In July 1917, 19-year-old Private Harold R. Adams of Los Angeles received from his then-sweetheart the gift of a small black diary. The book was three inches wide and five inches high and covered in thin, grainy leather. It had a flap that folded over from back to front and was fastened with a black snap.
On the flap, embossed in gold, flowery script, was "A Line a Day."
Today the diary is worn smooth at the edges and exudes the dust-and-mildew smell of the years. In its pages, perfectly preserved, are the day-to-day jottings of young Adams as his California combat engineers company passed into the maw of World War I.
Adams' entire family joined the war effort, which local newspapers of the time made a great deal of. His father was his comrade in the 117th Engineers, which became part of the 42nd "Rainbow" Division, formed of units from widely distant states. His stepmother joined the wireless service. His sister Irene became a yeowoman in the Navy.
The entries in the diary, which has never been published, range from an orderly, slanting hand in fountain pen to small, precise printing in pencil to a weary scrawl in whatever writing implement was at hand when Adams found himself in the midst of the terror and fatigue of combat.
They are the writings of an observant, interested, unschooled 19-year-old and contain numerous misspellings, poor punctuation and Adams' guesswork spelling of French towns he passed through. They are excerpted here largely as written, with clarifying parenthetical information.
Harold Adams is 100 years old now. He lives in a retirement village in Laguna Hills with his wife of 73 years, Kathleen. He is a talkative, jovial man who gets around with the aid of a walker.
He counts himself a thoroughgoing optimist, but his view of his war is decidedly dark.
"I was damn lucky," he says. "It was a bad experience, just a bad experience. What the hell good did it do? They turned around approximately 25 or 30 years later--boom--World War II."
In case of death please give
this book to my father, J. E.
Adams of this company or
send to my sweetheart, Miss
Ruth Myers, 319 Salem St., Glendale, California, U.S.A.
Harold R. Adams.
Sept. 1--Worked hard all day packing. Took a shower. Rec'd picture from Ruth just before train started. Made me feel good. Thought of Ma & Irene. Left for somewhere in east from American Lake Wash.
Oct. 19--Up at 4:00 a.m. still in harbor. Back to bed. Up again found myself at sea. Stayed on deck. Bed at 5:15 p.m. All lights out. Took our flashlights & matches away. Feeling fine.
Nov. 1--Arrived St. Nazaire France in morn early. Couldn't get off boat. Big crowd came to docks. Read few stories. Girls sold apples to soldiers. Rainey.
(In France, the tedium of cutting and fetching wood, drilling, rifle sighting and guard duty is relieved only by occasional trips to the YMCA to write letters.)
Nov. 29--Thanksgiving dinner turkey, mash potatoes, cranberry sauce, gravey, bread, dried figs, apple, dressing. Shaved & loafed around. Football btw E & F Co. 0-0. Got sick on booze.
Dec. 25--Tuesday. Had snowball fight. No reveille breakfast at 8:30 Dinner at 2:30 p.m. turkey, mash potatoes, gravey, coffee, dressing, raisins, dried figs, apple pie, cookies & walnuts, 5 cigars, bread & butter. Hit in ear with snowball by Ritchey. Snowed in p.m. & night.
Dec. 31-- . . . Rec'd Xmas box from home & ring from Ruth. Made 3 resolutions booze, women & cussing. Stayed up to see New Year in & old out. . . . Had first of fruit candy nuts from home was great.
Mar. 5--Tues. . . . Rubbed some coal oil over body to kill cooties (lice). On hill back o town with field glass at night to see gunfire & star shells. Slept all lone. Dad & detail up all night making 18 coffins for Ohio men killed in attack. Reported 18 men killed. 20 Germans killed to 1 American. trenches. Muddy.
Mar. 9--Sat. Last day at trenches. Bomb proof lookout post with field glasses. Saw couple areoplane battles. Batteries all around us cut loose. Shot over our heads. Peterson, Swartz & I together. All got scared. I ducked in lookout & other 2 ran for dug out. Found it all o.k. came out.
Mar. 28--Thurs. Was on guard from 2 to 5 a.m. Talked with French girl. Freeman to(o). I think I got his goat. Kissed her good by in eve to tease him . . . . I gave her card & she gave me one. Feeling fine.
May 26--night. Shelling off & on all night. Hundreds of gas shells came over. Almost all of Co. A. Inf gased. One doe boy shot his self cause he coud not fine his mask. Germans came 2 or 3 times, over top.
July 15--Mon. Guns still roaring. Many French artilleryman wound & killed. Alabama (infantry regiment, part of the 42nd Division) standing to & many wounded. I helped some to the infirmary. French working hard. Knopp got right arm nearly shot off. Al Damours slightly wounded in back. D. Co. scattered all over. F. Co. lost some men. We left camp & over where F. Co. was. In trenches.