The following was extracted from "War Letters: Extraordinary
Correspondence from American Wars." This highly popular book
contains letters written by and to America military personnel and was
the focus of a PBS television special. All the letters in this book
reveal the Heart of our military. Find out more about the book and the
Legacy Project by visiting http://www.warletters.com.
Col. Robert T. Oliver Shares a Poignant Story
with Veteran Frank Cashin About a Memorable Encounter
with an Elderly Frenchman in Chateau-Thierry
Exactly five years to the day after nineteen-year- old Gavrilo Princip
assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the official peace treaty was
signed in the Hall of Mirrors at the Versailles Palace. President
Woodrow Wilson received a savior's welcome when he strode
through the French capital after the war, greeted by adoring
Parisians who chanted "Vive l'Amerique!" and showered him with
fresh flowers. (Wilson found a less enthusiastic response, however,
back in the United States; his proposed League of Nations - an
international body that would, among other goals, arbitrate disputes
between nations to prevent future wars - was spurned by the U.S.
Senate. On October 2, 1919, six weeks before the Senate's first
rejection of the League, President Wilson collapsed from a massive
stroke, leaving him an invalid for the rest of his presidency.)
While traveling through France in the summer of 1919, Robert
Oliver, a colonel with the Dental Corps in Washington, D.C.,
discovered that the French people remained enormously grateful to
the young Americans who left their homes and families to fight in a
foreign land. After returning to the States, Oliver wrote to a veteran
of the Battle of Chateau-Thierry to pass along a small relic Oliver had
been given in France.
January 15, 1920.
Mr. Frank J. Cashin,
Brooklyn, New York.
Your letter of the 9th instant informing me that you are the man
referred to in my letter of the 7th instant, who served as Corporal,
Company "H", 308th Infantry, has been received.
Referring to the incident mentioned in my last letter: I visited the
Battle Field of Chateau Thierry (and Belleau Wood) on August 8, 1919,
taking lunch there at a small cafe recently opened by an American,
about in the center of the town on the south side of the river. After a
good luncheon, our party of four officers made an additional round of
some of the side streets and buildings of the town to observe the
effect on the buildings of shell fire and machine-gun bullets.
Naturally, we had quite a following of idle persons and children in our
wake, all eager to advance various kinds of information.
Finally, we were approached by a very old man, grizzled and bent
with years, supporting himself by a long staff, who stopped in front of
me, saluted, then took off his hat, and with tears in his eyes, began
his peroration. His speech was not typically French, being a Patois
that rendered it hard to follow, but with numerous questioning I
elicited the information that he was filled with great gratitude and
love toward the American Army for coming to the assistance of his
beloved France; that his heart was full of sorrow for the fine fellows
who fell and their families at home; that he was an old man and would,
therefore, have no chance to let the American people know how
much he personally loved them and how deeply he felt for them in
their sorrow; but as a mark of his gratitude and deep sentiment, he
was bringing to me now, whom he recognized as a Superior Officer, a
little token as proof of his deep emotion, which he hoped I would be
instrumental in having returned to the family of the brave man who
died in battle at Chateau Thierry, where it was lost off of his body.
With that, he dug up the ordinary aluminum tag, bent and soiled by
earth, which contained the name F. J. Cashin-Corporal, Company "H",
308th Infantry, and the number 1709293. From his statement, we
naturally assumed that the Corporal Cashin, to whom this originally
belonged, was killed in the Battle of Chateau Thierry or, perhaps,
Belleau Wood; that this tag - the lower one - had become detached in
some way and lost either during the battle or incident with the
disposition of the wounded or dead man. I accepted the identification
tag from the hands of the old man, stating I would surely use every
endeavor to send the tag to the family of the man to whom it
belonged, with statement of the occurrence, in order that it would be
retained as a souvenir of the beloved one who lost his life in the
Owing to stress of business after my return to this country, I failed
to follow up the incident, but finding it in my locker a few weeks ago, I
made inquiries from the Record Division of the Adjutant General's
Office and ascertained that Corporal Cashin had not been killed in
France but was discharged under date of May 9, 1919, and your
address was Brooklyn, New York.
It is needless to say that I am pleased to be able to deliver this
souvenir into your own hands and not to those of your relatives, as
was originally expected, and in doing so, I desire to congratulate you
heartily upon your service during the great War, upon your apparent
recovery from the wound obtained in the heat of the Veale Sector. I
also want to congratulate your dear one, whoever she may be -
mother, wife or sister - on being able to hear of this incident through
your own words instead of having been obliged to receive
knowledge of the dramatic little incident as a posthumous narrative.
With best wishes for your success and happiness in whatever
endeavor you engage, I am
Yours very sincerely,
Robert T. Oliver
Colonel, Dental Corps, USA.