As Veterans Day approaches, I have decided to share a piece of my family’s history. This story is true and the letter described is in my possession. I dedicate this story to my Grandfather, Billy L. Hallmark, who not only was born while his father was in France fighting in the Great War, but was away at basic training for WWII himself when my father was born.
Billy Jack Hallmark
A Soldier’s Sacrifice
I want you to close your eyes for a moment. We are about to take a journey back in time to 1918. Imagine that you are a poor farm boy from central Texas who has never been “off the farm”. You grow up, meet a girl and fall in love. After getting married, your bride becomes pregnant. Your life is full of promise.
The rumblings of war have been going on for several years in Europe. Finally, you are called up for service. You leave your bride, your family and your home to answer your country’s call. You now find yourself half- way around the world in the trenches of France in the Great War.
Now picture spending Christmas with your comrades, knowing that your bride is expecting the baby any day now. You wish you were home, but know that you are involved in something great, something larger than yourself. Then, you receive a letter that changes your life, forever.
That is just what happened to my great-grandfather, W. R. Hallmark in early January, 1919. He received the news that his bride had died giving birth to his son, my Granddad Hallmark. The letter that he sent to his mother after hearing that tragic news has been kept in an old trunk for the past 93 years. It is, I believe, a true glimpse into the mind of a World War I soldier, and shows not only his grief at such heart-wrenching news, but also his patriotism and commitment to the cause of freedom.
I am sharing that letter that he wrote to his family after hearing about his bride’s death. It was very difficult to read the letter, partly because it was written in pencil and starting to fade, and partly because it is such an intense and emotional look into one man’s life. I have tried to keep the letter as original as possible while making it “readable”. No words were added or taken out. The letter is written on stationary that says
On the top left. The YMCA logo is superimposed onto a red upside-down triangle, with American in red above the triangle. On the right topside of the stationary are the words
On Active Service
American Expeditionary Force
January 28, 1919
My dear mother and father and all at home how are you all. This leaves me well hope theas few words will find you all the same.
Well mother you cant realize how sad and lonely I feel to nite. I received a letter from Leray and one from Gearal telling me that my dear Modess had been taken away from me.
Oh my God mother how can I stand it? Mother it were the saddest news that ever came to me.
Mother I love you but don’t see how I can stand to come home. Mother write and tell me how long she was sick. Tell me all about it. I would give my life if I could have been with her in her last days. I don’t see why God would take her away from me but that is something that we all will have to do someday.
Mother I left my home and cross the dark blue sea and fought for my country and help won the victory and know my life is rich no matter (illegible) for me. Mother I know you have lots of trouble since I left home and (illegible) bother to death about me and George but don’t you worry about us we are all right.
You and father and all take good care of your self we will be home some day.
Mother I cant help from studying about Modess. Just think when I left her she were well and hardy and to nite she is sleeping beneath the sod.
Oh how happy I would be to come home and find her there and to kiss her sweet lips once more.
Mother how sad I feel. I pray to live a life that will meet her someday. Well mother I will close for this time hope to hear from you soon
Love to all
Your lonely Son
Corp W R Hallmark
Co D 141 Inf
A E F APO, 796
Not only do we see the raw pain of death, but if we look deeper into the letter we can see the struggle on the home front as well. My great-great grandparents not only had to keep on working the farm without their sons, but now had an infant to raise as well. They took these difficulties in stride, as did everyone else during that time.
By the time my great grandfather came home, his son was two or three years old. He had been raised by his grandparents and his maiden aunt. My granddad continued to live with his grandparents while his father eventually remarried and had other children.
While my great grandmother would have surely died even if her husband had been at home, I cannot help but feel that this story is an excellent example of the common man’s sacrifice for freedom.