a last letter home
(originally posted Memorial Day 2020)
On Sept. 11, 1918, Sgt. David Ker, a Columbia University student who had dropped out of college to fight in World War I, sent a letter to his mother the day before the attack on Saint-Mihiel in France. Ker wanted his mother, his sister (Elizabeth) and his fiancée (Mary) to keep their spirits up, no matter the outcome.
11 September 1918
Tomorrow the first totally American drive commences, and it gives me inexpressible joy and pride to know that I shall be present to do my share. The plan of attack has been carefully worked out, and every precaution taken to ensure the success of the big undertaking. I have just returned from a visit to some of the troops, who are to make the attack, and I am so proud to be a member of an army such as ours, that I am at a loss to express what I feel.
The rugged and heavily wooded character of the country makes the task which we face extremely difficult, and the losses are almost certain to be considerable. Success, however, will mean so much that almost any price would be cheap to pay for it. Should I go under, therefore, I want you to know that I went without any terror of death, and that my chief worry is the grief my death will bring to those so dear to me.
Since having found myself and Mary, there has been much to make life sweet and glorious, but death, while distasteful, is in no way terrible.
I feel wonderfully strong to do my share well, and, for my sake, you must try to drown your sorrow in the pride and satisfaction, the knowledge that I died well in so clean a cause, as is ours, should bring you. Remember how proud I have always been of your superb pluck, keep Elizabeth’s future in mind, and don’t permit my death to bow your head.
My personal belongings will all be sent to you. Your good taste will tell you which to send to Mary.
May God bless and keep you, dear heart, and be kind to little Elizabeth, and those others I love so well.
The Americans broke through the German lines but suffered 7,000 casualties in the three-day offensive. Twenty-year-old David Ker was among the dead. He was the observer in a plane flown by Lt. Harry S Aldrich which was shot down by five German planes as it crossed allied lines and crashed in flames after the gas tank exploded. Lt. Aldrich miraculously survived.
I sincerely hope you’ll take a moment today to remember all the brave military personnel who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.
In 1868, Gen. John Logan declared the day for “the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”