July 23, 1918
Ft. Riley, Kansas
My Own Lucille,
Am in charge of quarters today, and have sure been getting me some good sleep. I am a trifle lazy to start a letter but guess I will come out of that after I get started. Well honey, they are sure giving the gang some hard training and are making them do everything perfect before they quit. Say, we will be split up and moved to different places within the next ten days. We will see how truthful the old boy is, won't we? I rather doubt being changed myself. The Quartermaster Sergeant has been trying to get me to transfer to the Q.M. Department but I have not decided yet, for I think I would be likely to go to some other Company here and not get a move. I am afraid that things would go pretty slow if all the bunch were to move and leave me here with strangers.
Well honey we had the gas house drill last Friday. Wish you could have seen it. We lined up with our masks on and marched into the house, where the gas was so thick that it looked like blue smoke. You can't even smell the stuff, as long as you have a good mask, and ours all were good. When we all got in, they ordered "test for gas." You are to squat down not touching the floor with the knees or hands, for the settled gas blisters immediately. Then you fill the lungs with air and loosen the nose clamps of the mask and sniff the air with your fingers under the mask. And some of them seemed to take a big whiff of it. You should have seen them tumble for the door. Very many breaths of that kind of gas would be fatal.
After that first gas, they fought it all out with big flat fans and again filled the room. That first gas was Chloride gas. This time with what they call tear gas. It is not injurious to the lungs but makes a person cry till you can't see at all. I thought that I wouldn't cry, but I hadn't taken two steps in the room till the big steers were running off my nose like a young river. Sure is funny stuff, but I came through in tears knee deep. ha ha
After that, we got a trip through the trenches with a light cloud of gas, but that wasn't bad. I think that all of it is quite interesting. I just bought a paper and believe me, honey, they are sure giving the Huns what is coming to them. Think I will be home before you are. ha ha I read a little verse in the paper that sounded so much like I feel, that I am going to send it to you. It was written by a Lieutenant over there.
A Letter Home
Dear heart, some day, when I come back
Across the night that blurs our view,
When I have found the long lost track
That leads again to home--and you,
When I have stalked across this stench
Of filth and mud and clotted gore,
To see beyond the last lone trench
Old dreams rise through the mist once more
We'll know beyond these bloodshot scenes
That leave their wake of blight and pain
Just what an oldtime twilight means
When dusk steals out some friendly lane.
And, hand in hand, home bound we drift,
Beyond the mangled and the dead,
To watch once more the old moon lift
Its silver etchings on ahead.
To meet the darkness without fear
Of what tomorrow's fate may bring;
To reach and find the other near
Through springs' eternal wandering.
And know at last, our ways are one,
And one forever and a day.
Until we meet the last dim sun
That leads us on the outbound way.
We'll know just what it means to see
A far light glowing through the gray,
Dim dusk of April's witchery,
When I come back again-someday.
A light from home-and not the flow
Of battle flame from darkness hurled,
A light from home that sends it glow
To two lost lovers down the world
Dear heart, I've found out here, at last,
We've never understood before;
The happiness that we thought past
Is but a breath of what's in store.
Far from the cannon, wheel to wheel,
That tear apart the midnight hue
The dawn of life that we will feel
Dear heart, when I come back to you.
Well, my dear love, I will kiss you good day a hundred thousand times again and try and write tomorrow if I have time.
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1998-2002, Tom Johnston