FAMILY TREASURES: Vicksburg resident has personal letters, items from WWI relative

Published 7:24 pm Saturday, November 10, 2018

Thanks to her aunt, Marie Lust, Vicksburg resident Mary Holman has a personal link to World War I.

“Aunt Ree was my father’s sister,” Holman said. “She kept just about everything. She had newspapers from 1891 and had a newspaper from President (William) McKinley’s death.”

Everything, she said, was kept in a trunk she inherited from her aunt. And the treasure trove of history yielded more than just newspapers.

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It included her uncle David Christopher Lust’s World War I dog tags, mess kit and gas mask, a copy of the Decatur, Illinois, Herald with the headline, “Armistice Terms Signed,” and his perfectly preserved uniform carefully folded.

“It looks like it’s never been worn,” Holman said as she held up the coat. “The only thing that looks bad is his cap.”

But an even greater treasure are the letters her uncle wrote to his mother and brother while he was overseas.

Letters tell his life

By the time the armistice was signed Nov. 11, 1918, four million men were serving in the United States Army, and Pvt. David Christopher Lust of Hammond, Illinois, who enlisted in the U.S. Army on Sept. 20, 1917, was one of the doughboys who crossed the Atlantic and fought in France as a member of the 58th Machine Gun Battalion.

None of his letters, however, discuss battles Lust was in, although he does mention he was wounded in one, and many envelops bear a piece of tape along its edge — a sign the letter had been read by a censor, and some of his letters bear the signatures of the officers who cleared them.

The letters contain a look at his experiences while serving in the “War to End all Wars,” and a list of complaints like a February 1918 letter discussing his inability to leave camp in Little Rock, Arkansas, and go to town because the camp was quarantined for mumps.

There are the common soldier’s complaints that “The food haint no good,” and poor mail service. In a letter to his brother, Lust writes he had not received mail “for a long time, but expect some more anytime as I send for my mail about 10 days ago.”

Another time, he tells his mother, “I have not (got) the rest of my mail. I expect it is laying someplace. But I expect I will get all of my old mail now some day.”

Lust, who had some of his military pay sent to his mother, asks on several occasions, “Have you been getting the money from the government?” And writes about receiving $7.50 on payday in Europe.

Lust and his unit left for France in May 1918. In a June 6 letter after arriving in England he wrote his mother, about the four-week trip.

“We got out about 2 days and had to turn back on account of poor coal and could not keep steam up. We went (to) Halifax (Nova Scotia) and was there about a week. We were attacked once by submarine. They claim that they sank 3 on our trip coming over.”

As he would do in many letters, he asks his mother to send money “and cigarettes as we can’t buy any good ones hear (sic) and I am out. Better send a little candy.

“The meals were not very good on the ship,” he wrote, “But we could buy candy and other stuff on the ship. We could even buy our meals if we want to. I bought a good many meal that is why I have not got no money.”

In a letter to his brother dated Oct. 4, Lust asks about the weather and about the family farm.

“Are you going to start shucking corn and how is the corn? Have you got anyone to help yet? What is the price of corn now?”

He also asks about the family Ford, wondering how many miles his brother drove it and “have you done anything to the old car yet?” “He was a car nut,” Holman said.

Lust also discusses a camp where he’s stationed in France.

“We have not got no YMCA yet, but we will get one before long as this is just a new camp and have not got it done yet,” he wrote. “There is just our company of 84 men and 450 German prisoners here now. I do not know if there will be any more company or any more prisoners come at this place or not.”

He also asks for $10, “As we don’t know when we will get paid.”

“I got one letter yesterday,” Lust wrote his mother Nov. 7. “It was from you. It was wrote on Aug. 21 and had two dollars in it.”

He also asks about some men from Hammond who were in the Army, adding he learned one man had been wounded.

Written four days before Germany surrendered, Lust wrote, “It looks as though the war was a going to be over before very long now as Austria has got peace. And I don’t think Germany can last very much longer. I hope not, anyway.”

He also expressed frustration he can’t get an American newspaper, “But we can get a French paper and we have several men who can read a French paper and then we get all of the news.”

“I expect they are starting discharging soldiers,” he wrote his brother on Nov. 21. “I don’t know when we will get to come back yet as we will have to turn these prisoners over first.”

Lust was discharged Feb. 15, 1919.

“He and my aunt would come visit us for two weeks every summer,” Holman said. “He loved milk shakes, and when he was here, we would go into town every once in a while and have a milk shake. He was a wonderful man.”

Holman said she is not sure what she wants to do with the collection, trying to determine whether to donate the items to a museum or keep them with her.

“There is so much here,” she said, “I’m not sure what to do. Maybe I’ll just keep them here so I can remember.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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