Craig Allen’s grandfather: “Hell, Heaven or Hoboken by Christmas”
World War I...the war to end all wars...ended 100 years ago today.
My sister Cindy, and I, rang a bell at 11:11 this morning to commemorate the moment.
We have a family connection to this Veteran's Day in particular.
My grandfather, William Paul (all his life, he was Paul) served on a troop ship in the "Great War." Multiple times, this young Wisconsin farm boy crossed the dangerous Atlantic, from Hoboken to Brest France, and back again.
As I was growing up, Grandpa's stories fascinated me...and I think of him, and all Veterans today.
I'll share a few memories that he wrote in letters that he sent to his parents...and from the autobiography that we asked him to write.
In the spring of 1918, Grandpa Paul was in his second year at Junior College, and "the war in Europe was in progress...I thought of joining and finally Dad...signed the papers and I was accepted."
On May 18, 1918, he was sworn into the Navy.
Later, on Ellis Island, "the Chief Petty Officer went down the line (of recruits) counting, and struck his hand down my right side and stated: All of you to the U.S.S San Diego Cruiser. Then, he counted further and said: All of you to the left to the U.S.S Harrisburg."
Grandpa Paul continues: "Later in the war, the San Diego was sunk."
In other words, since my Grandfather was assigned to the Harrisburg, 3 generations of my family exist.
From his autobiography:
"November 5th or 6th, we left Brest France, and...it was 'Hell, Heaven or Hoboken' by Christmas! (The Harrisburg's home port was Hoboken).
This time we were not convoyed out, and were entirely on our own. Of course, on the gun crew, we were standing 4 hours on and 4 hours off, and sleeping in our clothes.
We were in the middle of the Atlantic in a heavy storm, pitching and tossing.
I was off watch, in my bunk, trying to sleep 8 to 12, when there was an awful noise in the mess hall just below our quarters.
Pans falling and men hollering, etc.
One of my crew grumbled: 'I wish those blankety blank mess cooks would learn to hold onto their pans!'
About 15 minutes later, a boswain stuck his head into our quarters, and yelled: 'The war is over, boys!'
Another member of the gun crew threw a shoe at him and said: 'Get the hell out of here, we want to sleep!'
As we say in Jersey, you can't make this stuff up!
From a letter home:
Saturday (November 9, 1918):
"It's getting rough again, and I look for another storm as she (the Harrisburg) is taking heavy sprays now.
We have received wireless saying that 5 of Germany's biggest men are to meet men of the Allies in conference, to talk peace.
And, that along the whole Western front, firing was to cease one hour, 12 to 1, to let them thru.
Also, news that crew on several big German warships had mutinied, and refused to sail.
If this keeps on, it will not be long until we have peace."
Monday (November 11, 1918):
"This afternoon, we received the news over the wireless that Germany had signed Armistice, and hostilities had ceased at 11:30 this morning.
There was lots of cheering when this was announced on the ship.
I only hope it is so, and that peace is really declared, and have this thing over."
Grandpa ended this letter to his folks: "With love to all, your sailor boy, Paul"
When the U.S.S Harrisburg reached the New York/Hoboken harbor:
"Boy, what a welcome we received! The river was full of boats, yachts, fire boats and even launches in rowboats. The weather was beautiful. Bells were ringing, whistles blowing, and people on the docks waving.
How we got up that river, I don't know, but we did."
Immediately after Armistice, the U.S.S Harrisburg spent some time in dry dock in Hoboken, before being sent on a few more trips back and forth to Europe.
My Grandfather was aboard until being paid off in late April 1919:
"I had been ashore, written a letter home that we were shoving off in the morning...for Paris.
When I came aboard at about 11pm, they were looking for me. I was told that I was being paid off in the morning."
After receiving money to get home, and an Honorable Discharge:
"When I stepped onto the (Hoboken) pier, that gang plank was pulled in.
I sat on the pier, and watched my ship leave the pier, and head down the river.
I had a feeling of loss and regret that I was not aboard; that my home was now gone, and I had to start a new life."
And, what a life!
Grandpa Paul went back to Wisconsin, and finished his college education, where he met and married my grandmother. They were happily married for 63 years, until her passing.
He taught high school history and social studies...and was much loved by his students.
Paul and Hazel had 2 sons, the second, my father.
I am the oldest of 4 grandchildren.
Paul's 2 great grandchildren (he knew that he was going to be a great grandfather) were born just after his passing...at age 102, in 2001.
Thank you for your service, Grandpa.
I love you.