Letters from World War I: 'If I never come back ...’April 11, 2014
Compiled by JONATHAN STREETMAN
Herald Staff Writer
Clements A. Berger wrote home to his sweetheart, Mary Borho of Jasper, in the summer of 1918 while training for World War I with the U.S. Army in West Point, Ky. Camp Knox, just across the Ohio River from Indiana, was built weeks after these letters were written and was the precursor to today’s Fort Knox.
Clem Berger was 25 years old when he wrote about preparing for war, his homesickness and his desire to see his Dolly and everyone in Jasper one more time before being shipped overseas. Berger survived the war, which ended in November, and married his sweetheart in May of 1920. They settled down in the Louisville area, where they had two children, Robert and Ruth Marie, and their descendants remain near the city.
The letters were shared by Herald employee Phil Mathies after they were discovered in an attic during a renovation project at a home on Fourth Street in Jasper. The letters, yellowed by time and cracked along the folds, were written on thin Knights of Columbus war activities letterhead and tucked along insulation beneath a floorboard.
This evening we had to come out and have a lecture from the major. Dolly and some man he is, he sure is a big husky fellow, and believe me he means what he says. Dolly what do you think he said? That we are on our last lap now and we will have to work like the dickens the next few weeks, for he said, we are going over pretty soon, he does not know if it will be in France or in Italy, but we are going and going soon, so that means nothing but work, he said, this playing and foolishness must stop right now and everybody must settle down to business. He said we must forget everything but our work, but there is one thing that I wouldn’t forget and that is you and home daily.
... Sweetheart I wish I could show you the big guns they have out here, and everything else. Last night when I wrote those cards I was in the YMCA, it was so crowded a fellow could hardly find room to sit down. It sure is fierce out here they only have one YMCA and one K of C and so many new boys coming in they can’t handle all of them.
... Dolly I am here for duty only now and nothing else and if I will not come back for a few years, that is if the war lasts a few years yet or if I never come back, I shall die with your memory, for you have followed me for this long and I thought maybe in a while I would forget, but Dolly you are closer than ever to me, for every day, I long for you more and more. Well darling it’s no use to write you of this for this is what I want and it’s you and you only and that thought will remain with me till the last.
I don’t know what I am going to do when we are gone from here, for your letters seem more to me than anything else, since I am in the army. And when two or three days go by, why it seems like a century to me.
... Sweetheart I also received a letter from Brother Ambrose and Uncle Leo and Aunt Mayme. Ambrose has his overseas clothes already. I think that’s what he got for he wrote and said he got two suits of heavy clothes. Dolly I guess one of these days I will get mine and then Dolly I heard this evening that the Battery commander can’t leave the camp no more for they are expected to go any minute. We know the Battery commander and a few officers go about a week or two ahead of the Battery, so when ever they leave we know it will be goodbye for us too. We got our tags for our barracks bags, that is what we carry our clothes in and every little thing like that tells us our day is coming closer every day.
... Dolly I will try another time to come home Sunday but I don’t think it’s no use asking for I only have a ghost of a chance, but they can’t do more than kick me out again Ha Ha.
... So Alex Pfister is on his way across the pond already. I’m sure surprised that some must go so soon and some stay so long. Dolly I am in the same division as Cyril and Lenus only they are in the infantry and I am in the Artillery. So when ever they go I will go too, and just think they’re in the army for nearly a year now.
Received your letter and the box and Sweetheart never was surprised when I came to my tent and seen that big box standing there. A fellow in the tent brought it up for me, Dolly everything was sure fine in there and the apples sure tasted good for we don’t get very many around here. Well in fact everything was so good I ate until I couldn’t no more. For if it only comes from home it sure is fine.
... Oh Sweetheart so you intend to come along anyway. Dolly if you think you can stand it please come for I sure am so anxious to see you.
Papa send me a little note and said that they sure will bring my little girl along if they came, so you just make up your mind and come. For it might be a long time before I will ever get to see you again, so sweetheart try and come how ever it is.
... Well sweetheart how is dear old Jasper? Yet it is still in the same place, some times I think I would know the place no more for it seems so long since I was at home.
... One of the boys in my tent got a 5 day pass to go home on account of his brother being sick and today he called up the Battery commander to extend his pass for 5 days longer. Well he got it yes in the neck, I wonder what a fellow thinks he is. Would I be satisfied with a 5 day, I would with a 36 hour only to get home and see all once more.
July 11 — a postcard of Camp Zachary Taylor, Louisville, Ky
Dearest Darling Mary
I am on guard tonight and won’t get time to write you a letter, but will write one tomorrow. Thought I would let you know I am OK and hope you are the same. Hoping you like your new work and best regards to all.
Contact Jonathan Streetman
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