Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Meisburger, Edward P., 1895-1979; Salisbury, Spencer, 1887-1967; Wells, William Strother, d. 1924; Murphy, Thomas E., 1894-1970

Letter from Harry S. Truman to Bess Wallace, December 31, 1918. Family, Business, and Personal Affairs Papers - Family Correspondence File.

Camp La Baholle, near Verdun

December 31, 1918

Dear Bess:

You see I am ending the year properly by writing you a letter on that last day. Yesterday was a grand day—a letter from you. I am so glad you had such a pleasant visit and I do wish I could have been there with you. You tell Uncle Strother that I shall certainly get him an iron cross if such a thing is at all attainable. Should we go into Germany, there is no doubt that they will be plentiful and I can get one. My outfit picked an aviator who fell near the Battery position just before the close of the war and I learned afterwards that one of 'em got an iron cross of the observer. He'd already sold it or I'd have made him produce it. Anyway my abilities as a collector of souvenirs are not very great. I can't tell what will make a good one and what won't. Everything looks so very common and useless when you are here and can get most anything for a song. Some of the men have so much unnecessary stuff, like those coal-scuttle helmets, haversacks, etc., that it would be hard for 'em to carry their clothes. They'll undoubtedly have to leave most of it behind. I have the helmet off the first dead Hun I ever saw and I reckon I'll keep that. That's about all I have that's worth keeping. I am going to Verdun tomorrow or next day and shall in all probability get the iron cross. Two of my lieutenants went up to Douaumont the other day and found a helmet out in front of the fort with a skull in it. There was a hole right through iron, head, and all. These are some queer sights up in front of that old fort and also in front of forts Vaux and Tavannes. Except the Somme, it is the hardest-fought battlefield in France. There were days when the Hun held parts of each fort and the French would be at hand-to-hand conflict with them all the time. There were days when enough steel fell on them to fight the Civil War with. They show their wear and tear too. It will take fifty years to make the surrounding country look as it did before the war. The French are gathering up all the duds and exploding them. You know it will be awful for the farmers in this neighborhood when they first go to plowing. There won't be any Croix de Guerre or Legion of Honor badges for the rubes who go skyward as result of plowshares hitting unexploded 77s and 150s. For my part I don't believe I'd do any plowing if I had to do it here.

Tomorrow is New Year's and we are going to celebrate it by a few boxing bouts and wrestling matches. Maybe a basketball game or two if it isn't as muddy as usual and some races. My Battery will be badly hurt if one of the boxing matches goes against us. They have 7,000 francs bet on our man. He's not Tommy Murphy either but another sergeant of mine named Meisburger. Doesn't sound very Irish, does it? I have some Schmidts and a Kuhn. The Irish call 'em the German sympathizers and we always told 'em if we were captured they'd have to protect us. Really they are among the best men I have, especially the Schmidts. There are two of them, brothers, one is a corporal and the other a sergeant.

My boxer on whom the big bet is placed is fighting a gorilla from Battery E. Captain Carranza himself has bet about 1,000 francs on his man and I am not laying down on mine, so it ought to be a right good affair. It may be necessary to unscramble the two Batteries after it's over. The chaplain of the 130th is going to referee the bout. He's some boxer himself.

Remember me to all the family, especially your mother, and keep writing.

Yours always, Harry