Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Soldier's Story

Ninety years ago, a young man from my hometown of Pekin, IL, was stationed in France after World War I. He was originally a country boy having grown up on a farm a few miles south of Pekin. When the "War To End All Wars" involved America, this young man set off for Europe to fight for freedom and justice. His father, the county sheriff, was a proud Irish immigrant from County Cork, Ireland. His mother was from sturdy stock in New England.

What follows is an article that appeared in the local newspaper. In the body of the article is a letter from this young man. It is not a dramatic recounting of a bloody encounter with the German enemy. It has no daring escapades within its pages. In fact, in some ways, the letter is rather boring with the exception of the fact that it provides a snapshot of life for that country lad. He was seeing things and experiencing things he could never have dreamed he could had it not been for his life in the military.

The young man who penned this letter home is none other than my grandfather Charlton. In the photo at the top of this piece you can see him in his Military Police uniform, an article of clothing that he was very proud of. He served his country with honor just as countless other young men of his generation and was forever proud of his service for the rest of his life. When he died in 1964, his casket was draped in a large American flag. I'll never forget that flag and the way it decorated his coffin. Thanks to my mother, I am the proud possessor of that very flag these 45 years later.

The article below appeared in the Pekin Daily Times in early 1919 and was written to my grandfather's good friend, Henry Schulte. I have not altered the spelling or the grammar to give you an idea of the authentic feel of the letter.


Letters From Home Town Listen Good To Soldiers

Henry Schulte of the Pekin Fire Department has received the following interesting letter from Jim Charlton, son of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Charlton who is now doing military police duty in Paris. Jim enclosed a picture of himself and three soldier friends and one glance shows that Jim has picked up a few pounds in weight and if there are any more imposing M.P.'s in Paris than Jim, they will have to go some.

Paris, France, Mar. 3, 1919

Dear Friend Henry:

Well Henry I received your letter Saturday and sure was glad to hear from you. I tell you a letter from the old home town folks looks better than a pay day. When I was home I used to hear of so many people saying we ought to write more to the boys over there, and I thought it was kind of foolish. But since I am over here I realize what a letter means to a soldier over here. I want to tel you a soldiers life in France isn't quite as nice as soldiering tin the states, at least I have found it different. But just the same I am very thankful that I am feeling well, and that the war ended when it did. Because I was making fast footsteps toward the front when the armistice was signed. At the time the armistice was signed I guess people all over France went wild but a fellow couldn't blame them. I know I felt mighty good about it.

Well, Henry I will tell you what we done after the armistice was signed. We left the little town of Mansigne on Sunday morning about seven o'clock, headed for a forwarding camp near Mayet, France, which was about eight miles. Well, we landed here about 11 o'clock. The first thing we did was to line up for dinner, and there being about 2500 of us soldiers here the same day and only one kitchen we had to wait a long time for something to eat. By the time I go to dinner it was about five o'clock so you can easily see that I might have been pretty hungry, after walking 8 miles and waiting so long for something to eat. But just the same I stood this part of it all right. Well we stayed here about three weeks and got a couple of more kitchens and commenced to get along a little bit better. The camp won the name of slum camp. Ha! Ha! So finally one day they started to look my old company over to get the military police and of course me being in good shape after eating slum for three weeks was picked for one. There was 35 out of my company picked and placed with 165 more and shipped in box cars to Auton, France, to take a two weeks course in military police duty.

Well, after we finished our course here we rode third class in to Paris. And believe me I was glad when they said we would ride third class and do away with riding like a bunch of cattle. The joke was when we were riding in these box cars it read on the door 40 hommas or 8 head of horses in the American language.

I am a military police in Paris, or at least I done this for the first month. But now I doing traffic control. I wish you could see me walking the streets of Paris with one of these French police. i sure have to laugh some times about it because he can't talk to me and I can't make him understand me.

But just the same we get along with our work just the same. I went on duty last night with one of them about six o'clock and we walk about two hours. When we finally landed close to a roller skating rink and we went in for a while and believe me this is some place too, I am telling you. The skating rink is about 200 feet by 100 feet, a large cafe and also a moving picture show combined. It is sure quite a place. I want to tell you that Paris is quite a place, and sure glad beings I had to stay over here that I got the chance to come to Paris. I went to see a large picture of the war painted by some Frenchman which is wonderful. And if I didn't get to see another thing while I am in Paris I sure would be satisfied. The picture is 350 feet long and 40 feet wide. It shows the battle front and the different nations which took part in the big war. Henry, I can't explain what a beautiful picture this is. But it sure is grand. I also was out to see Napoleon's tomb and also went through the museum. This is a beautiful place. I tell you every time I get a day off I make use of it by going out sight seeing.

Well, Henry, this ends my story what I am doing now, and will explain the picture I am sending you. Of course you don't know these three fellows with me but you can study out who that one guy is. He is the same fellow who used to ride the yellow wheel around the streets of our home in Paris and of course some of the fellows in our company had to be bothering us and made us move a little and spoil the picture. But just the same, I am proud of it. Will bring this letter to a close this time. Hoping this finds you all well. I am feeling fine. Give my best regards to the city hall bunch.

From Friend

Jim W Charlton
264 M.P. Co., 132 Bn., A.P. 702 A. E.

Jim Charlton, son of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Charlton, of this city, who is in the military police stationed at the Pershing Stadium now and also seeing some real good sport. The Pekin boy is stationed right at the Pershing Hut, which is some honor. Jim's number is 264 and we venture that there is not a finer looking cop in gay Paree.


What became of that picture of the three M.P.'s is not known. But the picture of the proud young Military Police Officer is a portrait that has been in my family all these years. My grandfather left quite a legacy!