As I started this column on Veterans Day, I hoped to come up with an appropriate tribute or inspiring message to communicate the gratitude we all have for those who have served our country. I worried before I began that I would not be able to do justice to the many men and women in our community who have served our nation in times of war. The task frankly seemed out of reach and I contemplated changing the subject altogether.
As I struggled to put pen to paper though, I thought about my great-great uncle, William Bratton deLoach Jr., and the letter hanging on my wall at home. I originally found the letter, five small pages still folded inside the yellowed envelope, when I moved into the house and was immediately drawn to it. At the time, Bratton was a 21-year-old Infantry Lieutenant in World War I and the letter was written four days after the Armistice was declared on November 11, 1918. It was mailed to his mother in Camden.
The letter is simple actually, a quick note from a son to his mother letting her know that all is well. Bratton is in a hospital, not from a bullet or shrapnel wound, but for appendicitis of all things. His innocent tone of reassurance to his mother could have been written by every soldier from every war and is typical of a young man who knows that his mother is worried. The picture of his mother at home with the letter from her son half a world away reinforces the fact also that war calls for the sacrifice not only of the soldier, but also of the families left at home.
The letter reads as follows:
Somewhere in France
Nov. 15, 1918
I haven’t received any mail yet and don’t expect to for quite a while yet as it is pretty hard to get mail when you are transferred about. I wrote a letter to the Captain of my company back at the Training School and also one to Jack Watkins to forward my mail if any came in for me. I don’t know where you are addressing my letters to so I wrote both places.
We were in the lines at the time the armistice was declared and the Germans sure were shouting. They came over to see us after they quit firing and some of the men got souvenirs off of them. They seemed to be glad that the war was over. We can’t realize that the war is over and the guns are not firing anymore after being under their fire when up in the lines. I had an attack of appendicitis the other day and am in the hospital but hope to be out in a few days. They did not operate on me because I don’t think it was very serious and could wait until I got home. I am feeling fine and don’t know why they sent me back because I felt alright after about five hours after the pain struck me. So you see it is more of a rest than anything else. One of the nurses was in just a few minutes ago who is from Savannah, Ga. and she says she knows Bissel Kennedy. I am in a hospital whose unit was made up in Richmond, Va. and all the doctors and nurses seem to be mighty nice.
Well I guess I had better close for this time. Love to all,
P.S. – Don’t get worried over my condition because I am feeling fine and won’t be operated on.
Lt. W.B. deLoach Jr.
Co. H. 109 Inf.
Unfortunately, Bratton’s story does not have a happy ending. All soldiers do not make it home. He would die two weeks after the letter was written on November 30, 1918. His service to his country, along with the service of all those before and after him, however, are not forgotten.
So in lieu of an “appropriate tribute or inspiring message,” I would just like to say “Thank You” to all veterans past and present. Your nation is grateful.