Sunday, July 17, 2011

WWI - "The Great War" - Firsthand

All my recent WWI novel reading got me thinking about someone who had served during that war - our neighbor, Albert G. Reichardt. (Shown above standing amongst his field of oat shocks.) I'm not sure what the G. stood for - George, possibly, as he was born February 22, 1890.

Albert entered WWI at Camp Dodge in February, 1918, the month the United States declared war on Germany. He was 28. Eight months later, in October, a month before Armistice, he was wounded in the Argonne Forest fighting. Ten days later while in the hospital, he "took" spinal meningitis. Shorty, as we always called him, exhibited one of the long-term consequences of meningitis - deafness. I remember him cupping his hand behind an ear in order to hear what we were saying. I also remember him using a hearing horn. Albert was discharged from service in April, 1919.

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive began September 26, 1918 and ended November 11. It was the largest engagement by the American Expeditionary Force. In three weeks of fighting, battle deaths numbered 18,000 - about 1,000 a day. (More soldiers died from disease during the war than they did from being killed in action or dying from their wounds.) 126,000 Americans were killed while France and Great Britain lost almost an entire generation of young men in "the war to end all wars." (Would that it had.) I remember hearing that Shorty had suffered being gassed in the war, but I don't know if that was true. (Germany did use poison gas (chlorine) against the allies.

Albert was one of the lucky ones who survived his wounds and came home from France. When my parents moved to the neighborhood, they became friends with Shorty, his brother, Maurice and sister, Ethel. The siblings lived about 3/4's mile south. Soon Dad was exchanging farm labor with the men and others nearby as neighbors did in those days.

After Ethel died, Shorty took over the household chores in addition to working outside. Maurice continued farming with his beloved horses, but Shorty bought a Ford-Ferguson tractor to use for his share of the farming.

Shorty became very adept at cooking and preserving food. He had a large garden and many fruit trees. One of my early memories is of going down to Reichardt's to pick cherries. He may have only had three or four trees, but it seemed like a forest to me. He would have the ladders up in the branches when we got there. There would be buckets with wire 'hangers' affixed to the bails so we could hang the buckets over a limb and use both hands to pick. I don't know how he and my Mom could pick bucketful after bucketful of cherries. I would get maybe two or three inches in the bottom of my bucket and then "have" to go to the outhouse - which really meant I wanted to go up to the house and play with the kittens. I remember one time Betty and I went into the house and started exploring. It was very embarrassing to be asked, "What are you doing upstairs?" I was ashamed enough of my actions to stay among the cherries the rest of the morning.

The first picture showed Shorty in a field of oats which had been cut and bound into sheaves and then built into shocks. The next step was to pitch the shocks onto a rack to be pulled over to the threshing machine. It was hot, dusty, hard work, especially as the stack got higher. Generally the younger guys did the pitching while an older, experienced, man placed the shocks in a semblance of order. (That's Jack Harvey in the lower right and one of the Johnson's atop the rack - can't tell who the lad in the middle is - possibly Glen Dean Johnson.) This rack is about half the height it would be before being pulled to the thresher. Each summer, the threshing ring moved throughout the neighborhoods. All the men in the area helped thresh while some of their wives came to help prepare the noon meal at the farm being threshed that day.

Something else I remember about Albert was the brand new 1949 Nash he bought. His was a maroon color instead of the turquoise of this stock photo, but it was just as big. What did a single man need with such a big old car? And why a Nash when everyone else in the neighborhood was driving a Chevy, Ford or Plymouth? I don't remember the car he had before the Nash, nor the one (s) after. I just remember the big old boat I got to ride in once.

This picture of Maurice and Ron in our buggy with Shorty standing behind was taken in our barnyard with the corn crib in the background. Our faithful, willful pony, Queenie, posed patiently.

Though they never married and had kids of their own, they always seemed to have time for us. I learned to play cards at their kitchen table - grown-up games, not kids games. Oh, yeah, and I learned not to go snooping in the neighbor's house.

(Albert G. Reichardt died July 19, 1964 - threshing time in bygone days.)

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