Here in February 2019 there’s talk of the troops on the U.S.-Mexico border.
It was also the talk of February 1919, 100 years ago.
That’s because starting in 1910, the border was a mess. Beginning with the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution there was fighting between Mexican government forces and rebels, rebels and U.S. government forces, U.S. and Mexican government forces and rebels with other rebels, Mexican and U.S. forces teamed up against rebels, a salting of Texas Rangers and a Germany that was egging on Mexico to fight the U.S. in World War I.
This buffet of competing interests didn’t stay contained to Mexico. There were raids by rebels against U.S. towns and even a small movement hoping to wipe out Anglos and retake U.S. territory previously held by Mexico.
The affair featured a lot of names that have gone down in history. General John Pershing led U.S. troops into Mexico to chase Pancho Villa, whose forces had attacked the town of Columbus, New Mexico. During the conflict George Patton, who attained fame as a tank tactician and fierce fighter in World War II, led the first U.S. assault with armored vehicles at a ranch close to San Miguelito, Mexico.
As of spring 2019 there were more than 18,000 Army personnel stationed at points along the border, comprised of infantry, cavalry and artillery units, along with 10 balloon companies and nine U.S. Army aviation units.
Among them was Sergeant Zellie J. Cannon. In correspondence with the Jackson County Journal, Cannon offered a timeless soldier’s tale: The loneliness of being stationed in a strange land far from home, the rigors of duty and the tug of home. Today we share that correspondence:
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Dear Editor: Although I am a stranger to you, I trust you may not overlook this piece. I am writing to your paper as my parents, and also many of my friends, live in Sylva, and as I was in your town a few weeks ago on a visit and enjoyed myself so much. Since I came back to the Border l am somewhat lonesome, and cannot think of anything that would give me more pleasure in this lonely hour than writing a piece for your paper.
I will tell you something of the Border life. Uncle Sam has over 5,000 of his sons here. We have been here more than two years.
We have some pleasant times and some sad times. I will say that the saddest moments, to me, are at evening when the sun is sinking in the west and the band begins to play “Keep the Home Fires Burning” and “The Girl I Left Behind.” I will say it would make the tears come to any fellow’s eyes.
The flu has taken several of our soldiers. It certainly is a sad sight to see a dear soldier die away from home and mother. I witnessed the death of three of my pals; some pled for mother until the last.
I must say a soldier sees some sad moments. Some people may think a soldier’s life is all sunshine.
But no; he has his dark hours and they are not few.
We are all treated well and are just like one big family, and we have lots of amusements.
But I tell you nothing appeals to a man’s heart like home. You know the song “Home, Sweet Home” is much dearer to me than before I became a solider, although I love army life, and if I had no home or “jewel” I would probably spend my life in the service.
By some “power” some of us boys escaped the horrors of the battlefield. But we boys listened with eager hearts for our call.
Although I am no Christian my heart went up to God in thanks when the glad tidings of peace spread over the universe, and my heart also went out to the dear ones whose boys went and never came back.
Well, a few lines about the country down here. It is like summer here now. Flowers are all in bloom. We are a bit chilly when the Gulf breezes arise at night. This country is level and sandy. The land is covered with cactus and the trees are covered with thorns. We don’t have much rain and no snow. But the sand storms are what get our “tags.”
Of all the country I have ever seen there is nothing as dear to me as the good old hills of North Carolina. I term Western North Carolina the garden spot of the world. Well, I guess one reason is because North Carolina holds a jewel for me. All of us poor boys have a jewel at home, and when some of us fail to get letters from our girls when we are expecting them, we sit around with that long face with an expression “No one loves me.”
We were called out the other night at midnight and had to make patrols up and down the river, as the Mexicans were trying to make a raid on us. That is the kind of life we lead at the Border. At night we are sound asleep one minute and the next we probably are on our way to some ford or to some outpost. They keep us going all the time.
Well, I will hush now by saying I shall not be altogether happy until I am back in Sylva with my “jewel” and mama. I want the Christians of Sylva to pray for us poor soldiers. Some of the boys have no one to pray for them. And then we all need all the prayers that can be sent up.
So now, goodbye to all.
Sergeant Zellie J. Cannon,
Eagle Pass Texas, Jan. 28, 1919