Thursday, March 7, 2019

February 1919: “We Do a Little Drilling, Not Enough To Hurt.”

by Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

February 1919 brought little change of duty for the Soldiers of the 151st Machine Gun Battalion conducting occupation duty in Kripp Germany. Sergeant Robert Gober Burton observed that “we do a little drilling, not enough to hurt, and the rest of the time we twiddle our thumbs.”[i]

Burton reported rumors that they would soon depart noting the presence of inspecting officers was a sure sign that they would be on the move. He hedged his bets though suggesting to his mother that they would likely not return home before April. With time on his hands, Burton took to writing post cards and sending home pictures of his comrades.

February 4, 1919
My dearest Mater,
I am enclosing another piece for my scrap book. It is a picture of our supply sergeant. In later years it will come in handy and I will recall it and the stories with pleasure. I am also enclosing a picture of our first sergeant (top kicker). This will be great to look at also as he is one good fellow.
As ever,
Your devoted son,
From Burton's correspondence of Feb. 4, 1919: 1st Sgt. Lucius G. Hughes and
Supply Sergeant Charles Knight, Company A, 151st MGB.  Georgia Archives
In February, Sgt. Burton received tragic news from home. His brother Frank, who he idolized and who had suggested that he would come home “loaded down with glory[iii]” had succumbed to Spanish flu December 19, 1918. Burton struggled with the news. He had not seen Frank for nearly two years and had written about going into business with his brother upon returning to the states.

Final resting place of Frank Burton,
Rest Haven Cemetery, Monroe, Ga.
Photo by Maj. William Carraway
Perhaps fueled by his brother’s death, Burton’s February correspondence reflected a growing angst about being called a hero. Whereas in the early days of the Mexican Border expedition, Burton wrote to Frank and his mother of his hopes of receiving medals and marching in a parade, nearly three years later he was far more reticent to accept the accolades of service as noted in his letter of February 5, 1919:

What I don’t see tho is why we should be praised so much. How about the mothers who gave up their sons and the fathers who upheld the government and bought Liberty Bonds and W. S. S. and the whole family who cut their rations in order that we might have white bread and sugar in our coffee? Couldn’t we eat war bread the same as they did? We were undergoing a few hardships it is true, but the whole course of their life was changed while ours – well, we are young and ours has never been set.[iv]

Rather than a welcome home parade, Burton wrote that he and Sgt. Ed Williamson had frequently discussed their desire to come home at night to avoid attention and to be treated “as if we had only been down to Atlanta for the weekend,” and expressed fear that “if people keep telling us that we have done something great we will finally believe that we have knowing all the time that we haven’t.”[v]

To relieve his mind from the monotony of occupation duty and the fresh pain of Frank’s death, Burton availed himself of the opportunity to travel with Williamson. His letter of February 10, 1919 described his ramblings.

Kripp, Germany
Sunday, February 10, 1919

My dearest mother,
As I wrote you about going on a long trip up the Rhine, will tell you about it. The weather was cold, but I enjoyed it a whole lot. We went up the river to Coblenz and back. The country on each side of the Rhine is very pretty. High steep hills with a castle atop of one every now and then. Between the hills are level plains that are very rich and produce lots of potatoes and wheat. The sides of the hills are also cultivated only there are vineyards instead of potatoes and wheat. You have heard of Rhine wine, well here is where it is made, and it surely is good for I have drunk some of it. At Coblenz we saw a great statue that the Kaiser had erected of himself. It is a gigantic thing. A man standing at the horse’s feet (he is mounted) looks like a comparison of a man and a house. I also saw the bridge of boats at Coblenz. All in all, I enjoyed the trip.
Post card from Sgt. Burton depicting his travels up the Rhine.  Georgia Guard
Frank’s passing away is rather tough. I had plans of he and I working together when I returned. But God doeth all things well.
I had a letter from Miss Bessie day before yesterday. It came in the same mail as yours. She wanted to know what kind of reception we wanted when we came home. I told her that I was going to try to get home at night and that I was going to get off on the dark side of the train and I hoped that no one would see me going home. Mother dear, I am not even going to write or wire you when I am coming. I don’t want anyone to know when I get there. When we land in the U.S. I am going to wire you the good news. You can look for me any time after two weeks after I wire you. It will take all of that long to get mustered out and discharged. I am not going absent without leave for I will have to stay in the Army that much longer. We may be issued passes home if we are. I am coming home.
This is about all that I know this time. Give all my love and best.
Your ever devoted,

[i] Robert G. Burton to Mrs. Bessie Aycock. February 7, 1919
[ii] Robert G. Burton to Mrs. R. F. Burton. February 4, 1919
[iii] Frank Burton to Robert G. Burton October 15, 1916
[iv] Robert G. Burton to Mrs. Mary Nunally. February 5, 1919

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