Gratiot County During the World War – November 1918, Part II: The End of the War

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Above: War advertisements the November 14, 1918 issue of the Alma Record.

       Even though the Armistice occurred in early November, Gratiot County continued to learn about and hear from soldiers. Edwin P. Mahr wrote to an Alma woman about being in the fight at the front. He noted that every time the artillery fired on the Germans in his area a large group of the Boches found their way to his position so that they could surrender. Mahr also visited a German prisoner of war camp where the enemy was happy to eat American corn beef, coffee, and hard tack. The terrible, muddy terrain of the front was told by Private Frank Reed to his brother in Alma. Reed noted how the mud was at least six inches deep, but it was not as cold as back home. Reed could not wait to come back to the States.

          Several letters that reached the county were from the sick and wounded. Sergeant George Dolloff wrote from Base Hospital Number 28 in France. Dolloff was on crutches and was slowly recovering from his wounds. Still, he remembered the Battle of Chateau Thierry and the destruction that the 125th Infantry found when it arrived there earlier that fall. “They were not towns,” he recalled,  “just heaps of ruins of stone, brick and mortar with pieces of furniture and clothing and sometimes broken rifles and machine guns (were) lying around…” The Germans had been gone for only four hours when Dolloff managed to capture a German officer. “I want to tell you that I never felt so important in my life as I did when he was standing hands up and I was taking his guns away from him,” Dolloff wrote. Ray Belding of the 6th Infantry wrote to his mother that he was at a rest camp after fighting at the front. He was drawing $44.30 a month in pay, or about 250 francs.  Sergeant Carlos Allen wrote to his mother that during his service with the 125th Infantry he was awarded the Distinguished Service Commendation. Still, he felt lucky to have come out of the war in as good a shape as he did. Floyd Coss kept his family in Ithaca up to date on his injured leg. He had been seriously wounded and had to lay in one position all of the time in a hospital. Private Clarence Hetzman wrote to his family from Base Hospital Number 27 and declared that he did not need much – he only wished that someone would send him some candy as it was very scarce there. He also hoped that the family could read his letter as he had seriously injured his right arm and was writing with his left hand. Other news from soldiers dealt with those who had suffered from gas attacks or the flu epidemic. Lieutenant Colonel Raymond C. Turck was laid up in a hospital in France due to an encounter with mustard gas. Theron Cady, who was in the Marines, wrote to his brother that he was sick and he had been sent to the hospital. Cady was probably one of many men in France who had contracted influenza. Alma received word that Clyde McElfresh, who had been superintendent of the motor division at the Republic Truck Company, died of Spanish Influenza while in a camp. His body was sent to his home in Ohio. Verne Handley described driving trucks near Paris and then he detailed how American soldiers were buried where they fell and then how a few were being moved to the newly created cemeteries. Handley correctly predicted that many Americans would one day come to France to pay respects to these graves. Private Caroll Betts wrote back that his work at a supply base was the same that he did at the Alma Republic Truck Factory. He was lucky to have a nice wooden barracks, straw ticks, heavy blankets and creamery butter to eat – which he discovered was made in Alma, Michigan!

      Early in the month before the Armistice, a total of 57 men were called to report to the Alma draft board where they were told that they were headed to Camp Wardsworth in South Carolina.  However, when the Armistice was announced on November 11 all inductions into the United States service came to a halt. This meant that over 300,000 men who would have been sent to training camps across the United States did not have to go. Still, the Student Army Training Corp continued its program at Alma College. In other news, things did not go well for Private Albert C. Beaudry who was picked up in Alma by Chief of Police Oscar Vibber. Beaudry was listed as a deserter who left the 71st Balloon Detachment  at Langley Field in Hampton, Virginia. When the 9th Motor Supply Train prepared to leave Alma one Sunday afternoon the commanding officer thanked the women who showed up with coffee and doughnuts for the soldiers onboard.

         The Red Cross in Gratiot County that November continued to focus on the war effort, even after the Armistice was announced. Preparing shipments of Christmas packages was important to the Ithaca Red Cross Chapter. They offered assistance and shipping labels to families who were trying to send their veteran a package for Christmas.  Still, attendance levels had dropped off and more workers were needed in the hospital garment room. Over at Alma, workers were urged to come back now that the flu epidemic quarantines had ended in Alma. No official notice had been given by the Red Cross to stop work, so Alma pledged to keep going. After the first Armistice announcement, a big drum was carried through Alma’s streets to ask for donations. It garnered $65.51.  The Alma Chapter hoped that people in town would continue to give their monthly pledges. Headquarters for the winter was initially going to move to the Baptist Church, however, the chapter moved to the second floor of the Pollasky Block. Previously the Alma Red Cross had been meeting at the Alma Masonic Home. One bed comforter was still on hand for $5 and it was hoped someone would buy it, as well as an organ that needed to be sold. The Junior Red Cross also prepared boxes for Belgian and French orphans for Christmas. Over at St. Louis, the Junior Red Cross had a collection just before the Armistice that contained old rags, paper, old iron, brass, and lead. They sold it for $117.05 and donated it for Red Cross work. As November ended, the Gratiot County Red Cross had 4, 821 members and receipts during the war totaled an amount of $28, 872.08.

        And then there was just daily life in Gratiot County that November. Free moving pictures were shown at the Alma Methodist Church and people who attended were asked to pledge for the United War Work Campaign. This organization raised money for the YMCA, Knights of Columbus, Jewish Welfare Board, Salvation Army, and other groups that helped the war effort. The Model Bakery continued to sell its famous Victory Bread. A Farwell woman had been told that her husband, who died from pneumonia in a military camp, had supposedly been killed from poison that the Germans had placed in the aspirin. The rumor went around that a total of 250 men died from the poison and the story was so alarming that the government asked newspapers like the Alma Record to tell readers that no such event actually took place. Governor Sleeper asked Michigan residents to pray in church  and to give thanks on Sunday, November 17 on what he called “Victory Day.”

       Even before the Armistice, there was the continued call to conserve food. Yet, those who lived in beet sugar producing states like Michigan would be able to receive four pounds of sugar per household starting December 1.  Finally, during the November election, the Woman’s Suffrage amendment passed in Gratiot County on a vote of 2349 to 1436.

Copyright 2018 James M Goodspeed

 

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