State Historic Site
THE SON OF a successful Sheridan merchant, Edward Everett Austin was born in Nebraska in 1894. He attended Sheridan High school and, when war broke out, joined the Wyoming National Guard (later the 148th Field Artillery).
Like the rest of the members of the 148th, Austin ended up staying in France for months after the war was actually over. He was part of the group that helped return the machinery and personnel of war back to the United States.
Unlike most of his fellow soldiers, however, Austin didn't come home alone. In 1919, he married a nineteen year old French woman, Marie Mathilde, in Bordeaux. They traveled to America - with their young son - a few months later, and settled in Buffalo where Austin operated a Ford automobile dealership.
Austin's letters to home from France were printed in both The Sheridan Post and The Sheridan Daily Enterprise. His last, printed by The Enterprise in June 1918, is particularly telling of the state of mind of the soldier left behind to clean up the mess of war.
A steamer has dropped her anchor in the harbor; her crew is on the streets of old Bordeaux; her cargo of mail is distributed, and we received only a few thin letters from you. We don't ask you why because we know why. We DO ask you to be a little considerate. And you in turn ask, "Who Are You?"
We are the remnants of that victorious American army whose assistance has made Lafayette turn over in his grave, smiling happily to have won the friendship of America. We are those whose duty is to sit day in and day out at our desks in the bureau in Bordeaux, adding, subtracting and multiplying figures, working far into the night that the paperwork of an army undergoing the problem of demobilization may be kept in condition. And you have forgotten us; well, well. well. You who threw your hat in the air and cheered us when we came over here; you who praised us for what we were doing; you who welcomed the returned heroes; is your fired patriotism dying and have you lost that old-time spirit that made us so happy to come over here and fight for you?
The war is over and the boys had to get home. Somebody had to stay and see it through. There was the problem of transportation; getting the troops as well as the equipment home; haste meant waste and waste meant more money out of your already severely strained bank account. Things are going smoothly and very soon we will all be home. Meanwhile, America wonders why we stay.
We are subjected to charges of immorality, unfaithfulness, misconduct and other like things. Those charges are made by the degenerate minds of a class of critics and writers who needed the money and designed and preyed upon us. And the public accepts the statements as truth.
It is summer. The hot summer sun of Southern France beats down on our woolens, and the perspiration streams down our bodies. We sleep four to a bunk and eat whatever is handed us. We have no complaint to register. It is a he-man's war. While we have been gone, we've lost our girls, our jobs and many other things we needed. We are lonesome, homesick and ready to go home. But what do you care about that?
Bordeaux, France's immediate representative, has done her all for our comfort; she has exerted herself and we have appreciated her. Her daughters have entertained us and her daughter's mothers have done their best to fill our craving stomachs with mother's best cooking. But they are not our own and we can't appreciate them; their very attention only reminds us of what we are missing at home. Put yourself in our places; we sit here at our desks, a hot wind blows through the open window; its burning force is laden with the repugnant odor of the garlic; our desks are crowded with paperwork; we listen to the mournful notes of an outgoing steamer; she is somewhere up the river with her bow pointed west and she is going back to that land that we love so well - and has forgotten us; she is crowded with happy Yanks on their last ocean voyage. Yanks that WE have sent home.
We hear her last faint whistle as she pulls loose from her tugboat and goes plowing out into the deep blue waters of the mighty Atlantic. Still we sit and ponder "Why?" Below us in the court yard the Marine band is paying "Homeward Bound" - and it hits us right in the left side of our breasts - every soulful note of it.
"Who are we" - you ask. Why, we are just "Us," that's all; just a few fellows who were taken out of combatant organizations at the signing of the armistice and sent to Bordeaux. We are nobody, forgotten by that world of progress that has use only for the man that does things. And we don't crave your sympathy; we can't use your poetry; we don't ask to be sent home until we have finished the job. But we feel justified in asking that you be so considerate to remember us occasionally and WRITE US A LETTER.
Can you picture the mail orderly arriving in our office, his hands full of fresh, crisp letters, calling out the names of the fortunate recipients? We stand expectant and some of us are disappointed, for we receive not a letter. Forgotten by our own friends; that doesn't sound very bad to you, for you are in that land that the Hun didn't touch - we kept him away from you - but we are over here where his marks are ever visible. We are touched with the sadness of the havoc he has wrought. No poet has penned the true sentiment of his heart when his name is not called.
If you have a "him" who happens to be one of those left behind, why not send him a letter. Not a package of cigarettes or a box of candy, but a letter. It is what he needs. And you had forgotten us - well, well well - it's a funny world. Every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost - and sometimes I am inclined to believe that the race is on and the hindmost is very truly yours, Edward R. Austin.
(From "In the World War")