Letters home: Alfred Evon’s Great War letters
By Rosemary Michelin
Special to the Journal
As the Marquette Regional History Center celebrates our 100th anniversary, we remember other events that occurred 100 years ago including the end of the Great War.
Like many young men, Alfred Evon registered for the draft in June 1917 after the United States entered the war in Europe. When the “Order of Induction into Military Service” letter arrived from the US War Department the following spring, Evon was ordered to report on April 1, 1918 for immediate service with the American Expeditionary Forces, with little time to get his affairs in order.
Alfred Evon was born in Marquette in 1892 to Philip and Exilda Evon, both immigrants from French Canada. When the war began Alfred’s parents were both deceased and he was working at various jobs, one as a confectioner and another as assistant at Crary Printing Company. Alfred had been dating a nice Italian girl from Negaunee, Margarette Amonino, for several years. He was devoted to her and wrote to her daily during his military service. Those letters are now stored at the Longyear Research Library.
Alfred Evon was inducted into Company D, 114th Infantry, 29th Division and shipped to Camp Custer, Michigan. He soon transferred to Camp McClellan in Anniston, Alabama. He wrote to Margarette about camp life. “This is the end of the world. It takes a strong man to pull through this life in this place. At first, I almost lost all courage, but I may as well make the best of it.” He described the hardship of sleeping outside in a tent, no latrine, little rations, marching in the fields all day and shooting practice at 3 a.m. He continued to write, “Yesterday I left camp and went in the trenches from 6am until late at night and nothing to eat. I just now got a minute to myself…I should clean my gun, fix up my pack sack, but will send you this letter. If I am put in the guard houses, so there!” These exercises and training were part of the regimen to toughen up a soldier for action on the French battlefields.
Evon missed his friends and especially Margarette. He regretted not marrying her before he left and suggested they marry in Alabama. He wrote, “Just come as you are. I may wire any minute so be ready, will you?” Margarette accepted, took the train and on June 3rd the couple married. Alfred managed to borrow a clean jacket but was only given a few hours of leave. By June 7, he wrote again to Margarette, “Dear Sweetheart Wife, So you are riding towards home (Negaunee) right now, eh? We are both riding fast but in different directions… Lots of love, your lover and husband Fred.”
Company D traveled through Georgia and Tennessee with a destination of Camp Stuart, Newport News, Virginia. In the next letter, “Dear wife, we are quarantined here and I am so hungry I could eat the hind end of a skunk. They are starving us! We got here at 5am this morning and not a thing to eat until 5pm and then it was 2 tablespoons of dried up potatoes, one slice of bread and half a cup of coffee…”
The next day Evon described the harbor, filled with boats, some camouflaged to look like ocean waves. Airplanes from the nearby aerial camp filled the skies at all hours of the day. Evon’s company sailed for France on June 14th. Many of the soldiers suffered sea sickness on the 2-week journey. On June 28 he wrote to his wife, “…After we were 2 days on the ocean from the U.S. shores, we had some excitement. Torpedo boats were seen. Our convoys blew whistles of distress and we were all prepared with life-savers. Then the shooting began-WOW! I guess we got the enemy. Anyhow we were not bothered again until about 300 miles from France…We landed north of Brest at St. Nazaire.”
By mid-July Evon was worried because he still had not received a letter from his wife. Soldiers counted on letters from home to boost their spirits, yet many moved so frequently that mail never reached them. Evon wrote that the French people were very nice and even invited them to pick dark cherries from their orchards, as they had no sugar and way to preserve the fruit. The old folks made wine very much like the Italian wine Margarette’s family made.
In August, Alfred wrote to his friend Toney, “France may be alright but the good old USA appeals to me better, especially a certain little town and a certain little girl in a house on Park Street. Toney, I would hate like h___ to go back before this ‘big game’ is over…It’s ‘down mitt the Kaiser’, that’s what we are after and we’ll get him sure and soon!”
That fall, Alfred Evon’s division was occupying a sector in the Alsace trenches. The 29th (the blue and grey) Division was transferred to the Argonne Woods in October where many bloody battles were fought.
Back home in Negaunee, Mrs. Margarette Evon received a telegram stating that Alfred Evon was missing in action since October 20th. What became of her husband? Did Alfred survive, did they get a proper honeymoon or start a family?
Find out more about what happened to Alfred and other local servicemen like Abraham Fleury, who was mistakenly reported killed in action; Sylvester Griffin, a firebug who enlisted to avoid jail; and William Gray, who was later well known as “Happy the Clown,” at the Marquette Regional History Center’s 13th annual cemetery walk.
WWI Remembered is at Holy Cross Cemetery with two tours offered May 29 at 1 p.m. and May 31 at 6 p.m. For more information visit marquettehistory.org or call 906-226-3571.