“Letters from the home folks are very encouraging to a fellow who is training to make the World safe for Democracy,” Private Edward Ditty wrote home to a friend in February 1918. He gratefully returned a note from a friend, and told of his training for the trenches of the Western Front.
The 19-year-old soldier from Elizabethville, Pennsylvania joined up with the U.S. Army in November 1917 and was assigned as a member of Company E, 23rd Engineer Company. He spent his early months in the army training in Camp Laurel, near Baltimore.
His letter home, which was subsequently published in March 1918 by the Elizabethville Echo, detailed the experience as he shed his civilian habits and became an American soldier. Army life seemed to agree with the young soldier – he adds that he gained more than 25 pounds since signing up – and he seemed most excited to join in the boxing matches that occurred regularly in the camp.
Below is the full letter:
FROM EDWARD DITTY
Camp Laurel, Laurel, Md., Feb. 18
Dear friend Steve:
I will now take time and write only a few lines to let the folks back home know how I like the National Army, after 3 ½ months of war training.
I like the life of a soldier O.K. and as yet I do not have any kick coming. A chronic kicker in the Army or in Civilian life not only makes it disagreeable for himself but everybody else.
I begin to realize that after a good day’s work you are ready to take things easy when evening comes; but some of the fellows in the Army never did a real days work and they were the ones who took it easy in the evening.
The hardest job that I ever had and was to get up in the morning for Reveille, and to obey the orders of the officers without arguing. Discipline and obeying orders are quite new to some of the fellows. You will always find that the [intelligible] are the Soldiers best friends as they always try to guard their men against diseases.
I received your letter to-day and was very glad to hear from you, as letters from the home folks are very encouraging to a fellow who is training to make the World safe for Democracy.
I saw Percy Swab, Jimme Hoke, Chas. Snyder, Lloyd Tschopp, Martin Gaupp and a few others the other day.
We are having nice weather down here at present and I hope it gets better still as I do not care for cold weather.
I heard that my friend Leon Beam arrived safely on the other side of the pond. He is in the 104th Aero Squadron.
I weighed 131 lbs. when I enlisted and have gained 25 lbs. since last November. This life is certainly agreeing with me. You get good eats, plenty of fresh air, and an extra amount of good exercise.
We certainly have some Regiment of Engineers. There are fellows from every State and Country, and there’s a fellow from Sweden and one from Belgium in our Company.
I thought Ed. Lebo would enlist instead of being drafted but he waited just a minute too long.
We have plenty of Boxing Matches and there is quite a bunch of pugilists in our Regiment so you see we are able to have some good bouts quite often. I suppose I will have to trim the champion someday.
I want to thank you and your Committee for so kindly sending me the Smileage Book as, I expect to have a good time with it.
Ditty and the 23rd Engineers shipped out for Europe in March 1918 and served there until the spring of 1919. He returned to Elizabethville in June 1919.
Featured Image: Soldiers boxing at Camp Colt, Gettysburg, 1918 (National Park Service)