State Historic Site
BEFORE HE JOINED the Army in October 1917, McKinley H. Smith worked as a farmer in Big Horn (for William Moncreiffe) and as a coal miner in the northern Sheridan County community of Dietz. He was born in Robbins, Tennessee, in 1895, and lived on Lower Prairie Dog for a few years.
Once in the Army, Smith bounced around from unit to unit; both infantry and engineers enjoyed his company for a time.
After the war, Smith returned to work as a miner. After a year or so in the Sheridan mines, he moved to the tiny mining town of Megeath, Wyoming - in the southern part of the state - where he died of tuberculosis in March of 1922. He is buried in Rock Springs.
His letters from Europe, written as a member of the Army of Occupation after the armistice was signed, were published in The Sheridan Daily Enterprise. The first was written in December 1918.
I have been in France for a year now and have seemingly neglected to write to many who are very dear friends of mine. I also have written to a great many who have not answered my letters, but as the mail service is rushed over here, they might have never reached their destination.
I also wish to correct several reports which have depicted me dead, wounded, gassed, prisoner of war and what not. None of which are true, for I am as well and healthy as I was when I left Sheridan, if not more so. My capacity for demolishing army "chow" has increased considerably.
Though I have been in the zone of action ever since I came to France, I have suffered no injury as yet. I have spent most of my time with the 163rd, 164th infantry and 107th engineers. I am now with the army schools at Langus.
Smith's next letter, written in January 1919, is a bit more sarcastic - quite a cynical look at army life.
It seems that along about the time the armistice was signed that everyone stopped writing, perhaps thinking that us fellows are coming home in a few weeks, but such is not going to happen just yet, and it will be more than a year yet before all of the A. E. F. are again safely back in the good old U. S. A. So you see that there is still lots of time to write. I have received about six letters in the last three months. Comparing this with the former months, my correspondence has decreased about 65 percent. It seems that I write about four or five times as many letters as I receive. What is the matter? Have the folks at home forgotten us now that we have won the war and are not needed any more?
The subject of the weather is worn thread-bare, but there is a little story which you may have heard which exactly illustrates our experiences at the present time.One of our soldiers was plowing along down the main road last week when he saw a short pole sticking out of the mud. Upon investigation he found it was a rifle, and digging down, reached a cavalryman, who remarked shortly but pointedly that the mud was rather annoying and asked that the horse beneath him be extricated, and it was then seen that the horse was standing on a load of hay, cheerfully munching away.
Life in our camp is a constant round of pleasure and luxurious ease. In the morning, one arises about 5:30, slips into wet boots and swims out to reveille, then we merely have to wash for breakfast which is a quarter inch of bacon (burned), oatmeal or mush (cornmeal soaked in water and without sugar), washed down with a fluid falsely called coffee. We have a slight suspicion that it is made of burnt beans and o. d. pills [laxatives]. The fare is sometimes changed by the substitution of thick slabs of a strange compound which reminds me of rubber boots and bitulithic pavement. These are called "flapjacks," because they flap only after being swallowed. The men then prance gaily out to the fatigue call, singing happily and praising their officers in various words and odd phrases which I dare not mention at the present. After luncheon has been served and the "silver and the linen" put away, another dashing bout with the pick and shovel. I take my pick which keeps the dull care away until 5 p.m., and then we return and "dress" for dinner.
It's a great (?) life and we will never forget it after the war. When we return to bathtubs and Pullman sleepers and clothes that fit, it will be [with] a spirit of regret and fond memories of A. P. O. No. 714 and its invincible troops.
(From "In the World War")