|American wounded with German prisoners at Meuse-Argonne by Harvey Dunn|
The year 1919 brought different emotions to the families of servicemen who fought in the Great War. To those with sons, brothers or husbands returning on the seemingly endless stream of troop ships, the emotions were a mixture of joy and relief - their boys had survived the horrible European conflict. To the less fortunate families, those who would not await the arrival of a troop ship, the emotions would be sadness mixed with emptiness. These emotions would drive family members to find out exactly what went wrong - how did it happen? Maybe the answers would help alleviate the emptiness.
The two letters below, written by John B. Cole of Green City, Missouri attempt to answer the questions asked by Lila Windmiller of Des Moines, Iowa, concerning the fate of her brother, Charles Oliver Windmiller. Charles had enlisted under the name of John O. Valmar for reasons now lost to history. A new enemy, the Spanish Flu, began sweeping the world in the fall of 1918. Its toll of lives would eventually dwarf that of the Great War. This new enemy knew no trenchlines nor did it honor courage and bravery. This was the likely killer of Charles Windmiller.
The letters are reproduced "as is". The spelling and punctuation are those of John Cole. Please note that Mr. Cole uses the convention of "year only" in most of his dates. Thus his notation 19 refers to 1919.
Green City, Mo
Dear friend -
Your letter received May 30th asking me to tell you all I knew about your brother, John O. Valmar, or that was the name he went by while I knew him at first, then later I learned that his real name was Windmiller, and he just enlisted under the name of John O Valmar.
Lila I will try and tell you what little I know of John. It may be of some help to you.
Lila I am sorry, awfully sorry to say that your brother will not get back. He was wounded while we were in the Argonne Forests Sept 29th - 18. We were close by each other when he was wounded. He said he was not hurt much, for me to go on and get busy before they got me. So then a little later I started back to where he was and they had his wound dressed and starting back to the first Aid Station, which was about one mile back from the front line He seemed to be in good spirits the last I seen him. Just as if that was part of the game.
I did not have any conversation with him after he was wounded for we were awful busy just at that time and he had been sent back to the first Aid station before we got through. But I supposed he got along all right until after I got out of the hospital (I was wounded a little later after Jn.) They sent me to Tours France to take charge of some German prisoners, and one day I was sent out to the cemetary with fourty prisoners to dig graves And while I was there something seemed to tell me to look at a certain grave in front of me. And I looked and the name on it read as follows John O Valmar, Co. C. 139th Inf. Buried Oct 2nd 1918 And that is all I know about that.
He was buried in an American Cemetary just joining the French Cemetary on the east of Tours France. And believe me it was one of the most beautiful places I ever saw. There were at that time between seven and eight hundred american soldiers buried at that place. His grave was on the east side about the center of the cemetary. So do not worry about him not having a nice resting pace for he sure has one of the prettiest places I ever saw. He was laid away with Military honors Lila you had a brother that you can be proud of and I know you are. All of us boys thought there was no one like John. It made no difference where he was or where he met you he was always the same. He was always jolly and full of fun. And when it came down to business he was on the job, and willing to take hold and do his part at whatever we were doing. I sure thought lots of John, and it sure hurt me when I looked at this grave and saw his name there. I know you cant help but feel awful bad about it. But you will have to overcome that feeling. I know it is hard to give up a brother like he was, but he gave his life for a good cause and he sure gave his part and done it well. I have heard him speak of what a nice sister he had and how much he thought of her and I suppose you are the one he had reference to.
Believe me you sure had a mighty fine brother and from the way he talked I know he thought lots of you all. He was well thought of by all who knew him.
I hope this will be of some help to you, and if there is any thing you want to know, I will be glad to tell you, or help you find out any thing that I dont know.
Will close at this
Green City, Mo
Your letter received a few days ago, but have be so busy I have had no time to ans. You ask me where Jack was wounded, to be honest about it, I could not tell for sure for I was not close enough to tell at the time they were dressing the wound. And I do not know whether the wound was the cause of his death or not. It could of been the fever that caused it. I have seen some cases of it where they take sick and die within twenty four hours but as to which was the cause of his, I cant say. I would tell if I knew, but I don't know. You ask if that was the only battle he was in. We were in the Alsace Lorraine front thirty-one days, Aug. 1st to Sept. 1st and while there it was mostly night patroles but at that it wasint very pleasant when our patrole and the enemy met out in no man's land. We would have to fight our way out. And we was always lucky Only lost one man while there. Then we went from there to the St Miheal front and was there about eight days Sept.10th to 18th I guess you seen in the paper's what that was like.
You have always heard that the last was best of all But in this case it was worst of all. And that was when we went to the Argonne Forests. We went in there the night of the 25th of Sept. and was relieved the night of the 30th. On the night of the 25th we started the Barrage at eleven o'clock with the light artillery, and at three in the morning the heavy artillery started and there was a continual pour of shells going over on the enemy from that time on, And at the same time they were sending about as many shells back at us. At five-twenty in the morning we were ordered to go over the top We never found many Gemans until about noon. And then we had to do our bit. And it was a continual fight from then on. The Gemans would make counter attacts on us. They would come over in large bunches. What we call a mass formation but we would not give back one foot of ground. Stay there to the last. And we always came out victorious. The last one we were in that was Jack and I.
When they made there attack on us they got over to close to suit me. We got into it hand to hand there. But we held our ground. And none of them got back So you can guess at the rest of it.
It was raining all the time we were up there. but that made no difference to us. for we went over there for a purpose, regardless of what kind of weather.
And after so long a time we won the great prize which we were fighting for You don't seem to have much
Lila I don't know what date he died or nothing after he left the battle field. All I know I seen his grave at Tours France
If it was not his it was some one with the same name and Co. and Reg. And I know he was the only one by that name in our Co
I enlisted just a few days after war was declared. But our Co was almost 1/2 drafted men
(Here the letter ends abruptly - the last page missing)
This is a postscript to the story of Charles Windmiller. Christine tells me that when a body was brought back from France to be identified by the family, his brothers, unable to determine if the body was Charles' due to the state of decomposition, told the officials it was him. They would be sure his mother's heart would be at rest knowing her son had finally come home.
Christine McCormick is a descendant of Charles Windmiller.
29-Jun-1996 Follow up: Army records indicate that Charles died on 31-Oct-1918 from pneumonia lobar.