Plum pudding served on WWI soldiers’ holiday menu
HUGHESVILLE – “We had no work today and some grand dinner,” wrote Earl Kohler who spent two consecutive Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays in France serving in the military.
The Picture Rocks man volunteered for duty soon after war was declared in April 1917. He reported first to Fort Slocum near Hempstead, New York, where he was transferred back after a time at Kelly Field and the 56th Areo Squadron Aviation Camp near San Antonio, Texas.
Leading up to the holidays in early Oct. 1917, Kohler wrote, “Reed Painton is in a camp just below me. I was down three times to see him but he was in a detail in New York City.” The soldier thinks Painton will go overseas the same time as he, as they’ve been ready for two weeks. However he added, “It may be some time before we leave.”
Kohler reassures his family by penning, “There will not be anything to dread as there will be a battleship and a number of chasers go along,” A later correspondence revealed that, “Our group shipped out Oct. 13. The submarines did not give us any trouble but everyone was on a continual watch for them. I have arrived on good solid ground after 17 days on the water. Then we had a ride of twelve hours from port. You’d laugh to see the trains over on this side, they are so small they look like toys.”
The Nov. 13, 1917 letter read, “I suppose it will be near Christmas when you receive this. It would be useless to try and send any presents from here so I will wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.” In nearly every letter the soldier closed with reference to his much younger sister, “A kiss for Helen.”
The soldier’s writings noted he had received a box from the Picture Rocks Baptist Church that had been sent to each of the boys from there. It included, “A return card, and ten stamps I don’t need as mail is free for us over here.”
Looking forward to the upcoming holiday, Kohler wrote, “They are planning to give us a good feed on Thanksgiving.” Later he described the day. “Some grand dinner for camp life. Sweet and white potatoes with gravy, onions with dressing, turkey and lots of it, toasted bread with tomato sauce, pickles, bread and butter. For dessert, plum pudding with sauce, an apple and a hand full of English walnuts. The turkeys came to the camp alive and the walnuts were grown around here,” he said.
Kohler spoke of watching men of his squadron play football against another with neither side scoring. He supposed his brother LaRue Kohler, a Bucknell student, had seen a game there at the university as they always play on Thanksgiving Day.
During December, the son was prolific in writing home. In mailings he noted receiving a letter from Hazel Wertman with news from Picture Rocks. Earl Kohler also received a Christmas box from home. “Something to eat is about all we ask for and we eat lots of chocolate. It’s expensive here, eighteen cents for a ten cent bar. Tell Mrs. Cocoran I thank her for her box of candy. It was just like cream melting in my mouth.”
Of boys from home he wrote, “The squadron that Carl Bender from Muncy Valley is in is on this side, but have not seen him yet. Suppose they are leaving Hughesville right along. Has Joe Seigfried left for this side yet?”
On Jan. 6, 1918, the men were awaiting more Christmas boxes. “I got a letter from Kenny Winters the other day, I am about 80 mile south of him. He wants me to come up to see him. It would only take about four hours if I could get a pass. I received a nice box from Bertha Wetherill a couple days ago. I was surprised and very glad to get it.”
Kohler was still abroad when the war ended the following Nov. 11, 1918. He wrote a week later from Bordeaux, France. As censorship was now lifted, the soldier could be more descriptive about their movements and whereabouts.
The soldier’s anticipation for coming home was heightened by the following: “In the paper, Mr. Baker says, the Americans are to be sent home as soon as peace is signed. It will probably be several months before we go. Hope they are sent back in the same order we come over. This would bring me home in time to plant the early peas.”
His additional thoughts described, “I hope the epidemic of influenza is all over by that time. It is rather a treacherous disease.”
On March 12, 1919, Kohler writes from base at Hempstead, New York. “I’m helping the boys in the order room with paper work in connection with discharges. Last night we worked until 10 p.m. There’s a lot more to be done. Everything looks favorable for me. Had my final physical today and passed okay. So, I should be home soon.”
Earl Leon Kohler was born June 20, 1895, the son of James H. and Ida J. Zinck Kohler. Following military service, he wed Caroline Hill and set up a butcher shop in Hughesville.
Kohler, a charter member of Glenn Sharrow American Legion Post Post 35 in Hughesville, served as a commander.
The veteran died March 17, 1949 and is interred at Pleasant Hill Cemetery, Hughesville. The letters had been kept by the couple’s only child, daughter Janet C. Kohler.