World War I - Letter From the Front Written by Local Son
The following letter was published in a Columbus newspaper at the time it was received by the family of Leon Cox. It was written by Leon W. Cox, son of C.A. Cox of Steens. Leon Cox married Genna Lou Murphy, daughter of William R. and Cora (Dowdle) Murphy of Caledonia, and was a teacher and administrator in Alabama for many years before returning to retire in Caledonia. He died in 1970 and is buried at Rowan Cemetery.
" Letters From Soldiers
Letter from Leon W. Cox, Somewhere in France, Nov. 23, 1918
As you probably know, there is a campaign on in France to write what is known as “Dad’s Christmas letter,” today. So I am going to do that very thing tonight. I haven’t much paper and no envelopes but I hope to get some soon.
The censorship has been changed so that we can write quite a different kind of letter now. I am going to start with the time I left the States and tell you all about what I have been doing since. well, when I left camp, I knew that I was on my way to france but i did not think I would sail so soon. I thought i would lay around new york a few weeks, but I didn’t. We got right off the train and on the ship. I was on a german ship, the covington, that had been tied up in american waters since the war began. She was quite a large transport, but still we were packed in like sardines for there was a crowd of us, you see. There was one other transport in the convoy and a cruiser until we reached the war zone, then the cruiser left us and we had a lot of torpedo boats. We sighted several subs on the way over, but none attacked us. Just as we were running into the harbor we cited two. One seemed inclined to fight, but we got her first.
We landed at Brest, France, on April 22. We rested there a few days, then boarded on train and went almost all the way across France, stopping finally at a little place called Frindire. It was aa very poor excuse for a town, we thought. We stayed there about a month, drilling hard every day. Finally orders came for us to move towards the front. It was on May 30th, about the time of the big German drives. We were pulled out of bed about 12 o’clock one night and started on a long hike. When we finally stopped we were where we could hear the guns very plainly. We were just behind Mount Geck, one of the strongest German positions.. We stayed there for weeks and it was while there that I made my first trip to the front that I told you about in a previous letter. This was my first experience under shellfire. A few days later we entrained for the Swill border. We stopped away up in the Nousages mountains. These mountains are on the border of Switzerland and are noted for their beauty. We did quite a lot of hiking and finally crossed the top of one of the ridges, where we were then on German soil. My division was the first American unit to hold trenches on German soil. We took over a sector on the Kaiser’s hunting ground. There was one of his old castles near by, where he used to live. We stayed there about a month and did not see a Dutchman while we were there. All we had to look out for was a few shells around kitchen at show time. One of our boys was killed from these and that taught us a lesson.
We finally left this place and moved down the line to a large town called Sandias, where we went in the trenches again without rest. This place was quiet for a while, but we soon made it active. Part of my regiment went over the top here and took a little town by the name of Fruppell. We were then made shock troops, that is, we were given only important work to do. We were taken out of the lines for a little rest but did not rest long. We were soon on the move again and a good long one too. We stopped at the St Mihiel sector in front of Metz. There, we went over the top on the big drive I told you of in one of my letters. We met little resistance here, for we surprised the Dutchmen. We took 12,000 prisoners here and lots of guns, etc.
We were here about four days and then went back to rest. We did not rest long, for we were soon on the way to Verdun. This was one of the worst places in France. We went over the top again and here is where we met some real hard fighting. Shells fell like hail, and bullets whistled everywhere. Men were killed right and left. Many of them blown to atoms. My rifle was hit with a machine gun bullet in my hand and thus put out of commission. I ducked into a shell hole to get out of machine gun fire and while there a shell hit about three feet outside. I was stunned for a few minutes and buried with dirt. Well, finally we reached our objective and dug in to protect us against the enemy fire. We stayed here in those holes several days without blankets, little food, and in the rain and cold. Finally, we got out but were soon in the line again. This time we were on the bank of the River Meuse. In a few days we crossed the river and a canal. This was some job, for the Germans had the advantage of positions. The river was deep and wide, also the canal. There were no bridges. The Germans shot our bridges down as fast as we could build them or kept them covered with deadly fire. When we finally got across, the Dutch began to run and never stopped until the was was over. We followed them so fast that the outfit that was to relieve us could not catch us. We were in bad shape to fight but we could not stop when this made so little resistance. The night before the armistice was signed we advanced a Km, and took two towns. We met strong resistance here and lost quite a lot of men the day before the armistice began. We were in a certain town and were to attack at 11:30 when the order to cease firing came at 11 o clock. We were all ready to quit but the Dutchmen seemed to be glader than we. They shot red, white and blue rockets all night. Several of them came over to tell us that we had won the war and what good soldiers we were.
Well, since then we have had a nice rest and now each morning we take a fine little hike of about 8 or 10 miles toward Germany. It is fine hiking these frosty mornings with our band playing. In a general way, this is what I have been doing since I have been in France. I am with one of the best divisions in France. It is the 5th, and she has a big name over here. I am attached to the 2nd Battalion Headquarters of the 6th Infantry Regiment, as battalion gas N.C.O.. You see, I have been connected with the chemical warfare service ever since I have been over here. I have made every hike the outfit has made and been in every fight. That is, a pretty good record for there are not many of the fellows who can say that. When we get back to the States, we expect to outline all the other outfits. So you can expect to hear of our parade down Broadway. After that if the Statute of Liberty ever sees me any more she will have to turn around and adjust her glasses to see way down in old Mississippi. Well, this is growing pretty lengthy, so I had better close. Hope you will find this worth reading. Guess I will be coming home before many months have rolled around, so you can begin to lay aside a little extra chow. I’ ll be mighty darn glad when I can shove my boots under your table again and throw one or more hell of a feed. I must close now.
Submitted by James L. Murphy, Montgomery, Alabama firstname.lastname@example.org
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