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Private Ralph Donmoyer while training at Camp Hancock, Augusta, Georgia. 1917.

Memorial day is here, in the U.S. The day saw its start as “Decoration Day,” in 1868. On that first Memorial Day, flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers who had fallen during the United States Civil War. Since then, the day commemorates the generations of military members who have sacrificed their lives in service. In this post, I am not going to get into the politics of armed conflict. I am writing about members of my family who served  with honor and pride. Fortunately, none of these people lost their lives during war. They did know the longing and homesickness that accompanies service in the armed forces. I am proud to have a brother who served in the Air Force and a young friend who served in the Navy. However, I will focus, particularly, on the service of my great-grandmother’s younger brother, who served during World War I.

During recent genealogy searches, I discovered that several of my ancestors served during the U.S. Revolutionary War and the Civil War. I am excited to learn about their service and hope to find more information. Since childhood, I have loved studying history and genealogy and spent many hours listening to the stories of older members of my extended family. My maternal great-grandmother was a great source of family information and lore. From her, I received quite a few pictures and letters. She had two sons and several sons-in-law who served in the armed forces as well as her daughters, who were active in organizing USO dances and shows for soldiers and sailors during World War II. She also had kept many letters that her younger brother had written to her during World War I.

These letters from my great-grandmother’s brother often are filled with requests for letters from home. He asks about friends and family and usually ends his letters asking after his young niece and nephew as well as a request that she write back. From here, I’m going to let a few of his letters speak for themselves.

October 1917

Augusta, Ga. Oct. 27, 1917

Dear Sis. & all,

Rec’d your cards and was glad to hear you’s are all well. Tell Paul
[my great-grandfather] he is to get me a carton of camels and send them to me. Down here they cost fifteen cents a pack, and I will send him the dollar. I just got a letter from Elmer [his brother] and he said anything I want he would send me. The things Mother send me were allright except a few eggs were smashed. I certainly did dig into it. The position we are in now is sure no easy one. It does not seem like it did when we were in the Inf. This takes brains, we do not drill anymore but mostly study algebra, range findering, signaling and the use of a machine gun and lots more. I said before we left I might be home on Xmas but the way things are going now we might be across by that time…

December 1917

Camp Hancock

Augusta, Ga.

Dec. 3-17

Dear Sis and all,

Rec’d your box on Sun. and everything was allright. I told Bill Harbach, he said that he sent Paul a card but got no ans. So he’ll write again as well and have no complaints. I was not once sick since we’re here although I’m glad of it. How is Helen and Louie? Do they still fight? Paul said he would write a line to show that he is still alive, but by the way he wrote he must have been about half alive. Tell him he can be glad he was turned down. Just now it takes three educations to be a mach. gunman. We had some dinner on Thanksgiving. We had turkey, stuffings, celery, cranberry sauce, high cake, cheese, sweet pickles, oranges, apples, cocoa, ice cream and bread & butter and two days off. On Xmas we’ll have a week off. Did Paul do any skating yet? We were in swimming last week. The days are getting warmer although the nights are cold. Tell Paul I wandered if he still likes Bomberger. I guess he does. Well this about all. Will write next week. ans

July 1918

American Expeditionary Forces

July 20, 1918

Dear Sis and all,

Rec’d your welcome letter to-day and was glad to hear that all are well as I am the same. This is a very beautiful country and like it allright. I’ve seen quite big part of France so far and see more each day. This is the fourth letter I send to you and you say you haven’t rec’d any yet, can’t understand it. Have wrote a few to Mother and she hasn’t got any. Hope at least this one reaches you. Joe is not in our company anymore and Tangle is allright. We have all the tobacco we can smoke and get good eats. We just came back from the third line and seen lots of fire works. Had good luck so far. I met a lost friend the other day. Had a good time for a while…

October 1918

American Expeditionary Forces

Oct. 18, 1918

Dear Sis,

Rec’d your kind and welcome letter sent Sept. 12 and was glad to hear that all are well as I am the same. The weather has been uncomfortable the past few weeks. We are leaving for a few days vacation somewhere to the southern part of France and expect to have a good time. We get lots of Leb. [Lebanon, Pennsylvania] papers and others. I had forgot all about Sept first being my birthday. Tell Paul I’ve been in it now three times but did not quite bag the [?]…first day almost got bagged myself…

April 1919

U.S.S. Kroonland

“Empress of the Seas”

April 30/19

Dear Sister,

Find time and pleasure in sending you a few lines to let you know that I am back in the U.S. again. Am feeling fine, and expect to be home in about two weeks from now. This is the trip of which I had been longing for, although it was a very tiresome one and have some to go yet. Will write later on. Luck and best wishes to all.

From Bro. Ralph

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