World War I in Lawrence: Newspaper publishes letters from the front

Editor’s note: Local writer Sarah St. John compiles reports of what it was like to be in Lawrence during World War I.

In the summer of 1918, more local soldiers were being sent from their U.S. training camps to overseas locations. With this change came an increase of letters sent to “the folks back home.” Such mail was still enough of a novelty that excerpts were often published in the newspaper. The published letters revealed optimism and humor from the American troops and were probably selected as much for their morale-boosting tone as for their actual content.

Murray Griesa wrote to his father, Lawrence businessman T. E. Griesa, “I suppose you have heard by this time that we are in the trenches … We sure had a dark rainy night coming in … We had to walk single file and hold onto the fellow in front of us to keep from getting lost. I was on the tail end and maybe I didn’t have some time hanging on. It was just like playing crack the whip. We must have fooled the Germans because they did not shell us … The snipers don’t make any noise if they hit you, but if they kick up the dust beside you it is time to move.”

Corporal E. L. Dunkle, nephew of William T. Howard of 408 Lincoln Street, had volunteered at age 19 and was serving in France with the 27th Burial Squadron. He wrote, “You really must be of good cheer, for if you knew how well off and happy I am over here you would be happy too…. Don’t worry about our getting the worst of it or of being in any great danger. The chances are ten to one in our favor. If I should get ‘plunked,’ I don’t want any tears shed over me. I want all of you to consider the great honor that has been done that I might be given for this great cause.”

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