I’ve been reading some old letters written in 1919 by my great uncle while he was in post war France. I have a few questions.
How long did the US Army remain in France after the war ended? A constant theme from several letters is my g-uncle’s irritation at still being overseas. He had been injured by mustard gas during the war & in 1919 it seems that the army still had his outfit marching all over France in full backpacks.
In one letter, my g-uncle refers to Gen. Pershing as “Gen. Perishing”. I first thought it was a case of simple misspelling, but then wondered if it was intentional. What did the typical doughboy think of Gen. John J. Pershing?
One other thing I took from the letters was that my g-uncle was sick & tired of army stew. He dreamed of getting home to his “red headed girl” & sausage!
He was a soldier, he had just spent a lot of time away from home and peace was declared. He could have been complaining about delays in going home 2 days after the armistice. Military people are great at grousing and complaining. It is an occupational hazard or hobby.
I used to be a Civil War reenactor, and we portrayed members of the 51st Ohio Volunteer Infantry regiment. The 51st was sent to Texas under Sheridan’s command after the fall of the Confederacy, to rattle the saber at France and its puppet Emperor Maximilian in Mexico. Lee surrendered at Appomattox in early April 1865, but the boys of the 51st didn’t get back home until late August, after an un-air-conditioned summer in Texas wearing blue wool, and if you read their letters you can see that they weren’t happy about it!
My understanding is Pershing once offered a toast “To the men. They paid the price”. That would imply he got men killed unnecessarily, although not as bad as many of the generals in other armies. There is also some History Channel special floating around talking about how the Americans, an others, kept attacking the Germans right up to the armistice on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11 month. Was that necessary? To be fair, it was an armistice, not a surrender so the commanders might have felt that Germany could use the cease fire to rebuild defenses and make any future combat even more deadly.
I have some postcards from my grandfather over there in the occupationand he says very little in them. Most of them have nothing written
He did get men killed unnecessarily (in the final hours before the cease fire American Generals were still sending men out in offensive actions to ‘get experience’…which was totally worthless actions that got men killed for no good reason), but I don’t think that’s what he was implying there at all. I think his implication is that the men paid the price for the victory, and that he was honoring those who had served, died or been wounded to achieve that victory.
Not too long ago, I read John Dos Passos’ USA trilogy, published in the 1930s. It was a library book, so I can’t look now, but much of the action took place in Europe during and after WWI, and I seem to recall the American characters in the Army staying there into the 1920s. And they all had good feelings toward Pershing.