This year (2017) marks 100 years since American entered World War I, and earlier we shared details about this incident in U.S. and World History. Today’s primary source about Thanksgiving was written in 1918 by a U.S. African American soldier, just days after the war ended. He was still stationed in France and shared some exciting news of the day…
For those of you who might be wondering, I found this letter in a private online archive of World War I letters. I’ve decided to include the complete text of the letter and added some notes.
U.S. Soldier, World War I, 1918, Stationed in France
November 28, 1918
Note the day and know that it has been very well enjoyed by me. Three nice long letters from you came. dated 6-8-10 Nov. New time for my mail. Last one the day before the war really ended. Funny that the people had a big celebration before proper time, but good that they got to have a real one. Joy there could not have surpassed it here.
Just listen here……today at the grand celebration our corps commander received a telegram. He read it and then read it to the crowd. He read that our division would prepare immediately to proceed to a port of embarkation preparatory to sailing for America. Everybody has been very happy ever since. Of course several days will be required for us to get rid of surplus property, clean our area and many other little things. So if orders don’t change (as usual), by the time this reaches you we probably will be nearly ready to start, if nothing happens. So you see, we all have had much to be thankful for today. Was at a thanksgiving metting [meeting] that the “leaving news” was given out.
In my little town (Bellville) we had a very nice service at 9:30 a.m. Then most of the men went to the big town Pont-a Musson where most of our troops are located. Several of our bands for music and field exercises were the features of the day. No turkey, cranberry sauce or cake but we were all thankful for what we had.
Very funny thing but I awoke this morning about 3:30 and had an early proayer [prayer] in bed. Think I must have awoken praying over such a pleasant dream that I had. Since I don’ t want to be superstitious of dreams I am going to tell it to you, remembering that I have had dreams of many things that I have hoped for and obtatined [obtained]. I dreamed that I came home and found you with “big” little boy and a pet dog.
Well as yet, the cablegram has not reached me but I am expecting it by 1st Dec. at the latest. As your last letter left you so well, it has further strengthened by hopes that all has gone well with you. I certainly have prayed for the success of you both, and something has given that assurance.
I think that Mrs Kimbell will be alright as your nurse. I remember that she had a good name as one. Glad that all of the family are well. Regards to all, and a heart full of love for you and the “little one.”
Reflecting On The End Of World War I
After strong Allied offensives, the Central Powers battle lines were collapsing. On November 11, 1918, an armistice ceasefire stopped the fighting in Europe. A war that had costed the world approximately 38,880,500 military casualties (civilian casualties not included) had ceased. A war of brutal trench warfare, naval battles, desert fighting, and homefront exhaustion had ceased as the clocks struck eleven.
However, there would be a shocking aftermath. A generation of young men was nearly wiped out. Towns were destroyed. Nations were ruined. And then there were the terms of peace…
Just because the fighting had ceased by armistice didn’t mean the war was over. The Paris Peace Conference and Treaty of Versailles (1919) would lay out harsh terms for peace, especially on Germany. The seeds for World War II were sown in the treaty that ended World War I.
However, at the end of November, those depressing details were still in the future. The soldiers and civilians knew the war was over though the details were still undecided. Some of the soldiers learned they would be going home soon. The ones who survived had much to be thankful for.
I’m Grateful For This Account Because…
I knew I wanted to share a Thanksgiving source related to World War I since this is a milestone year in that conflicts commemoration. As I looked for available sources, this one stood out to me because it made me want to learn more.
I knew that African American men had been drafted during the U.S.’s involvement in the conflict, but I didn’t know much about their experiences. As I started investigating, I found a few more basic facts:
13% of all Americans drafted during World War I were African American. Their units were still segregated and were commanded by white officers (U.S. military wasn’t integrated until 1948 – after World War II). When U.S. commanders had their way, black soldiers were usually kept away from the front line fighting to do manual labor; however, the French welcomed the black units as trench reinforcements and overall treated these soldiers with dignity and respect. When given the opportunity, these units proved their valor in battle and their soldiers were decorated for bravery – both by the French and U.S. governments.
I also found some resources that I will be adding to my “need to read” list – so there’s a good possibility you’ll be seeing more about African American soldiers during World War I went we return to the global conflict’s history in 2018.