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Letters home shed light on World War I
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Communication from overseas to back home was painstakingly slow during World War I, and it mostly consisted of letters from soldiers to their parents, other relatives or friends.

News, although it was tragic sometimes, about a North Georgia soldier or sailor was so anticipated that it usually made the front page of the local newspaper. Indeed, parents would share their letters from their sons serving overseas through the local paper.

Often it was a simple line in the Gainesville News: "Lt. Pinckney Whelchel gassed in France" or "Capt. Edgar Dunlap in the 82nd Division bore the brunt of a battle in Argonne Forest."

Maynard Sanders sent word that he was safe after the ship he was on, the Orphis, burned.

Lester Loggins wrote his Aunt Cora Loggins that he was wounded when enemy machine gun fire hit him in the back. He walked three miles to a first aid station. Loggins said he saved the bullet for a keepsake and lost it during another battle, but he still had a scar for a souvenir.

Soldiers appreciated mail, he wrote. "Receiving a letter here is just like a fellow drawing a big fat payday. I haven't had a payday since I've been over here."

It was headline news when word came of the deaths of two local men, James T. Bales, 24, who died in battle Sept. 26, 1918, and Marine Cpl. Paul E. Bolding, 25, who died Oct. 30, 1918. American Legion Post 7 bears the name of Bolding, who was the son of Judge and Mrs. W.E. Bolding. Friends said they had received a letter from Bales eight days before he died saying he would be the first Gainesville boy to be killed in the war.

Not all the news from the military was sad. Pvt. Carl S. Wood wrote his mother, "I am having the best time now that I have had since I came over; especially do I like my job attending my horses. I haven't forgot how to graze them."

Later Wood wrote his sister, "I went bathing in the Marne River the other afternoon ... I don't have many chances to bathe over here ... Today we have three bags of mail to come in, and I just knew that I had some, but I found myself waiting for the next mail ... I hope you had a good revival at Timberidge this summer. ... "

Injuries didn't always happen on the battlefield. Wood wrote home about his train trip from Camp Wheeler in Macon to Camp Merritt, N.J. After stopping in Gainesville, the train continued north to New York City. Some soldiers got so excited about the big city, Wood wrote, they stuck their hands and arms out the windows to wave to the many pretty girls along the way. Two of them put them too far out and broke a hand and an arm.

Clifton Goforth told about seeing the Americans shoot down "Boche" (German) planes, but he seemed more interested in other attractions. "I have learned a little French," he wrote his parents, "and you ought to hear me talk to the girls ... They are very nice, always got something for you to eat. I know one that stays in her mother's grocery store and bakery. Most every time I go by she gives me a pie or something on that order ... The girls over here are pretty, but I have yet to see any that come up with the American girl ..."

Cpl. Admiral Otto Byrd wrote a letter to his father, Ben P. Byrd, who had been a Gainesville Midland Railroad engineer: " ... Anytime you should see my name as being among the missing, you can rest assured that I am not a prisoner for there are a number of us who have made a compact never to be taken alive by the Huns ... There have been numerous cases in which they have taken our boys prisoners and have maltreated them to such an extent that many of them died, and most all of them are totally incapacitated for life ... I had much rather die fighting than be captured by such tyrants ..."

His father never got to read the letter as he died of the flu and pneumonia before it reached him.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle N.E., Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and on