Upon finding the letters that my grandfather, Charles Arthur Kline (1891-1970) wrote home to his parents during World War I, it was hard to read the original letters, so it took me some time. He wrote a few letters to my grandmother also—she would have been 18 and he was 27—but he never mentioned her in his letters to his mother and father. That leads me to believe that there was not a romantic relationship between them until after he came home in 1919. They were married in September 1920.
The first letters come from Chillicothe, where he must have been training, although he found life redundant there. (Keep in mind, it’s just another kind of redundant at home.) He missed the comforts of home, could not always get passes to come home, but I did not get the feeling he was lonely.
He found time to write to family and several friends. He mentions aunts, uncles, “grandma” and cousins that I have never heard of. It would seem that he was part of a close family network, and this was a surprise to me. He only had one sibling, Hazel, and she died of something we could cure today at 19. If he was 27 and a few years older than she was, it was a fresh loss. He speaks of sending his mother money to put flowers on Hazel’s grave for Christmas Day. My grandmother told me that I looked somewhat like Hazel as a young woman; keep in mind that Grandma died when I was 18. She never knew me in my full maturity.
By the time I came along, I never knew of this large family connection. His parents, step-mother and Hazel were long gone, and I never heard much about cousins.
He also mentions going to the YMCA every evening for movies and other entertainment. He uses the YMCA stationary to write home. He talks frequently of his pals in the army, and asks of other Medway fellows and how they are doing. So, a surprise to me, he was very much a social being.
They waited in Chillicothe for orders to go to France. There was illness and quarantine and eventually they move to New York City. He regrets not being able to see more of NY because some were able to get passes. They waited in NY also. It seemed that nothing went fast in the army, as he repeated more than once.
The letters begin in October 1917 in Chillicothe and two letters, in early June 1918 are written from New York City, but by July 1st he is “somewhere in France.” His letters pass through censorship and are initialed on the bottom of each one. His November 14th letter speaks of the peace, but that nothing happens fast in the army and although they all want to be home for Christmas, he isn't holding his breath.
In late 1918 and early 1919 he writes of seeing some of the areas of war-torn Germany. He experiences hospitality of the German people in their homes. These letters truly describe Germany in post-war condition. Beautiful and terrible.
The last letter is written April 4, 1919 and then he must have headed home.
First of all, I was impressed with Grandpa’s penmanship. (My great-grandmother, not so much). He did not write short letters, and they were not flowery, but he described in detail the surroundings (until he was in France) and everyday life of the soldiers. It was much more intense in France, and he couldn't tell about it, but I could gather from the words he did use that it was dirty, nasty and he was close to shooting. He described living in “dugouts” they dug with their own hands.
I was amazed at his family dynamics. He mentions all the relatives and sends his wishes. He tries to write everyone who writes to him, but sometimes that is not always possible, so asks his mother to share the news. He mentions a person named Alma that he writes to often; but other than that said, I have no idea if she is a romantic interest. He did write to my grandmother, but she lived in Fort Recovery at the time. She was hardly “the girl next door.” I know nothing of their courtship and these letters give me nothing about that.
He sent money home regularly to his parents. I was particularly touched about his request for the flowers for his sister’s grave. He asks them what they are doing with it, but I don’t have their responses.
He certainly wasn't a “lifer.” In one of his last letters, he says he looks forward to being home and never wants to hear the word “army” again.
One has to wonder if he ever experienced what we call PTSD today. I have no idea. By the time I remember him, he was retired and sometimes he was crotchety, but he would play cards with me and talked to me while he painted pictures “by number.” He loved doing that! We didn't talk about deep things, but I felt loved by both my grandparents.