Monday, December 31, 2018

January 1919: “I belonged to the Rainbow Division.”

by Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

As the New Year approached, the Soldiers of the 151st settled in for what they hoped would not be a long occupation duty in Kripp and Bad Bodendorf, Germany. The men of the 151st Machine Gun Battalion were lodged among the civilian population and were thoroughly briefed on expectations of military courtesy.[i]

In this composite image, a Soldier of the 151st MGB patrols a street in Bad Bodendorf Germany during occupation duty in 1919.  Original image courtesy of The National Archives Records Administration.  Photo by Capt. Dan Nichols. Composite by Maj. William Carraway

While acclimatizing himself to his new surroundings, Sgt. Robert Gober Burton learned from correspondence that his parents had wired the house for electricity, prompting him to express anticipation of returning home to have a reading lamp in his old room.[ii]

As the terror and maneuver of combat duty transitioned to the static routine of occupation, Burton’s letters reflected the Soldiers ruminations over all they had experienced in combat and of how they would adjust to life back home. Anxious families back home awaited updates expecting “the boys” to come home now that the war was over. Burton grew testy when his mother expressed exasperation over the delay in mail.

“I am with a fighting outfit and we don’t hang around the base parts and the cable offices. Where we are, there are no cable offices. If there were, I would have answered your cable. But don’t worry about me mother dear for I am fine now.[iii]

The last days of December 1918 were chilly with light snow falling on the Rhine. The days were short with darkness falling at 4:00 pm. To keep the Soldiers occupied and to keep thoughts from wandering homeward non-commissioned officers presided over drill and ceremony. Soldiers rotated through guard mount and various details. The men received new clothing issue and, at long last, leave was granted for up to seven days. The Soldiers were able to venture about Bad Bodendorf or visit the YMCA for coffee and writing material to pass the time. Sergeant Burton availed himself of the writing material to increase his rate of correspondence home.

Dec 31, 1918
My dearest Mother,
You see I am writing quite often now as we are stationary and don’t have so awful much to do. I write every time that I think of it. As you see by the heading, we are still in Kripp and we are enjoying ourselves very much.
There are reports and they come from good sources that we will leave here on Jan 10 on our way home. I surely do hope that we do. As rule, I am rather skeptical about rumors, but the officers are talking it and from the records and things they are taking up it looks as if we are about to sail. Oh boy, won’t that be great business.
I appreciate everyone’s good wishes and I certainly do thank them for it. But Uncle Sam won’t consent so will have to make the best of it.
I don’t care anything about parading in Washington. There is only one place in the U.S. that I want to parade in and that is Monroe. I don’t doubt tho that we will parade quite a bit when we come over. We have about forgotten all the parade soldiering that we knew. We know the other kind now.
Tomorrow is New Years and we are going to have fresh pork for dinner. We bought three nice little shoats and are going to have them for dinner tomorrow. You see we are faring quite well.
Well mother dear, am always looking for a long letter from you.
Your ever devoted

One week later, writing in response to a letter received from home, Burton expresses his pride in being a member of the 42nd Division and his contempt for reports of hardship in Germany.

Kripp Germany
January 5, 1919
My dearest Mater,
I haven’t heard from you I about a week or so but will write just the same. I am getting along fine. As you will notice, we are still at Kripp. The place is not so large, but it is quite a nice place. I am still living in the same house and like it just as much as ever.
Rumors are flying fast now to the effect that we are soon to return to the U.S. the latest dope is that we are to be decorated by the French and given a pin that we can wear when we are discharged. I doubt if there is any truth in it tho so don’t believe too much of it. Take it with salt. But I do think that it won’t be long before we are home.
The Germans don’t seem to mind our being here anymore than they did at first. We are being well fed and have good places to sleep so all that we have to worry about is going home.
I want to take some schooling when I get home, but I will be a little too old to commence again where I left off, so I think that I shall take some kind of a special course. What do you think about it? Is that a good idea or not?
There is one thing that I will always have to be proud of and that is that I belonged to the Rainbow Division. It is a great outfit. I believe that it will go down in American History as the greatest of American Divisions. I am proud to belong to it and justly so.
Listen mater, when they tell you Germany is starving for food don’t believe it for she is not. The people look slick and well fed and they dress as nice as the people at home do. I haven’t seen anyone suffering for food yet and I have been in Germany for a month. We came into Germany on Dec 3. Everywhere I have been the people seem to have plenty. There is not as much of course as prewar days but no one is starving. The restaurants of Coblentz and Cologne are running full blast and there is no limit to what you can buy. So don’t be fooled when you are told that Germany is starving.[v]
Burton closes his Jan. 5, 1919 letter with a bit of branch rivalry inspired humor at the expense of the aviation. After learning that the sons of one of his former neighbors in Monroe were aspiring aviators, Burton chided them with a song sung to the tune of the popular bawdy British tune Mademoiselle from Armentières:

“I appreciate Mrs. Nowell’s interest in me, but I wonder why her boys didn’t come earlier to help win the war. They think that they are getting into a bomb proof job when they get in aviation, but they haven’t seen what I have seen of the aviators. It will be entirely different from what they think. I am not the least bit envious of them nor am I jealous. I wouldn’t take worlds for my experience as a machine gunner, but I think that the next war will find me in the service of supplies. We have a little song that we sing about the aviators. It goes like this:
The aviators so nice and fine
Parley Vous
The aviators so nice and fine
Parley Vous
The aviators so nice and fine they won the war behind our line
Hinkey Dinkey Parley Vous

Sgt. Burton's signature on his correspondence of
Jan. 5, 1919.  Georgia Guard Archives.
But I know who won the war: The Doughboys.
Well mother dearest I must be in a bad humor tonight so had better close.
Your ever-devoted son.
Sgt. R. G. Burton
Co. A. 151 M.G. Bn
American E.F.[vi]

[ii] Robert G. Burton to Mrs. R. F. Burton. Dec. 31, 1918
[iii] Robert G. Burton to Mrs. R. F. Burton. Dec. 31, 1918
[iv] Robert G. Burton to Mrs. R. F. Burton. Dec. 31, 1918
[v] Robert G. Burton to Mrs. R. F. Burton. Jan. 5, 1919
[vi] Robert G. Burton to Mrs. R. F. Burton. Jan. 5, 1919

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