Saturday evening I finished reading Jacqueline’s MAISIE DOBBS, which means that I have now read novels by each of my blog-mates. Their collective talent humbles me.
Jackie’s book is set in England during the period before and after World War I. While reading it I cried several times, for Maisie but also for my great uncle Julius who was killed in action in the Argonne on October 9, 1918 one month and two days before the Armistice.
Julius was a corporal in the 364th infantry, 91st division. He had been in France for only four months when he died. Colin V. Dyment described Julius’s death in a letter to his mother.
"In the Argonne men of the 91st not infrequently turned to a comrade close by, only to find him gone west, killed so quickly that he had neither moved nor uttered a sound."
Julius was buried in France next to several of his friends. In his pocket they found a letter to his mother that he had written in pencil two days earlier. It was removed from his clothing before he was buried and anchored on top of the grave with a rock.
A fellow doughboy found the letter sometime later, stained by mud and rain. There was no address just a reference to Yakima, Washington, Julius’s hometown. The soldier carried the letter with him for eight months until he returned to the United States and was able to send it to my great grandmother. Julius’s last letter is still in our family's grab bag of relics from the past. When I finished Maisie Dobbs, I reread the letter and found Julius’s words personal and universal and poignant beyond words. The letter ends with this:
"Tell everybody hello for me and to write to me, even if I don’t write. I don’t get much time. I’ll have lots to tell when I get home. I have been through just about all of it once and I have a pretty good idea what it is now…Mother, it is getting dark and we are about to move to another place, so I’ll have to close. Don’t worry about me. I am sure the Lord is with me and that He will stay by me to the end. If it be His will that I stay here, I know that we will meet again in a better land where there is no war."
Dear Uncle Julius,
I hope you found that land where there is no war and please know that even eighty-eight years after your death, your family still remembers you with tears of grief.