GROVE, Okla. – A Delaware County historian recently discovered a 105-year-old handwritten letter by a Grove soldier to his dad detailing his fears, appreciation for his hometown and his thankfulness to God after several battle skirmishes.
The letter dated Sept. 29, 1918, from Claude Hanna to his father, foretold of a life saved from German bullets during World War I and a debt he felt he owed God for sparing his life on a French battlefield, said Aaron Kidd, of Grove.
Kidd spends hours poring over yellowed newspapers and dusty microfilm. Often his research on historical events is used by city leaders.
During a recent dive into historical records, Kidd discovered Hanna’s letter in a collection of newspaper clippings.
“France, Sept. 29, 1918.
Mr. W. Hanna,
I will now write you a few lines to let you know I am still among the living. ‘Thank the Lord.’
I have just come back from the firing line where I have been in the big drive.
“The “big drive” he refers to was the battle of Saint-Mihiel, fought September 12 to 15, 1918, in northern France,” Kidd said. “It was the first large offensive the United States participated in and resulted in a victory for the Allies.”
We sure have been dealing the Germans some misery. I have been in the drive 15 days. We captured and killed many a German in that time. Of course they got some of our men but nothing like we got of them. The Lord saw fit to bring me through above with only two or three slight wounds which I never even stopped for any longer than time to get up and go on when I would get knocked down which was quite often when they would be shooting big shells at us.
I don’t know of any one that you know who was killed except John Qualate, he was killed the first day of the drive.
I haven’t seen Houston Mosby since I came. Easley Brewer is missing. I think he is wounded. I have never seen Clarence Caudill or any of those boys who came before we did. Bert Davidson, an Indian, is in our Co. He is a good soldier. There are lots of full blood Indians in the drive and it was interesting to see those full bloods coming back driving eight or ten German prisoners that they had captured. They sure were proud Indians.
I am back here now going to go to school a few weeks. It is sure a blessing to me too to get back here where I can rest and not be shot at every minute.
I guess you will be worrying about a letter from me but father dear I just haven’t had the opportunity to write while at the front.
I got a bunch of letters from home while was up there that sure did cheer me up. Three from you all, two from Alta and eight from Florence, all in one day. I sure did enjoy reading them although I had to get down in a dugout to read them on account of German shells falling around.
Well daddy I will close but I will write often from now on. It is through the mercy of God that I have this opportunity of writing to you again. I know that the prayers of folks at home brought me through again. I feel that I owe the Lord my life and I am going to try to live for him.
Your loving son,
Corpl. Claude Hanna,
M. G. Co. 358 Inf. AEF
Tell all hello. I will write to the kids tomorrow.”
John Qualate, of Grove, was killed September 12, 1918, Kidd said.
Kidd’s research unfolded Hanna’s own words about Sept. 19, 1917, the day before 91 Delaware County men, including Delaware County Prosecutor W. W. Miller and Deputy County Clerk Grady Teel answered their draft notice.
The community was sending their sons to fight in a war they only knew through radio broadcasts and a sporadic newspaper account. So they honored their sons with a parade and a barbecue and chicken feast in honor of the hometown soldiers.
“It was attended by 2,000 people,” Kidd said. “That was almost double the population of Grove in 1917.”
The festivities included a parade by the Fairland Band and Grove Public School students carrying hundreds of flags as they marched through the crowded streets.
“…ninety boys from this county were the best looking, well made, fine appearing fellows of steady nerve and good cheer that we ever saw march in a parade,” Kidd said referring to the Sept. 1917, Grove Sun story about the parade.
There were speeches followed by dinner.
“Reportedly there were 200 chickens served, 700 loaves of bread, 40 gallons of coffee, a hundred or more pies and pickles and 1,000 pounds of beef,” Kidd said.
Kidd found a 1966 Grove Sun story of Hanna reminiscing about that day.
“I wonder how many of you old 90th Division boys of World War I remember what took place in Grove forty-nine years ago, Monday, September 19, 1917. I don’t remember everything that happened, but I remember that we built a huge bonfire right in the middle of Third Street at midnight and that not many of us slept any all that night. That was the day we responded to our ‘Greetings from the President of the United States ‘ and answered our draft call for service in the army. We paraded up and down the streets of Grove and were applauded by our neighbors and friends. I believe the old flag that we carried Is still in the archives of the local Legion post. Those were the days before anyone had ever thought of burning his draft card; in fact, I still have my 1917 draft card. It is Number 19.
Born in Indian Territory in 1894, Hanna, boarded a ship for France in May 1918. He held the rank of corporal and was assigned to a machine gun company with the 358th infantry regiment, of the 90th Division, of the American Expeditionary Forces.
Hanna would return from the fighting fields in France and become an education pioneer, serving as Delaware County School Superintendent of Schools and also serving the community as its postmaster.
His folksy, humorous and sentimental memoirs and antidotes made him a perfect news columnist, penning 300 columns in his retirement years. His newspaper columns formed a memoir published in 1976.
The book, Claude Hanna Retraces Memory’s Road, is available on Amazon in used condition for around $75.