Goff Brothers Home from France–May 1919

The Goff boys–still in uniform in France–were hoping to be home–Guthrie County, Iowa– in time to farm that year, but still didn’t know when they’d be scheduled to start moving to the coast. Jennings reported that they still had duty only five hours a day, so weren’t working very hard. They watched musical shows at the Y and had sports–racing and games, plus an hour of athletics per day.

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Merl, Wayne, and Jennings Goff, 88th Division, WWI

The 88th Division had built barracks and bought stoves so the soldiers could dry their clothes. The YMCA built and operated a shelter so the “Doughboys” would have somewhere to go to write letters and enjoy some entertainment.

January 21, the three oldest Goff brothers were together for the first time since they left Camp Dodge the summer before. Wayne reported home that his brothers were getting fat. Merl had already reported the same about him.

Wayne spent his 25th birthday (February 24) in a mumps ward at Houdelainecourt, where the hospital had a full house. 

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Not only did the Division organize football, basketball, baseball and track teams, it also arranged for boxing, wrestling, and track meets.

Jennings took a signal school class for a week at St. Joire, sending and receiving messages by underground wireless, called T. P. S. He’d also been to the show “Dixie Fliers” and the 313th engineers band concert.

Merl had attended a twelve-week school at St. Joire, and had been to see and hear Miss Margaret Wilson, daughter of President Woodrow Wilson, sing and talk at the big show hangar in Treveray. And had rifle inspection.

The army had secured French public schools, YMCA huts, and barracks to offer courses in basic reading and writing, math, American and French history, and civics. A new Divisional Educational Center opened March 24, with 1661 students, for courses in agriculture, automobile repair, barbering, carpentry, mechanical drawing, radio, telephone repair, telegraphy, economics, French and Spanish. About 2000 men attended other weekly lectures.

I doubt that the Goff boys took French lessons, but Merl told his sister his letter to answer “toot sweet or sooner.” Jennings’s French was about the same.  He said they’d had “bocoe [beaucoup] feed xmas.” “Ah, wee-wee [oui oui],” he added.

One goal of the Division was to furnish entertainment to every man every night, with YMCA productions, local talent shows, moving pictures.

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The soldiers were even given seven-day leaves. The Riviera was an organized leave area that vied with Paris in popularity. Special trains left at stated periods each week with dozens of 88th Division men. They stayed in hotels with real beds and excellent food free of charge!

Jennings visited Grenoble near the Italian border in the Alps, where he visited the mountains and rented a bicycle one day. Wayne also got a leave. He went to the sunny town of Nice–beautiful scenery, mountains, lawns, flowers, building and trees loaded with oranges and lemons.

Finally, Merl had started to turn in entrenching tools and tent poles, so it looked like they would be returning home before long. He was bitter about news he’d learned. “It is too bad that ____ didn’t get to go to the army so he could wear a uniform. I don’t think a little smear of yellow paint around his house would hurt anything. Do you? I hear that some of the slackers back there are getting the yellow paint when the boys come back. That sure shocked me, when I heard of ___ wearing a Soldiers overcoat and him in class 2 when he was single and never went to the army. If I was him I wouldn’t want to be seen at all where I was known.”


At last in mid-April, the 88th Division was directed to prepare to return home, discontinuing training so they could return the area to its original condition as much as possible.

A month later, Jennings was billeted in a farmhouse, about seven miles south of Le Mans, living upstairs while the French family lived downstairs. The soldiers climbed up a ladder and through a window to get to their rooms.

It had taken about forty-five hours to get there, riding in boxcars from Reffroy. Jennings’s car held forty-one men, with just enough room to lie down to sleep.

Merl and Jennings returned to America aboard the USS Rijndam. Jennings wrote his sister that he was never so sick in his life. The Doughboys of 349th Infantry were the first to sail for America.

The whole of the 351st–including Wayne Goff–sailed on the USS Mercury


Wayne Goff came back on the USS Mercury, a former German liner, interned by the U.S. in 1917, converted to a troop carrier. It made 8 trips home, returning more than 20,000 troops.


When each troop train arrived in Des Moines, they were met with a reception committee. The troops formed into squads and paraded from the railroad yards to Walnut Street, to Locust, down to 5th Street, then north to Grand Avenue where they found a big meal provided by various welfare societies. Officers and men of the 88th Division were then demobilized at Camp Dodge.

100 years ago this month.

Probably from Guthrie News. 1919
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State Street, Guthrie Center, looking east, 1919.


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Wayne Goff with nephews Delbert and Donald Wilson, near Wichita, Iowa

Sources: Goff and Wilson family correspondence, 88th Division in the World War (1914-1918), Guthrie News, Stuart News.

Story from Leora’s Early Years: Guthrie County Roots


    • Thank you, Molly. I’ve only located descendants of one of the brothers, so the letters came to me from my great grandmother (who died when I was a freshman in college) and my grandmother (who was the oldest sister of the Goff brothers). I remember these three brothers. Wayne was my favorite because he didn’t argue about politics (like the other two) and treated kids like real people.

  1. A very interesting read. I’m suddenly finding many WWI references–it’s even beginning to haunt my dreams. Thanks for sharing. Did you see the movie War Horse?

    • Haven’t seen the movie, but wanted to read the book. Haven’t gotten that done, either. The WWI stuff was 100 years ago. The Goff brothers had just ended up in France when my mother–their first niece–was born on the popcorn farm they had to leave behind. Mom’s parents took it over while they were gone.

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