Truman, Ralph Emerson, 1880-1962; William II, German Emperor, 1859-1941
Letter from Harry S. Truman to Bess Wallace, October 30, 1918. Family, Business, and Personal Affairs Papers - Family Correspondence File.
Somewhere in France
October 30, 1918
Your letter dated October 2 and numbered 28 came last night and you may be very sure I was more than glad to get it. We sit around these Battery positions and wait for something to shoot at and make maps and do so many things that are necessary and a lot that are not that I sometimes don't know straight up from crossways. You know the Battery commander is the man to whom "the buck" is passed both going up and coming down, and he's got to watch his P's and Q's mighty smartly if they don't succeed in getting something on him. So far I have been very lucky in that I have had no one gassed, have not been shelled in any of my positions (and I've occupied several in the last month), and I haven't shot up our infantry yet—at least haven't done it so they could catch me at it. I went out to the front-line trenches yesterday and adjusted my Battery for range and deflection with ten shots. It used to take at least forty-eight when I was at school. But when you know that some Hun plane is just laying for you to catch you shooting so he can run home and tell a gas Battery about you, it does not take so long nor so many shots to adjust with as you'd use under other conditions. There is an old Battery of 155 long guns across the road from me whose date of manufacture was so long ago that no one knows it. They shoot gas at the Hun every time he fires this way and it seems that their work is very effective because the Hun usually ceases to fire when this antique outfit starts. The Frenchman say that the old guns shoot very accurately. I have paper windows in my dugout and the concussion from the guns has completely ruined it. You should see the palace I live in. It is a different one from that in which I was when I wrote you last. I have a very large arched room which contains the Battery kitchen. On one side I have a small room with a stove, a table, a chair, some boxes, a lot of maps and firing tables and other necessary Battery commander junk. On the other I have a sleeping apartment with room for myself and two lieutenants and a stove. The Battery is up the road a couple of hundred meters and so well hidden that I can't find it myself after dark sometimes. I have a telephone right at my bedside and one on my desk so that when barrages and things are called for I can be immediately informed. I have all the comforts of home except that I'll have such a habit sleeping underground that I'll have to go to the cellar to sleep when I get home.
I was in the most famous war town in France today, unless it's the one where the King of France was crowned. I walked in and I've never seen a more desolate sight. Trees that were once most beautiful forest trees are stumps with naked branches sticking out making them look like ghosts. The ground is simply one mass of shell holes. They say the Hun shot them 1 million a day when he was trying under the Crown Prince to come through. The French simply put 75s hub to hub and mowed them down like hay when they started across. When I arrived in town there was not a building that hadn't a shell hole in it, although the old arched gateway is still standing just as it always has. Both towers of the cathedral are still intact but the rest of it is a mass of ruins. There is not a civilian in town—nothing but soldiers, mostly Yanks.
When I was going in I saw some railway guns firing. They can shoot fifteen or twenty miles and not start to strain their ability to shoot. I am hoping that these were sending messages to Metz.
The news sure looks well today. When Austria begs our grand President for the privilege of peace it really looks like something. I'm for peace but that gang should be given a bayonet peace and be made to pay for what they've done to France. I am sure that this desolate country was cultivated and beautiful like the rest of France and now, why Sahara or Arizona would look like Eden beside it. When the moon rises behind those tree trunks I spoke of awhile ago you can imagine that the ghosts of the half-million Frenchmen who were slaughtered here are holding a sorrowful parade over the ruins. It makes you hope that His Satanic Majesty has a particularly hot poker and warm corner for Bill Hohenzollern when his turn comes to be judged and found wanting.
I am still bearing that charmed life and since Austria has quit I guess I've a good more than 2 to 1 chance of getting home with it. I've been places though since I told you I had a charmed life that thoroughly convinced me I have. I attribute it to your prayers. Things that happened to us in the drive sure made believers out of most of us.
I wish I could have been at the Yost sale. It made me homesick to read of it. The clipping about Elmer and the one about Ralph and myself were interesting too. I saw Ralph the other day. I guess he'll be a Major soon. He's some officer. I can tell you a good story of him some day. If you think I have a charmed life (and I think I have) his is doubly so for he got under our barrage and the Hun's too.
I am just as homesick to see you as you can possibly be to see me. I hope the time is short when we'll see each other. I love you more and more and shall continue to be
Yours always, Harry
Harry S. Truman Capt 129 F.A.
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