In 2014 the 100th anniversary of the First World War arrived. It has become a war that feels nearly as distant as the Civil War or the American Revolution. It is a war that was known for its high death toll as modern technology introduced machine guns, airplanes, and tanks to the battlefield. It is important to remember the men of that war as individuals, not merely numbers on a tally.
Among those men was First Lieutenant Robert B. Anderson of Wilson, North Carolina. Robert was mortally wounded at the Battle of Cantigny on May 29th, 1918, dying at an aid station a short time later. For his bravery he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (US) and the Croix DeGuerre (France).
The Anderson family has preserved keepsakes of Lt. Anderson’s service. Most cherished among these are three written before his death.
The first was to his father written on New Year’s Day, 1918. In it Robert speaks about his deep respect for his father, and the influence his father left on his life. While not dramatic in its words you can nonetheless feel certain intensity as Robert reflected on his father while looking at the war he was to fight. With his father he shares his pride in being a soldier, as well as being proud of his father.
The other two letters were written the same month he died. The first is a Mother’s day letter. Among other things, he describes how everyone in his unit felt how important it was to send a letter for Mother’s day. He goes on to speak of how well written some of his men’s letters were. Robert himself had enough duties that he apparently had to squeeze in the letter throughout the day just finishing in time for lights out. It has a warm and hope filled tone.
The last letter was written to his mother on the 27th, just two days before his death. He was suffering from the Spanish Flu, and preparing himself for the upcoming battle. It was almost as if he knew ahead of time that he was not going to survive the fight. The letter talks about his life insurance policy ($11,000 which is a goodly sum for those days). He goes into detail that he hadn’t received all his pay so there should be back pay coming to his family should he fall in battle. Robert tells his parents to “do what they like with the money”. He then follows this practical advice with spiritual words. He says that if he dies for them to remember, “I will be in safe keeping, waiting for when God calls you and Dad and we will…be together.” Apparently, he must have felt bad for having sounded so serious and then tries to say how everything will be alright and the place he is going to be will be in the papers; a place called Cantigny.
Guest Blogger/Library Intern
Wilson Public Library