The letters Victor Nelson wrote to his sister provide a rare glimpse into the life of a World War I soldier. If some of what he encountered was horrifying, he did not let on.
He writes about camp, training, and what he has to eat.
And none of the letters in his scrapbook are about getting shot. The letter recounting his injury was written to his brother.
Following are excerpts.
Camp Grant, July 7, 1918
They sure had a big time out here on the 4th. The camp was crowded with visitors, never saw so many people in my life before. Sect. of War Baker was here and made a speech. I saw him, but I couldn't hear anything he said as there was too big a crowd.
I haven't seen any of the boys from Albany yet and maybe I never will as there sure is a bunch of soldiers here.
We have been drilling pretty hard. Nine hours a day. There is a lot more to this army life than I thought there was. Believe me you have got to keep awake because when they give you an order you have to do it like a flash.
We get up at 5:30 and have 15 minutes to dress and wash but on Sundays we can sleep until 6:45.
I got my 2nd shot in the arm Friday and it made me pretty sick. A lot of the boys fell down just like they was shot.
How is the rye crop? Has Thure (her husband) got it cut yet?
Camp Grant, July 18
Well how is everything at home? I haven't got any mail for five days.
I have been out to the rifle range twice. (It) is about a mile and a half long, a deep trench runs the whole distance and the targets are about 15 feet apart and slide up and down on iron rods.
It takes three men to work a target. We shoot at them from 100 yards, 200 yards, 300 yards, 500 and 1,200-yard distances. At 1,200 yards they look pretty small and they are hard to hit.
Gee but I got to keep my rifle clean. They have inspection every Saturday and there can't be a speck of oil or rust on it. If there is, we get h--l.
I sure got some pack. I look like a pack horse when I get every thing on my back. I wear a belt that holds fifty cartridges, the bayonet, first aid pack and canteen are hung on it, the canteen is the best thing in the bunch as I can get a drink as long as there is water in it. I got a lot of other junk too. The last thing you put on is a trenching spade.
How are the watermelons? Co. H had some for dinner one day but we didn't get any we had ice cream.
Camp Grant, July 27, 1918
It sure has been hot here, I get wet through most every day. I have been out to the rifle range two days and did a lot of shooting. It sure is a noisy and dusty place.
We have been all changed around again as they have formed the company on the French form and I believe it's a lot better way, as we don't advance in a bunch anymore but scatter out and every man has a certain thing to do.
The first man in line is an automatic rifleman and the next carries ammunition, the third is a rifle bomber and the fourth a rifle grenade man and so on so you see we could put up some fight as we have the rifles, bombs and grenades all right in one section there is 48 men in each section.
We camped out three nights last week and we was lucky as it didn't rain we haven't got our tents yet so sleep out in the open.
We have got the measles in our company and are quarantined again until the 7th of August.
I am going to try and get home just as soon as we get out and I want you to send me some money. I want about $20 just put it in an envelope.
Have any more of the boys gone from around home? They sure are coming to camp (in) train loads.
I think we will go across some time next month and maybe not until Sept.
The American Red Cross, Department of Military Relief, Bureau of Communication Service, Aug. 13, 1918
At the request of your bother Victor C. Nelson, we are writing you the following letter for him:
"Dear Sister:"Just a line to let you know I am in the hospital at camp with the measles. I am receiving excellent attention and wish nothing. I expect to be up and around inside of a week. Let me hear from you very soon. With love, Victor."
Camp Grant, Aug. 27, 1918
Well I am out of the hospital, and when I got back to my co.'s barracks, they were empty.
The co. had gone to France while I was sick, so I was sent to (another detachment).
I sure feel lost now don't know anyone here seems like as soon as I get a few friends we are (separated).
I don't know if I can get home or not. It don't look much like it now. But I am going to try anyway. If I don't come home by Sunday I probably will have to bid you good bye by letter.
How is the corn looking?
I got a box from Selma (another sister) on my birthday. It was a box of candy and ... a pair of scissors, needles, buttons and thread. I guess it will come in mighty handy.
How is Pa?
Somewhere in France, Oct. 15, 1918
Will try and write you a few lines now to let you know that I am all right and feeling good.
I have traveled quite a bit since I landed here so haven't received any mail yet. They gave us some coupons today to send home for Xmas presents. I am enclosing one. A package will go for free from Hoboken (New Jersey) when it is pasted on so if you send any thing across just make it a little box of candy. But hope the war will be over by then.
I am on active service now and am enjoying camping life in a woods and can hear the artillery fire very plain. They sure do pop it to the Huns. This is a great country in spots. The farms are more like gardens. Don't see very many large fields.
Just got an order to roll our packs and be ready to move so will have to finish this some other time.
Well sister it's three days later now and will try and finish this. I have moved up to the front and have been under shell fire and they have all missed me so far.
On Active Service with the American Expeditionary Force, American Red Cross, France, Nov. 12, 1918
Hello! A merry Xmas to you. But maybe you won't get this by that time. I hope you will anyway. The war news sure looks good just now and I hope peace will come now, they had some celebrating here when the armistice was signed.
Everybody went wild with joy and they sure made some noise. Even the fellows here that was badly hurt got out of bed and hopped around.
I am still in the hospital and can walk around, but feel weak. Seems like the bullet took all the strength right out of me.
I was up at the front about three weeks and in the front lines nine days. We went 'over the top' early one morning and I didn't feel much of anything. Just kept going ahead with the shells bursting all around but I woke up mighty quick when the Germans commenced to use their machine guns. I got in a shell hole with another fellow. He got wounded in a short time and crawled out that night.
I stayed there eight days before I could get away. Talk about shooting. They had regular furrows plowed in the ground around my hole. I had plenty of ammunition too. About 600 rounds so was well supplied that way but had to live on a few hard tacks and a can of Bully beef.
The towns up at the front are mostly shot down and look pretty bad.
The Red Cross sure treats us fine here. They give us doughnuts and cake most every day.
Everybody is talking about home now and wondering how long it will be before they can start back.
St. Denis, France, Dec. 12, 1918
Say that sweater you made me is somewhere out on the battlefield as I had to leave it when I got hit.
I am looking forward to Xmas it's only 12 days more.
The President comes tomorrow and I suppose they will have a big time in Paris. Then I might go down and take a look myself if I can get a pass.
Dec. 26, 1918
Well Xmas has come and gone and I had a pretty good time. I got a stocking full of presents from the Red X and also a box of candy and figs. We had a turkey dinner here at the hospital and in the afternoon I went to Paris. We also had a nice Xmas tree.
I had quite a time in Paris looking around at the sights. Was down to the River Seine.
I also took a look at the captured German cannons. There are hundreds of them lined up along the streets. There is not a loose piece left on any of them as the people have taken everything that was loose for souvenirs.
A lot of us got together and got an American flag, a few trombones and one dressed as Santa and started a parade. It wasn't long before we had a young army. We marched through some of the big streets and the French lined the sidewalks by the thousands. Soon the French girls and some of the men started to march with us so we soon had half of Paris with us.
We sure had a great time.
I can't imagine what is the matter with the mail and I never get a letter. But I did get a little money. I got $11 so I am not broke anyway.
Gee I sure would like to hear from you so I could know how you all are.
Camp Merritt, Feb. 17, 1914
Well I am back in the good U.S.A. again and believe me I am glad to get back.
This is almost like God's country. We came across on the "Matsonia." It took us 11 days. Had a storm when half ways across and it sure did make the ship roll. There was a sea sick bunch of fellows. I got dizzy but didn't feed the fish.
We got a fine reception when we landed in New York. The Red Cross, Salvation Army and the Y sure was there and gave us all kinds of good things and the windows were full of people waving flags and cheering.
New York has a fine harbor. The statue of Liberty stands just at the entrance and sure looked fine to us.
This camp is lots better than the ones we had in France. About all we did there was to wade in the mud as it rained all the time and the barracks didn't have any floor except the dirt ones.
They put us through the delouser here again last night. Put all our clothes in a big steam boiler.
We are close to N.Y. here and I might get a chance to go down to town before I leave. I hope so as I would like to get a look at "Broadway."
Gee it's been a long time since I heard anything from home.
Camp Grant, Feb. 28, 1919
I got both of your letters today. They followed me from Merritt, and I sure was glad to hear from home.
I have been worrying about you for some time as I heard that the flu was pretty bad last fall in the States.
I saw some of the effects of it on the "Olympic," the boat I went over on. We had 14,000 men on that boat and lost 400 from the flu that is why we stayed so long in Southhampton, England.
I knew some of the boys that hadn't received any mail for four or five months then in one day they got 27 letters.
P.S. Expect to be discharged about Monday.