Roy Mahin shares preparation for World War I
Editorís note: These letters were found by Zita Marie Mahin Shackles in her fatherís things. They have been kept through four generations. First by Royís father, Scott Mahin; his brother, Guy Mahin; his nephew, Clarence Mahin; and then by Zita, his great niece. Laura Val Mahin McCurdy, of Hughesville, compiled the letters into a book this year.
Roy E. Mahin was born Aug. 28, 1895, in La Monte, a son of Scott and Laura E. Dorrance Mahin. He was a private in the 115th Aero Squadron during World War I. He left for Jefferson Barracks on Aug. 13, 1917, and was sent to Camp Kelly in San Antonio, Texas, on Aug. 29. These are excerpts from letters he wrote home.
Aug. 24, 1917
All that were in uniform this morning were out on parade at once. I tell you 1,500 is a big bunch on 20 acres. Donít write anymore until I let you know where to write to because I wonít get it here anymore. I got my knapsack and trunk today.
The knapsack has a folding skillet, knife, fork, spoon, tin cup, three little sacks for sugar, salt and coffee and room to carry a dollarís worth of beans and about $5 worth of meat. The trunk is a folding apparatus to pack my clothes and blanket in. Well, I have to go so I must close. Write and let me know the news when I get to the cotton patch.
I am sure glad to get out of here. It is like a prison. If anybody tells you to join the Army and quit work, tell them they are lying because I know better!
Aug. 29, 1917
How are you? I left Jefferson Barracks at 2:45 Monday evening and got here somewhere in Texas this morning at 7:30. It sure was a tiresome ride. They will keep us in quarantine for 14 days in these tents. Nine men to a tent and for a morning drill, three hours in the evening. Then when the 14 days are up, they will move us up to the houses about a mile away. There are about 2,000 acres here in one field, not a tree in sight.
There are 14 airplanes in the air at once. Right now they sound like a thousand motorcycles. Write and let me know all the news...
Sept. 6, 1917
Are you all well? I am not feeling very well today. I got my third inoculation yesterday and it made me sick for a while. We drill here three hours a day.... They have lots of airplanes over there. They start flying at 6 a.m. and keep four or five in the air all day.
One fell the day before yesterday about a quarter mile from where I was drilling. It had just started up and in the air 30 to 40 feet. Where it fell, the tail was sticking up in the air. The propeller was smashed all to pieces. It didnít hurt either man very bad.
I have seen all of Texas that I want to see. I left Jefferson Barracks on the Iron Mountain and went through Arkansas, north to south, then into Texas. Every crop that I saw in Texas was all dried up, except cotton and it didnít look very good to me. I know that I donít want to raise it for a living.
If Guy is still thinking about enlisting in the Army, he had better change his mind, unless he is drafted. If I was to do it over again, I believe that I would be drafted. There is no hard work (yet anyhow) and nothing to do but lay around. Most of them gamble and if there is any gambling games I never heard of before, I can hear them here. But one thing, we never see anybody drunk or drinking anything but alkali water and sometimes coffee for breakfast. Potatoes every day, three times a day. Always boiled.....
About all I have done so far is fall in line, sign my name and stand inspection...
Sept. 12, 1917
Each squad had one captain, eight cooks, eight clerks, eight motorcycles, five motor cars, 25 motor trucks, 51 class drivers, 25 truck drivers, 156 guns and 186 men all told.
I am out of quarantine now. I got a pass to visit San Antonio last night. It is some town. One of my tent mates got arrested ó caught with a half pint of whiskey. They court-martialed him and gave him six months in the guard house. He stole a pass from another man and he got one month for that. This morning they brought him over to a tent in front of a Springfield rifle....
Sept. 27, 1917
I got your letter last night and was sure glad to hear from home. I got the Democrat last night too..... They have some new kind of airplanes here now. Their radiator sets up on top of the hood instead of in front. They use eight-cylinder Cadillac engines on most of them are and are all water cooled. Another fell last week and killed one man. I was at his funeral. It was a military funeral all right. They had 16 airplanes in the air dropping flowers over the craft...
We live in tents and eat wherever it is convenient. I havenít seen a table since I left Jefferson Barracks and have been here a month yesterday... I am getting fat now. I weigh 127 pounds, 10 more than I did when I enlisted...
Sept. 29, 1917
How are you getting along now? Have you got my buggy moved out yet or have you been using the new one across the road?
I guess that you got to see a flying machine at the fair. I saw one fall last night at 9 oíclock about 100 yards from the railroad. It ruined the machine and mashed up one of the men pretty bad. It was dark and they started to land and hit one of the sheds and busted the propeller. Then raised a little ways and the propeller flew off and down it came.
The 115th Squadron went out on review again this morning. There was a prize of $50 to the squadron that drilled the best. There were 60 squadrons entered and the 115th got the check. I was one of the acting corporals in charge of one squad of eight men, including myself. I donít want to get to be a regular officer. It is too much responsibility.
From your brother,
Oct. 3, 1917
Dear Home Folks,
I am still at Kelly Field and havenít found out yet why we didnít go to California last week. It seems to be a military secret. The commanding officer came out yesterday and picked out 25 men to be sent out at once.
Austin Workman, of Leeton, was one. I was the second and James McHunter was the next. Then one from Harrisonville and Dan Allgiers, of Lincoln. We are all in the same tent here. We donít know where they will send us, but there is talk of to a factory in Washington, D.C. If they do, we will never see France. I donít think we will anyhow. I donít want to be a flyer now. There is too much danger. While learning, there has been 10 machines ruined and 16 men killed here since I have been here in just five weeks. Most of the accidents happen while trying to loop the loop and flying upside down or trying to land at night. They have got a big search light here and at night they can thrown it on any part of the camp or on any plane in the air...
Have they commenced to build the aviation field at Sedalia yet? We hear lots about some squadron going there from here, but canít find out which one or I would try to transfer to it. Well, it is getting late and I must close for this time.
Oct. 30, 1917
I left Kelly Field last Friday evening about 5 oíclock and have been on the train ever since. Am getting tired of riding now. We stopped at New Orleans and ran around awhile. Louisiana is the best state in the south in the way of improvements. Everything is sugar cane and rice fields...
I am in Virginia now. It looks better, lots of peanuts... There are 500 men on this train. We cook in the baggage car and have Pullmans to sleep in. We have plenty to eat here and I am getting fat. I have gained 15 pounds since I enlisted. I sure struck it lucky by getting in this branch of service. My squad has been changed from supply squad to service squad. That means a better chance for advancement and better pay...
Oct. 31, 1917
I finally got to New York. We have got a nicer place here than we had in Texas. We are in wooden buildings here with steam heat, electric lights and hot and cold water...
As far as I know now, I will be here at least 20 days as we are to get three inoculations 10 days apart before we start to France.
Somewhere in France
Dec. 16, 1917
Left Garden City camp on Dec. 3, 1917, on a train and went to the dock. Took a boat to Hoboken, N.J., landed and got on the USS Huron which was docked between Vanterland and George Washington.
Wednesday and Thursday, struck a storm. Some old-time sailors said it was the worst storm they had seen. I was seasick all day Friday. Feeling better Saturday but still sick. It sure has been a tough trip for me as I was seasick about halfway and then the day before yesterday I had to go to the hospital. I am feeling better now, only awful weak. There were several United States destroyers who met us a few days ago and are playing all around us now. They are pretty little things. I have to carry my canteen full of water, a can of emergency rations and a life preserver everywhere I go... I am too dizzy to write anymore.
Somewhere in France
Jan. 4, 1918
Mr. Scott Mahin,
I scarcely know how to start this letter, but I feel that as a friend of Royís I owe it to him to let you know how he was treated and how he took knowledge that he was as sick a man as he really was.
When we left New York, we are all in good health and excellent spirits, and while Roy was a trifle homesick that was apparently all. As I slept in the birth directly over his, we were together just as we have been ever since we left Jefferson Barracks. As I am older and have had a little more worldly experience than he, I have always tried to take his part as much as possible. About the fourth day out of New York, we ran into quite a storm and we were all, more or less, seasick. It was from then on that Roy began to fail and he never did get real strong again, as another storm followed the first in such quick succession that he did not have time to get his strength back at all.
However, we all did what we could for him and whenever I went to eat, I tried to bring him something to eat. But there was not much, except bread, that he cared for so I finally prevailed on him to report to the hospital. After that, he got just as good treatment as a person could possibly get, no matter had he been at home, and to all appearances he began to regain his strength and we all thought he would be with us again in a few days. The night before we left the left, I took his overcoat and other things to them and prepared them for carrying. When I said good-bye, I did not think it was for the last time, as he seemed to have improved quite a good deal.
I can assure you that all the boys felt very sadly when we were told of his death and you cannot imagine the task it has been for me to write this letter. Hoping you understand what I have tried to explain, namely that Roy was very well taken care of. I offer you the extreme sympathy of the entire squadron and respectfully of myself and the other members who knew him best.
Yours in sympathy,
Cpl. Chas Jas Rogers
Jan. 11, 1918
My Dear Mr. Mahin,
I am enclosing some snapshots taken last Thanksgiving Day at my home, when we entertained your son, Roy, at dinner. I have since learned that he died in France. It grieves me to think of such a fine boy being taken from you. We took a real fancy to him, for he was a fine lad.
He told us that ours was the first home that he had been in for a year. He was accompanied with another aviation boy, Stephen Hilas, a Greek. The other boy in Navy uniform is my son, Clifford Tom Syckle, a gunner in the Navy.
The boys exchanged hats in one picture just for fun. They had a real happy wholesome day. We drove them to Tomi for a dance in the evening. These pictures, also amateur, may interest you.
With deepest sympathy to you and your family,
I am very cordially yours,
Mary M. Corney
Roy died Dec. 27, 1917, in a French hospital from a kidney tumor at the age of 22. He was brought home for burial at Knob Noster Cemetery on Oct. 17, 1920.
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