Chattanooga History Column: 'Somewhere in France'

Chattanooga History Column: 'Somewhere in France'

July 16th, 2017 by Suzette Raney in Opinion Columns

A censored letter from Mack Bryant to his family.

A censored letter from Mack Bryant to his...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

"I was only slightly gassed," wrote Mack Bryant to his mother on Jan. 28, 1918, from Sainte Suzanne, France. Unlike 51 others in Battery B of the 114th Field Artillery, Mack didn't go to the hospital after the battles in the Argonne Forest.

He survived the war and came back to Chattanooga. His daughters, Anne Smith and Bonnie Bryant, donated his diary, his letters, his uniform and canteen to the Chattanooga Library in 2016.

McClatchey Alexander Byrant Jr., known as Mack, was born Feb. 7, 1900, to Mack and Minnie Bryant. He had an older brother, William, and three sisters, Rebecca, Lucile and Malissa. In the summer of 1917, Mack joined many of his friends and enlisted in Battery B of the 114th Field Artillery.

He lied about his age, telling the recruiter that he was born in 1899. His wife later had a difficult time having the correct birth date inscribed on his tombstone.

Mack traveled with Battery B to Camp Sevier in South Carolina. His first months were spent preparing the forest where soldiers would live and train.

On Sept. 17, 1917, he wrote, "Am having some time in the sticks down here. Been grubbing trees all week. Can't drill in this country." Mack's diary entries from Jan. 1-25, 1918, described the daily grind of chopping trees and living in the cold. He attended signaling and scouting school. He wrote that what he learned in geometry came "in handy as [he] had a good deal of algerbrair [sic] problems to work." He "wig wagged and semaphored" at the tops of trees to practice signaling.

Battery B stayed at Camp Sevier until April 30. The soldiers arrived at Camp Merritt, N.J., on May 1. From there Mack got to see New York City. He wrote to his mother that "it's some big place and I didn't get to see near all I wanted to."

His next letter came from Brittany, France, where he was on active service with the American Expeditionary Forces. One of his early letters was censored by Capt. McCormick. Mack also had a little trouble with being able to "parley voo" with the French maids.

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In September 1918, Mack wrote that he was living under ground, and he liked his home all right. "The dugout I am in is nice and dry and gas proof." Pvt. Mack A. Bryant did not get to stay long in his new home as he soon saw action as part of the Battery Commander's detail on Sept. 12 in Saint-Mihiel. Many soldiers of his unit were gassed, and some died.

Mack wrote next in October that he was back where "we can take off our gas masks and helmets and have lights at night." During the fighting in October, Mack was promoted to corporal. He constantly reassured his mother in his letters home that he would be all right. He was concerned that she wasn't receiving his pay and asked her only to send him "some good Christmas candy."

The American forces were showing the Germans "a good time." On Nov. 11, the Allies and Germans ended the fighting with an armistice.

On Nov. 12, Mack was able to write his letter home "somewhere in peaceful France." He saw "one of the prettiest sights he had ever seen. All along the whole front they were shooting up red, white and blue rockets."

Mack's last letter from France was dated Feb. 8, 1919. He disembarked from the USS Finland in March. He and Battery B arrived in Chattanooga on April 1, 1919.

After the war, Mack worked for Lucey Manufacturing Co. He married Alma Bond in 1928. He graduated from the Tri-State Mechanical Engineering School of Angola, Ind., and applied that skill at Combustion Engineering.

He died in 1961 and was buried in Chattanooga National Cemetery. We can thank his daughters, Anne and Bonnie, for preserving Mack's World War 1 experience and sharing it with us.

For more information on the 144th Field Artillery, read the "History of the 114th Field Artillery" by Reese Amis or "History of Battery B: 114th Field Artillery: 55th Brigade: 30th Division" by Ernest West in the archives of the Chattanooga Public Library.

Suzette Raney is an archivist of the Public Library. For more, telephone the Local History Department at 423- 643-7725 or visit chattahistoricalassoc.org.

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