Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Treat 'em Rough: Letters From Jack the Kaiser Killer

by Ring Lardner
Bobbs Merrill, 1918
Michael Hanlon, Reviewer

This book includes part of a series of short stories by Ring Lardner in which his most famous character, baseball pitcher Jack "Busher" Keefe, joins the U.S. Army and describes, in letters, his experiences to his hometown pal, Al. Here's Jack's first letter to Al from Camp Grant, IL. (By the way, the spellings are all Jack's)

Jack Keefe Writing to Al

Camp Grant, Sept. 23.

FRIEND AL: Well Al I am writeing this in the recreation room at our barracks and they's about 20 other of the boys writeing letters and I will bet some of the letters is rich because half of the boys can't talk english to say nothing about writeing letters and etc. We got a fine bunch in my Co. Al and its a cinch I won't never die in the trenchs because I will be murdered in my bed before we ever get out of here only they don't call it bed in the army.

They call it bunk and no wonder.

Well Al I have been here since Wed. night and now it is Sunday and this is the first time I have not felt sick since we got here and even at that my left arm is so sore it is pretty near killing me where I got vacinated. Its a good thing I am not a left hander Al or I couldn't get a ball up to the plate but of course I don't have to think of that now because I am out of baseball now and in the big game but at that I guess a left hander could get along just as good with a sore arm because I never seen one of them yet that could break a pain of glass with their fast ball and if they didn't have all the luck in the world they would be rideing around the country in a side door Pullman with all their baggage on.

Speaking about baseball Al I suppose you seen where the White Sox have cinched the penant and they will be splitting the world serious money while I am drawing $30.00 per mo. from the Govmt. but 50 yrs. from now the kids will all stop me on the st. and make me tell them what hotel we stayed at in Berlin and when Cicotte and Faber and Russell begins to talk about what they done to the Giants everybody will have themself paged and walk out.

Well Al a lot of things come off since the last time I wrote to you. We left Chi Wed. noon and you ought to seen the crowd down to the Union station to bid us good by. Everybodys wifes and sisters and mothers was there and they was all crying in 40 different languages and the women wasn't allowed through the gates so farewell kisses was swapped between the iron spokes in the gates and some of the boys was still getting smacked yet when the train started to pull out and it looked like a bunch of them would get left and if they had I'll say their wifes would of been in tough luck.

Army Recruits Playing Baseball

Of course wife Florrie and little son Al was there and Florrie was all dressed up like a horse and I bet a lot of them other birds wished they was in my shoes when the kissing battle begun. Well Al we both blubbered a little but Florrie says she mustn't cry to hard or she would have to paternize her own beauty parlors because crying makes a girl look like she had pitched a double header in St. Louis or something. But I don't know if you will believe it or not but little Al didn't even wimper. How is that for a game bird and only 3 yrs. old? 

Well Al some alderman or somebody had got a lot of arm bandages made for us with the words Kaiser Killers printed on them and they was also signs stuck on the different cars on the train like Berlin or Bust and etc. and the Stars and Strips was flying from the back platforms so we certainly looked like regular soldiers even without no uniforms and I guess if Van Hindburg and them could of seen us you wouldn't of needed a close line no more to take their chest measure. 

Well all our bunch come from the south side and of course some of them was fans and the first thing you know they had me spotted and they all wanted to shake hands and I had a smile for all of them because I have got it doped out that we are all fighting for Uncle Sam and a man ought to forget who you are and what you are and be on friendly turns with everybody till after the war. 

Well Al they had told us to not bring much baggage and some of the boys come without even their tooth brush but they hadn't some of them forgot to fetch a qt. bottle and by the time we got outside of the city limits the engineer didn't have to blow his whistle to leave people know we were comeing. Somebody had a cornet and another fellow had a trombone and a couple of them had mouth organs and we all sung along with them and we sung patriotic songs like Jonah Vark and Over There and when they started on the Star Spangled Banner the guy I was setting along side of him hollered for them to not play that one and I thought he was a pro German or something and I was going to bust him but somebody asked him why shouldn't they play it and he says because he couldn't stand up and he wasn't the only one either Al. 

Original Book Cover

The train stopped at a burg called Aurora and a bunch of the boys needed air so they got off, some of them head first and one bird layed down on the station platform and says he had changed his mind about going to war and he was going to sleep there a while and catch the first train back to Chi so we picked him up and throwed him back on our train and told him we would have the engineer back up to Chi and drop him off and he says O.K. and of course the train started ahead again but he didn't know if we was going or comeing or looping the loop. 

Well the trombone blower finely blowed himself to a nap and while he was asleep a little guy snuck the trombone away from him and says "Look here boys I am willing to give my life for Uncle Sam but I am not going to die to no trombone music." So he throwed the trombone out of the window without opening the window and the guy woke up that owned it and the next thing you know the Kaiser Killers was in their first battle. 

Well Al by the time we got to Camp Grant some of the boys looked like they was just comeing from the war instead of just going and I guess I was about the only one that was O.K. because I know how to handle it but I had eat some sandwiches that a wop give me on the train and they must of been poisoned or something because when I got off everything looked kind of blured.

We was met by a bunch of officers in uniform. The guy that had throwed the trombone away had both eyes swelled shut and a officer had to lead him to the head quarters and I heard the officer ask him if he was bringing any liquor into the camp and he says yes all he could carry, but the officer meant did he have a bottle of it and he says No he had one but a big swede stuck his head in front of it and it broke.

Over to the head quarters they give us a couple of blankets a peace and then they split us up into Cos. and showed us our barracks and they said we looked like we needed sleep and we better go to bed right after supper because we would have to get down to hard work the next a.m. and I was willing to go to bed without no supper after eating them dam sandwichs and the next time them wops trys to slip me something to eat or drink I will hang one on their jaw.

Well Al the buggle has blowed for mess which is what they call the meals and you would know why if you eat some of them so I will close for this time and save the rest for the next time and my address is Co. C. 399th. Infantry, Camp Grant, Ill.

Your Pal, Jack

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