My Grandfather, Irvin Cox, served in the Infantry in World War I. Grandma’s brothers served in World War II – Richard Wells in the Army and Fred Wells in the Navy. My dad, Elvis Dudley, served in the Navy during the Korean War. My son, Eric Shehan, served in the Navy during the U.S. involvement in the Balkans, 1994-1998. As a Thank You to them and all our veterans, I’d like to post a portion of Grandpa Cox’s short memoir, handwritten in a pocket-sized book of graph paper - an Ozark country boy’s experience as a private in the Old Hickory division in World War I.
“Irvin F Cox left home on the 23 day of Jun 1918 and went to Camp Pike Ark on the 24 day of the same month and trained there for almost two month and then started for France on the 22 of August.”
Born in Larue, Arkansas, Irvin had little formal education, and had not traveled outside the region in which he grew up, but his writings demonstrate his interest in the new experiences and surroundings.
“I arrived at Camp Merritt NJ and camp there for five days and then went to Hobokin (sic) and boarded a small ship for New York where I boarded a British ship called the Kattalonia (Caledonia) . . . I boarded a American ship and sailed for France and I sure did sail for it was a fast runner.”
Upon reaching the port city of Le Havre, Private Cox was transferred to a training camp for about one month. Apparently quarters were scarce for the Allied troops.
“When I first got there I slep (sic) in a barn for some time and then moved to a garage room after I got my training. Then I went to Ecomoy (Ecommoy) and got on a troop train and went through Le Mans and Paris and lots of other towns and when I arrived I was for one week in a Belgian Camp.
“I had some time there for I had to go about two miles after my meals three times a day. I went to BeCourt (Bellicourt) through some towns that the Germans had captured and was recaptured. They was all shot to pieces. All the roofs was shot off some of the buildings and holes in brick walls that I could walk through. They was the first tranches (trenches) I had seen. They was tranches in ever field and bob wire intenglement (barbed wire entanglement) of all kind and some big shell holes. It looked like war to me.”
For nearly four months, Irvin drilled and wrote letters home while awaiting his orders, and then the “fortunes of war” dealt a surprising hand.
“Well, when I got to BeCourt (Bellicourt) I was there two weeks. We was aimed to go in to (front) lines in a few days and one evening the captain came out and read a few lines to us that read like this: ‘Today at 11 o’clock this great war ended and now we will only wait for our time to go home.’
“And then we sure did some howling and ever thing that we could think of. We sure was happy to think that we might get to go home again.”
“After the war was over we went to Vermie and drilled, past several reviews, and had some diversion, then went to La Bazoge and went on the rifle range. I was there two weeks. I spent Christmas and New Year’s there and then went back to Vermie. Went to Le Mans, was on the way for two days with Harvey Pack. It was a tiresome trip, but arrived all right.”
A poor farm boy was always interested in food, so the sight of a camp full of soldiers eating together was fascinating.
“The name of the camp was Forwarding Camp. They was lots of soldiers there. There was 1000 of us eat at one kitchen. But that was not as many as I have seen eat at one place. I had eat where there was 3400. It sure was some place to eat. Mud was so deep I could hardly walk. After one month and one day I left there and went to St Nazaire. I was took out of Company M and went in the Camp Pike Detachment.”
Despite the turbulent voyage, Private Cox’s exuberance at returning to the U.S is characteristic of many Doughboys.
“On the last day of March I boarded the USS Martha Washington, and on the first day of April I sailed for the U.S. and was on the water for 13 days and I arrived at Charleston, SC . . . the water was very rough and was quite a few of the boys sick and ‘feeding the fish’ . . . but was proud to git back to the USA once more.
“On the 19 of April I boarded a troop train and started for Camp Pike . . . on the 21 I arrived at Pike and on the 25 I got my discharge and beat it for home the morning of the 25 day of April 1919.”