In June 1916, nearly a year before the U.S. entry into the war, Lawrence resident and Red Cross worker Charles Griesa left for Europe, where he began working with the ambulance corps.
Griesa wrote frequent letters home, and in spite of censors, his family was able to piece together enough information to guess his whereabouts. In a letter of December 1916, when he was probably near Verdun, Griesa wrote that he had been returning from an ambulance run at 3 a.m. when he had seen two armored cars standing in the road. Discerning that a battle was about to take place, Griesa and his friend chose to stick around: “We were in luck because we were off duty at that time and knew where we could go to watch the whole affair. Of course sight seeing trips are forbidden, but we didn’t want to pass up any chances like that.” Taking cover in a clump of trees, Griesa and his friends watched shells “dropping over the German lines, raising the deuce…. The Germans were by no means idle either…. We were mighty lucky to see the attack, because it is very seldom ambulance men get to see such sights or in fact any one else unless they are directly in the attack. Of course, we were taking a chance of getting ‘bumped off,’ but everything turned out well…. I expect to come home some time next April if I can make it. I guess Kansas will look pretty good by that time.” Two days later, Griesa wrote of witnessing the painful death of a soldier in his ambulance. “He was terribly torn up and screamed all the way down. I gave him as easy a ride as I could over a bumpy road, but as soon as he was taken out of the car he wiggled a bit, gasped a couple of times and died. Instances like that makes one hate the whole bloody business. What either side may gain isn’t worth what that one fellow suffered.”