America’s last World War I veteran died a few months ago. He was Frank W. Buckles (2/1/1901- 2/27/2011.)
He enlisted in 1917 when he was just 16 years old.
He was awarded many medals, one of them being the Army of Occupation of Germany medal.
This made me think of my grandfather, James Eugene Johnson (10/26/1895-7/29/1975) who also served with the Army of Occupation in Germany.
I reread the letters he wrote to his parents, John and Ada Johnson, who lived on Johnson Road in Georgetown County.
His first letters from Camp Jackson in Columbia were pitiful.
He was so homesick that he wrote on Feb. 27, 1918, “I hate this place worse than I hate anything.
I would give all I could make in ten years (to come home.)”
He tried to get a ‘farmers furlough.’
In April, 1918 he wrote that soldiers could get out if they were needed at home to get the crops in on the family farm.
“Tell Pappa to write to the Provost Marshall in Washington. He might be able to get me out to help on the farm.”
Later that month, he wrote this sad news: “Am sending my furlough papers back to you. Major General Baily disapproved it. Several of the boys and parents tried to get them out on farmers furlough but Major Baily disapproved them all.”
In almost every letter, Daddy Gene (as we called him) asked about the farm, the crops, the cows, turkeys, and deer hunting.
He always asked his parents to “… kiss Johnnie for me.”
Johnnie was his little brother.
In one letter he tells his Mamma to give Johnnie “. . . plenty of sweet tea.”
A few months later Daddy Gene seems to have accepted his fate.
He proudly wrote to his Mamma that his First Lieutenant had given him a squad of his own to drill.
“Wish you could have seen me drilling them. They came here the same time I did.”
His next letters were from New Jersey where he waited to learn where and when he would be sent overseas.
Finally, in an undated letter, he wrote that he was sailing that day, but was not allowed to say where he was headed.
An undated, printed post card was sent to Daddy Gene’s parents sometime later.
The Red Cross issued card reads: THE SHIP ON WHICH I SAILED HAS ARRIVED SAFELY OVERSEAS.
The card is signed by Eugene Johnson.
Daddy Gene soon wrote to say that he was ‘somewhere in France’ and was getting along fine.
He wanted to know if the tobacco had been cured and said he was sorry he couldn’t be home for the cow butchering.
In a letter to his sister, Maggie, he wrote about the cold, rainy weather.
“Guess it will be awfully cold over here this winter. We are living in dugouts and have lots of rats and other crawling animals with us.”
A letter to his Pappa in November, 1918 confirms that home is always in Daddy Gene’s thoughts.
“Guess you are through getting all your crops housed for the winter by this time and ready to begin hunting. I sure would like to hear our dogs chasing a fox.”
Also in November, 1918, he writes, “We are still driving the Huns back. We are giving them all they can stand.”
The next letters are all from Neuwied, Germany where Daddy Gene was in the Army of Occupation.
He wrote that they stayed with German families in their homes and that they were treated and fed well.
“I have a warm room so I can stand the cold. I have a beautiful view from my window. I am right over the Rhine River and I can spit in the water from my window.”
On May 11, 1919 Daddy Gene wrote that he would be home soon.
“Tell Tim not to catch all the fish out of Six Mile before I get home. I feel I could eat eight of the biggest trout in Black River today.”
I’m not sure when Daddy Gene came home, but I know he was glad to get back to Johnson Road.
He wrote so many letters I’ve only been able to include bits and pieces for this column.
To Daddy Gene. . . thanks for the memories.