WWI A Soldier's Story
Who were the men who fought in WWI? What were their hopes and dreams? Was life so much different then? Through the letters of a marine we can catch a glimpse of what was inside the American soldier in WWI.
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The Journey Begins
December 1917 | Boston to South Carolina
Charlie Bell left Massachusetts on December 8th, 1917. The letters that would follow would be transcribed by his mother and preserved for future generations. This preservation has kept intact a marine's journey through the 1st great war of the 1900's. Through these letters the reader can feel what the times were like and the atmosphere of war. What a great gift for a mother to offer future generations.The letters can be seen in their entirety. See the attached image. Through these letters you can watch his progress through the major battles in WWI until his discharge on August 10th, 1919.
From Massachusetts to Paris Island South Carolina. Private Charlie Bell began a journey that over 4,000,000 other Americans would make. On the train trip down to the southern states it was obvious that civil rights were very much an issue by the language in the letter. Black and white separation was not only commonplace, it was accepted.
December 12th 1917
Paris Island meals----"For breakfast this morning we had corn flakes, with milk and beans. Coffee without cream and sugar and dry bread. This noon we had lima beans, hashed potatoes, salmon, bread and tea. Of course no butter, sugar or cream. The stuff isn't bad, but the worst part comes from washing your dishes. We all wash them in a tub of hot water and wipe them with a towel, but as Eddie said, the towel is rotten but the time you get through."
Charlie's time at Paris Island includes descriptions of drill, the food , the surroundings and his home sickness comes through in his letters. He is one of those rare individuals that not only conforms to the life but thrives in it. At one point he asks his mom to send him pumice stone for his teeth. Mail is of utmost importance to him and all of his comrades!
January 11th, 1918
"I got $12.88 pay-day, sending $10.00 home and have about $1.50 left till next pay-day. Next time I expect about $27.00."
Feb 17th, 1918
Charlie and his unit were transferred to Quantico, Virginia.He was upset because he and another fellow had acted as Corporal but their stripes were denied them when transferred and given to someone else.
March 23rd, 1918
"At Sea" and closing in on France. Charlie writes about the band playing and seeing them off from both Paris Island and Quantico. He wrote that sea sickness had bypassed him. They had all received shots on board and some of the guys got sick. From now on all letters will be censored.
His European Tour Begins!
April 1918 | France
After arriving in France Charlie and Tom who had been friends from the beginning are on their way to fighting in the greatest war up until this time.On April 14th both Charlie and Tom are made Corporals and after living with 14 other guys in a vacant house they are shipping out again.The letters are censored so their locations are guarded, but Charlie talks about how beautiful the country is and how much history exists there.
July 15th, 1918 "Somewhere in France"
" I suppose by now that you have heard news of the marines fighting. Well, I want to reassure you they are some scrappers.I sure am glad I joined this outfit for these reasons.
1st - They are the best trained
2nd - They are the cleanest outfit
3rd - They can scrap like H- - -!"
As the war goes on Charlie continues to talk up the Marines. His personality is suited for what he is doing and the patriotism that the rest of his outfit must have is expressed through him through his letters home. He has a girl named Pearl waiting for him. His brother Frank is now in the war someplace else in Europe and his family means everything to him. He reads out of his Bible each day and swims when he gets the chance.
In The Heat of Battle - From Corporal to Sergeant
July 1918 | Somewhere in France
WWI was fought in the Trenches. It was a terrible war that brought new weaponry into the light. Mustard Gas was used and as it burned the breathing passages of the victims they were either left scarred or dead. On August 22nd both Tom and Charlie were advanced to Sergeant, before the major battles that they were to fight in.
From records that came later on in the war we know that Charlie was in the following engagements:
St Michiel Front Sept. 12 -15th
"A village of northeast France on the Meuse River east of Paris. The World War I battle here (September 12-14, 1918) was the first major American offensive led by Gen. John J. Pershing and forced the Germans to relinquish a salient held since 1914."
Champagne Front Oct.1st-9th
1 October 1918 "The Offensive is clearly not meeting expectations. The lack of roads in the Argonne creates a stupendous traffic jam. Pershing replaces several inexperienced divisions. Tank support because of the terrain and mechanical problems has not lived up to expectations.
3 October 1918 To the west, the Lost Battalion of the 77th Division is surrounded. Things are bogged down along the line. Pershing shuffles his divisions for a renewed assault.The new order of battle includes [west to east]: I Corps - 77th, 28th & 1st Divisions; V Corps - 32nd & 3rd Divisions: and III Corps - 4th 80th and 33rd Divisions. 4 October 1918 First Army begins a major attack along the entire front, but this will just be the first in a series of attacks all resulting in high casualties with small gains in ground.
7 October 1918 Secondary flanking attack by I Corps reenforced by 82nd Division to relieve the Lost Battalion.
8 October 1918 Lost Battalion survivors walk out. Sgt. York of 82nd Division wipes out nest of 35 machine guns and captures 132 German soldiers as part of relief operation.
Pershing orders the French XVII Corps with American divisions to attack along the east bank of the Meuse.
Argonne Front (South of Sedan) Nov 1st-11th
1 November 1918 The reorganized First Army now under the command of Lt. General Hunter Liggett begins the final pursuit to Sedan.
FreThe divisions are once again reorganized [west to east]: I Corps - 78th, 77th, & 80th Divisions; V Corps - 2nd & 89th Divisions: III Corps - 90th and 5th Divisions; A major road construction program during October improved the logistical situation.
The first days advance by V Corps in the center is six miles. The Germans are shocked and order a withdrawal.
2-3 November 1918 The 2nd Division marches right through the enemy positions and advances another five miles.
3 November 1918 III Corps on the right forces a crossing of the Meuse south of Dun-sur-Meuse with the 5th Division forcing the bridgehead.
5 November 1918 Leading US units reach the hills overlooking Sedan. The First Army boundary is ordered to be shifted to the east to allow the French 4th Army the honor of capturing Sedan site of a defeat in 1870 and redirect 1st Armies route of advance.
7-11 November 1918 Units already east of the Meuse continue advancing northward and the First Army Headquarters lays plans for taking the old fortress of Montmedy, the next logical objective.
The End of the War
August 1919 | France-Germany-Then Home
Right before the Armistice was signed Charlie received word that his brother Frank had been killed. His friend Tom was shot and wounded in the final battle but was on the mend. Charlie was to spend another 8 months mopping up in Germany.He recieved a battlefield commission to 2nd Lt. near the middle of December 1918, in the US Marine Corps.Attached is a description of Charlie and the record of his military service up until this point. Not long after the war ended Pearl and Charlie broke off their engagement. This was to haunt Charlie a good portion of his life. He truly was in love with her. Finally, Charlie made it back to the states and had his parade in Washington. Also attached is the last letter he wrote before heading home on Sunday August 10th, 1919!
The Years That Followed
1958 | United States
Charlie was heartbroken when he returned. While in the service he had a dose of Mustard Gas and had problems throughout his life with that. He was always a great guy and is remembered as a 1st class individual. He never really got over Pearl although later on in life he married.
Charlie died in 1958 two years after Charles Allen Bell the 3rd was born. As the 1st, and loved by many he has left a legacy and as of today there are 4 living relatives carrying his full name. He will always be remembered fondly!