WWI Letters Home from
Norm L. Feeter to A. Carley Feeter
305th Machine Gun Battalion
These are a series of letters written by Clay Feeter’s great uncle Norman Feeter, youngest bro to grampa Alburtus Carley Feeter before and during the time Norm was serving as a soldier in WWI. Eventually all three Feeter brothers served in WWI and in fact their absence from home may have been a reason great gramps Frank B. Feeter had to sell his valuable farm and farmland in Cuyler, between Truxton and DeRuyter, NY; all three of his boys were gone to war. Most letters are addressed to “Stone,” Clay’s grandfather in Cortland County, upstate NY; Gramps was known as Stone because when he was little he often rolled rocks down hills.
Note: my comments are made in [ ].
Letters transcribed and submitted by,
Mr. Clay Feeter
July 4th, 2004
Pvt. Norman L. Feeter
Co. A, 305 M.G. B’n.
Am. Ex. Force
Wed. Night [prob. Early 1918]
Dear Stone, -- I don’t know as I can write much tonight for it is nearly time for the light to go out and then too, I am not feeling very fine. I have a nice cold on my lungs, a bad condition here. With so much exposure it may easily become worse. You probably have read that Maurice Ryan of our Cortland bunch has been sent back dead. Pneumonia picked him off. It was funny to-day, a lieutenant asked for Ryan some one said, “He isn’t here.”
Yes Stone, this is a great life, not hard but far from all pleasant. You get pretty sick of some of it, especially the needles. We had one today, a nice jab in the arm and then they squirt a little goozulem in there.
We had one about ten days ago that mad me sick, a lot of us puked and loafed around but this one doesn’t seem so bad. Besides being sick your arm will be as sore as a boil and ached like a meat ear [huh?]. But as I say, this one isn’t taking hold as bad.
You will be interested to know that I have already had a little leave. I got off Sat. at 11 A.M. and had until Sunday night at 1:30, took an L [?] down to Ma quire’s [?] office, and then went out for some lunch. Then I tried to call Woodbridge. I rang six times at the Custom House. Then that place closed so I went to the N.Y. Produce Exchange and worked there half an hour. Still no answer. Then on the way to the Erie I stopped in at the Hudson Terminal and made a crush [rush?] on the operator. Ma quire was with me he makes quite an impression on a girl. She did her best but we could not get Wondar [?]. So we went on to Jersey City and I went into the station and called once more before going on the train. I had a real tender visit with the operator and she pounded until she finally got the house but Bonny was in Newark.
I left word for her to call up Park Ridge. At 7:30 she did so, said she would come right over so I jumped a train and met her in N.Y. We spent the night and following day in Park Ridge and I left her at her train in Jersey City about nine bells Sunday night.
Quite a speck of time has elapsed since I started this brief note but I may as well begin here as start a brand new one. I left off talking about my day off. Twas wonderful Stone. I was happier than ever before and thought I could be satisfied for a long long time but after a day I had the same of longing.
Stone, there’s some thing in the air, uneasiness beyond all measusre. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if I have seen you for the last time before the war ends. Perhaps I will meet you “over there.” I only hope I will have one more leave and I think I will next week end if I am here that long. I’m afraid we will not see Camp Upton another week but how I do hope. If I have a day or two I think I will be married. It will be away from family and friends but we can’t help that. The time is so short and maybe there will be none at all.
Your letter was fine and it did me all sorts of good. I know you hate to leave home considering the circumstances and I sincerely hope you will not have to. Remember me to Nan, give her my love and best wishes for life-long happiness. I will be glad to hear from her but she had better put on the return address.
You spoke about boxes of eats. Yes, the fellows can keep all they get and they are mighty glad to get them. We have enuf such as it is but a little variety from home is a wonderful treat. The boys all write home for things but I thot I wouldn’t for they might think we were under-fed and that’s not the case.
Thursday I fired the old machine gun, fired two rounds. You get everything all set and then hold it with both hands just as tight as possible. You pull the trigger and she begins and keeps on just as long as you hold the trigger back. You can’t imagine how the bullets fly and the rate that the empty cartridge shells come out. I liked it and would like to do it every day. What a wonderful thing it would be to shoot woodchucks with. Imagine four or five hundred bullets going thru him in a minute.
We have had practically the same work the old fellows had now. I understand that they have actually fired only once.
Oh say, a little mater of business to speak about, I have my insurance made out to you, $10,000.00. I did so far I wanted it split up a little and prefer to have you handle it. I could not have it made out to a friend, it has to be to some member of the immediate family. If I get married in the meantime I will then have it changed over to Bonny but if I do not I trust you to give her 5000 of it. You may think that strange but she deserves every bit of that or even more. It is not her fault that we haven’t a home now, I have held it up because I had no means of furnishing a home and since that the case she deserves everything I can possibly do for her. If you do not go over I hope you will always have an open door for her and a hand when she is in need.
“They say the average life of a m. gunner in action is seven minutes, some say longer and some say three seconds. I don’t know nor care what it is, it doesn’t worry me a bit”
-Great Uncle Norman Feeter during machine gunnery training prior to shipping off to France, early 1918
I sincerely hope she never will come to that but we can’t always tell. Remember Stone, five thousand dollars for her, the rest you may have or do what you like with it. I also have one hundred in a gineva [?] bank. You may have that as compensation for handling the business. Of course, there will be no business I if come back but you know I am in a dangerous way. The machine guns are deadly. They are the devils of the battle field. An army cannot advance against the fire of them for one gun could mow down thousands of them. So the enemy always turns their first fire and artillery on them. They say the average life of a m. gunner in action is seven minutes, some say longer and some say three seconds. I don’t know nor care what it is, it doesn’t worry me a bit.
Yesterday I was on Kitchen Police for the first time. It’s a rotten job and I hat it, wash pots and pans and grease all day and not much but hands to do it with. Had to begin at four a.m. I would not have it again for a long time for there are 172 in our company, there are 4 K.P’s, a day and they are drawn in order. It also happened that I was fire guard last night from 9 to 12, the latest I’ve been up any night in camp.
Our 1st lieutenants went into N.Y. last night to be married. He’s a tough guy but I like him.
I wish you could see our equipment. You’ve no idea of what it consists of, so much in so little space and the harness [?] you have to carry it. You may have seen pictures of soldier tags but I never saw any as complete as ours is. We have everything, even tents and identification tags. These tags we are to wear always. They are metal and bear our name and number.
I have a nice little flash flight that my girlie sent me. She has also sent me two boxes of eats and stuff to wear. That cap from Mr. Merton came here to me but I can’t wear it, we have trench caps that we always have to wear.
We are not having any drill to day, we have, inspection and they let an awful lot of the men go on pass so they rest of us aren’t doing much. Everybody here was from N.Y.C. before we came so they give them short passes but quite often.
Stanley Hathaway, the fellow Dell Holmes was looking for that morning, is in this company. He is a good scout and we chum together most of the time. DeMond, the man whom you saw there in the Y.M.C.A uniform is our third partner. Hathaway has gone to the city today, telegraphed for his girl to come from Harrisburg Pa., to meet him there. He doesn’t expect to see her again. They would be married too but she has been married once, to please her family when she was very young she married a man 21 years her senior. Now she has left him but has not got her divorce yet.
“The army is dong wonders for him. He’s really good looking but no one would ever think so from seeing him as we did in Cortland”
-Norm Feeter on his hometown friend, last name Shaw
A lot of the fellows were sent from this company. Herb Turner and Stan Mynard went to some other part of the camp long ago. Shaw was taken to the ammunition train. He was rather slow about getting onto things and as they worked us so they couldn’t have a slow man here. He was over for a few minutes last night, the first time I’ve seen him in uniform. I never saw a uniform so becoming to a man in my life. He looks clean now, says he is getting along find and when they went out for rifle practice he hit the bulls eye 8 times our of 10 at 300 yards. That’s some shooting. The army is dong wonders for him. He’s really good looking but no one would ever think so from seeing him as we did in Cortland.
I think often of you at home. I wake up and think of what you are doing at that time and so it goes all day long. I would like to make a visit, maybe I can but no body knows. It looks doubtful.
You probably have my clothes by this time. I wish you would send me by return mail the old shaving brush I sent with them. The one that was issued to me is no good. If I get that one it will be fine, if I don’t it wont be any loss. Help your self to any thing you want from my trunk.
I don’t know as there is anything more to say now so I will draw the curtain. Take good care of yourself, the family and if I go over I hope you will keep in touch with my girlie.
When you write do not say any thing that censorers [sic] might object to, be very cautious about that.
Upton [Camp Upton, NY. Named after famous Civil War brigade commander of regiments from Little Falls and other areas of NY; Upton committed suicide several years after the Civil War ended]
Mar 27 
Dear Stone, -- We leave here to night but it’s indefinite when we cross [the Atlantic]. We will be in some other place for some time but may not be able to write from there. All is so uncertain. We have equipment on our back to last a year.
Dearest love to each and ever one.
I will be safely across when this is delivered to you
I write this to Stone because I think he can let you know without you worrying too much.
March 27 – PM.
Dear Stone, We’ve just had mess and I’m trying to swipe time enuf to jot a line. We expect to leave here any minute, ready to sail for old France.
Break gently this news to the dear folks at home. Try not to let them worry. I know how to take care of my self and nothing can happen to me. I’m sorry not to have seen you all once more before going away but it has to be this way. It will be a long time before I see any service, we will train for six of eight months over there. I wish you could see the cartridges we have been given. About like the outside of this [he has drawn a picture of the machine gun bullets he will be firing shortly].
We will be given revolvers when we get there. I would like to shoot a [can’t make words out] with one of them. I would smash him.
Well Stone, I send dearest love to my dear father and mother, brothers and sisters. Always know I am safe and some day I will surely be back to you some day and we will all be happy.
Always with love to you and know, let all know that the happier they keep the safer I will be. With love and kisses to all, to Anna [our gramma; Alburtus’s soon to be wife], Isabelle [oldest bro John’s wife to be] and everybody.
I didn’t expect to have time to write this.
When this reaches you you will know I have arrived safely.
[This letter written from England on YMCA letterhead that reads “On Active Service With the British Expeditionary Force,” but Norm has crossed our the word British]
Dear Stone, -- first as I am closing Nans [who is Nan? Probably my gramma, Anna Feeter] letter I happen to think that I might tuck a word in for you, one that I would not want to send home.
That is in regard to my insurance in case I get picked off. I told you about the $5000 that I would want my girlie to have for I feel that she deserves it. The other $5000 I think would best go to father and mother, have them spend it and be comfortable. My little money besides will be yours and any of my other trunk.
I must leave you now for tis pretty dark. I hope to empty several machine guns into the Kaisers puss. I little dreampt [his spelling] that I would be over here before seeing you again when I shook your hand in Cortland at 11:48 P.M. on the night of Feb. 26. Meet me there when I come back.
Wishing you the best of every thing for all time.
Note: This time on the YMCA letterhead Norm has not only scratched out the word British on the top line that reads “With The British Expeditionary Force” but he has handwritten in “American” above the scratch out “British.”
April 30, 1918
Dear Nan [I think this is Anna Feeter, Clay’s grandmother], Sunday night six nice letters were given to me and among them was the one from you. That was our first mail on this side so you can just imagine how welcome it was.
This is a great world Nan and a great life we boys are living. The experience cannot be described, to know what it is one has to go thru it. I will not attempt to give you even a brief account here. I can better tell you later if I do live to tell the tale.
I also had a dear letter from my little girlie, the dearest one ever written. She was going to visit me in Camp Upton the following Sunday and told me what train to meet. She didn’t know I would not be there, we didn’t ourselves although we knew some thing was up a day or two before we left. Had I known sooner we would probably have been married. No one can ever know how much I care for her Anna, what I would do or sacrifice for her. If anything should happen that I do not come back I trust that you and Stone will always make her welcome and happy at your home, do for her everything that you would want to do for me, for what’s mine is hers. She sent me everything imaginable while I was I camp and she felt badly because I would not take her money too. No better, truer, more generous and deserving person ever lived, she is worthy of everything good and I only hope I can sometime make her perfectly happy and contented. That’s what I have to live for.
Anna, the happiness I wish you and Stone is beyond all limits. I think of you often, of the happiness that might be and of the bitter waiting that will be if Stone is taken away, for your sake, his own and for the folks at home. He’s too good to be taken away into the army.
We have had just a few days of comfortable weather, now it is cold and rainy again, our feet get wet and cold but we have good comfortable bunks and eats, I am feeling find and will always be all right if one of those pesky little shells doesn’t make a line for me.
We must get shoes germans, the more I see and hear of them, the more I feel that it is up to us to crush their powers. They are terrible, terrible.
Remember me to all the folks at home (including your own folks) but do not let them read my letter. I hope you are all well and I look forward to being with you. Tell Stone to write to me and I hope you will too. I did not receive the sugar and do not know for sure that I ever will but I thank you just exactly as much. I would love some if it now and it would go pretty fast if I had it.
It is getting so dark that I can hardly see my paper so I will say good night for this time.
Ever sincerely yours,
*Co. A, 305 M.g. B’n. Am. Ex. Force B.E.F.
Independence Day 
Dear Stone and Nan,--
Over thousands of miles of lands and sea I send a blessing to you, may that day which has been so sacred to you be ever a remembrance of happiness, may your lives ever be spent as one with an utmost recompence for your devotion to each other. My wishes for you, I cannot express them for they are beyond words. I just feel them and I trust that you can realize how great they are. Every happiness to you dear brother and sister, may the word regret never be known to you.
Yesterday was a day that will live forever in my mind for more than one reason, perhaps the greatest of which I will tell you about when I am again with you. Then too it was early yesterday morning that fourteen letters were passed on to me, including one from each of you. That was really my first news I had head that you were to be married in the latter part of June but nothing further. Then came this word from you directly, stating the exact date. Wasn’t it strange that I should receive the word on the same day that the ceremony occurs? I thought of you constantly, wondering and wishing. Our time is five hours ahead of you so I had to take that into consideration too. At every minute of the day I was seeing you, always glad for your [?can’t make out word].
Nothing could be harder for me to miss than being with you at that time but we all know just how it was and I was always hoping that the absence of brothers would in no way detract from the merriment of the day. I hope Bonny was with you, if she was, I was. I had three of the dearest letters ever written from her yesterday and she said she expected to be present.
Your letters were a source of great relief, happiness and sort of consolation for me. I had written to Stone long long ago with few plans and favors in case I happen to be, in case it happens that I don’t come back. Not a word had I received during this long long time and I was really worried. But your letters were identical in the one big matter to me, she [Bonny] will always have warm hearts to go to, no matter what circumstances may ever arise when will always have a place to go and find welcome. What she is to me and always will be, I doubt if any one can ever know quite so well as you two.
I must leave you for the time being but will hold this and add a little more when I have an opportunity.
A later date.
I know how you feel Stone about entering the service. How many times I have thoughts of you and of what it would man if we could stand side by side in the face of this great conflict. We could fight together, help each other, protect each other and keep away dull moments. No one would I rather fight beside but I’m glad you are not here. Your Nan girl needs you and the farm needs you. Do not feel that you are not doing your part, we could not wind out here if you were not doing so well. I have often thought how hard it must be for you and the Dear Chile [?] to keep up the spirits of the homefolks. I wish they might easily keep cheerful. Won’t they buy a car—
There I left you again, in the middle of a sentence. The army is a funny life, you don’t know from one minute to the next what you’re going to do and do not know how suddenly you are going to change your plans or course of direction. But it’s interesting, fascinating and luring[?]. I don’t mind in the least taking a good long hike over some sprightly land in utter darkness, carrying a message. I feel safe as can be as long as I have a powerful seven shooter hanging on my hip, ready to spit forth its full contents just as fast as I can move my finger. I’d love to take the old fellow home with me but don’t suppose I can.
The other letter from A.C. [probably Army Corps] came to day with another from Muz [probably his mom, Ella Mae (Loucks) Feeter] and one from Libba [his sister/our great aunt Elizabeth]. I want to answer each and every one but I wonder if the folks at home realize how difficult it is to sit down and gather up your mind long enough to write one whole sentence. I often have to read it over to get the idea again.
The little picture you made was a corker. It explained everything and in case I should slip off the edge of a balloon and strike there some where I would know right where to begin cultivating or swinging the hoe. You ought to be drawing for the movies.
Norm’s cartoon is at this part of the letter
[Here in the letter Norm has drawn two panels of cartoons. In the top panel, he entitled “En Americk” he writes “Stone”, “Bang,” depicting his bro/our gramps back home shooting a woodchuck with the family rifle as the chuck emerges from its hole. The bottom panel Norm has entitled “In Frauncia,” depicting him shooting “Un Alleman” (French for “German” soldier) as the enemy emerges from his hole. In both cases the middle part of each panel shows a dead woodchuck and a dead German. Norman really has changed his tone since those early couple letters written before leaving American soil, and is likely suffering from some kind of battle fatigue. He and his wife Bonny never had children. Wonder if the War had anything to do with it.]
Well – I’ve puttered with that and will endeavor to write a little more. Even when everything is seemingly tranquil It’s hard to collect.
“They have a few “made in America” mowing machines and very few rakes, everything else here was patented by Moses.”
-Norm on France’s outdated farm implements
Now you are haying it. I feel strong and would like nothing better than to mowing up a load of it now. If you could only see these Frenchmen haying. They have a few “made in America” mowing machines and very few rakes, everything else here was patented by Moses. Can you imagine their old scythes with a straight stick for a handle like this [Norm draws three types of old fashioned farm tools], and a hoe of this type, weighs a ton, and an axe.
These just give you and idea. I threw off a load of hay for an old fellow one day, had a five tined straight backed seven foot fork, the most awkward thing even hung up.
What gets me is the way they live tho, the houses and barns all one. When they clean the stables everything is piled between the buildings and the street highway (there are no homes in the country, all live in town). But as I say everybody has it there and it’s some right as you enter the village. Of course I am not witnessing these rights all the time but have done so many times.
I said you would be haying now, you are probably sailing over the highways of America if the sun shines as bright there as it is here. I’m glad you have the car, I think it will mean a lot of pleasure for you all and it will be especially fine for Jack while he is recovering. I didn’t know he had been so terribly sick until he was on his way to recovery for those letter reached me before some that were previously written. I do not let my self worry for I know I could do no good.
Do you ever go swimming now Stone? I have inched in twice this summer, but it was quite sometime ago and the water was thick with chills. I shook like a honey bees wings but I liked it.
I told you that I had taken out insurance. A policy should have been sent on. Anything else that I may have will be accounted for by papers in my trunk.
Well, brother and sister, I must close this and get it ready to send out when they collect mail. I think of you all many many times each day and am conceited enough to feel that you think of your brothers in the ranks accordingly too. I send dearest love to all and if Bonny is with you and within phone reach give my love to her too, tell her I want to see her. Again I wish you every possible happiness and contentment. I am going to do my beset here and do it absolutely fearlessly. I know I can do our share, while I would like to be brushing sides with you through it all yet I’m glad everything is just as it is for I feel that it’s all for the bst. They need you there, they need me here. I was conscripted into the service but I’m glad I’m here.
Write when you can for your letters mean much to us fellows. Happiness, utmost happiness to you always.
Ever sincerely your brother
In this final letter Norm wrote the letterhead now reads “On Active Service with the American Expeditionary Forces”
Dec. 22, 1918
Dear Nan, -- Thousands of miles away you may be in church now. Here it has seemed but little like Sunday, for we have just finished our afternoon football practice. We had quite a work out and I have an extra large thumb to show for it. But that’s nothing. I don’t know why I play as I do for I resign absolutely as a candidate for the divisional team they are picking out. I cannot seem to get into it as I did a few years ago. The affects of old Jerry’s gas do not seem to pass off as I would like to see them and then too I had a mice little attack of influenza the second time I went to the hospital. Concerning that I have never written to the home folk for it would only have caused them so much more unnecessary worry. I was pretty sick when I first came down with it but it cleared up quickly [this was the time when some 18 million people died of flu around the world].
I still have considerable cough for that reason I realize more than ever how foolish I was to come on this trip. The lieutenant asked me if I would try out and I told him I just as soon try. First thing I knew they told me a truck was waiting for me, to get my full equipment ready to go. So here I am. I’m living like a lord (in comparison with the way we used to live) and the shack we sleep in has a little stove in it.
Rain, it rains here every day and you just cannot imagine such mud, a thick paste every where you go and in many places it comes half way to your shoe tops. I think I can safely say I haven’t had dry feet since I left the hospital, only as they get dry during the night. In the morning on goes the wet shoes. But you know we do not mind it, we’re used to it now and if I don’t have stiff joints in after years then I never will regret this.
Only the one delivery of mail here. I had since Sept., two letters from Bonny, one from Muz, one from dad and one from Libba coming that day. Mother is her letter said it was hard to keep up courage with Elizabeth sick in N.Y., Carley in a hospital, John out but a short time from his terrible sickness and at that time I was confined. I’m all right now and I wish I could fix it so no one would ever worry a minute about me.
But how I have wondered about Carley and Elizabeth, and are they alright now? That’s the question that is on my mind. How sincerely I hope they are. I cannot bear to think of their being seriously sick. Elizabeth didn’t mention in her letter. How often I have wondered about Neil too, if he was taken ashore into the battles.
I can only hope that he is well and happy. No one can ever know how thankful I am that neither of my brothers ever reached this side. When we would be pretty weary I used to think the more we do the less others will hae to do, and that one thought kept up my courage. Can you imagine how a fellow would feel when he saw the shells falling thick and fast along the line and he knew his brother was there? If you can then you know why I’m glad they were in America.
Only three days before Christmas, and they will pass quickly. I fully expect to be here at that time and we are going to contribute five francs apiece to the mess fund in order that we may have a little extra to eat that day. I don’t know what it will be but a change will go good. And incidentally, my money is running very low for I haven’t had any pay since July.
Libba [the oldest Feeter sister]said she would ba in N.Y. at Christmas time and expected to be home for New Years day, and I sincerely hope both and and Carley may be there too. Won’t it be a happy meeting if you all gather around the home table again. As I think of it all Nan, it seems to me that father and mother have had the hardest battles of all. They care more for us than we care for ourselves and they have suffered for ever discomfiture that they know we were encountering. So often I think of the part dear little Marian [the youngest Feeter sister] has played too, the only one there to comfort them during these many long weeks and months. She used to be my “little” sister, only a girl in every way. In a letter I had from you long ago you told me she had changed so completely, had grown into womanhood.
I presume we will all find many changes in each other but there mustn’t be too many for, as I look back, it seems as if you were all about perfect when I left you.
If Carley has not been already mustered out I hope he will be shortly, and Nan, you know there is no end to the happiness I wish you both. I hope too that John will soon be released from the service. Probably Neil has considerable time to serve yet. On Christmas day I will be thinking of you all wishing you a bright and merry time, and I trust that each day of the New Year may bring glad tidings to each and every one of you. Kindly remember me to your family with wishes for health and happiness, wishes that their every wanting may be granted.
I send love to you, your husband and all those I left behind.
We all are longing to get back to God’s country.
Order of Battle of the 305th MG Battalion:
2nd Army Corps
77th Division (Upton) - Major General George B. Duncan, commanding; Major W. N. Haskell, Adjutant-General
- 153rd Brigade Infantry - Brigadier General Edward Wittenmayer
- 305th Infantry Regiment
- 306th Infantry Regiment
- 305th Machine Gun Battalion
- 154th Brigade Infantry - Brigadier General Evan M. Johnson
- 307th Infantry Regiment
- 308th Infantry Regiment
- 306th Machine Gun Battalion
- 152nd Brigade, Field Artillery - Brigadier General Thomas H. Reeves
- 304th Field Artillery Regiment
- 305th Field Artillery Regiment
- 306th Field Artillery Regiment
- 302nd Trench Mortar Battery
- Engineer Troops - 302d Regiment
- Signal Troops - 302d Battalion
- Division Units - 77th Division Headquarters Troop; 304th Machine Gun Battalion