November 29, 1918 – Rest in peace, grandma

1918.11.29 rinda

On this date one hundred years ago, November 29, 1918 at 9:30 a.m., my grandmother died of pneumonia brought on by Spanish Influenza.  She had been sick with influenza for a week.   She died at the G.W. Crandall farm near Brantford, North Dakota where she had been a cook and housekeeper.  She was 30 years old.

Her father, my great-grandfather John T. Johnson had arrived early that morning from Leroy, Minnesota and was at her bedside when she slipped away.

In a letter to her sister back on October 28, Rinda wrote, “Only hope I don’t get pneumonia for what would become of my little boy?”  Thirty-two days later, she was dead; what would become of Raymond?

His father, Jay, was still in Europe with the American Occupation Force and would be for months.  Two and a half year old Raymond would go to live with his aunt, Rinda’s sister Gertrude Upham in Minneapolis.  Gertie and her husband Orrin embraced Raymond and added him to their family, giving their children Vivian and Vernon a little ‘brother’.

And Jay, where was he when Rinda died?  He and Company A were near the town of Bous, Luxembourg.  They had been under quarantine since November 24 due to a very intense outbreak of…..Spanish Influenza.

Crandall farmhouse
The house where Rinda died on November 29, 1918 at the G.W. Crandall farm near Brantford, ND. Photo taken summer, 2018.

November 28, 1918 – Thanksgiving

One hundred years ago today, Americans at home and abroad celebrated Thanksgiving. In Europe, war had ended but most of the Doughboys were still in France, many headed to Germany.

Now in Luxembourg, Jay and A Company, now filled with sick and dying soldiers, somehow got through the day.

Maybe this was the menu “Somewhere in France” but it’s very unlikely it would have been what Company A dined on as they were still under quarantine on this 1918 Thanksgiving Day. Anything beyond basic rations was not available.


“The Army sent turkeys and fixings over for Thanksgiving 1917, but there was a small number of guys over there at the time and they weren’t by and large in active combat at the time.  In November 1918 there was over two million guys in France and the Army didn’t even try to provide a Thanksgiving dinner.  Thanksgiving 1918 was just whatever the cooks decided to make that day.  Also note that aside from that 1917 Thanksgiving dinner, the Army didn’t provide any other poultry as part of the ration.”

– Alan Crane

November 24, 1918 – Quarantine


The 301st Engineers had marched into the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg on November 23, 1918 and set up camp in the town of Bous.  But the next day, 100 years ago today Company A was sent to another town:

“Here we halted in a few days, and here we lived the darkest chapter of our lives!  Exhausted by the march, weakened through exposure and lack of proper food, our company was attacked by an epidemic of influenza, and before its virulence our ranks fell away like chaff in the path of a storm.  During that week – Thanksgiving week – many a comrade, many a dear friend and pal, crept away to the field hospitals, there to pay the great sacrifice, or if he was fortunate, to recover.”

– Our Memoirs: Company A, 301st Engineers

From November 24 until December 1, Company A was quarantined due to this severe outbreak of influenza.

During this period, 5 men of Company A died of Spanish Influenza.  Many others recovered from the disease but were not well enough to resume the march to Germany and returned to the U.S.  Here are the men from Company A who died of influenza and pneumonia caused by the flu during the quarantine:

  • Corporal Theodore Haussler
  • Private Fred Waring
  • Private Konstante Berestechki
  • Corporal Walter J. Karpowich
  • Wagoner Herbert Castle

Spanish Influenza was responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people worldwide including an estimated 675,000 Americans  It was especially hard on the American Army:

“In Europe and in U.S. Army training camps, 1918 pandemic influenza killed around 45 000 American soldiers….”

– Death from 1918 pandemic influenza during the First World War

by Peter C. Wever and Leo van Bergen

It stalked into camp when the day was damp

And chilly and cold.

It crept by the guards

And murdered my pards

With a hand that was clammy and bony and bold;

And its breath was icy and mouldy and dank,

And it killed so speedy

And gloatingly greedy

That it took away men from each company rank.

From The Flu by Private Josh Lee, 1919

How did Jay survive?  It’s very likely his bout with the flu back in Ohio during his basic training gave him an immunity to the outbreak that flattened Company A.  In any case, he survived while many of the company didn’t make it.

November 21, 1918 – Into Alsace Lorraine

One hundred years ago today, the 301st Engineers entered the town of Lommeringen, the first town in Alsace-Lorraine.  The French provinces of Alsace and Lorraine had fallen under German control after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.  For 48 years they had suffered under the boot of the Germans.

Clause II of the Armistice read,  “Immediate evacuation of the invaded countries-Belgium, France, Luxemburg, as well as Alsace-Lorraine-so ordered as to be completed
within 15 days from the signature of the armistice.”  The people of these areas warmly welcomed their liberators, the 301st Engineers among them.


“In Lommeringen, the first village entered in Lorraine, the regiment was met by a delegation of leading citizens, and a brief halt was made while the village priest delivered an address to welcome the Americans, presenting the Commanding Officer and his staff with flowers in great profusion.   The march was resumed, the regiment being escorted for several kilometers by flower bedecked young people carrying flags of the United States and of France.”

– A Short History of the 301st Engineers


Some other photos from the liberation and the German exit.



November 18, 1918 – A hero’s welcome from village to village


On this date in 1918, Company A marched into the French town of Fleville where they would join up with the other Companies of the 301st Engineers who were marching in a different column.  Under reorganization, the Regiment was now part of the American Third Army.

“Through villages bedecked with evergreen garlands and bright with the tricolor and the “Stars and Stripes”, the march continued, while crisp cold days with cloudless skies belied the usual tales of European winter.  In northern France, burdened by German occupation for four long years, the remaining civilians were almost hysterical with joy and gratitude for their delivery and told with flashing eyes of German selfishness and theft.”

– A Short History of the 301st Engineers

“The townspeople of the first little hamlet (Fleville) gave us a very friendly reception, the children waving French and Lorraine flags and carrying flowers and the parish priest greeting us with an address of welcome.”

Our Memoirs: Company A, 301st Engineers

As they marched toward Germany, here are some of the scenes they would have viewed.  After 4 years of war, it was nearly total destruction everywhere they went.



It is estimated that more the 1.5 billion mortars were fired during the war:


November 16, 1918 – Company A on its way to Germany


Company A spent the five days after the Armistice completing all its assigned work in and near the town of Vieville-sous-les-Cotes.  In the evening of November 16, 1918 it started its march to Germany reaching the town of Saulx-en-Woevre in the wee hours of the 17th.  A longer march was made that day ending at Pareid.    They covered over 18 kilometers in those two days but they had another 313 kilometers more to go.  They were going to be tired Dough Boys by the time they got to Germany.

Jay was still in Aix when the Company began its march but would soon meet up with them.  Someone had to make sure those boys were fed.

November 16, 1918 – Dear Rinda and Raymond

1918.11.16 157

One hundred years ago today, November 16, 1918, Jay wrote to Rinda and Raymond from Aix-les-Bains, France where he has been on leave.  This is the most relaxed I’ve ever seen him in his letters.  Seems a few days in the French Alps will do that for a guy not to mention the end of the worst war in human history.

November 16, 1918

Aix-les-Bains France

Dear Rinda & Raymond,

Spending my first seven days leave in Aix-Les-Bains which is one of the seven rest areas for men of the A.E.F.  Before war Aix-Les-Bains was a very high class summer resort noted for its mineral baths and beautiful Mont Cenery.  But of course it is needless to say since war it has become dead until government commenced sending men here for a week’s rest.  Y.M.C.A. people are here and have a large casino based which is a real home, a large reading and writing room, billiard tables, information desk giving one all kinds of information about the trips up into Monts.

I have made several of the mont trips and they are all very interesting if men act as guides.  Y people sure have done a bunch of good for us boys over here and should be given a great deal of credit.  Our hotel bills are paid by government and car fare and everything as a fact all one has to spend is for extras.  Of course everything over here is high.  I haven’t spent much money and had an awfully good time some change from the life up where we have been.

Many months since I sleep in a real bed and those French people sure have some dandies.

Gee but this is a real place to write sure is the first chance I have had over here to do any real writing.  Candle light isn’t any the best to write by.  And at times we didn’t have that.

How Raymond & yourself, do hope you are doing well?  How about N.D. is it cold up there now.  We are wearing overcoats here first time this week hows that for Nov.

Supper time I will close.

Good bye Bbl love, J/

Sgt Jay E. Shetler

Co “A” 301st Engineers

A.E.F. France

November 12, 1918 – The Army of Occupation

occupation forces.jpg

Among the terms of the Armistice was one that the Allied forces would move into Germany and occupy the lands west of the Rhine.  The 301st would be part of that occupation force.  There were only 5 days to pull up stakes from Flirey, or wherever the individual companies were working.  Company A was in the town of Vieville-sous-les-Cotes and was to remain there until their work in the area was complete.  Still, they needed to get everything ready for the march to Germany, a march that would be described by one writer of the 301st Engineers as “one of the most historic marches recorded in history.”

Jay escaped some of the work of breaking camp and bundling everything up since he was on leave in the south of France at the time.  But I’m sure Sergeant Shetler had trained his cooks and other workers very well in how to get that kind of work done since for months they had been doing just that as they went with A’s work crews across the St. Mihiel area.  He would still be in Aix for a few days but I have no doubt his leave would have been ended in time for him to join Company A as it began that long march to the ‘Vaterland‘.

“When the Armistice went into effect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month and put to an end to the carnage and savage fighting…the regiment caught its breath and found that just five days were allotted in which to complete and renew its equipment and get into shape to advance as a part of the Army of Occupation.  For those five strenuous days bales of clothing, heaps of tools and hordes of weird-looking fleabitten creatures (which later under the expert care of our stable sergeants and wagoners became recognizable as horses and mules) deluged the outfit.”

–  A Short History of the 301st Engineers

November 11, 1918 – From the 301st Engineers’ writers

When the Armistice came, the men who wrote the histories of Company A and the 301st Engineers showed more relief than exuberance in what they wrote.  I think everyone, the whole world was just glad it was over.

“All during the dark hours of that night before the armistice, the sky in the east and in the west flared luridly, the guns roaring among the hills and across the valley, the shells whistled overhead and the ground shook with the concussion of their explosions.  There was no abatement, no let-up; rather did the intensity of the bombardment increase as the eleventh hour drew nigh.  And then, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year, the uproar ceased; a silence, that was the more striking by reason of the abruptness of its coming, settled over the lines and the end for which millions had suffered as heroes alone can suffer, for which they had fought and fighting died, was at hand!  It was the closing scene of the most destructive, bloodiest tragedy the world has ever known.”

                  – Our Memoirs: Company A, 301st Engineers

Nov 11 b

“On the morning of the eleventh, at 6 A.M., word came over the wire that the armistice had been signed to become effective at 11 A.M.  The artillery turned loose and fired until the last second.

“Thus ended the war and then occurred the resumption of close order drill and camp fires.”

–  A Short History of the 301st Engineers

Nov 11 c

“Just after eleven o’clock on the morning of the 11th, it began to be felt that a strange, new, unusual condition existed; then suddenly came the realization that the cause of it was the silence, the unbroken silence which was the result of no firing.  Then only did it come home to the men what it really meant; that hostilities had come to an end.  Among the soldiers of the regiment there was no demonstration, no shouting, no noise; the end had come and they were glad it had, but the event was too great a one to indulge in 4th-of-July cheering.  So it was with practically all the units on the front; they accepted the great fact quietly, just as they had been in the habit of accepting things once their advent in the A.E.F.  In the areas behind the Zone of Advance great activities resulted among the troops of all nations.  In French towns the excitement attained great heights and the sky for miles glowed with the reflection of many bonfires.”

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

Nov 11 a

November 11, 1918 – And then it was over


At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the Great War ended with an armistice signed between the Allies and the Germany.  The war was finally over.

Company A was in the town of Vieville-sous-les-Cotes working on roads on the tenth and spent the night there.  They knew the armistice was coming in the morning though the sound and fury of the war continued through the night.

Jay, however, wasn’t with the Company on this day  He was actually in Aix-les-Bains in the mountains of the south of France, on leave.   There he witnessed the celebration of the French people so far from the front.  He spent time high on a nearby mountain, Mont Revard.

November 11 stayed very dear in Jay’s heart and mind.  For the rest of his life, he never worked on that day.  On November 11, 1935 another important event happened in his life.  More about that in future posts.


Jay’s words in a letter written a week after the Armistice:

“Best news came Monday when Germany signed the armistice.  You should have saw how the French people went wild can you blame them 4 ¼ years of war is a long time we haven’t been fighting half that time and we are tired of the war game.

Flags were flying and people parading the streets cheering to beat the band.”