State Historic Site

Letters Home - Carl Thomas Smitha

CARL THOMAS SMITHA, a twenty-four year old from Ranchester, enlisted on April 17, 1917 - just days after war was declared. He served as a Chief Machinist's Mate aboard the USS Arizona, the USS Alabama and the USS Mt. Vernon, ferrying soldiers back and forth between America and Europe.

One of the biggest dangers facing soldiers and sailors making this long journey was the German U-boat attack. Some 5,000 ships were sunk by submarines during the course of the war, taking with them almost 13 million tons of cargo and nearly 15,000 lives.


In what was no doubt the most terrifying time of his life, Carl Smitha was aboard the USS Mt Vernon when it was torpedoed by a U-boat in September 1918. His actions that day earned him the Navy Cross.

Ten days after the attack, Smitha finally got a chance to write home; this letter to his mother, written on September 16, 1918, was published in The Sheridan Daily Enterprise on November fourth.
 



Dear Mother - You have been wondering and a little worried I guess because I haven't written a letter before this and you have read in the papers before this that the Mt. Vernon was torpedoed while homeward bound on September 5. We have been a busy crew, cleaning up the wreck caused by the torpedo and all the ships do not carry mail so I didn't write before.


We were struck at 7:30 a.m., September 5th, killing 35 and burning eight men. Some of my best shipmates were among them. In five minutes more I would have been on watch, but as it happened, I was in the mess hall just through [with] breakfast, when the tables started to walk and the dishes flew around, but I didn't get a mark so I am all right. Then we started for the nearest port in France. The ship sank two inches every hour after she filled with water, but we saved the ship. I was on duty eleven hours. All concerned say it was the engineers' force that saved the ship.


Now we are in France and no one knows when we will get back to the States. 

 (From "In the World War")

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