1918 - Sec'y of War, Baker's Speech

By Florence Burlingame - April 27, 1918 - 468 E. 123rd St., Cleveland, O.

Dear Editor: May I send a message to Saltsburg? To tell the truth, I wanted to be more general in my salutation, and say "Dear Saltsburg." And I never think "Saltsburg" without applying that adjective, as well as including an area within a radius of five or six miles. Last night, as I sat, listening to Secretary Baker, I thought, "Oh, I wish my boys and girls of Saltsburg were here!" When anything good comes to me, I always wish they were here to share it. New people and new interests take the place of the old in your hearts, but in mine I have adopted those boys and girls for life.

Secretary of War, Newton Diehl BakerPerhaps my little letter will be consigned to the waste-basket; and if so, I shan't feel badly, for the mental exercise in writing it will be good for my brain. But I thought you would like to hear about our Secretary of War and his first public speech since his return from France. I do not know how much the Pittsburgh papers have told - perhaps all - and I shall be accused of copying what the reporters have said. But I made up my mind last night to vie with the reporters, and see how well I could remember. And surely Mr. Baker's choice of words is worth remembering.

He was scheduled to speak at a mass meeting at Central Armory at 8 o'clock. Our little family of three, having decided we should hear him, went at six "to avoid the rush," and already about five hundred people had gathered. The reading of war news occupied our time until nearly seven, but after that one would have to use a megaphone. At seven the Armory was filled, clear up to "peanut heaven." Then the fun began. An enthusiastic leader conducted the singing of rousing war songs, "Over There", "Keep the Home Fires Burning," etc., making the men sing, the women whistle; sing along, and so on, just to lend interest.

At 7:30 the band started in, and from that time on we were keyed to the highest pitch. Before we had a chance to realize the time, Mr. Baker, accompanied by Mayor Davis, Chairman McKeehan, Supt. Spaulding (School Supt.) and a number of his intimate friends came up the main aisle. Such cheering! And little flags waved high! Whatever the people may think of the Secretary of War, Cleveland loves Newton D. Baker, and this must seem like a haven of rest after what he has encountered. I think Europe must have been a relief after the stormy battles in Congress.

In the few remaining moments after the chairman had finished his speech of introduction, Mr. Baker gave a splendid talk. Why is it that chairmen will insist on monopolizing the time intended for someone else? It seems to be a prevailing weakness among chairmen (Saltsburg excepted, of course) to put themselves in evidence. I can't tell all the good things Mr. Baker said. Those who expected his speech to be an informative one were disappointed. Letters are poor means of conveying the pleasing personality of the man himself, his melodious voice, and his eloquence of speech. To avoid the use of so many quotation marks, and "He said," etc., I shall quote his words as nearly as my memory will permit:

"As I sailed into New York harbor, away from the scenes of conflict and devastated lands, and beheld again the Statue of Liberty, it seemed good to come 'home.' But coming here, where the spirit is so fine, where I can see so many faces, is the real 'homecoming.'

"Of the different elements of life across the seas I shall speak first of the physical things we have done. If our warehouses in France were combined in one, fifty feet wide, it would extend two hundred and fifty miles in length. Railroads are being built with surprising rapidity. The signal corps is operating over four thousand miles of wire. Workshops, fully equipped, with skilled workmen in them, are ready to set up machinery as fast as it comes in. The supply of arms and food is such that no soldier need go without breakfast or reach for arms that will not be at his disposal. The trenches, though far from comfortable, are not so uncomfortable as I had expected.

Then the moral side. Right here I want to speak of the leader of our boys, General Pershing. He is not only a fine soldier, but a fine gentleman, in the highest sense of the term. He has planned wisely for the training of the boys; he has planned bravely for their conflict; and he has planned for the care of their morals as a father would care for his children. During my stay in France I saw American boys by the tens of thousands, in training camps, in the front line trenches, in serried ranks, in big cities, in small villages, and NOT ONCE did I find any boy leading a life that his mother would not have him live. (Most hearty applause, and grateful demonstration from white-haired mothers.)

Distinguished British and French commanders - I shall not mention names - who are not addicted to paying compliments; indeed life in France is stripped of all persiflages and pretenses, and men speak the simple truth - these men praised the American boys as worthy of the great nation to which they belong; fearless, apt, adaptable, of fine spirit, who have shown bravery worthy of veterans. The French people love our boys. When the first American boys went to France, the French children met them with the greeting, "Nos amis" meaning 'our friends.' The boys, not knowing French, thought they were being called "Sammies," and the name was adopted.

"The American boys are there to bind up the wounds of the French. In one of the little by-ways, as I was hurrying along to my destination, I witnessed a scene that touched me. It was that of a woman, dressed in deep mourning - and not many are dressed in any other color - was walking along, with three or four small children at her side. It was evident that she was the sole surviving parent of those children.... On the other hand the French women mother our boys. Once I was shown a little spot where a few American boys had been buried, and there was a newly-made grave that was not filled. As I stood there, the funeral procession came, headed by a village priest and an American officer, arm in arm. The body of the boy who had made the supreme sacrifice was laid tenderly in the grave, and the French women who had accompanied the body, knowing that the motherhood of America would weep over his body, were it in his own land, wept over it for her. And I asked myself, are there consolations for this? The answer came in the thought that he had done the noblest thing that could be done for his country - he had given his all.

But that lonely grave in France will haunt me, if we do not do our utmost to make his sacrifice worth while.

"The boys read our letters and the papers and magazines. If they find that our national spirit is ebbing, they will be troubled about us, and lose their own fine spirit. What is the attitude of the boys over there? To be brief, as well as frank, they want to fight. Their message home was not given in words, but in the ruddy cheeks, the flashing eye, the elastic step, which said, 'We will do our part - are you doing yours?'

"For forty years the Germans have been trained to do and see horrible things without any moral revulsion. To shrink back would be unworthy of their place as the mightiest of nations, which must flout morality. When the kaiser can tear up treaties, flout the rights of nations, bombard cities, slay women and children, without arousing the revulsion of the German nation, I say there is no way to woo back those who worship Moloch except by breaking their God in their faces.

"Whatever may have been anyone's thought and impulse in this business; it is too late to turn back now." ***

I wish that I had the power to hold his words in my memory, just as he said them. I can't take the space to tell of all his impressions of the different countries - England, a "brave island, full of brave people," as he expressed it. France, who has fought so heroically. Italy, who is fighting under such great difficulties, in the snow-clad Alps. But everything that we hear, as well as everything that we read, fills us with admiration for the Allies and our own boys, as well. All petty grievances are forgotten in our big fight against a foe which must be beaten, if the world is to be a decent place to live in.

I made up my mind to hear Mr. Taft at Grays Armory tonight, and my indulgent father agreed to go with me, although a person of '65 isn't quite as enthusiastic about those long waits and the mobs at such places as a young person who is new to the splendid opportunities of a city like this. I want to go to everything that comes along. But a little surprise party by some of my pupils this afternoon changed plans to which I think daddy is secretly happy.....[words missing] of Cleveland in my room at school. I seem to get the choice pupils always, if not a "cushy" job, as the Tommies say. We have had a great Thrift Stamp campaign in our schools. The first three weeks my room stood highest in our building, with the purchase of over a hundred dollars worth; but now we are away behind. Mothers and fathers are stepping in with hundred dollar checks, etc. But it all goes for a common cause, to take the war "germ" out of Germany, as the posters say. Cleveland is making a desperate struggle to reach her $55,000,000 goal. It stands at about $40,000,000 now. America will get down to business after while.

I am quite wedded to Cleveland already. According to statistics, she is the sixth city; to me she ranks second - and Saltsburg first. It is a joy to teach here, under a Principal who is so helpful, kind, and just, and under supervisors, who have such a splendid spirit of helpfulness. My Principal came in and taught my arithmetic lessons - fractions - three days in succession. Someone said, "Doesn't it bother you to have her do that?" I said, "Not a bit. I don't pretend to know anything this year, and I want her to set me on my feet for next year." Nineteen of my little fifth graders are "skippers" and bright as whips.

I understand that school closes June 14, and after that the call of the Pennsylvania hills will be too much for me to resist. I hear the shrill whinny of a certain little gray pony, and of course the mooing of the gentle cows (which doesn't hold when flies are bad.) If I am called upon to do war work, I think I'll go back to the soil. I must admit that I can handle a team of horses much more skillfully than a pair of knitting needles. But hush! I should not have made such a confession; I am teaching sewing in the Cleveland public schools.

I am longing to see you all again. The new friends simply cannot take the place of the old - the tried and true. And it will seem good to hear my first name once in a while.****

Next, 1933 - Motor Travel Sketches