The Language of Love

Edward Lincoln’s love for the written word and his dear sweetheart Ethel Johnson are made clear in a treasure trove of World War I love letters preserved by family members living in Pickens.

A soldier’s love lives on through WWI letters

 By Dr. Thomas Cloer, For the Courier

ow about a little taste of literary Valentine’s Day candy? Nothing is sweeter and more pleasing to our ears than the language of love. Two residents of Pickens, Betty Pleschakow and her daughter, Linda Haney, have preserved a treasure trove of World War I love letters from Betty’s father and Linda’s grandfather. Betty and Linda are devoted volunteers at Grace United Methodist Church, renowned for their baked goods at fundraisers for the church. Linda has also served for years as a valuable member of the Cannon Hospital Auxiliary in Pickens.

Our main character is a World War I soldier, Edward Monroe Lincoln, who was born April 18, 1896. Ethel C. Johnson, his sweetheart, was born Nov. 10, 1900. Edward, of Genesee County, Mich., was writing to the love of his life, Ethel, in Louisville, Ken., as Edward attempted to entreat Ethel to the altar for marriage. Edward was drafted on June 5, 1917, just after President Woodrow Wilson and the United States declared war on Germany. He was assigned to the 5th US Infantry, Company H, and was sent to Camp Meade in Maryland before being shipped to Europe.

World War I

Wilson, the 28th president of the United States (1913-1921), led America through World War I. President Wilson was unique because he was the only president to have earned a Ph.D. He earned it at Johns Hopkins University, where he studied history and political Science. President Wilson was also one of only three U.S. presidents to receive the Nobel Peace Prize while in office. Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson and Barack Obama received the award while serving as president. President Jimmy Carter received the award a decade after leaving office.

When World War I started in 1914, President Wilson was adamant that America should stay out of the war. In fact, he campaigned for his second term on the slogan, “He kept us out of war.” But German attacks at sea on international shipping forced Wilson to declare war on Germany on April 6, 1917. The United States entered the war not as an ally of France or Great Britain, but as an “associated power.” Wilson deplored what he called “foreign entanglements.” World War I was truly a complicated global war in which 35 different countries declared hostilities, yet the only countries directly involved in the 1918 armistice which ended the fighting were Britain, France and Germany.

Camp Meade, Md.

Edward wrote the following to Ethel immediately before going to Camp Meade:

“Would that I could see you once more before I left, but being that the privilege of doing so is not within my grasp, I can only say:

Be true to me, whatever you do;

Be true to me as I will to you.

Pray for the future; that it may be bright;

Pray for me that I may do right.

And when my service expires with the Red, White, and Blue,

May both of us be happy upon my return to you.”

As Edward traveled to Camp Meade, he again wrote in verse:

“There’s many a mile between us,

By night there’ll be many more.

Although I’m happy, happier I’d be

Were I back with you once more.”

When Edward arrived at Camp Meade with his company, he waxed poetic and wrote in verse:

“Don’t worry, dear, I’m coming back

Someday to you again;

Though I’m many miles from you tonight,

We would not hope in vain.

With everything there is an end

No matter what it may be;

So it is with time, as it grows shorter,

It will bring me nearer to thee.

As it brings me nearer, may we be happy,

Happier than in the past;

And as we kneel to pray each time,

Let’s pray for our happiness to last.

Dear, you have every right to hope

That my heart beats faster, too;

It is because I love you so,

And my life is linked with you.”

Edward later wrote before traveling overseas, “If you were here with me tonight, what a splendid time we would have. I have a talking machine here and was playing it just before I started to write to you, and it made me think how nice it would be to have you here and enjoy it together.”

The Victor Talking Machine Company made a phonograph early in the 20th century which Edward probably had at Camp Meade.

Edward Travels Overseas

Corporal Edward Lincoln of the 5th U.S. Infantry traveled across the Atlantic on the ship U.S.A.T. President Grant. The U.S.A.T. stood for United States Army Transport. Edward went through France, Belgium and Germany, all the while writing and attempting to woo Ethel.

A prolific writer, Edward gave us insight as to his love for language. He wrote of his frequent use of the dictionary and his study of proper spelling. He was most articulate and played with language in every letter. For the 12 days he was on the ship, he wrote only in verse. In fact, even in describing his ship, Edward wrote in rhyme and meter:

“Though quite today, the wind is not high;

The waves in their dashing try to reach the sky.

If it continues to increase throughout the night,

By morning it will be at the height of its might-

And, in all truthfulness, I dare to say

Some doughboys will be sick before break of day!

The portholes are closed to keep all water out

While the President Grant keeps dashing about.

We’re in here like cattle-oh! The stifling heat!

Girlie, believe me, only one place has it beat.”

Camp President Lincoln

Brest, France, is a coastal city with a wide natural harbor, which made it easily accessible by ship in World War I. Edward wrote about how miserable conditions were at Camp President Lincoln in Brest — constant rain and uncomfortably cool with cobblestone streets “muddy and very disagreeable.” He wrote about “the worn out barracks with no stoves.” Yet, this young doughboy, in these dour surroundings, wanted to write and express his love for the girl back in Kentucky:

“It is with happiness I learn,

That that spark of love doth burn

Still within thy noble breast;

Knowing this, easier I rest.

The entire force of my love doth yearn

For the sound of your sweet voice;

Darling girl, you little know

How my aching heart would rejoice.

Love to you, Edward

Andernach, Germany”

When I saw Edward’s letters from Andernach, Germany, I was excited because Andernach is approximately 80 miles from Zweibruken, the city from whence my earliest Cloer ancestors emigrated to America in 1749. Andernach and Zweibruken are both close to the French border. At the battlefield of Amiens, Germany, Edward described in vivid detail my mind’s images of the Great War:

“Villages destroyed met your eye on every side … Ethel, girl, they may make reparation on the landscape, but they can never bring back the souls … Here and there we look out and see one little lonesome cross upon the field … In other places there are small graveyards with lines of crosses … We could see trenches and shell holes …wire entanglements and dugouts.”

However, Edward had an eye for beauty, even amidst the pain of war. He wrote about the natural beauty of the landscape as he traveled through Belgium into Germany. He wrote about how the trees “were turned to the many colors that you only see in the autumn. My words are inadequate to express the beauty as it shone forth to me from these hills, in that it came of the splendor of the beautiful hues of the early fall.”

I can’t close without sharing Edward’s information about costs in the second decade of the 20th century compared to our costs in the second decade of the 21st century:

“A shave costs us about two cents in our money … a haircut four cents. I get a meal … for about twenty cents. The same meal would cost at least sixty cents at home.”

And now, a closing piece of Valentine’s Day literary candy from 100 years ago. Amidst the wreckage of World War I in Germany, Edward is steadfast with his poetry and the language of love for the girl in Kentucky he intends to marry one day:

“Of all the flowers within call,

I love the rose the most of all.

If flowers were people, kind and true,

I’d still claim the rose, for the rose is you.

Tonight I am dreaming

Of a girl in the States.

The passions in my heart, dear

For her never abates.

I am your loving soldier boy,



The poetry did the trick guys; it always does! Forget the fattening chocolate, the little white teddy bears with small red ribbons and the wilted flowers. Pull out your pen or word processor and start writing. Edward came back to America. After a brief stay in the Army hospital at Camp Dix, N.J., he reunited with his sweetheart, Ethel. They married, and Edward must have continued his poetry. Upon checking the American census of 1940, there were 10 in the family. Betty Mae Lincoln (Pleschakow) of Pickens was their third child.

Edward died March 8, 1976, at age 80 in Flushing, Mich. His beloved Ethel joined him two days after her birthday, Nov. 12, 1989, at age 89. Their love lives and inspires us today through the rhyme and meter of a World War I soldier.

Dr. Thomas Cloer Jr. is Professor Emeritus, Furman University. He was awarded the Outstanding Alumni Award from his alma mater, Cumberland College in Williamsburg, Ky. He has received The Medal of Honor and has been inducted into The Hall of Honor at Cumberland.