near the river, where a table for each company was set with gifts of chocolate, cigarettes, gum and other articles for each man.

“These were given out by harassed Supply Sergeants, and the companies then broke and formed before the stage on which three human reproductions of Saint Nicholas smiled benevolently on the audience.  Christmas trees, decorated with tinsel and electric lights flanked the stage and beneath one of these the regimental band rendered tunes to which the crowd sang.  Their songs turned to cheers and then silence, however, when four real American women, in the uniform of the Army Nurse Corps, appeared and sang several Christmas songs which met with stentorian approval.  The commanding Officer then spoke briefly to the regiment and after a snake dance which spoke well for the spirits of the men, the crowd dwindled and except for the holiday on the following day, another Christmas drifted by into the past.”

– A Short History of the 301st Engineers


December 24, 1918 – The lonesomest Xmas I ever spent

I recently came across letters a distant cousin (1st cousin, twice removed) wrote home from the war.  Like Jay, he was in the St. Mihiel offensive and, marched into Germany as part of the Army of Occupation.  He and Rinda, my grandmother, were cousins.  Here is what he wrote on Christmas Eve from Rachtig, Germany, about 80 km from where Jay was stationed that night in Brohl.  I don’t think they knew each other at this point.

“This is Xmas eve, the lonesomest Xmas I ever spent, no place to go and nothing to do.”

– Cpl Wilbur A. Huntley, 345th Machine Gun Battalion, Company B

I’m sure it was no different for Jay or thousands of other doughboys that night.

December 18, 1918 – Welcome to Brohl


On this day, one hundred years ago, Jay and the 301st Engineers came to the end of their month-long march of 328 km into Germany and became part of the Army of Occupation, stationed in the town of Brohl, a small town on the Rhine River.   Jay and Company A would spend most of the next six months in this town along the Rhine before being sent home.

“According to the terms of the Armistice, the Allied and Associated Armies were to occupy all of that portion of Germany to the west of the Rhine and the three bridgeheads at Cologne, Coblenz, and Mainz.  To secure the adequate protection of these bridges, the Allies were also to take over all territory on the east bank bounded by a radius of thirty kilometers from each point, and in addition a neutral zone ten kilometers wide was to separate the occupied and German ground.

“The town of Brohl stretches along the west bank of the Rhine on the Coblenz-Cologne highway at the junction of the Brohl River.”

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

“The city itself could scarcely be termed beautiful.  In fact it was somewhat squalid and dirty before the arrival of the Americans who issued an order through the Burgomaster for the policing of the streets and disposal of all refuse.  But situated as it is close against the hills on one bank of what has been termed the most beautiful river in the world and overlooking the river itself, the majestic hills covered with vineyards and studded occasionally with the ruins of feudal castles, it has appealed to the majority as not such a bad place for Europe.  And it was particularly welcome to those footsore and weary troops because it was to be the final destination of the regiment after 328 kilometers of hiking.”

– Short History of the 301st Engineers

The arrival at Brohl marked the end of a very long march…

“…the end of a march of 328 kilometers covered between the dates of 17 November and 18 December.  Of these 32 days, only 14 were spent in marching, making the average day’s march for the regiment 23.5 kilometers.”

– A Short History of the 301st Engineers

Route Flirey to Brohl - Copy

December 11, 1918 – Boppard the Beautiful


One hundred years ago today, December 11, 1918, Jay and the 301st Engineers marched into the town of Boppard, Germany situated along the Rhine River. This was the longest march of their entire journey to the town of Brohl, their final destination. Jay had been raised on a farm in Michigan so I’m sure he could handle a horse and as Mess Sergeant, I hope he might have been able to drive or ride on his mobile kitchen. The guy hated marching, I bet he did everything he could to avoid it.

The longest day’s march was on 11 December, from Simmern to Boppard – 36 kilometers – and this came on the last day of the five day’s continuous march from Olewig to Boppard – 131 kilometers.

– A Short History of the 301st Engineers

They set up camp in Boppard and remained there for several days:

“Boppard as a billeting place was a remarkably fine town, a watering-place, which in peace-time had been very popular among the Germans and tourists.  It is built on the bank of the Rhine, and as he marched, every soldier carefully watched for the first glimpse of the famous river.  Suddenly, on making a left-hand turn on a hillside, the blue-gray water became visible, a discovery which was immediately made known by shouts and cheers, aided by the band’s playing “It’s a Long Way to Berlin.”

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

Boppard on the Rhine

December 5, 1918 – The march into Germany

From December 2 to 5, the Engineers, led by the regimental band and colors marched through the German towns of Oberbillig and Wasserliesch, across the River Saar at Konz and arrived in Trier with its ancient Roman ruins on this day 100 years ago.  This three day march covered 17 km.  In addition to marching, Sergeant First Class Shetler would have been responsible for providing his Company three meals a day.  That meant staying ahead of the column and having meals ready when they arrived, cleaning and packing up and getting ahead of it again to get the next meal ready.  Busy guys!  They made camp in the nearby town of Olewig for 3 days.

“Here (Trier), as in other places, the people were curious – nothing more; groups on corners and individuals in windows gazed at the passing troops; some on the street, not wishing to appear interested, turned away; children by the dozen flocked around and followed the band.  Occasionally a man still wearing part of his “feldgrau” uniform would click his heels together and snap into the smart salute of the German Army.”

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

“Trier was entered with much curiosity, as it furnished the first opportunity for the regiment to see a German town of any size.  Three days in the “suburb” known as Olewig gave opportunity for direct observation of a city population, of the war’s effect on it and of its attitude and thought, which interested all ranks, perhaps more than did the Roman ruins and other objects of historical interest with which Trier abounds.”

– A Short History of the 301st Engineers

Pics of US Army arriving in Trier (not the 301st Engineers):



Period postcards from the city of Trier:




These postcards were brought home after the war by a cousin, Wilbur Huntley, who was also stationed in Germany with the Army of Occupation.

December 2, 1918 – Laid to Rest

One hundred years ago today, December 2, 1918, my grandmother Rinda Marie Shetler was buried in the LeRoy, Minnesota cemetery following a funeral in the family home.

1918.12.02a Rinda

1918.12.02b Rinda

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Four thousand miles away on this day, Sergeant First Class Jay E. Shetler and the 301st Engineers crossed the Moselle River and entered the defeated country of Germany.  He would not learn of her death for weeks.


November 30, 1918 – Bringing her home


On this date 100 years ago, my great-grandfather, John T. Johnson would have been sitting in this train depot.  The depot, originally at the town of Brantford, ND which was very close to where Rinda had been working and where she died, is now the Eddy County Museum in New Rockford.  Try to look past the museum’s artifacts; these are the seats on which my great-grandfather sat, waiting for the train to take him back to his family home in Leroy, Minnesota 100 years ago today.  It would have been very cold in northern North Dakota this day but the pot belly stove surely would’ve been cranking out heat.

Back in July, 2018 when I visited the museum and farm where she died, I had planned on getting a sense of what it might have been like when she and my dad had arrived exactly 100 years before.  But my focus actually turned to what it would have been like four months later on a cold November day as a man sat waiting to escort his daughter’s body home for her funeral.

But on this day in 1918, my 2 and a half year old father would have probably been running around getting into trouble. Or maybe just crying for his mommy.  She, my grandmother Rinda Shetler, was in the depot baggage room, in her coffin, ready for her trip home too.

Brantford 1
The former Brantford train depot, now the Eddy County Museum in New Rockford, ND. Photo taken summer, 2018.