WWI books contain letters from Portage County soldiers
The Portage County Historical Society has released two more books in its series of publications about World War I.
Both books record the letters written by local soldiers that were published in the Portage County Gazette, the Stevens Point Gazette, the Stevens Point Daily Journal and the Stevens Point Weekly Journal between 1917 and 1919.
Newspapers were the primary source of information during the time, and Stevens Point had three newspapers, plus outlying communities had their own, and there were also two Polish newspapers published locally.
The first book, “From the Boys With the Colors: Letters from ‘The Great War’ WWI: The McCreedy Brothers” contains the letters home from Charles McCreedy Jr. and his younger brother, Selden McCreedy, the sons of Mr. and Mrs. C.H. McCreedy of Stevens Point.
Charles was the first of the brothers to enlist in 1917 and was sent to France in October 1917 in the American Expeditionary Force and then enlisted in the U.S. Army in order to drive ambulances.
His letters relate his experiences driving ambulances close to the front lines on shell-pocked roads and without lights that would signal the enemy where the vehicles were. He wrote about his experiences at battle scenes, transporting injured soldiers, operating primitive motor vehicles, living conditions and the sounds of war.
He served under the French government and received the French Croix de Guerre for bravery in October 1918, along with other awards. He remained in Europe for nearly two years, first in France and then moving into Germany with the army of occupation, returning in June 1919.
After the war, Charles returned to Milwaukee where he worked as salesman for Chester M. Burdick Inc. He died in Fox Point in September 1970 at the age of 80.
Selden enlisted in the engineering corps of the army in November 1918 and was sent to France in February 1918 to build and rebuild roads and bridges and maintain a variety of military and civilian items in France.
Selden’s early letters report about the various entertainment the soldiers enjoyed after days of drilling and his enjoyment about receiving letters from home and others, often going through long periods without mail.
He wrote about food and drink while in France and the various places they stayed, usually in better accommodations than the soldiers in the front lines experienced. His letters were more upbeat than his brother’s and he frequently complained that he failed to receive mail.
After the war, Selden went to Florida to work in construction, then joined an appraisal firm in Milwaukee before returning to Stevens Point where he worked as a city inspector, city manager and then the city’s comptroller. He served as commander of American Legion Post 6 in Stevens Point and died in Milwaukee in March 1970 at the age of 75.
The second book, “From the Boys With the Colors: Letters from ‘The Great War’ WWI: Voices of Portage County,” contains letters from multiple soldiers that were published in the newspapers, plus collections from Pat Peterson of Nelsonville and Dr. Halbert Lewis at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Archives and letters written by Lyel Jenkins to his sister that were shared by his grandson, William Jenkins.
The first 18 chapters contain letters from Harold Bergholte, Capt. James Burns, John Cassidy, Lt. Lyel Copps, Lt. A.N. Dripps, Sgt. Sidney Eagleburger, Sgt. Forest Houlehan, Lt. Frank Hyer, Lt. Lyel Jenkins, Lt. Halbert Lewis, Lt. Harold Little, Lt. George Macnish, Lt. Russell Moen, Lt. Lyman Park, Pat Peterson, Vincent Prychia, Elmer Stimm and David Weltman.
The 19th chapter includes about 50 letters on 70 pages written by various soldiers, including at least three nurses who relate their experiences.
Each of the letters tells a different story about the war, with Bergholte relating the events after his transport ship, the President Lincoln, was sunk by a German submarine May 31, 1918.
Macnish was the most prolific of the letter-writers in the book, with 11 letters and articles published between Oct. 31, 1917, and June 12, 1918. He died July 2, 1918, in France from a cerebral hemorrhage, and a letter he wrote before his death was published July 17, 1918, in the Gazette, along with an “In Memorium” poem referring to his membership in the Elks organization.
Hyer wrote five lengthy letters about his experiences in the trenches in France, surviving a couple of shell explosions near him and living in mud and filth for 20 days with two cold meals a day.
The chapter on Bergholte recounts his rescue from a lifeboat in the Atlantic Ocean after his ship, the transport President Lincoln, was sunk by a German submarine in 1918.
The final chapter reports about life in France and at military bases and the events the various soldiers and nurses witnessed. One soldier reported he gained six pounds in two weeks, while another wrote about French women who “doll up” “with paints and powder.”
The Historical Society plans to observe the 100th anniversary of American involvement in World War I during 2017, and the books are the latest in a series of publications planned for that observance.
Both books are available from the Historical Society for $10 each by calling 715-600-4930 and leaving a message.