"Over There and Back"

The George C. Marshall Foundation

The Diary of Homer E. Simpson as Kept During the Great War

April 1918 notice to Simpson that he is qualified for military service.

The first entry is dated May 22, 1918. "I received my notice to report to Local Board in Covington at 4 PM next day."  The last entry is dated June 26, 1919: "Was discharged."

Private Simpson's diary was kept inside his helmet above the mesh helmet liner.

"Received my call to report to Covington, Virginia... Took train for Camp Mills, New York... I was assigned to Company I, 323 Infantry of the 81st (Wildcat) Division."

81st Infantry Division - Wildcat Creek, a tiny stream that flows through Fort Jackson , South Carolina, inspired the first shoulder patch to be worn by a division in the United States Army.

The patch caused much comment by men of other divisions, and they questioned the right of the Doughboys of the 81st to distinguish themselves. The matter was finally brought to the attention of General John J. Pershing, and after an investigation ruled that the Wildcat Division could keep its patch and suggested that all other units adopt distinctive insignia.

Private Simpson's Brigade.

"In sight of 'over there.' We disembarked at Liverpool, England just about noon."

" ... tied up at the wharf at La Havre, France... Loaded up on our first French troop train. The cars are labeled 8 chevaux on 40 hommes."

"First call for trenches after six months training for the job. We don't know where we are going but we are on our way."

Private Simpson's mess kit.

"Started hiking at 5:00 P.M... Arrived at Eteval about break of day... We were so worn out that we just fell down and went to sleep without rolling our packs."

" ... took over ... the front line of trenches from the French... I took over for a Frenchman... He appeared very glad to see me. Maybe he had had enough of this war."

"This is what is termed a quiet sector. Very little going on... Sniper shots follow the movement of a helmet occupied or not."

"For safety's sake, we must shave daily for the gas mask must fit snugly to the skin to keep out the gas."

Simpson's  gas mask.

"We were relieved this morning ... fifteen days in the trenches. Hell can surely be no worse and General Sherman knew nothing of this kind of war."

"Went 39 kilo[meter]s to La Chatel... We were told that we were heading for Italy, but my map points to Verdun."

"Hiked on to within 6 miles of Verdun... We form the third line of the north east defense of Verdun."

Lighter with Verdun inscription.

"...we can watch the progress of the Argonne Meuse drive... Several outfits were caught by artillery barrages. We could see "L" company plainly as it was caught in one. ... a fourth of them disappeared and soon a steady stream of wounded were moving to the rear."

"Alone with my thoughts. How long can a man listen to the sounds of a battle field and not go crazy?... This must be a night mare, it couldn't be true."

Nov. 11. "At 10:30 Major Willis came by and said 'Boys, keep you heads down, it will all be over in half and hour.'" 

Simpson Collection Armistice Graphic.

"Two days ago we were a hardened mechanical group ... Nothing mattered except a horror of lying wounded on a battlefield. We gave no thought to the future... To go on or stop where I was would have made no difference." 

"Hiked... to Sandruft. Here we were in regular French barracks. Another luxury back into our lives for we were able to get plenty of beer here."

Private Simpson's safety matches and metal container - they still work!

"Our whole regiment is together for the first time since before the Armistice. But they are not all here. Some are under the dirt back there and some are in hospitals."

"Hiked... to Grancey Sur Ource ...  the boys have been leaving their bloody footprints behind them as the soles of some are worn through... Well, our forefathers did the same with Washington at Valley Forge so we can take it!"

Private Simpson's pocket knife and extra munitions.

"The let down has come and we are feeling the effects of it... A terrible nightmare that we are trying to erase from our minds."

"A red letter day. On our way for a furlough in Gay Paree."

" ... checked in at the Hotel St. Anne. From there to the Hotel Pavillon where I was assigned the best accommodations that I have seen since leaving the dear old U.S. A."

"The General told us that we would be going home in two weeks time."

"Off at 10 A.M. The long looked for day and we are losing sight of the shore. It is a strange feeling for we realize that France will always be a part of us."

U.S.S. Walter A. Luckenbeck. The ship that returned Private Simpson and his unit to the United States on June 15, 1918.

"I received my honorable discharge. I am glad that it shows nothing beyond the fact that I have been just an average private in a great group of American citizens."

Private Simpson's Honorable Discharge from the United States Army.

Enlistment record with approval for Victory Medal with Meuse-Argonne and Defensive Sector clasps.

Private Simpson's World War 1 Victory Medal with Meuse-Argonne and Defensive Sector clasps.

Homer E. Simpson - "An average private in a great group of American citizens."

Credits: Story

Curator — Paul B. Barron, Director of Library and Archives
Curator — Jeffrey  Kozak, Assistant Librarian and Archivist
Curator — Cara Cook Sonnier, Digital Content Librarian

Credits: All media
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