Sally Bard’s World War I Letters

Letters, a journal and more that tell the story of Carl "Sally" Bard in World War I. (Image by Chris Flanery, NET Television)
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December 25, 2018 - 8:00am

Forty-eight thousand Nebraskans fought in World War I. One was a farm boy from northeast Nebraska. Century-old letters and a journal tell the story of this young soldier far away from home.

VIDEO: watch the story of "Sally" Bard HERE. It's part of the new season of NET Television's "Nebraska Stories"


(left to right) "Spide" Bard, Adelia Ring, "Sally" Bard, Mabel Ring. Two brothers, two sisters. Spide married Adelia, Sally married Mabel. (Courtesy photo)



PFC Carl "Sally" Bard (Image of courtesy photo by Chris Flanery, NET Television)


Mabel (Ring) Bard (Courtesy photo)


Mike Tobias of NET News and Barb Stout, granddaughter of Sally and Mabel, look through World War I letters (Image by Chris Flanery, NET Television)


Entries in Sally's World War I journal. On the left he writes: "I went deaf from the gun fire and was relieved." On the right he notes: Pulled the guns back from the front and were shelled while doing it."


One of the letters Sally wrote to Mabel from France during World War I. He writes about how long it takes to get letters, a train accident that killed French soldiers, painting guns and his desire to not talk about experiences "over here" because " the sooner I can forget about this war the better I'll like it."


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He signed his World War I enlistment record as Carl L. Bard. But everyone called him either Luther, his middle name, or more likely his nickname, “Sally.” Where that came from is a mystery, at least to Barb Stout. She lives on a farm south of Wakefield in northeast Nebraska, the same place Sally lived a century earlier.

“Grandpa always sat at the kitchen table with his hat on crooked and a cigarette hanging out the corner of his mouth,” Stout said. “He wasn't the most ambitious man in the world, but the guy that would do anything for you. Anything you wanted, if he had it, you could have it. It was a very sharing, very generous, kind of quiet. Not very outspoken.”

No surprise that Sally didn’t talk much about the war. But he wrote about it. A lot.

One morning Stout got out a box and spread its contents on her dining room table for us. Stacks of letters, a journal, documents, photos and other items easily covered the table. “There’s a lot of history on this table,” she said.

The letters, many written on YMCA stationary provided to soldiers, were a little tattered and sometimes it was a challenge to read the handwriting. “Most of it is letters that Sally and Mabel wrote back and forth to each other during World War I while he was gone. Some of them before he went overseas and some from France and different places he was, Germany.”

Mabel is Mabel Ring, the local girl Sally left behind when he enlisted in the Army in 1917. They wrote to each other, sometimes daily, although a big ocean and big war often delayed delivery, and a bunch of letters would arrive all at once. Each wrote pages about mundane topics like the weather, who was getting married and what was happening on the farm. They also wrote pretty openly about their social lives.

“I had the pleasure of being out with a real English girl while I was there,” one letter from Sally to Mabel said. “I just thought I would tell you, dear, things as you tell me when you are out with other fellows. They are pretty live girls, too. I had one good time, you bet."

“I can't really see my grandpa having a good time,” Stout said, laughing, after reading the letter out loud.

"I've been real good lately,” Mabel wrote. “I had to go with somebody and three others, you never would guess who. Well, it was Dave Como. We had some celebration here.”

“There was one the girls found the other day that she had written and that she says that she would wait for him because he was worried that she wasn't going to wait for him,” Stout said while looking through the letters. “Then there was one letter that said, ‘Yes, I'll wait for you.’ So that was like, ‘Oh, good, we knew that's how it came out, but we wanted to see where this story started.’"

Sally wrote of a midnight punishment march during stateside training because two other soldiers got drunk, getting called out for being unshaven at inspection, the pleasure of getting a box of candy from home, and renting a car for a trip to Monte Carlo before he came home from the war.

"Five of us hired a big car and took a trip down into Italy and then to Monte Carlo, and then we went through the big gambling rooms,” Sally wrote. “Talk about some trip. It couldn't be beat. It cost me a fine bit of money, but I believe it was worth it.”

But he also described more serious things. Letters cryptically originating from “somewhere in France” told of getting used to shells landing so close they shook an old house he was sleeping in. Sally wrote about digging a three foot wide hole in the mud for protection from those same shells, and of always having his gas mask ready.

It was everyday life as a private first class in the 119th Field Artillery.

“This is August 1st,” he wrote in one journal entry. “We went up with the horses and started with the guns until we got to Death Valley and that was about August 6th. The Germans made a stand here on a river. I quit driving and went to work on the first gun. Then the 10th, I went deaf from the gunfire and was relieved. The 11th, the Germans put a big barrage into Death Valley and killed many men and horses.”

Sally wrote of a week off after three months of action, then back to the front. “O'Neill, Johnston, Barber, Shoemaker, McQueen were killed. Several of the boys were injured and died later. Came out of action pretty well shot up.”

“This has made an old man of me in both looks and ways” Sally wrote at one point. It’s a reference to hair he was going to lose anyway, because that’s what happened to men in the Bard family. But read more and there’s another meaning.

“There's been a lot of times over here when I wished I had lived a little different life than I have,” he wrote.

Sally Bard came back to Wakefield to farm in April of 1919. The guy who ended his letters “As Always, Your Loving Luther” and carefully kept those Mabel sent overseas married his sweetheart a year later. “I first wonder when I am going to get any mail. It will soon be three months now since I had a letter and I claim that it's pretty long, don't you dear?” Sally wrote to Mabel while he was still in Europe. “I hope I get about a dozen from you when I finally get some again. I have the last three I got from you and I have read them until I almost know them by heart.

Sally kept wearing his hat tilted to one side, just like in old Army pictures. But he didn’t talk much about that time.

“For the sooner I can forget about this war, the better I will like it,” he said in one letter to Mabel in which he was telling her people would be “out of luck” if they expected him to “tell them about my experiences over here.”

Barb Stout is glad she found that “magic box” that speaks loudly about her grandparents and the Great War.


Trench Art

One of the items Carl "Sally" Bard brought back from World War I was this piece of “trench art” made from part of a used artillery shell. “They said the soldiers in the trenches or the soldiers in the military hospitals, that's what they did for entertainment,” said his granddaughter, Barb Stout. “This one is pretty detailed. They hammered them with whatever tools they had.”

More on trench art (from this Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum article): "The tradition of artistically handcrafting war souvenirs goes back to ancient times, but the practice flourished during the First World War. The abundance of items created by soldiers in World War I and in the years immediately after gave rise to the term 'trench art.' Over time, the term has become generalized to refer to art made from ordnance or military equipment from any era. Some trench art was actually made in the trenches. Other examples were made by soldiers convalescing in hospitals, or shortly after the war before they went home. The pieces were made as personal souvenirs, for family, or sold to other soldiers to earn money. Local civilians and laborers supporting the armies also crafted items from war debris they collected."



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