Soldier's message in a bottle surfaces – 90 years later
When "Aunt Pete" wrote to her soldier nephew in France in 1918, she had no idea what she was starting.
The letter – almost perfectly preserved – gave a jaunty account of the mood in the midwest of the United States four months from the end of the First World War. But who was Aunt Pete? And who was her nephew soldier, Sgt Morres Vickers Liepman, of D Battery of the 130th Field Artillery?
It was known that Sgt Liepman survived the war but little else emerged from US government records.
Morres Liepman went on to serve as a Major in the US air force in the Second World War. He became a commercial artist and devised – among other things – the arrow that appears on all packets of Wrigley's chewing gum.
"Aunt Pete" was Sgt Liepman's mother's youngest sister, Luna Vickers, daughter of Congressman Andrew J Vickers of Kansas – part of family which traces its ancestry back to the American Revolution, the Mayflower and the Vickers engineering company in Sheffield. Aunt Luna's nickname was "Sweet Pete". By the time she wrote the letter, she was married to Robert M Scott, owner of a drugstore in Oklahoma City.
Cecil Liepman said the early part of the letter should not be seen as racist. The comments reflected attitudes at the time. Aunt Pete's family had, in fact, been anti-slavery and funded schools for black children.
Why did Sgt Liepman place his aunt's letter in a beer bottle and bury it? When found, the bottle was still equipped with its mechanical closing system. The tightly rolled up envelope and four pages were almost perfectly preserved.
Mr Liepman believes his grandfather buried the letter as a "time capsule". "He must have guessed it would be found one day and stand as a memorial of that terrible war," he said.
American Expeditionary (Forces)
July 15' 18
My Dear Morres,
Well I guess you didn't know you were sending me a birthday letter you wrote me June the 8th and I got it July 8th. Say don't ever again write on both sides of the paper for your letter was all cut up - you see where they cut out what they didn't want poor me to know, they cut out the other side too.
I got a postal picture of Jule today. He is at Camp S[?]. Philadelphia - expects to sail any time. You have surely heard from some of us by now. We are wondering if you have been in any of the war yet. We see a dispatch once in a while about some of Camp Doniphan boys being in the firing line. They claim that they have a million men accross now. So it must begin to look like America over there.
Its all most impossible to get help of any kind and those you do get are likely to be called any time. There is a big bunch of darkeys going tomorrow night. They had a big parade today and are going to have a big dance tomorrow at the colored park : we lost our porter.
I wish you could hear Louise talk French. Her teacher says she is the best in the class. Robert is still in summer school, but gets out Aug. 1st. He reads all the papers and magazines he can get about the war, and every once in a while he breaks out with "I wish I could ask Morres so and so he would know", and he can't understand why they cut out the names off the postal cards.
It is so hot here that you could cook eggs in the sand, and the tires are all but off the old Jack Rabbit we ride untill about eleven every night getting cooled off.
Gee Morres I wish I could visit you now. It sure would be some trip. Robert says he would like to see it all, but he don't think he would like to get in the war. You should see my socks I knit, they are some gay ones. I had Rob try them on and his foot was lost. He only wears a six shoe and I make all the socks eleven or twelve inches long.
We see as many soldiers as ever. Fort Sill is full of them. Bess said you got Captain Brady back. What is he now, Major ?
Well write me when you can. With heaps of love from the family and best wishes.
From Aunt Pete
Mama says she has written you several letters.
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