State Historic Site
THE SON OF a Virginia-born farmer, Frank Worley Colson was born in Sheridan in 1895. Before the war, he worked as a motorman on the Sheridan Railway Company's trolley cars. He was drafted into the Army in November 1917.
Colson was a gunner for the 59th Infantry; he later transferred to the 148th Field Artillery. He once said that he had "handled nearly every kind of gun there is," but spent much of his time with an automatic machine gun squad.
After the war, Colson came back to Sheridan and his job on the streetcars. He later moved to Charleston, South Carolina, and Chicago, Illinois; he worked the streetcars in both locales.
This undated letter, published in The Sheridan Daily Enterprise on August 13, 1918, is one of several lengthy, articulate letters that Colson sent home from the front.
(From "In the World War")
There was an air raid over our billets last night. Imagine yourself sleeping soundly in your tent when all at once you hear the air raid warning given. You jump out of bed and rush out and hear the hum of dozens of airplane motors. At once you realize that it is the sound of the enemy's planes, for they have an exhaust to their motors that is very thrilling in sound and unlike any other airplane motor except one other which I have heard only the last couple of days and which I shall speak about later in my letter. Well, you instantly realize that death is riding in the winds above you, but still it is so inspiring that you do not feel afraid. All at once a half dozen powerful searchlights flare out, shooting backward and forward across the clear night sky, then an anti-aircraft battery opens up, first at one point and then another until it is one continual thunder of guns. Then down comes our first bomb. Well, talk about noise; it is simply deafening and ear-splitting. You feel a powerful rush of air about you - that is, if it falls quite a distance away, say three-quarters or half a mile - the earth shakes as if being rocked by an earthquake. After this continues half an hour or so, along comes another relay of raiders who relieve the first squadron. Perhaps this continues for a couple of hours or more before "Jerry" finally decides his night's work at that point is done.
By the way, I am writing this on a log out in the timber, away from camp, and I can look out towards the trench and see the German shrapnel bursting a mile high around a couple of our planes. Shrapnel is a timed explosive which is judged to explode at a certain distance. It is fired at a plane and is timed so it will explode at a point nearest the enemy. When it first breaks, it looks like a huge football and it finally turns white (the smoke). But it hangs for a long period over where it bursts. Sometimes you can see the Allies throwing a complete barrage of shrapnel around a daylight raider until you think, well, he is simply doomed, but finally you can see him tearing away at full speed high above the clouds.
That other motor I told you I would mention later is the celebrated American Liberty motor which up until the last few days I never heard before, but the last couple of days the air has simply been full of them. So high in the air that you can't see them with the naked eye, they make a musical but death-defying sound and they are enough to make any old German's knees quake. It sure makes me feel good to hear an airplane that sounds like it is more than the equal of "Jerrys."
Airplanes here are more common than Ford cars at home. I can tell now when I hear a plane go over just what country it represents.
I doubt very much if this ever gets by the censor, but I know they sometimes allow it to pass out, but until I hear from you again and learn as to whether it did or not, I won't try to write any more about some of the other exciting but interesting incidents that have and are happening daily. I will have a record of them all when I return home so as I can give you all some interesting details of life in "No Man's Land," where the air and earth are covered with shells, bombs and grenades bursting, cracking continually worse than any trick storm that you could even imagine. For it sometimes feels like hell itself is let loose.
Of course, one reads accounts in the papers of it, and one tries to imagine how it feels to actually be under shell fire, but no one could ever do it without going through the actual experience itself. I haven't had such an awful lot of that stuff so far, for a soldier anyway, but I have seen enough to make a few of those brave old home guard hot-air peddlers take cover!
Every night, especially about 1 a.m., the exchange of artillery opens up. One of our big guns first speaks, then another. Then a little later a German gun answers back. First a red flare flashes high and wide, then an instant later the report of the gun, then a second or two later you can hear it explode at its objective point. Then it's just like a couple of all-night tomcats fighting. Back and forth all night it continues.