French soldiers during the Battle Of Verdun

French soldiers during the Battle Of Verdun

Excerpts of an American soldier’s letter from September 1, 1917.  The letter (not complete below) was written when he was on leave in Paris.

Dear Lois,

Enjoying the luxuries of life including ice cream, sheets, cafes and things. The French have a saying to the effect that no one comes out of Verdun the same. As the fighting is stiff there always the statement is probably true for all times, it certainly is true of Verdun during an attack. It would take a book to tell about all that happened there and when I try to write, little incidents entirely unconnected come to my mind so I don’t know where or how to begin. Besides the desolation visible to the eye there was the desolation visible to the nose. You could often see old bones, boots, clothing and things besides lots of recent ones. Something hit me on the head, making a big dent in my helmet and raising a bump on my head. If it hadn’t been for my helmet my head would have been cracked. As it was I was dazed, knocked down and my gas mask knocked off. I got several breathes [sic] of the strong solution right from the shell before it got diluted with much air. If it hadn’t been for the fellow with me I probably wouldn’t be writing this letter because I couldn’t see, my eyes were running water and burning, so was my nose and I could hardly breathe. I gasped, choked and felt the extreme terror of the man who goes under in the water and will clutch at a straw. The fellow with me grabbed me and led me the hundred yards or so to the post where the doctor gave me a little stuff and where I became alright again in a few hours except that I was a little intoxicated from the gas for a while. I had other close calls but that was the closest and shook me up most. I think the hardest thing I did was to go back again alone the next night. I had to call myself names before I got up nerve enough.

W. Stull Holt

W. Stull Holt

That soldier was Stull Holt.  Born in New York City in 1896, he served during World War I as a driver with the American Ambulance Field Service.  He later joined the American Air Service with a pilot commission as a first lieutenant.  In his letter, he writes of the fortress city of Verdun where there was extensive fighting between the French and Germans in 1916 and throughout 1917.  Holt’s letters were later published in The Great War at Home and Abroad: The World War I Diaries and Letters of W. Stull Holt (1999).


When I happened upon this event on this day in history, I found a man that is so much more than this story.  Click here for an University of Washington Alumni Magazine article about W. Stull Holt


3 responses

  1. Birgit says:

    Letters like this really speak volumes especially his opening line. I would feel guilty having ice cream after reading this. The picture also just show the brutality. My mom has a book called “Die Stimme Des Menschen”-something like The Voice of the People. It is a book of letters from soldiers and civilians, allies and foes who wrote letters to loved ones and the big thing is that all these people died in the war. I wish I could find a translation of this book in English