| 'I Wonder If I Will Ever See Pittsfield Again': WWI Letters From Lt. Tremblay|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
01:00AM / Sunday, November 11, 2018
|Lt. Hector Tremblay is buried in Pittsfield Cemetery. He was twice gassed during the war and died of tuberculosis barely two years after the war's end. |
Hector R. Tremblay in uniform. He was nearly 40 when he re-enlisted to serve in World War I.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Thirty-four minutes. Dug into a hole for the night in France under heavy shelling in November 1918, Hector Richard Tremblay wrote to his wife that he'd give "half his life" for 34 minutes in the city of Pittsfield.
"As I sit in my little hole, my feet are wet and I am cold as the devil. I wonder if I will ever see Pittsfield again," he had written in a letter dated Nov. 9, 1918. "I would give half my life if I could be in Pittsfield for 34 minutes but I must be patient and my time will come."
Tremblay was born on Jan. 4, 1879, in Pittsfield. At age 19 while living on Adam Street, he enlisted in the Marine Corps. He served as a sergeant on the cruiser Montgomery during the Spanish American war. He participated during the Boxer uprising in China and was with the allies entering Peking in 1900.
He returned home in 1903. He was a chauffeur for Dr. Frank W. Brandow and then later for Daniel England. He became the treasurer and the manager of the Colonial Theater. After the theater was sold he became the manager of the South Street Garage before taking a job with Eaton, Crane & Pike Co.
In 1917, the United States entered the war. He felt it was his duty to return to war and he entered the Army. Because of his experience, he was quickly sent to the front line. And the 6 foot 1 inch, 205 pounds, Tremblay wasn't afraid of a good fight.
"Tremblay looked and acted the soldier. He could be severe when circumstances required but his discipline was tempered with tact and a broad sympathy that bespoke confidence. Although past the draft age, Lt. Tremblay felt when the United States entered the war it was his duty to go," reads his obituary.
Known to most simply as "Hec," Lt. Tremblay was in the Argonne offensive when he was gassed for the first time. He received medical treatment but was quickly returned to service. He was later gassed again while advancing in "No Man's Land" the day before the armistice was signed.
Tremblay had been in the 28th division, one he had wanted because it would give him the most action.
"I would like to have been attached to the 26th division for there is a lot more fight there. But that is in the first army so I asked to be assigned to the 28th division, which is the next best. We have done some great work such as in the Argonne forest and many other places," Tremblay would write to his wife on Nov. 6, 1918, five days before the war's end.
"My battery is a whirlwind. The men would rather fight than eat. They are always looking for a fight and usually get just what they are looking for."
Tremblay had written home a lot during the final days of the war when he was in France. He detailed close calls when he was nearly killed, he talked about collecting souvenirs and expressed both pride and deep internal thoughts.
"Shells of all sizes are dropping around us. I can see them burst from where I sit. They have been bombarding us since night before last. When I came to report to this division as a trench mortar officer I came over in an automobile. They were shelling the roads so that we could hardly get through. When the driver and I got to the ruined village there was no one in the town. Just then two large shells knocked down a house about 2,000 yards from us. We jumped in the little Ford and started back to another town. Just then the boche sent up a flare that lit the whole sky. We had to stand still and take a dose of sneezing gas. As soon as the light went out we went back to the next town and slept in a barn that was tumbled down until morning," he wrote on Oct. 27.
"No two walls of any house in this town are standing up. We have taken over the boche dugouts. There are all fitted up like a real house. The one I am in has electric lights but they don't work as the motor was destroyed before the Hunds left."
He was in the middle of the action and on Oct. 31 he wrote that he could collect many souvenirs to take home with him, but he couldn't carry them all. Between the fighting and the mud, the soldiers had barely the energy to take anything extra.
"This division is one of the hardest fighting divisions here. It has been cited three times for its bravery. I am now busy forming another trench mortar battery as this one received many casualties in the last fight. They are very good boys and they will follow me anywhere," Tremblay wrote.
"Have a German cap, gray with red band. Inside was a picture of his sweetheart. He will not miss it as he has gone to sleep forever ... I could have all kinds of souvenirs but it is impossible to carry them and we need our strength to carry our clothes."
While Tremblay was certainly proud of his men, internally he questioned the worth of the war. In a letter dated Nov. 4, Tremblay wrote about how he wanted to come home. He wrote that the Germans weren't all that different. They also wanted it to end.
"Isn't it better anyhow to live than to die, no matter for how 'glorious' a cause? Isn't it better to live and come back to the old folks at home than to rot in the shell holes and trenches of France?" Tremblay wrote.
"You have had to hear many high falutin words about 'liberty,' 'humanity,' and 'making the world safe for democracy,' but honest now, aren't these catchwords merely sugar coating to the bitter pill of making you spend wretched months far from home? Do you really believe those German soldier boys in their faded gray uniforms on the other side of 'No Man's Land' are hot on the trail of our liberties?"
Tremblay believed in the trenches on the other the Germans were thinking the same thing. He wrote that if they had fallen into German hands, "they will treat you fair enough on the principle of live and let live." The war was wrapping up and both sides were exhausted. Tremblay could feel it coming to an end and questioned taking any more chances.
That letter came after he had nearly been killed.
"One of the shells this morning exploded about 50 yards away from me. It put one man out of business, another landed a little farther away and a piece of it struck at my feet. We are now in what they call rest billets but believe me there is not rest," Tremblay wrote.
Word of the war's end had come but Tremblay and his fellow soldiers weren't believing it. They were still getting shelled. On Nov. 9, Tremblay was still collecting items from overseas. He made vases out of shells but didn't send them home because "I prize them so highly I am afraid to send them to you for fear you will never receive them." He collected German hand grenades and planned to take the power out of them and "make something nice."
And he was preparing for the end of the war.
"Good morning. Goodbye, over the top we go," wrote Tremblay at 3:15 a.m. on Nov. 10.
Tremblay was sent to cross No Man's Land that day at Metz. His company began advancing and he was again gassed. He fell into the arms of his top sergeant and there was a debate among the men as to what to do. But despite the protests, those in his division removed him from the battle from the rear.
"At that time he fell into there arms of his top sergeant and in spite of protests was removed to the rear. Afterward, he was sent to Tours where he was under medical treatment until the division came back to the United States in April 1919," reads his obituary.
He returned home to his wife, Lillian Margaret Brown, that April but a new battle was just beginning. The gassing has led to tuberculosis.
Tremblay was at hospitals in New Haven, Conn., Otisville, N.Y., and then Oteen, N.C., but he still wanted to go back to Pittsfield. In 1920, he said he was accustomed to the climate and he felt that would be good and he returned home.
"All through his long illness during which he was given the best care and attention within the resources of the government. Lt. Tremblay maintained the bright, cheerful demeanor that characterized him all through life," reads his obituary.
At age 41, on Sept. 12, 1920, he died at his home in Pittsfield. His funeral was at Notre Dame Church and he was buried with full military honors at the Pittsfield Cemetery.
"He died a martyr to a great cause and his record of achievement is one in which the city may well take a just pride," reads his obituary.