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Charles Fair

USA 131st Infantry Regiment, 33rd Division AEF

44 posts in this topic

On the quality of recruits etc:

Although not directly related I can't resist posting this which I found when looking for some material for this thread, in part because it challenges some of the assumptions I tend to make about the nature of the fighting forces the US sent. (ie by the end of the war the European powers were scraping the bottom of the barrel whilst the US sent the cream....) and in part because it illustrates some of the background difficulties to the massive expansion of the US military, drawing on relatively recent (in many cases) immigrant communities. The 129th 130th and 131st were drawn from Northern Il and Wisconsin where there were and are very large German immigrant settlements. These groups nonetheless registered for the draft and served in very high numbers.

from the 33rd Div. Commander (Camp houston Tx) Dec 11th 1917 - the 33rd trained in Tx


7 even so, the standard of the 130th Infantry was decidedly lowered by the drafted men who had of necessity to be assigned to it, and that regiment has in it, according to the report made yesterday by its Commanding Officer, the following undesirable men, received from the 86th and 88th Divisions, namely:

Physically Unfit..........................96

Men with Venereal Diseases.......10

Men generally Unfit....................28

Non English Speaking.................37

Illiterates .................................14

The above classification does not include hundreds of drafted men whose knowledge of the English Language is limited to a few words necessary to understand commands. Nor does it include 169 alien enemies discovered in the regiment"


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To follow up on Chris' suggestion, the point of contact for the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society is Kay J. Carr, Editor, JISHS, History Department, Mailcode 4519, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois 62901, e-mail

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Pete, Chris - thank you so much for these leads. I will follow them up in due course and let you know what transpires.

Charles M - thank you for the email with attachment - very useful, thank you.

Charles F

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Fully realizing that this string is three years old, I can make a contribution to it. My grandfather, Roman Paterka (the first generation of Polish immigrants), was a private in the 131st during the Great War. While rated as a mechanic, once he arrived in France he was switched to infantryman. Amazingly the full volume of his letters have survived. Roman died 20 years after the Great War at the age of 43 of heart failure. Having been gassed during the war, I have to wonder if the gassing contributed to his early demise.

The following is from his journal for the requested time period. The journal is a 3.5" x 6" black hardcovered book with blank pages with blue checkered lines imprinted with "Merkbuch" (appointment) in silver on the front. The journal appears to have been written all at once as if it had been copied from the regimental log on the return voyage:

June 2 enrouted Oisuount billeted in Citerous from June 4 until June 10

enrouted from Citerous June 10 to Millebosce stayed until June 21

enrouted to Pierregot June 22 left Pierregot June 30 to Allouville woods and stayed until July 2

enrouted from Allouville woods to Hamel action 4 of July and left Hamel July 6 for Pierregot and stayed in Pierregot to July 15 then enrouted to Albert sector 16 to July 20

left Albert sector back to Pierregot from July 21 to 24

enrout back to Albert July 24 to 28

enrouted back to Pierregot July 29 to Aug 7-18

enrouted from to Pierregot to Gressaire woods Chippilly Ridge

Action Aug 9 & 10

The letters are written to my grandmother at 919 Milwaukee Ave., Chicago (now a bridge over an express way).

Letter 1. Envelope has an American flag in left corner and plain stationary.

June 6-18 France

Dearest Amelia

Writing you a few lines letting you know how I am getting along here.

Having great times every day drinking wine And milk. Sometimes I drink a little much and feel sick.

We've marched through a few towns and they did look funny. The best of it was when we were marching along a kid came running along with wooden shoes and we thought it was a horse coming.

Some night when its nice and still we can hear the noise of the big guns but we don't mind it along just go about our business.

We certainly have a picnic with there money because we can't make a head or a tale out of it And besides we can't speak there language so we are in hard luck to get along.

This certainly a beautiful country for what I have seen of it. The only thing is hard to get is drinking we can get all the water we want for washing water. These people are not use to drinking water all they drink is wine milk and cider.

So every thing is all right as far as I have gone only a little home sick but I don't mind it all. The only thing we don't like is riching[sic] or French railroads.

So this is all I have to write you just now So I will close with the best of feeling.


I Remain Yours

Roman Paterka

Letter 2. Envelope has American YMCA logo and stationary has American YMCA logo

June 28 1918

Dearest Amelia

Sending in a few lines Letting you know I am alive.

Getting along fine.

Drilling every day.

Having long hikes almost every week, walking up hills on our hands and knees.

Having nice weather only in the morning its pretty chillie.

Expect to see some action pretty soon.

Tomorrow we are going out for a long hike again and getting closer everyday to the firing line.

This one of the worst countries I ever saw in all my live. Can't gett water. We got to take bath in a cup of water.

Sleeping in barns on grown floors.

We can't buy anything to eat here half of the time we are walking with empty stomachs.

Did not receive any mail for the last seven weeks.

Will close now for I aint any more time.

Feeling good and in the best of health Hoping you are the same.

I Remain

Roman Paterka

Letter three. Envelope has an Australian YMCA logo. Stationary has an Australian YMCA logo.

July 2-1918

Dear Amelia

Sending you a few letting you know how I am getting along.

Having pretty nice times hiking up big hills and looking below at the beautiful scenery.

We are going to have a good time tomorrow because its fourth of July. So I think I am going to do more shooting than I done in all my life And going to make these shots count or else some of the huns will get me.

So be sure And look over the paper And see if I will be on the dead list for no one can tell what will happen.

Thats the day we want too show Jerry what fourth of July means in the states And we are going to make the best of it.

You people at home suight [sic] think there is no war at all but we do here.

When Jerry comes around about two oclock in the morning shakes up town with his big bombs And cant fall asleep after his bombing.

We are only about twelve miles from the front lines now. Expect to be there in about the next twenty four hours And give him fourth of July celebration And come back for a week or so to rest.

We are having pretty nice weather at the present time only it get pretty chillie once in awhile.

Hoping you will receive this before you for your vacation.

Did not receive any mail from no one here And its more than a month and half since we are here in France.

So this will be all I got to write you Just Felling good And in the best of health. Hoping you are the same.

I Remain


Note: There are a few more letters to follow for this time period. Between my grandfather's poor handwriting and my poor typing it is a painstaking procedure to transcribe these letters. Dennis

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Hi Dennis. Welcome to the forum. That's a nice piece of family history you have there.

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According to the 131st Regiment History your grandfather was a member of Company C.

Charles M

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Letter four. Envelope missing, stationary has British YMCA logo.

July 7-18

Dear Amelia,

Just returned from the Front And received two of your letter with plenty of good cheer in them.

Had an awful hot time fighting the Huns. They showed more fight than we thought before we started to go at them. We only captured two thousand and killed about four thousands of them for the fourth of July celebration and it was a great And a big one for the Kaiser.

When we started out we did not now what we were going against a half of the time because shells where bursting all around us And kept on going forward until we got to the germans trenches and the big doing started the Huns were laying ten deep in some places. I wish I could tell you all about the big battle instead of writing you.

I am feeling good And in the best of health Hoping you are the same.

Senting you two of the Huns postal cards that I go of the prisoners. I suppose the papers have got a big write up about are big battle on the Sowsux[sic] with a big success.

Having great weather here more Sun shine than rain only the evening are pretty chillie.

We only lost a few of our men And a quiet few of them got wounded. One thing I could not tell you when this battle is going to be over. It is something fierce to see men killed but it can be helped. When you don’t get your man he will get you and thats in the game of war.

The jokes you sent me from the paper were great And true about our life in the army. When you go over to my brother house tell him all about it.

This is an awful country where ever we try to rest one of the Huns plaines come around and start bombing and give us a chance to rest. Margie friend was one of the lucky to be left behind for the show.

I never heard so many shells wizz over my head like I did the Fourth of July. They were coming through the air like rain And had all different sorts of sounds.

So this will be all I got to write you just now. Hoping you are not having great times as I am at the present time.

I Remain Yours

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He is describing the Australian attack at Hamel on 4 July in which Company C took part. I will be very interested in what he has to say about the major attack at Amiens on 8 August.

Charles M

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Note: Letter four mentions postal cards taken from German prisoners. The collection contains some forty odd post cards, a few American, a handful German and the rest French.

By now the reader has taken note of Roman's poor spelling and grammar. While having been born in Chicago he grew up in a neighborhood that is to this day predominately Polish. As such it is my feeling that he started grammar school having to learn to read and write English as his second language. Considering the difference in pronunciation in both vowels and consonants between English and Polish it is my feeling that it had to be a difficult task making the cultural transition. Also to be considered is the circumstances under which these letters were written. I have been faithful to the best my patience allows in transcribing these letters in order to maintain their home spun nature.

Does this forum accept pictures?

Letter five. Envelope missing, stationary has American YMCA logo.

July 11, 1918

Dearest Amelia

Received your letter and card today.

Was more than glad to hear from so soon honey.

Very glad to hear you had such nice times while I am in France. You did not write me And let me know whether you received the souvenir that I sent you from Camp Uptown. I am very glad you let me know that Neff said I let him read some of your letter. He never got a chance to read any of your mail that I know of In the first place. I was not acquainted with you at the time when me and him were together. He's like an old woman anyway so dont mind what he says.

I am very glad you wrote and that everything is well at home.

So Gal must think he will have a jolly good time in the army. I wish him all the luck In the world.

Received a letter from Joe. He wrote me what nice times he's having here. If he only knew I was here I bet he would surprise himself And me telling him what I have gone through allready I think he would not believe me. So you want me to come back with the Kaiser head. I wish I was able to take one of the heads along with me.

Please let me know if you received the postal cards I sent you because they were real souvenirs of the german prisoner we captured in our Fourth of July show.

So you are writing me and letting me know that you are getting lonesome maybe you think I am not. I did not see a good looking girl here in the past six week I am here.

Gee we had awful day here today. We allmost got drowned from the rain And killed from the hail.

I expected to be back in the states if they don't have me go over the top again. Its great sport going over when I stoped and realize the fact I thought different it simple made me sick when I stoped and thinked how many germans I put three feet under the earth And some of them might have children And waiting for daddy to come home again. This cant be helped. If we don't get our man he will get us. So this is the way this game is played when you strike out you are a goner And get put three feet under the ground.

So this is all I got to write you at present time. In the best of health. Hoping you are all are the same. Sent my My best Regards to all.

So I will close. Best of luck to all.

I Remain Yours

Please Answer as soon as you receive because I want to know about them souvenirs.

Letter six. Envelope missing, stationary has American YMCA logo.

July 23, 1918

Dear Amelia

Received your card today. Was more than glad to hear from you. Just got back from the trenches And thought I would write you and let you know how I am getting along.

Having pretty good times in the trenches trying to catch the Huns. I am going back pretty soon And expect to pull a little stunt of. As far as I have gone we gave them a pretty good run And expect to keep them going. The way it looks here now we expect to be home for Christmas because germany looks power less.

Gee the weather is awful here its raining every day And evenings get so chilie that we got to wear our overcoats.

Hoping you will have a good time on your vacation. I am sorry I cant go along with you to enjoy.

Hank is in the trenches And we got to releave him And the rest of the boys. Did not see anything of the other boys that you asked of.

You never wrote me whether you receive the souvenir that I sent you from Camp Uptown before I left.

So this is all I got to write you just now Because I don't know where you are at now.

Feeling good and in the best of health. Hoping you are the same.

I Remain

Pvt Roman Paterka

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Letter seven. Envelope missing, stationary has American YMCA logo.

July 26, 1918

Dear Amelia

Sending you a few lines letting you now how I am getting along at the present time.

Just got releaved from the trenches the other day And we got sock and wet from rain. Me And Henry was out buying postal cards last night So I started to kid him about the cards. I was dairing[sic] him to sent Margie one of the card with My Dear Wife on And he said I was crazy enough to sent anything. After we got through buying cards then we started for the Cafe And had some of the French Champane And we got a little Champane up And the picnic started then we were both happy as a lark.

Everything looks pretty fair at the present time. Jerry is not as bad as he was the time we got here. It looks to be quieter every day And he's going back as fast as he got to France.

Hoping you will enjoy your vacation because I am enjoying myself.

Gee but we got some pretty dolls here which I never saw before. Every time we see a girl here she is leading cow or a horse And wearing wooden shoes. When they walk on the street make more noise than the horse himself.

So here is some of the cards me and Henry bought.

Feeling Ok. Hoping you are the same

I Remain Yours

Sent my best Regards to all

Pvt Roman Patreka


Letter eight. Envelope has American YMCA logo, stationary has American YMCA logo.

July 30, 1918

Dearest Amelia

Received your letter dated June 27.

Was more than pleased to hear from you Which is a long time in between mail here.

Received the postals you sent me And the other two letters.

So you received the pictures of the boat And did not let me know whether you received the souvenir I sent you at Camp Uptown before I left for France.

Today is one of the nices days we had here for two months all the rest of the time it was raining.

I am very glad here you are going to spent a few days at home.

Did not run over any French dolls since the boys are in hard luck over here for dolls.

At least we all learned how to count our money. This is awful money we got here it looks like wall paper a little ruf handling its thears[sic] to peaces[sic].

When you go over to see my brother again tell him to fixes me up a chrismas[sic] And put a couple of bricks in my bed because I wont be able to sleep in a soft bed anymore.

Did not meet any of the boys. I know there where abouts only I cant get over to see them.

This would be one of the finest country in the world if the[sic] would have moving stairs and elevators for the big hills.

The US. boys are doing more than any other nation here at present. If they would let us go we chase him to Berlin.

As far as I have gone everything was pretty lucky And hope it keeps up.

So this is about all I got today.

Feeling Ok. Hoping your are the same.

I Remain Yours With best regards to all

Pvt Roman Paterka

Dear I think it would be best for you not too sent any packages at all because I would not receive them.

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Letter nine. Envelope has Canadian YMCA logo, stationary has American YMCA logo. This letter is addressed to Amelia’s hometown, Crystal Falls, Michigan.

Aug 2, 1918

Amelia Dear

Received your letter dated fist of July. Was more than pleased to hear from you.

So today we are having a pretty bad day raining all day and we are in resting up.

So you want me to step in I don't know how the brige[sic] is across the Atlantic And I would have some steping to do before I would get to see you. How I suppose everything at home is decorated now. So when I get back I wont be able to know whether its my house or not.

The last two letter I sent you I put some postal cards in them So I dont know whether the censor will pass though or not. (Note: All the letters have a censor’s signature and all the envelopes have a censor’s stamp)

Well I will say I am a little home sick And don't know who aint.

No place to go got to stay in And once in awhile get a little wine or milk And the wine we got here dont amount to anything because it only make a person feel sick.

So everything at home is busy And injoying[sic]. So thats pretty nice to hear. I wish I could be at home. I Wish I was in your place now going for a vacation because we spent our vacation in the trenches And watch the big shells drop And blow off And say sent a few more of them and you might get a good hit. When Jerry sent one over we sent about one dozen at him in return then he stops for awhile. Now Jerry do’t what to make of this war because he is getting it from all sides And some day he might stop.

So things look pretty good at present . Feeling Ok Hoping your are the same.

I Remain Yours.

Best Regards to all.

Pvt Roman Paterka

Letter ten. Envelope missing, stationary has American YMCA logo.

Aug 4, 1918

Dearest Amelia

Received two of your letters today. Was very glad to hear from you dear.

Dear you want to know how I spent my fourth of July So here I start.

So you said your would like to be with me I think it would best for you to stay home instead of being with me because I was in a pretty bad place Where shells were flying over my head like a flock of buzzing bees coming along on a parade. If you read the paper after the fourth of July you would think a little different than you do now. At about two oclock in the morning I was laying in the big wheat field with the rest of the boys from my company and prayers for our lives when the germans started to cut wheat with there machine guns. About three A.M. we started on them And we did give them some hell what I mean And the boys are giving the same since. So this was my fourth of July celebration.

I wrote you all about it the seventh of July When we got releaved. What do you mean I dont write you like I use to. If your were in my place I think you would not write at all. Half of the time we don't know what to write and in other words we cant write what we please but you can. So cheer up I will be back some day and tell you all about it dear.

I am very glad to hear that you are injoying[sic] yourself because I aint . We have no places to go like you have at home. We are billeted in a small village and got to stay there and cant go out of the village without being stoped and turned back.

So you people at home think we got a lot wild women here but you are all wrong. As long as I’ve been here I did not see any good looking girls yet. Theres not a boy here that wants to stay here much longer than he is suppose to stay. This is a awful nice country but its nothing to speak of. If it was I would write you all about it. In some places we cant get water at all to wash ourselfs besides drinking it. There will never be any France if they waits for our boys to stay here.

So the brother is painting the house up and you think I wont be able to find home any more. Well I think you are mistaken a little on that. As long as they dont move the house away. Beside I know where you live at And think that will be my first stop to make before I go any other place.

I sent you four letters where you are going to spent your vacation with some pretty postal cards. I hope you will receive them.

So today Sunday and its a pretty fair day for what we were having over here and besides this is our first Sunday after a long time From the first Sunday before the fourth we were all tired out we either were in the trenches or returning from them early in the morning so we had to sleep because we were all tired out and we could not stand any longer on our feet.

When we go to the trenches we hardly get any sleep until we return. Some time we stay there for four days and nights or longer without any sleep at all. You people dont stop to think what is war And we are in it.

In some places we can build buildings with dead germans as high as the Masonic Temple and some over for the sidewalks and fancy trimmings.

Gee you must be get pretty lonesome. I dont see the reason why because we feel the same only we got to forget it as long as were are here now.

So this is about all I can think of now So I will close now. Feeling OK & hoping you are not sick anymore. With best love and a lot of sweet kisses from France.

I Remain Yours

Pvt Roman Paterka

Hope this letter will cheer you up a little and keep you busy reading it. It only take one full month to receive mail from you now.

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Dennis, many thanks for posting, thats a fascinating piece of history you have. These old threads have a habit of busrting back into life at the most unexpected moments.


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Letter eleven. Envelope has torn YMCA logo, stationary has British YMCA logo.

Aug 5-18

Dearest Amelia

Sending you a few before drill and letting you now how I am getting along this morning. Feeling pretty bad after injoying[sic] the first Sunday out of five.

Did not meet any of the boys thats out. So I expect to see them pretty soon.

Everything looks pretty good at the present time. The germans are on there way back where they came from.

Sending you a Hangerchief[sic] and a post card for a remembrance of me.

Have no more time to write will have to close short.

I Remain Yours

Pvt Roman Paterka

Letter twelve. Envelope missing, plain stationary.

Aug 18-18

Dearest Amelia

Received your letter dated 18 of July just two hours before we started to go over the top. This was one of the best show I ever saw. We chased the Huns for a few miles And captured some of his big guns And the machine guns we could not count because we got so many of them And dead germans are still laying around the fields. Henry Margies Friend got shot in the leg And heard he was pretty bad but did not get a chance to see him because he was the third line behind us. Some of the big guns we captured are being sent to Chicago for the sixth Liberty Loan parade. I suppose that will be a great showing for Chicago And make some of the folks at home feel more proud of the boys for what great work we are doing. In places the Huns came for us four a breast and had to go back by file because we shot them up to pieces. Some of them ran so fast that the ones behind them could play cards on there coat tales[sic] rifles habersacks[sic] and steel helmets were flying all different directions.

Now I am in a rest station for a few days because I got a little gas. I expect to go back to the company pretty soon.

So everything is well. I got your letter And it was a big surprise to me.

Having great weather now And thats why we got the germans on a go.

Hoping you will injoy[sic] your vacation because I am injoying[sic] myself souveniring the Huns.

So this is all I got at the present time. Feeling O.K. Hoping your are the same.

I Remain Yours

Pvt Roman Paterka

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Roman died 20 years after the Great War at the age of 43 of heart failure. Having been gassed during the war, I have to wonder if the gassing contributed to his early demise.
Dennis, thank you for taking the time to quote this fascinating material. From the descriptions so far, it is doubtful that gas played a role in causing his heart failure. More likely he had rheumatic heart disease (quite common at that time). You would know if there was a family history of heart disease from other causes.


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Hi Charles.


May be of use to you. ( I hope it's the right unit :D )


Cheers Mike

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Interesting that he talks about 'souveniring the Huns' in his last letter. 'Souveniring' was an Australian term for looting and Paterka cleaerly picked it up from them.

Charles M

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Note: This is the last of the letters for the time period requested. While at this time Roman may feel The 131st has Jerry by the "tale", The 131st has a very long, hard road to travel to reach the Armistice, and will soon learn that there is little quit in Jerry. From the The 131st Infantry in the world war upon learning that the a battalion of The 131st would occupy Metz after the Armistice: "the regiment was combed from end to end to furnish enough presentable uniforms to equip it. We finally succeeded in a getting a fairly good lot of uniforms together, but it was no small task and not to be wondered at when it is to be considered that the men of the regiment had been for almost two months marching, sleeping and living in their clothes in rain, mud and trenches, with hardly a day they could call their own."

The following is a compilation letter:

Nov 26-18

Hannonville France

Dearest Amelia

Having some time today so I thought I would write you And let you know how I am getting along. Received your long letter And was very glad to hear from you. Your two letters are the first I received in two weeks so it was a long wait for mail.

Taking life easy now only cleaning up the town And as soon as we move will have another town to clean (Note: The 131st picked up the nickname "The Illinois Improvement Association"). The germans held this town four years And they smashed everything when they had to leave.

You ought to see some of these towns. They are smashed so bad that they can only use the bricks for repaving roads And in some of the real bad ones we see one wall standing up and that is how we could tell it was a town once upon a time.

Was very glad to hear that you and your people in your small town were celebrating the Armistice And having a real picnic. Thats one thing we did not do over here because the big guns were roaring same as before.

The 11th of November we were notified to seize firing at 11 oclock in the morning And believe everything did seize on the minute. Only one thing we did do is celebrate that the war was over because we were tickled to death to leave the Huns for a change And get out of the lines.

We were in until the last minute And were relieved at five oclock for a little rest because we were froze from the rain And cold. It was a glorious day for us here. The French certainly made a day of it.

Now that everything is over we can at least steady our nerves And don't have to worry about the flying shells anymore And machine gun bullets whistling by our ears. Believe me there will be a lot of girls disappointed when we return because this was a terrible war And made a person to weaken.

Some of the boys shook like leafs on a tree in the fall And I was shook once myself And that is nothing to be bashful of. On October 10th I gave up hope already but when I got hit on the helmet with a whole shell casing then my nerve regain back again And I made up my mind that the germans could not kill me anymore.

The way things look now we wont be home for some time but all the same we are tickled that the war is over And I dont have to go to the tenches anymore And stand in mud up to our knees And freeze And hear the big shells whistle over our heads And praying it would not drop close where we are at And cover us up with dirt And kill some of the boys that were close to where it dropped.

Half the time I get so disgusted that we cant go home that I dont even care anymore And guess you would be the same if you were in my place after such hard fighting as we done.

I dont know if there are many more regiments that done anymore than we did . We never failed on anything And the only thing the general says now is that we are the best regiment in France but that honor wont bring us back to see our sweethearts any sooner. Everyone of us might be dead now but we don't care because we can liven it up in a hurry.

Things certainly are different now than they were before. Everybody seems to be happy instead of being sad when so many lives were being lost. Flags hanging wherever we go Our Old Glory was flying on the top and the Yanks are getting cheered wherever they go for being such good fighters. The Doughboys are the ones getting the most cheers.

We are having a cabaret now only one thing is missing beer And wine. We have souvenired a piano from one of the small towns we were billeted in for a couple of days And moving it with us for our pass time.

Having plenty of cigarettes And cigars to smoke And keep the fire burning. The days are getting awful short And have no light to write in the evening because we cant buy any candles as we have no stores here.

This is all I got now so I will close. Having some of the finest weather only a little cold but we dont mind it at all because its better than rain. I am feeling fine and in the best of health. Hoping your are the same.

I Remain Yours with the best of luck for a happy return

Roman Paterka


Pvt Roman Paterka


Amelia Lada


Co C 131st US Army

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From The 131st U.S. Infantry in the world war: "During June 4th and 5th (1919) all of the regiment, except a small detail and certain officers, who took advantage of a 15-days' leave, were mustard out of the service. June 6th, at 4 p.m. , with all papers cleared the Regimental Commander received his discharge and the 131st Infantry passed into history."


and we got him




Captured German postcard

Random thoughts: If The Great War was to be "the war to end all wars" was it fought in vain? Were there lessons learned? Is life just the chaos of the moment? Was the Great War practice for the wars to follow - World War II, Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq One, Iraq/Afghanistan Two? On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month 2018, will the world be at peace or is conflict the nature of humankind?

Question, comments to:

Dennis Paterka

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