Monroe County and World War I: ‘The War to End War’ (Part I: Doughboys in France)

 

Edward Denomie served in the Wisconsin National Guard and was deployed to France during World War I.

 

By ADAM BALZ

Monroe County Local History Room volunteer researcher

Author’s note: The United States is recognizing the centennial of the United States’ involvement in World War I. The U.S. was in World War I from April 1917 until the Armistice ended it Nov. 11, 1918. Both the Sparta and Tomah National Guard companies were ordered to federal active duty as rifle companies in the 128th Infantry Regiment of the 32nd Infantry Division.

Hundreds of county residents served in the armed forces during the war, and 41 died while in the service. Countless others supported the nation’s war effort at home.  

Between now and Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2018, the Monroe County Local History Room will partner with this newspaper to publish transcriptions of letters written by Monroe County soldiers while serving in Europe during World War I. We will also share articles about what life was like for those living in Monroe County during the war and exploring the topic of anti-German sentiment during World War I. These letters and stories help us better understand what it was like for Monroe County residents to endure the “war to end war,” whether on the front lines or on the home front.

This week’s item is a transcription of a letter written by Edward Denomie to his sister in April 1918. Edward Denomie was born on Feb. 24, 1895, in Assinins, Mich. His parents were Simon and Nancy Denomie; his maternal grandfather was an Ojibwe chief named Maangozid (Loon’s Foot). At age 15, he moved to Tomah to continue his education. There, he enrolled in the Tomah Indian School, and then Tomah High School.

In 1916, Denomie enlisted in the Wisconsin National Guard and was soon deployed to the Mexico border. While there, Denomie played on a basketball team that gained enough notoriety that a San Antonio newspaper published an article about them.

After returning home, he was deployed to Europe, where Denomie survived a gas attack and was rendered nearly deaf by shrapnel. Nevertheless, he used his time in post-war Europe to once again play basketball; this time, his team played in a championship game.

After the war, he married Sara Jane Neville, took classes at the Milwaukee Motor School, and spent much of his life working for the railroad. Denomie died on June 25, 1980, at the age of 85. He wrote the following letter to his sister in Tomah while stationed “somewhere in France.”

 April 10, 1918 

Dear Sister:

No doubt you have received my card informing you of our safe arrival in France. I enjoyed the trip across fine and dandy. Every day, we had fine weather, except the second, when we ran into a gale and did a bit of rocking. Was on the verge of giving up every little thing I had several times, but I managed to keep it. Methinks you would give me the laugh if you saw the cars we came out here in — regular side-door Pullmans — but I guess we were lucky to get what we did. We are in comfortable quarters and get plenty good “chow,” so you can guess I am well and feeling fine.

We have quite a time trying to “parley-voo”, but after going through a series of frantic motions, we usually make ourselves understood. The people here are real nice to us and try to get us anything we want.

We are adopting the French system of cleaning clothes. We get down on our hands and knees with a bundle of clothes and take a paddle and pound. This is the way they do it in France. I’ve learned how to send a canal barge thru a canal, too. Oh! we will know how to do a whole lot of things before long. A canal runs by our town, and we go down and help the women send the boats thru. We’ve had fine weather since we’ve been here till today, it’s sort of drizzling, but not bad; guess they don’t have much rain in this country. Golly, they sure raise a lot of grapes over here. Coming in on the train, I bet we saw nothing but grape fields for a hundred miles. Wine is a favorite drink; the people drink it three times a day, even the little kids; of course, more out of curiosity, we tried it out, much to our satisfaction. We pay the humble price of 7 to 10 francs the quart bottle.

We can’t get tobacco here, only this French tabac; believe me, that stuff sure has some kick to it; might as well smoke soft coal. “I lay off that stuff.” Matches here are at a premium. This country is mighty short of wood; we haven’t seen a wooden house, only the Y.M.C.A. huts, since we’ve been over; everything is made of stone, even the fences; the houses from the cellar to the roof are of stone.

I wish you would send me those pictures from the films I sent from Camp Merritt. I would like to send you some pictures of France; some mighty pretty scenes over here and many old historic places, some that you read about. I saw the place where Napoleon got his military training; it’s on the plan of our state prisons.

Well, Sis, I will close my little note. I will write often; I hope to receive a few letters soon to sort of break up the monotony. With love to you both write the kids for me.

 Your brother,

Ed de Nomie, Supply Co., 128th Inf., A.E.F., via New York

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