As I was going through and organizing a series of letters home from my great-great-uncle Clarence H. Bailey while he served in Europe in World War I, I came across one letter that was not from him. Instead, it was a letter to his future wife from a man named Byron O. Seeburt.
Rather than set the letter aside and focus on Clarence’s letters, and risk Byron’s letter being forgotten or lost with time, I’d like to briefly spotlight it here. Perhaps by doing so, Byron’s descendants or family may one day find it.
Byron’s letter is a century old, having been written on December 17th, 1918. The letter itself is just three pages of cursive writing in ink on ruled paper, held together in the top left corner by a straight pin.
In his letter to Dorothy Bailey (“Dot”), Byron refers the Spanish Flu epidemic, to trench warfare, to time spent with Dot and her friend Olive in Tacoma, and to all the food that a home-sick American soldier dreams about in the trenches.
December 17, 1918
It has been a long time since I last heard from you, and maybe your have forgotten, but even at that I cant blame you, as I suppose you are busy these days and then you know Camp Lewis is not so far away at that, not as far as Belgium. Well anyway I will write you a little note to let you know you are still in my memory.
To begin with I hope you are well + happy and that the “Flu Epedemic” escaped you. At the present writing I am fine + dandy and full of pep, although a sight of the Good Old U.S.A. would put still more pep in me, especially around the Pacific Ocean.
At the present writing I am in a town in Belgium + some town at that. First it is just about 10 miles behind the “No Man’s Land” on the British side. It has not been touched by the war. It is a town of narrow streets with no lights. At night unless you are careful you get lost. There are no amusements, except cafes, which are just wine joins + very attractive—not. A week ago I had the pleasure of a 36 kilometer hike, which is a distance of about 20½ American miles. 15 of which were through “No Man’s Land”. This place can be described as follows:- Full of trenches half filled with water; shell holes as big as a house, everywhere; making the country just a mass of holes; barbed wire entanglements; piles of stone, once populated cities; torn up roads; deep mud + altogether a most desolate place.
There is nothing else much of interest to write about. The weather is cold, + rainy, + the days miserable. However I look forward to pleasant days to come when I get back to the U.S.A.
There are some things I crave:- 1- a nice dish of Ham + Eggs or T Bone steak smothered in onions; apple, peach, mince, raspberry, blackberry, custard pie a la mode; French fried + liberty potatoes; coffee with cream; ice cream; chocolate candy; banana specials; a good cigar; Believe me I sure do miss the good old states and their luxuries. Believe me I can just imagine myself at the Lotus or Feeney’s for a good square meal; or Knox’s for about 5 or 6 good banana specials. My mouth just waters for these feeds. Wow.
Well Dot I guess my ravings will have to close as the candle is getting low. I am enclosing a little writing of my experiences over here + hope you will enjoy reading them. Jimmy was wounded in the same battle I was, but I have not heard or seen him since the day before we went “Over the Top”. Let Olive read the enclosure + tell her I still remember her. I always will remember you for the good times I had in both of your company in Tacoma while I was at Lewis.
Well I will close for this time hoping this letter finds you well + happy as I am + the same to Olive + hoping to see you both again some day. I am as ever
Sincerely truly your friend
Byron O Seeburt
Byron refers to an enclosure—”a little writing of my experiences over here.” Unfortunately, I did not find that with the rest of his letter. Perhaps Olive kept it?
I did a little light digging into the identity of Byron and found that he was Byron Orson Seeburt, born in Chicago, Illinois, on December 7, 1891, to Swedish parents Charles Martin Seeburt and Emma Benger. His family moved to San Francisco, California, by 1898, and they lived through the 1906 SF earthquake. Byron’s father was a postal letter carrier who died in 1915 at age 54. Byron enlisted for WWI in San Francisco and returned to San Francisco after the war. He married a woman named Lucy who worked as a school teacher. Byron died in 1958 at the age of 66, and he and Lucy appear to have had at least one child who stayed in the San Francisco bay area.
If you are one of Byron Seeburt’s descendants, I’d love to hear from you, especially if you know of letters he may have received during World War I, or of other stories or documents that may fill in some of the missing pieces of this story.