Friday, December 11, 2015

Sepia Saturday: "I am well"

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.



This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt features a do-nut eating soldier on the cover of the Salvation Army’s newspaper The Mess Kit. My husband’s maternal grandfather wore a similar uniform as a soldier during World War I.

Russell Kohne 1918 World War I soldier Hardy, West Virginia  http://jollettetc.blogspot.com
Russell Dayton Kohne (1894 - 1982)

Russell and Hattie Kohne had been married less than a year when he was called into service. Russ probably enjoyed his fair share of do-nuts, but I know for sure that he got cake. One of his letters to his young bride back in Hardy, West Virginia, survives to attest to that fact:






May 7, 1918
14 Co 154 Depot
Brigade
Camp meed Md

Dear Wife I will drop you a few lines as I haven’t receved your letter yet but am looking for it tomorrow  I was sitting here and had nothing else to pass the time away so I thought I would write to you. I got all of my uniforms now so I guess they are going to keep me. I took out a 10 thousant dollar insurance it cost me 6.60 a month for it and 1.40 a month for washing I am going to send you 15$ a month and the
[line is cut off]

We hav a half aday off [?] on saterday well I must go over to the YMCA to here the band as the othe boys are going I will finish when I come back. Well I was over but the band did not play.








How is grad paw getting a lond tell him isaid hello I was working in the kitchen Sunday but I got plenty to eat they had chicking mashed potatoes lemon ade and lots of good things. I get every thing in the eat line but fil on cake and things like that I haft to grab to get it but I get it just the same ha ha

Well I must close for this time. Ancer soon love to you.
Good by
Husband



“Wife” and “Husband” – did they actually refer to each other that way? Maybe they were still reveling in the Honeymoon Phase of their marriage, in love and in love with their new roles.

The letter with its youthful and playful tone is in sharp contrast to the man I knew. Russ was already a grumpy old man when I met him in the early 1970s. Barry’s memories of visits with his mother’s parents are not pleasant. The grandchildren were instructed to sit quietly on the sofa. Barry recalls being hungry and nervous the entire time. When Russ had had enough, he would announce, “I guess it’s time for you to leave.” Russ probably invented the saying, “Children should be seen and not heard.” He probably thought they should not be seen either.

Russ was well known for saying whatever was on his mind. He once threatened to whip a boy who was dragging a deer hide around the parking lot of the local watering hole. Russ had warned the boy a couple times repeating, “Put that hide back in the truck. It stinks.” No doubt he would have made good on his word too had the boy’s father not quickly rescued him.

Where did this mean streak come from? Surely alcohol was part of the problem. Russ’s childhood might also have contributed. His father was in and out of jail for any number of big and small crimes, so the children were split up, Russ living with his grandfather and his sister Laura living with an uncle.

In school Russ was just an average student. His report cards reflect the instability of his home life. The notation that his “deportment” was “Fairly good” suggests it was also probably NOT so good at times. The teacher urged him to be more regular in attendance and to “persevere.” The report cards were signed by a step-uncle, Jackson Kohne, who was not a Kohne at all; he simply went by that name for convenience.














If that gruffness and meanness were not part of Russ’s DNA or upbringing, war surely did not help. What he experienced in Europe in 1918 must be left to our imagination, but a message scribbled on a postcard addressed to his wife expresses relief on returning home:




Arrived in US June 6 will be home soon I am well and glad to get back hope to see you soon good by

The front of the postcard shows Russ was a member of the 313th Engineers.

Sent from the Madawaska
Co 313 Engineers















The Engineers were responsible for bridge and road repair, construction and maintenance of trenches, providing clean water, constructing or removing barbed wire. They also built barracks and target ranges, mess halls and hospitals. The Engineers were not relied upon for combat, but often they were the ones launching gas attacks.

Russ said he was “well and glad to get back.” He brought home an important souvenir: his M1917 helmet, often called a Tommy helmet, Tin Hat, or doughboy helmet. Unfortunately, I do not have a picture that would show why this helmet was and still is so precious. There is a dent from a bullet that did not pierce all the way through to Russ’s temple.

That could make anybody cranky. Darn good hat though.

Follow the do-nut crumbs to Sepia Saturday to see what the other “ultimate consumers” are up to.


© 2015, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

31 comments:

  1. Fascinating to read about Russ. I too wondered why he addressed the letter as Dear Wife and closed it with Husband. I thought it was neat too that he initiated a letter; I often find in my own experience with menfolk that they usually are less forthcoming in keeping in touch by letter form, but then again Russ was many a mile away from his bride.

    Makes you wonder what turned him into the grumpy man he eventually became. I'm sure the war experience had to play a part but wonder what else. I guess just the generalities of life could do that I would imagine.

    betty

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    1. I really think his attitude and behavior were the result of many issues, not any one particular thing. Russ grew up in a rough area, so probably it was "survival of the fittest" every day.

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  2. That letter is precious. The 2 parts I particularly enjoyed were "had nothing else to pass the time away so I thought I would write to you."-How romantic is that. The other passage is when he went to see the band "I will finish when I come back." It made me chuckle that he put that interruption of his letter in there.

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    1. I thought too that part about promising to finish writing after hearing the band and then the band not playing was funny. After all, why announce you're taking a break in the letter? Nobody would know that but you.

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  3. What wonderful family heirlooms you have with that photo of Russ and his letters, report card, and postcard. And to have his WWI helmet in the family is amazing!

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    1. Yes, wonderful artifacts and heirlooms!

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  4. Wendy,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today’s Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2015/12/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-december-11.html

    Have a wonderful weekend!

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  5. After his playful letter, I was sorry to see that he had such a hard life and turned grumpy and even mean. I guess between drink, hard childhood and a war, a person could turn out that way.

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    1. I suppose so. I'd really like to learn more about his father - I bet he must have been mean too.

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  6. Russ was not too good at grammar, although his school scores were ok. Do you know what he was like as a father? His war experiences must have affected his outlook on life.

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    1. Those school scores were much better than what I would expect based on that letter. Some of the spelling cracks me up -- like "haft to" and "half aday."

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  7. When I read about the kitchen, I was wondering whether it looked like the picture on my postcard. I think he sounded kind of cynical even when he was young.

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  8. You conveyed so well Russ's personality, and it was fascinating to see his actual letters. There is something special in having an heirloom that an ancestor touched and wrote.

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    1. That the letter survived their entire married life fascinates me. It certainly seems like something that would have gone into the trash early on.

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  9. Another fine family story neatly balanced with Russ's letter and the memory of the man he became. Like any biography there are questions about character that can never be answered. But that's what makes family history such an intriguing pursuit.

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    1. Sometimes I am at peace with unanswered questions; other times not knowing makes me nuts.

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  10. Some of us are optimists, & some of us are pessimists, & those genetic dispositions shape the way we view the world. Sounds like Russ was one of the latter. Too bad. That's a hard way to live.

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    1. Isn't it? Being angry and bitter for any length of time is exhausting.

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  11. I wonder why Russ was working in the kitchen. Sometimes that was a punishment - peeling potatoes, washing dishes etc - but it sounds like he enjoyed the food there.

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    1. Oh, I hand't thought about punishment. I wouldn't be surprised!

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  12. Russ reminds me of my paternal grandparents in some ways. I understand that they loved to have a good time when they were young but they were very starched and proper and judgmental with my father and with me also. This fall I found a love letter in Dad's basement stash that left me with my mouth hanging open, nothing risque, but very sappy! Who were they really and what happened to change them? Oh, those questions!

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    1. Oh interesting! Yeah, it's funny to find proof of our parents' and grandparents' friskier days, especially when their behavior contradicts what we know of them.

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  13. What a character Russ was. It sounds as though he had some tough experiences which could well have shaped his later demeanour. Wonderful family history artefacts.

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    1. "Character" - yes, that's a good word for him. I shudder to think what would happen today if Russ were alive to threaten somebody's kid in a parking lot.

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  14. I actually know a couple who have been married for more than 25 years and they call each other "husband" and "wife". Weird.

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    1. Oh my. Barry and I have goofy names for each other, but Husband and Wife aren't among them.

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  15. Sounds like Russ had a hard life, but something about him must have attracted Hattie to him. I wonder if she felt he had changed after he returned home. Calling each other "husband" and "wife" seems a little awkward.

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    1. That's a good question. I know she stood by him throughout their married life though.

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  16. A sad life that too many people end up living. We don't walk in their shoes so I guess the best we can do is leave them be.

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