Thursday, March 21, 2019

March 1919: “That hero stuff may be good for a while, but it doesn’t get you anywhere in the long run.”

by Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

Sgt. Robert Gober Burton's return address, Kripp Germany
Georgia Guard archives

On May 17, 1917 while stationed with Company H, 2nd Georgia Infantry Regiment in Jacksonville, Florida, Cpl. Robert Gober Burton wrote home to tell his family about a new girl he had met at church. Mildred was the daughter of a Methodist preacher and Burton wrote home glowingly about her. She wrote to Gober after his company was withdrawn to Macon and visited his family in Monroe after he had deployed to France with the 151st Machine Gun Battalion. Nearly one year later, the two were sharing letters at a rate of at least one per week. Gober wrote to his mother on April 18, 1918 expressing concern that Mildred would marry before he could return home:

If the war marriages keep up, we boys over here won’t stand any show when we do return. But if that is the way they feel about it we should worry. Just so Mildred hasn’t married yet, but I am expecting that every day. I live in hope that she won’t.[i]

In September 1918, Burton learned that Mildred had moved to Baltimore. Shortly thereafter Mildred’s letters stopped coming. Busy as he was, Burton himself had little time to write.

In a terse letter of March 2, 1919, Burton mention’s Mildred’s name for the last time.

Mildred Richards is married. She married sometime in December. I should worry.[ii]

Burton would not write home for ten days. When he did write again, he had a new girl and wrote excitedly about the prospect of returning to civilian life.

Kripp Germany
March 12, 1919
My dearest mama,
I haven’t written in several days because I must couldn’t get up a writing mood. Sometimes I feel like writing and then I don’t. I feel like it this afternoon.
I received a couple of letters from the U.S. today but none from you. One was from John and the other from a girl in Macon. I didn’t get one from you.
John’s letter was real interesting and I enjoyed it very much. He tells me I can take my time and give all the jobs a once over before I decide to take one. I feel tho as if I don’t want to spend too much time loafing. That hero stuff may be good for a while, but it doesn’t get you anywhere in the long run. I want to get started.
I am anxious to begin civilian life all over again. I expect to marry someday, and I want to be well fixed. I am giving the time now grudgingly. I should be getting started in something else. I don’t know a thing but Soldiering and that isn’t much of an occupation.
I want to tell all my people about the part I have played in the war and that is about all. The war is over, and we whipped the Dutch so why talk about it? Then too, it brings lots of experiences that I had rather not talk about for some of the boys “went west.” The men that have been killed from this war are quite a few and their names are spoken reverently among the men. They are the heroes.
Our captain has been promoted to a major and he told me this morning that we leave Kripp about April 1st for home. That sounds mighty good as it is the 12th now.
The weather here is certainly fine now. It is like spring. I wonder if it is very cold at home?
I have been thinking of going on a pass to France, but I don’t think I shall now as it looks too much like we are going home.
Have just come from the Y where I saw a pretty good show.
The last letter I write you was a rather blue letter. I was in kinder low spirits then, but the weather has brightened up and so have my spirits.
I will write again real soon. I won’t wait so long any more. Am expecting a long letter soon.
Your ever devt

On March 16, 1919, the long rumored and anticipated inspection of the 42nd Division was conducted preparatory to the unit’s impending departure. Burton recorded the details in a three-page letter home.

General Order 38-A:  General Pershing's message to the troops.  Georgia Archives

Kripp Germany
March 16, 1919
Mater Dearest,
I have some news to write tonight so will drop you a line. Besides, it is Sunday night and I am due to write a letter to you.
The news is: Gen. Pershing inspected us today. All is well. We have been shining and polishing and scrubbing in readiness for him today. And so today was the big day. Our Co. A was commented on by the commander in chief as being very nice. Coming as it does from the C in C it is quite a big thing.
He usually inspects a division just before they leave for home and I think that we will soon be on our way. The 165th Inf. of this Div. begins to move on the first of April and the rest of us will follow quickly.
But to get back to the inspection, after we passed in review for the Gen. he made us a speech. He thanked us for what we had done since we have been over here and for the big part we played.
Imagine if you can, 15 or 20 thousand soldiers massed closely together and so quiet that you could have heard a pin drop. I suppose that it is the first time that they had been still in quite a while. Pershing may be going to run for President and this one of his campaign speeches. I don’t know.
To see a whole division lined up is quite a sight. 30,000 men all dressed the same and in step is quite inspiring.
Forty-four men from the division were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross today and the Gen. decorated them.
I was up to the Y tonight and saw a moving picture show. Enjoyed it very much.
We begin to turn in our equipment tomorrow and about the 5th of April we entrain for Antwerp and from Antwerp we embark for home. It is more than likely that we will be home by the 1st of May and out of the Army by the 15th.
I won’t write you any war tales but will save them all and tell them to you when I get home. Don’t you think that it will be better than writing them?
I am as usual well and O.K.
Will write again soon.
Your ever devoted

Burton’s prediction on movement appeared to be coming true in the closing days of March 1919. Burton shared his thoughts on homecoming with his aunt in a neatly typed letter of March 28.

Kripp Germany
March 28, 1919
My dear Auntie,
Your letter came tonight, and I was certainly glad to receive it. It kinder added good things to good things for we are going to come home right away. This is not rumor this time for we have already received orders to move to the port and make up all rolls and things that we will need in the US. We are busy now making up the passenger lists and packing the equipment and in general getting ready for the long trip home. It sounds almost too good to be true, but I think that it is not a rumor this time.
I am beginning to feel a little old to see all the young ones growing up in such a hurry. The people that were almost babies when I left home are almost grown up people now. I suppose that I forgot that the rest of the world was moving also, but I can’t see any change in myself and those around me or I see them every day and it is not so noticeable. And besides that, they all wear the same kind of clothing and the most of them have the same habits.
We have been over here so long that I have even forgotten how the U.S. looks. I will feel funny to go into a store where the people speak English and you can buy as much of anything as you want. Where you can actually buy a package of cigarettes if you want to. There is no limit to the amount of chocolate that you can buy. Whew, won’t those be great days?
This is just a short note to say that I received your letter all OK and was glad to get it. I hope to see you soon.
Your ever Devt. Nephew,

[i] Robert G. Burton to Mrs. R. F. Burton. April 18, 1918
[ii] Robert G. Burton to Mrs. R. F. Burton. March 2, 1919
[iii] Robert G. Burton to Mrs. R. F. Burton. March 12, 1919
[iv] Robert G. Burton to Mrs. R. F. Burton. March 16, 1919
[v] Robert G. Burton to Mrs. Mary Nunally. February 4, 1919

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