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Dispatches from an Alpena World War I vet

Monday is Veterans Day — a day to honor and thank veterans of the many wars in which the United States has found itself involved over the years.

With the holiday looming, I recently was contacted by Luanne Brennan, a realtor in Fairfield Glade, Tennessee. Brennan had just gone through a U.S. Army trunk that had belonged to her grandfather, William J. McDougall. If that name rings a bell with readers, it should. William was one of the owners of the Owl Cafe on Chisholm Street after he returned to Alpena after World War I.

Prior to Uncle Sam sending him to France, however, McDougall was a reporter with The Alpena News for seven years. And, while he was over in France courtesy of Uncle Sam, he would send occasional reports from Europe back to the newspaper.

Brennan found several such pieces from 1917 and 1918 that she recently shared with me because she thought there might be something there that readers of The Alpena News would appreciate ahead of the Veterans Day holiday.

I suspect many of you will, so here are excerpts from some of McDougall’s work.

William, known as Bud during his tenure at The News, was with the Technical Equipment and Operation Department of Forestry and Construction while serving in France. He shared with readers that he was under restrictions from the Army about what he could and could not report in his correspondence.

“I am working hard every day but I have work that I like very much and that helps considerably. I doubt very much if I could find another job in the Army for which I am better fitted or that I would like as well. It keeps me on the bound from morning until night, but the satisfaction I get out of doing the work, knowing that I am doing my bit to help in the grandest cause yet known to humanity, more than offsets my tired mind and body when the day’s work is done.

“We have a large number of camps and operations which are spread from the battle line in the north to the Pyreness Mountains in the south and within a very short time, we will extend as far east as the Alps.”

He often reported on other Alpena men he crossed paths with while in France, including John Donovan, a former Alpena High School athlete and son of Mr. and Mrs. John Donovan of Dunbar Street.

In correspondence between McDougall and his editor, James Collins, today’s readers also get some interesting insight into the mood of the day.

In a reply letter from Collins to McDougall, Collins writes, “Glad to know our ‘Yankee soldiers’ are cutting some figure in the fight over there, and are attracting favorable attention of the ‘Hun.’ But we do not know how many of our boys are losing their lives in the terrible conflict. Perhaps it is better for all concerned that we do not know, at this time. But it cannot be avoided. The Prussian beast must be crushed, and he will be crushed.”

Later, he wrote “business is quite dead just now in Alpena. This war is taking all the young men of Alpena city and county to France, which helps to kill business.”

McDougall often included mention of his own family in his correspondence with Alpena News readers, and lamented what life must be like here during the changing seasons. For instance in one he mentions one of his favorite locations — the Presque Isle Light — where family members at one time were lighthouse keepers.

McDougall’s insight and correspondence while he was in France was something we expect Alpena News readers appreciated and looked forward to — especially the families of other servicemen over there.

Hopefully, now, after reading this, you enjoyed some of it, as well.

Perhaps even Veterans Day will have a whole new meaning for you, thanks to McDougall.

Bill Speer can be reached at 989-354-3111, ext. 311, or bspeer@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @billspeer13.