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Richard O'Neale Gaillard papers

Ninety-seven manuscripts, 1918-1919, augment the Library's holdings relating to World War I soldier and Columbia native Richard O'Neale Gaillard (1900-1962). They consist largely of letters, chiefly from Camps Colt and Summerall in Pennsylvania, where Gaillard was transferred after leaving Ft. Screven, Savannah, Ga., as well as ones written from various locations in Europe. Most of the correspondence is addressed to his parents, Mr. & Mrs. Alfred S. Gaillard, and other members of Richard's immediate family.

Gaillard's letters from Camp Colt, where he trained with tank battalions (Co. A, 327th Battalion, U.S. Tank Corps), discuss the soldiers' daily regimen, military inspections, machine gun training, food, and drills. They tell also of the arrival of the first two-man tank at Colt and of gas mask training. A letter of 12 August 1918 notes: "We were issued gas masks the other day and spend two hours a day with it. We should be thru with it in a few more day[s]. There is not much to learn but practice is what we have to have. Quickness is absolutely essential in this business and believe me when the officer says `gas' you have got to get busy....Your mask is put on in six seconds. I have gotten it down to nine. In a few more trials will probably be able to get it on in six seconds."

Fear that the fighting would be over before he left is a frequent theme of the early letters, including that of 28 July 1918, in which Gaillard voiced his hopes that he would "get across and see a little excitement first hand...before this war ends." As documented through a letter and postcard, both postmarked New York City, Gaillard embarked for Europe on 24 September 1918. A letter on Y.M.C.A. letterhead, 8 October 1918, indicates that he had arrived in England and was stationed temporarily at a "Rest Camp," while one written the following day speaks of encounters with African Americans in a "Labor Battalion" at the "Rest Camp," among them some "from the sunny cotton fields of South Carolina and Georgia."

Once in France and nearer the scene of action, 15 October 1918, Gaillard wrote: "There are troops passing to and from the Front every day. There is no doubt about it France feels this war." "I have had talks with several fellows just back from the lines," he wrote two days later. "They tell wild stories of things that happened to them. You see we are on a direct line between a seaport and a line running to the front lines and troops pass through here all the time—short Englishmen—Frenchmen and Australians with their hats turned up on one side—a mixed bunch sure....We will train for a short time then take a hand in things and roll to Berlin. There is talk of peace but I think we had better go right on to Berlin and give them something to remember us by."

"We see troops going to and from the Front Lines all the time," he reported again on 8 November. "Some queer tales they tell. A few of us were talking to a lieutenant who has just received his commission. He was over the top in a Tank seven times and was on his way back when we ran into him. He took his chance and came out alright—but has to go back again. What would any of us give to be in his place. But instead there is probably two months of training ahead before we will get our chance to take a pop at `Jerry' as he is know[n] over here."

Ever aware of the American presence in what was essentially a European conflict, Gaillard boasted on 13 November 1918: "It takes the Americans to show these slow British (slow acting and thinking) how to real[l]y do things. I would not be at home while all of this is going on for any thing in the world. At Cherbourg, France, I was talking with an Englishman with three years at the Front to his credit. He said—`And we were being driven back steadily when we heard a dull roaring sound. There were Americans yelling and going on like they were going to a bloody picnic instead of into a stream of German machine gun bullets. They came in trucks by the thousands and turned "Jerry" the other way.' There is no stopping us now and unless the Germans sign our terms quickly we will march thru Berlin by New Year's Eve."

Shortly thereafter, 20 November 1918, Gaillard wrote: "Peace has sure changed things over here. The night we heard the news the whole place had a celebration. While we expected it in a way—it kind of put us up in the air for a short time." Still in France on 19 January [19]19 and uncertain when he would be going home, Gaillard quipped: "We have a phonograph that is pretty much the worse to wear but still plays. There were fifty of the best records out at Colt. We now have only seven pieces left and six of them are hymns. The seventh is Marching Thru Georgia. They refuse to play any of the hymns and I can now sing Marching Thru Georgia in my sleep."

By May 1919, Gaillard was back in the United States. Writing from Camp Stewart, Va., on the fourth he reported that he had landed at Newport News after sailing from Bordeaux on Easter Thursday aboard the U.S.S. Transport Susquehanna. Gaillard hoped to be mustered out at Camp Jackson. A second letter of the same date, however, indicates that he was being sent to Camp Meade for discharge there.

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