Joe Gargan's WWI Letter

Feb 03, 2015

While looking for information about Joe Gargan (third-string QB in 1913)...

...I came across this letter that he sent back to Notre Dame, near the end of WWI.  I thought you might find it of interest.

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In the SCHOLASTIC, June 8, 1918

Rev. Wm. A. Moloney, C. S. C.

Notre Dame, Indiana

Dear Father:

As Brother Cyprian would say, "Your letter of March 8, at hand, and contents carefully noted." I was very glad to receive the letter and also the SCHOLASTIC, for which I am indeed grateful to you. I was surprised to see the letter that I had written to you in the SCHOLASTIC, as I thought I had marked it "not for publication". But of course it doesn't make any difference, except that I do not want to be classed among the scribes that are "belly-aching".  In case you be in doubt as to whether or not I am in a Reserve Officers' Training Camp, "kicking" because I am only getting my week-ends off, I am enclosing a report which I think will remove any doubt as to my whereabouts.

I have been volunteering for all the dangerous jobs, and it is getting so lately that the Major details me for every mean task that comes up. The other night I was sent out on patrol—the fifth time since I have been here. Before we started, we split the patrol, and I was sent to the spot where it was thought the Boches were to be found. Let me assure you at once that they had made no mistake. I had in my detail six Americans and six Frenchmen.

By way of explanation, let me say that it has rained every day and night since we have been here, and at times it is impossible to distinguish anything in the darkness. The trenches are filled with mud up to our knees and we have running water in all the dugouts. But to return to my story—we crawled out well beyond our wire, out into "No Man's Land."  We had no more than reached our position when we heard noises which  seemed to come from a point about fifteen yards ahead of us. Neither force could see the other; but the enemy heard us, and immediately started to run, at top speed. Nothing could have surprised me more than this action on their part, for it was entirely unexpected. Then a flare rocket went up from our side and in its light we dropped four of them.

A word about a flare rocket: it is employed by the enemy as well as by ourselves, and is sent up directly over "No Man's Land." It has the effect of a stage spotlight when it breaks over "No Man's Land" one has to "dig" for a shell-hole. I was not kept wondering long why the Germans had taken to their heels. Not more than four minutes after our encounter with them, eight of their batteries, consisting of four guns each and ranging from 77 to 210 (this was the report of our observers), opened fire on us. In addition to this, we were subjected to a heavy machine gun attack, and through it all "No Man's Land", was ablaze with the light of the flare-rockets. The shells fell in torrents in front of us and around us. If you have ever seen rats go for their holes, you have some idea of how we fled as one man for. the shell holes; mud and slimy green water had no terrors for us when we heard the "ping" of the shells and fell: the spatter of mud in our faces as we dug into the earth.

When the flare of the rockets had died out of the sky, it was up and forward to another shell-hole, gambling with death in an effort to reach the more advanced position. Such were our tactics until we were satisfactorily settled. When the Huns could no longer detect any movement they thought that our party had been wiped out and they "piped" down. Then slowly, one by one, we made our way back, and when we counted noses we found that we had lost but one.

The enclosed report accounts for him. How we were not all killed God only knows, and it was most surely by His grace that we were saved. Father, what a man experiences and suffers in a night in "No Man's Land" is beyond the grasp of the human mind; the horror of it all is altogether beyond the reach of the imagination. It rnakes even the bravest nervous to be "strafed" in such a manner. 

Each of the four Germans whom we knocked off carried a pistol, a dagger nine inches long, and a pair of wire cutters, and each wore rubber trousers. In fact, all their patrols and raiding parties, as we afterwards discovered, wear these rubber trousers. We captured eight of them in a raid two nights after our adventure and were told by the captives that on the night I have just described it was their intention to raid us. We were able to take these prisoners because we knew when and where they were coming through. This made our work easy.  

Yesterday a "Boche" came over and gave himself up. He said he was sick of it all and that he did not care what happened to him. He told us, too, that this was the general feeling. He was an engineer and apparently a very bright chap. All of them that I have seen so far have been young fellows. Believe me, Father, it is true that they are all "fed-up" on war, and it will not be long until even the Kaiser will have a bad taste in his mouth. While I last I am going to stay right in the thick of it. True they may knock me off; but, as I have said before, "what harm?"

One of the worst things with which we have to contend in the trenches are the rats—thousands of them running in all directions and squealing frightfully. As a matter of fact the dugouts are nothing more than rat-holes. When all is said and "done. Father, I must allow, as a Hoosier from downstate would say, that I long to be back again where I could go in and bounce a big nickel off the plate glass at "Hullies and Mike's", and, if there was a crowd around, ask for "Naturals" and have them slip me a pack of "Favorites."

Back there I could sleep in the morning until about nine, and then stroll in and have a conference with my two good old friends. Sister Lourdes and Sister Assumption, and have them, out of their goodness of heart, prepare for me a breakfast fit for a king. Anyhow, hasn't it been said that the Gargans were kings in Ireland? I disremember just whether it was "Whiff" Dolan or the "Merchant of Venice" that said so.

Well, Father; here's hoping that the war may soon be over and that we may all be together again. Give my regards to all my friends. With a sincere wish that this letter may find you in good health, I remain Your sincere friend,

Joe Gargan


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