And Now You Know: A letter from a Doughboy

Published 11:56 am Saturday, November 11, 2017

By Mike Louviere

The Orange Leader

On April 6, 1917 President Woodrow Wilson issued a declaration of war against Germany. This declaration brought the United States into the war that had been raging in Europe since 1914. In late 1917, the first American troops landed in France, more troops were sent to the front until over one million American soldiers, and Marines, called “Doughboys” were fighting with the allies in the trenches and fields of France. The Armistice was signed at 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918. Most of the American troops were sent home, but some remained, the last 1,000 occupation troops left France on January 24, 1923.

In 2011 the last American soldier to see combat in WWI died. He was Frank Buckles, born in 1901. Buckles had enlisted at the age of 16, and was assigned as an ambulance driver. At the time of his death he was 110 years and 26 days old. With his obituary, the last story of the last “Doughboy” was told.

There were a group of young men from Orange who either enlisted or were drafted to serve in WWI. Most of them were sent to Camp Bowie, near Fort Worth and became part of the newly formed 36th Infantry Division. One soldier was Arthur Bailey.

Bailey’s sister, Miss Junie Bailey, received a letter from him dated October, 12, 1918. It was published in its entirety in the Orange Daily Leader November 14, 1918, three days after the war ended.

He wrote that he had been wounded and related the story: “We were advancing under machine gun fire and artillery was sending big shells, sounded like a Fourth of July celebration. We had taken cover in the woods from snipers in small individual trenches that had been dug by the Germans before they were run out. They started dropping gas on us which made us put on our gas masks.

I was laying on my back when four shells, what we call 88s, landed close enough to cover me with dirt. Then all of a sudden one exploded directly over my head. The flash caused me to snap my eyes shut and when I opened them, immediately I saw my mask had shattered and I felt a few foreign particles in my mouth, which I spit out. I found out they were my teeth and a few pieces of mask and perhaps shrapnel. Of course I had bled enough to satisfy even the most blood thirsty German.

Then I applied my first aid kit and went to the rear where I and others were given real first aid and put in an ambulance and sent to the hospital. We stayed there one night and the next day we were put on a Red Cross hospital train. I am now in American Red Cross Hospital No. 1 of Paris. It is a big place and we have a good time and plenty to eat and a good bed, all of which aforesaid I needn’t mention we did not have at the front, especially the bed. We were given a bath and clean clothes and our wounds were attended to and then let sleep. I don’t have any dressing over my wound now as it is not needed.

There are only two real places. I would draw a face and locate it to the best of my ability. On nose it will leave a small scar as there is a small piece gone. Very small though. Here goes the picture………,

Needless to say I don’t look anything like this but that locates the wounds for your benefit. No. 1 goes through and I guess that is where the one went that knocked out four teeth, 3 upper, and 1 lower, none of which will show. No. 2 will possibly leave a small scar, but what is a scar in this war? Maybe I can raise a moustache to cover it.

While I am in Paris I am going to do the best I can to see all I can. We get passes to go to town from 12 to 2, so we have plenty opportunities. Was uptown yesterday, but did not see much. There were lots of good looking things for sale, clothes, etc. will try to get you something for a souvenir. Did you get the apron and handkerchiefs that I sent you? I haven’t heard from home or anywhere else in a while. Just send my letters to the same place as I guess I will go back there. If I don’t I will notify you of my new address.

This is a longer letter than I planned to write, but hope it all gets there OK.

Will close with lots of love for yourself, Momma, and all the rest. As Ever, Arthur, Champaign Sector.”

This is a fascinating letter. It is a candid glimpse of the experience of a Doughboy from Orange. . Thankfully we have an example of the life of this young soldier in wartime preserved.

Sadly this was not “The War To End All Wars”, as they hoped it would be.

“And now you know”