Monday, June 19, 2006

Tears for Uncle Julius



by Patty

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.

Love,
Patty

9 comments:

  1. from Jacqueline

    Dear Patty,

    I read many stories like yours, not only for "research" but because I have been drawn to the history of the Great War since childhood. Last year the oldest surviving veteran of WW1 in Britain passed away, and there was quite a lot of coverage on TV and in the press. One of the interviews showed him being interviewed at the outset of the Iraq war. This man, at 109 years of age still had every marble left, and simply shook his head and said, "Me and my mates thought we were going over there to put a stop to all that sort of thing." Even recounting the story touches my heart. Patty, I don't know if you've read the essay on my website, about my pilgrimage to the WW1 battlefields in France (http://jacquelinewinspear.com/essays_604.htm), but it ends with the following words, known to all, but appropriate following your blog:

    They shall not grow old as we who are left grow old.
    Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
    At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
    We will remember them.

    Thank you for sharing this family story. It has touched my heart.

    PS: Earlier this year Britain's last surviving woman veteran of the "war to end all wars" passed away. She had been a "Leading Aircraftswoman" in the Flying Corps.

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  2. This was gorgeous, Patty. And a wonderful thing to follow hearing Jackie speak on a panel Saturday (my first ever). She told us about visiting WWI battlefields as research, and her descriptions gave me (and I'm sure everyone in the room) chills.

    My grandfather Read was a naval aviator, along with his three brothers. His twin brother Curtis was among the earliest American flyers to be killed in Europe.

    There's a very moving letter written to Grandaddy's mother, from some general she met while watching her sons fly.

    He'd told her that she was making the ultimate sacrifice by letting her son be a flyer, I believe, and she told him she was letting her FOUR sons be flyers. He was so moved by that he asked someone her address, and penned this long, flowery paean to bravery and sacrifice and the beauty of war and stuff.

    It's the kind of thing that can move you to tears, and the REALLY make you angry, seconds later, when you realize all of that flowery stuff was what inspired the slaughter of so many many and women, for nothing.

    I'm so glad your Uncle Julius's letter made it home...

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  3. There were many of those long, flowery paeans, especially in the early days of the war. Those who wrote anything else found that their letters had been edited with long thick black lines because almost every letter from the Front was censored. John McCrae, who wrote the famous, "In Flanders Fields" was in the process of rewriting the poem when he died. Apparenly he was just crushed with guilt that he may have caused so many to enlist and then become cannon fodder with the call to arms that many read that poem to be.

    One of the less than flowery "quotes" from that war opens my next novel, MESSENGER OF TRUTH. Paul Nash was an artist before enlisting, and after he was wounded, he was sent back to the battlefields by the Office of Information, this time as a war artist. This is what he wrote:

    "I am no longer an artist interested and anxious.
    I am a messenger who will bring back word from the men who are fighting to those who want the war to go on forever. Feeble, inarticulate, will be my message, but it will have a bitter truth, and may it burn in their lousy souls."


    After walking the battlefields where millions died, I thought to myself that any politician who would send young men and women to war should walk that land, should visit those cemeteries, and they should explain themselves to the dead.


    Thanks so much for your comment, Cornelia. It seems such a coincidence that Patty chose today to write about Julius, especially following the panel. And it was great being on the panel with you - you were terrific!

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  4. There were many of those long, flowery paeans, especially in the early days of the war. Those who wrote anything else found that their letters had been edited with long thick black lines because almost every letter from the Front was censored. John McCrae, who wrote the famous, "In Flanders Fields" was in the process of rewriting the poem when he died. Apparenly he was just crushed with guilt that he may have caused so many to enlist and then become cannon fodder with the call to arms that many read that poem to be.

    One of the less than flowery "quotes" from that war opens my next novel, MESSENGER OF TRUTH. Paul Nash was an artist before enlisting, and after he was wounded, he was sent back to the battlefields by the Office of Information, this time as a war artist. This is what he wrote:

    "I am no longer an artist interested and anxious.
    I am a messenger who will bring back word from the men who are fighting to those who want the war to go on forever. Feeble, inarticulate, will be my message, but it will have a bitter truth, and may it burn in their lousy souls."


    After walking the battlefields where millions died, I thought to myself that any politician who would send young men and women to war should walk that land, should visit those cemeteries, and they should explain themselves to the dead.


    Thanks so much for your comment, Cornelia. It seems such a coincidence that Patty chose today to write about Julius, especially following the panel. And it was great being on the panel with you - you were terrific!

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  5. What a wonderful remembrance, Patty.

    But it's once again a sadness to remind ourselves that "the war to end all wars," did not.

    Better days ahead.

    Louise

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  6. Thanks, guys, for all your thoughtful comments. And, Jackie, there are no coincidences. Everything has a purpose, even though we may not see it right away.

    Louise, if only...

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  7. Patty,
    Heartwarming and beautiful. No wonder you're a great writer. Tomorrow...I'll reveal some exciting news about our co-blogger Jacqueline! Also x-rays of my knee. No peeking.

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  8. Your knee? Sorry, I have to peek.

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  9. Patty,

    Thank you for sharing the story of your Uncle. My great grandfather and his brother served in the 364th infantry. I am currently working on a website devoted to the men of the 364th. I'm including letters, postcards, pictures, and whatever else I can find for relatives and descendents to view and appreciate. Can I share your post on the website? If you have pictures and additional information it would be greatly appreciated.

    Dustin
    Dallas, TX

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