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Letters from France

On this date in 1918, many North Dakota soldiers were serving their country in the War, and when they wrote home, it was common for the recipient to give the letter to the local newspaper, which would then print it, so everyone would know what was going on.

For many soldiers their enlistment brought their first trip out of the state. The Hope Pioneer reported on Claude Baker of Luverne and his trip to Camp Mills, New York. The recruits were pleased to find that their train was equipped with Pullman sleeping cars, which made for an enjoyable journey. The train went through Chicago, but it was midnight and there wasn’t much to see. A long stop in Cleveland gave Baker and his comrades time to swim in Lake Erie. The train then traveled across New York State to Hoboken where the recruits transferred to a steamboat. Baker saw the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Ray L. Catlin of Berg enlisted on July 31, 1917. He was wounded, and at the time of writing his letter he was recovering in a French hospital. He declared that France was “as pretty a country as you want to lay your eyes on.” But what struck him most was how glad the French were to see Americans. He said that every old lady “treats you like she was your mother.” He added that the nurses were like sisters to the soldiers. Catlin said they would do anything to help the wounded. He urged his family not to worry about him. His wound was in his left hand. As he was right-handed, he said it would not be much of a bother.

As much as the soldiers tried to reassure family and friends, the news was not always good. As we reported in yesterday’s Datebook, it was the Sioux County Pioneer that reported on the death of Albert Grass of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. And there was also the news on this date that Joseph Lockwood, who had enlisted at Wahpeton, was missing in action and feared captured.

Newspapers were a valuable lifeline for the folks at home as they waited anxiously for stories affecting their family, friends, and neighbors.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher


Hope Pioneer. “Letters from France.” Hope ND. 19 September 1918. Page 2.

Sioux County Pioneer. “Albert Grass Lost in Action.” Fort YatesND. 19 September 1918 Page 1.

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