March 11, 1919 – Packing up again

On March 11, 1919, Sergeant First Class Shetler and Company A moved from Brohl to Coblenz Germany.  Company E had been assigned to work in Coblenz since January but by March, its work had grown so much that Company A was transferred there to assist.

After a few months in sleepy Brohl, Coblenz seemed to be a nice break:

“March and April we spent in Coblenz, quartered at the Telegraf Kaserne, a former German military barracks.  This period of our stay in the Army of Occupation proved to be most congenial.  We were doing special work for the Third Army, consisting mostly of construction work in preparation for the Carnival (more about this in upcoming posts) and odd jobs in and about the various military buildings in Coblenz.  We sometimes had to work hard, but the freedom from infantry drill, that bug-bear of all hardened soldiers, was compensation complete!

“Evenings – unless we were selected for guard duty – we could wander about the city visit the Schwein or the Schoss Cafes, or give “Ted” Marshall our support in his fistic (boxing) endeavors at the Festhalle, or patronize any one of the several canteens, or pay the princely sum of 80 pfennigs and take a peek at German Opera, to the detriment of the fraternization laws.

– Our Memoirs: Company A, 301st Engineers

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Ted Marshall, the Pugilist of Company A

But where was Jay?  I’m assuming he was still ordering food and other supplies, leading his cooks in food prep and serving.  Maybe, just maybe he was able to get away with the others, though, for some R and R in the town.

Some scenes of Coblenz, ‘courtesy’ my cousin Wilbur Huntley who was also in Coblenz after the war and brought home postcards of the city:

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February 24, 1919 – I’m here to help

In Gertie’s letter to Jay informing him of Rinda’s death, she asked him to help with the expense of caring for Raymond by sending money.  Actually, knowing Gertie (Nanny) I’m guessing she told him to send money; she could be a tough cookie. He agreed of course and let her know he would contact his brother Del in Michigan to facilitate getting money to her.  I have the letter he wrote to Del asking him to get things going.

In this letter, Dell writes to Gertie letting her know he’s heard from Jay and encloses $25, promising to send more in the future.

News that my father had had the flu is news to me.

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Gaylord Mich

Feb. 24, 1919

Mrs. Gertie Upham

Minneapolis Minn

Dear Mrs. Upham –

I received a letter from my brother Jay E. Shetler, US Army France very recently and was very much grieved to learn that Rinda had passed away.

It was a sudden shock to me and can hardly make it seem possible now.  But so many people have gone to rest by the way of the Spanish Influenza and pneumonia that one never knows what to expect now days.

I have been fortunate enough to escape it so far and hope I may miss it altogether.  You have my deepest heartfelt sympathy Mrs. Upham in your hours of sorrow and grief and hope no more sickness or sorrow may come to you and family.

Glad Raymond is recovering all right from the flu and hope he keeps well and that you are feeling stronger by this time.

I am looking for Jay to come home sometime this spring and he requested me to send you some money to help care for Raymond so am enclosing order for $25.00.  Please let me know if you receive same all right.

With best wishes to you and hoping yourself and family are well.  I remain sincerely yours.

Mr. Dell Shetler

Gaylord Michigan

February 5, 1919 – Preparing for the future

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Confiscated trucks, all in miserable condition, great for teaching auto mechanic skills in the 301st.

The leaders of the American Army knew that when the boys returned to the states, they would be looking for jobs.  The Army set up schools to help make the return home easier by teaching new skills to anyone who wanted it.  They had the time; policing the German people wasn’t very difficult in the Brohl area.

Jay?  I think he just kept cooking.

“Shortly after the arrival of the regiment in Brohl, the Regimental Schools were organized for those men in the regiment who desired to advance their educational qualifications before their return to the United States.

“From the start the men took great interest in the courses which were offered, among which were courses in algebra and geometry, elementary and advanced, arithmetic, American history, electrical and mechanical engineering, civil engineering, banking and accounting, freight transportation, Spanish, and music, both vocal and piano.  The instructors were taken from the qualified officers and men of the regiment, and the interest of their classes proved a high testimonial to their ability.  Some of the students desired to secure credit in subjects which they had taken, and expected to resume in the near future, in night school or college, while others wished to gain vocational knowledge which would aid them in their trades.  By far the most popular course was that of automobile repair.”

“More classes were added over time, including barbering: The barbering class, numbering seven students, learned their trade at the expense of the patient small German boys of the town.”

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

January 26, 1919 – Let’s visit the neighbors

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The German civilians were behaving and had pretty much gone on with their post-war lives leaving little for members of the Army of Occupation to do.

“Numerous attempts were made by all in authority to help us forget that gnawing hunger for home and home folk, and though none of them quite accomplished the desired end, all of them helped us by affording diversion from the routine work in the business of “Occupying.”  Among these were the twelve hour trips to Coblenz which were afforded each man.  Details went by companies and were transported by truck.  Upon arriving in town, they were given tickets entitling them to restaurant meals free of charge, and were directed to the various places of interest about the town.  At ten o’clock in the evening the men reported back to their trucks and were rolled over the road to Brohl.

“Another method was the boat trip up or down the river in German river steamers.  The regiment was assigned one steamer for three days, and two companies were taken upon the trip at one time.  The men were transported to Andernach, where the steamer docked, by truck, and returned to Brohl in the same manner, when the voyage was completed.  Two meals were provided on board the boat and the regimental band kept spirits up and ‘Viel zu essen’ (have a lot to eat) down, for as a rule they were given a separate table and as much as they could eat as reward for their labors.”

– A Short History of the 301st Engineers

Sights along that Rhine River cruise, the town of Andernach with the world’s highest cold water geyser, Namedy Sprudel:

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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?

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“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

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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

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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

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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