WRITTEN IN FRANCE WHILE ON ACTIVE SERVICE
"HE SAW GOD SMILE"
POEMS AND LETTRES FROM COMRADES IN THE SERVICE AND FRIENDS AT HOME
FRED S. JONES, DEAN OF YALE COLLEGE
Before entering Yale, in the fall of 1916, Greayer had enjoyed a year at Leland Stanford University, California, where he had been preceded by a sister and a brother. He excelled on the tennis-courts and in his last year at high school, in Los Angeles, won the state interscholastic tennis cup. The summer of 1916 he went to Forrest Hills and gave a good account of himself, with the younger devotees of the sport, in the tennis series. Handball, too, was a favorite diversion and he played with the Yale team in the early spring of 1917 in several spirited contests in New York City and elsewhere. Clear-eyed, cool-headed and never "rattled," he was a dependable youth in an emergency. His sunny disposition and unselfish nature greatly endeared him to his associates.
In March, 1917, Greayer's letters home began to reveal a restlessness that was noted with misgivings by his parents. College boys, everywhere, were abandoning their studies to go to France, and the effect of such an example on the high-spirited lad was feared. His first concrete expression was in a letter dated March 26, in which he wrote:
"Father, I am thinking about the war and may do this, subject to your approval: If I stay here and drill as the majority will do, it will mean about six months of hard army training, and for what? Before I could ever get into the reserve officers' training corps (age limit 21) I would have to wait more than a year, or else go as a private. Everyone here is enrolled in the R. O. T. C. and will go into intensive training if war is declared. The whole idea is to serve---serve the country and the cause. If I should go to France as an ambulance driver, where men are needed, I will be really serving and doing something worth while. I can't stay here at college if everyone goes into military training. I can arrange to go for a six months' enlistment. This is no time for quibbling and evading and what difference does it make what I do if it is certain to be something? I will never regret having helped France and six months there in active service appeals to me much more than six months of training at Ft. Sill, where they are planning to send us. Of course, there is danger, but I am twenty years old (he lacked several weeks of it) and willing to take the chance. For goodness' sake don't refuse me! This is how I look at it: it is better to be driving a wounded man back to a base than lying in a trench looking for a chance to shoot a man's head off, and what else is war but that?''
To his mother at about the same time be wrote:
"If possible I will enter the aviation corps or the ambulance service. As for the danger, what possible difference can it make whether the average is ten days or sixty, as they all end the same?"
Followed several other letters of like import in one of which the lad told of his inability to concentrate on his studies and of his determination to go to France to serve with the American Ambulance Corps, if possible. "What difference does it make what Ruskin thought about architecture when American lives are going down?" he commented, referring to the torpedoing of American ships,
From New Haven, Greayer came down to Richmond for a few days, having engaged passage on the Rochambeau , for France, to sail May 19. (There was a change of plan later, so that he sailed on the Chicago.) We had a happy visit together and then, accompanied by his mother as far as Washington, the dear lad went away, his eyes sparkling with expectation, his mind kindling with enthusiasm. Never went a Crusader to the Holy Land with more zeal to serve than possessed the soul of this splendid youngster of twenty. There was no dread of hardship, no thought of danger. He had been accepted on his merits as an efficient driver and knew that he could prove himself.
His letters from Paris were so naïve, so exuberant, the viewpoint so fresh! But what impressed him above all else was the look of sorrow in the faces of the women. "Soldiers are everywhere," he wrote, "and are treated like kings. Their women are so proud of them. At times, you see a soldier wearing, perhaps, two or three decorations, slowly walking along with a cane, and his wife, and the woman is a study in pride and sorrow, expressed in her eyes. Oh, those eyes! They are not disheartened or afraid. but just sad. It is the suffering in anxiety and doubt. That is the story of the eyes of almost every woman I have seen. It is beautiful, too, because it is a suffering of love and patriotism."
Greayer was a sympathetic soul and, as his letters and stories reveal and the tributes of his fellow-officers attest, he had a great regard for the humanities. Not from him but from his comrades of the flying-school were we to learn at a later date how he gave all his blankets to a Belgian refugee family, who were entirely without bedding the winter of 1917-18, and how all he could spare from his pay went to their support. He was as modest as he as generous. One of his comrades (Lieutenant J. R. Crowe) wrote of the simple friends he had made at Issoudun, the family of a French workman: "While the rest of us were hanging around in cafés he used to go and sit in the garden with these people and read the fables of La Fontaine to a tiny girl who preferred that even to the bonbons he brought her. The affection between the big American officer (Greayer reached the six-foot mark) and the little French girl was beautiful and touching."
For fifteen days he was in the field service training camp, in the open, and among the two hundred men were three other youngsters from Yale. Water was none too plentiful and bathing was a luxury in consequence. A "shower" consisted of standing under a bit of a stream about three-quarters of a mile from camp. At home, nobody was more fastidious than Greayer or "Grubby" as his schoolmates at Pasadena, with subtle American humor, called him, probably, because he was so well groomed at all times. He was "Grub" or "Grubby" to all his intimates ever after. Yet he wrote: "I am getting so 'hardboiled' now, I can eat without washing and sleep without half-cleaning. The setting-up drill we have wakes you up better than a bath. We never think of changing our clothes, so life is very simple."
How quickly the children learned the friend they had in Greayer! In one of his letters, written at this time of training, he tells of sitting down near the modest épicerie in the village, when a little French child came up and snuggled into his lap: "He was extremely friendly, although our conversation was limited. I finally learned that his name was Gouchard. After this confidence he said he voulez-vouzed le bonbons. So in we piled and squandered twenty centimes (four cents) on fruit tablets and similar dulce. Then we went outside the shop and there was his little sister playing in the yard. Gouchard went up to her and after taking two pieces of candy gave her the whole bag. He was only four years old."
In a letter to Mr. C. P. Howland, of New York, whose kindness aided Greayer not a little in accomplishing his ambition of going across without irritating delay, he wrote that in place of the ambulance corps, he, with others, had been offered a chance to join the transport service of the French army under the auspices of the American field service. It meant driving supply trucks clear to the front. Under date of June 7, 1917, he admitted that he was not a bit sorry as the camion work was more to his liking. It was to perfect himself in the handling of a big five-ton Pierce-Arrow truck or camion that he and others were in training. To drive an ambulance meant a delay of about six months in Paris "waiting around." This did not appeal to him. He wanted quick action. The camion convoi service was a comparatively new branch; when he joined, only three sections, of thirty-six men, had been sent out. That the service had its dangers is disclosed by the graphic article written by Greayer entitled, "A Night with the Camion Convoi," which appeared in Collier's Weekly of October 20, 1917, and is reprinted here by courtesy of the editor of Collier's. To his mother, however, Greayer made light of the dangers that she might not worry.
He had a great horror of being thought a "slacker" or embusquée, the French equivalent. So early as July, 1917, he was looking forward to his next service when his six months with the camion convoi ended. With fine scorn he flayed himself for choosing so safe a task. "If this were a hundred years' war," he commented, "a camion driver would go through it in safety." Of course, that was unfair to himself, but it was characteristic of his contempt for any occupation that did not give actual contact with the enemy. After mentioning all branches of the service he ended by declaring aviation was his first choice. It was a portent of what was to come. He broke the news to us when his term of engagement with the camion convoi expired and he made haste to be accepted as a cadet in the aviation service.
That was the time his mother and I mentally bade him good-by, for his daring spirit would rise superior to all dangers although they were always present. But before he was admitted, late in November, he had to face many bitter disappointments and even after he went into training he had to submit to the humiliation of standing up with a score or more of his eager comrades to hear all denounced as nuisances and receive similar insult from an irascible reserve officer who afterward was sharply reprimanded for his indefensible conduct, and transferred. The injustice of the tirade wounded Greayer to the soul, but he never whimpered.
Long before General Wood returned from France, declaring that American manpower---five millions at least---was needed to win the war, Greayer had expressed his conviction that the United States would have to put a million or more men in the trenches and push the Germans back by employing English attacking methods. "That is why I want to get into active service," he wrote in September, 1917, adding, "I firmly believe we will have a real fight and will have to put up a big army before this war is over."
In the months of training which ensued, the delays, owing to a shortage of planes, greatly chafed the lad, impatient to win his wings and get to the front. But he did not waste his time. He studied French diligently, at first with a tutor and later in the little college at St. Maixent. Occasionally, he would get a "permission" which took him to Paris or elsewhere, sightseeing. He wrote: "This is a great country, assuredly. My chief desire is to see all of it in a really interesting way. The vagabond fashion of Locke and others makes strong appeal to me. Gee! I would like to try it. My other main desire is the real one, mother: my dream of heaven is a home and fireplace, an armchair and no more war."
Dear lad! he was in France striving to fit himself for the work in hand, not because he hated the foe and yearned to annihilate him, but because he loved France---his maternal ancestry was derived from French stock. He was in deep sympathy with the aims of America to effect a permanent peace by destroying German militarism and free the small nations from Teuton dominance. One of his friends, who had followed his letters closely, wrote to his mother, after the news of his death came, "'Grubby' did not want to kill. I am glad that if he had to go the end came before he reached the firing line."
It was Greayer's ambition to walk in his father's footsteps as a newspaper man but his letters give evidence that he had literary ability of a high order and might have won an enviable place in American literature had he been spared to express himself. They disclose keen observation, a deep sympathy with humanity and delicate humor. Than his "A Stop at Suzanne's," which chronicles his first "petit voyage" alone, the culmination of his training, a more charming bit of descriptive writing, combined with deep sympathetic feeling, I have never read. It is so naive, so spontaneous and so purely idyllic that it well deserves first place in his contributions and the titular honor. My esteemed colleague, Dr. Douglas Freeman, the brilliant editor of the Richmond News-Leader, in a tender tribute to the gallant soul that had passed, closed in this wise:
Amid a score of tender touches in his account of Suzanne, Greayer told how he was carried to the register where all those flyers who came to Suzanne's had written their names. "They all crowd around," he wrote, "to look without saying anything. Your name means nothing yet, but a year from now, perhaps, who can tell? In the first pages are names that have been bywords for years, and some who are famous the world over." Doubtless, he hoped---as what boy would not---that for America's sake the time would come when those who found the signatures of Guynemer and Fonck and Bishop in that register would pause over his signature and remember him. But if, as he wrote his name, he had any presentiment of what was soon to befall him, we venture that his hand did not tremble or his brave young heart falter.
Soon, too soon, was the fate that overtook Suzanne's betrothed to be Greayer's. Friday, September 6, I had just sent the first edition of The Evening Journal to press when a telegram was handed me. I paused in the act of dictating a letter to read its contents. It was from the lad's cousin, Mr. Harold D. Sheets, general manager of the Vacuum Oil Company, in Paris, and contained these crushing words:
"Greayer fatally injured flying accident. Death instantaneous. Buried Saturday with full military honors, Y. M. C. A. chaplain officiating. I was able to be present to represent you. Sincerest love and sympathy."
Two weeks later came the beautiful letters from his comrade, Lieutenants Crowe and Webb, giving the sad particulars. He was flying across country to Romorantin, where a flying field was located, and as he came over he circled it once around to get his bearings. On one of his turns, it appears, he did not "bank" quite enough, which caused his plane---a Nieuport---to skid. Down went the nose of his machine, as is its wont when skidding, and he crashed head first to the ground. He never gained consciousness.
His friend and associate, Lieutenant James R. Crowe, wrote that Greayer was a good flyer and that last moniteur was astonished when he learned of the fatal accident, exclaiming that Clover was a careful student and "knew what he was doing all the time." Commented Lieutenant Crowe, "If so good a flyer as Greayer had to fall I know that it is all chance and what happened to him may happen to any one of us, any time."
It was August 30, 1918, when Greayer fell to his death and a few weeks later his dear friend, Crowe, met a like fate in almost identical manner. In his letter to me Lieutenant Crowe described the military funeral that was given our dear lad, with the band leading playing Chopin's magnificent "Marche Funebre." "Our hearts were very heavy," he wrote, "when they lowered him into the grave and when the bugler played 'taps' he seemed to express the poignant grief for a dear friend. We saw placed on the grave fresh flowers---the blue, white and red for the clochettes, marguerites and coquelicots, the flowers of France he loved so well, that he gave his life for, gladly, I believe, as he had so often risked it to carry aid to those who were fighting for France."
There on that sun-kissed hill in the cemetery at Issoudun he lies, as unblemished a soul as can be found in Christendom, and as brave. One day, I hope I may be privileged to stand, with his mother, beside that mound in southern France where, I believe, with his friend, Lieutenant Crowe, he is well content to rest. What he gave thousands of others have given in the cause of liberty and although we yielded up our boy as unreservedly as he gave himself, the individual loss is keen. We had to whip the Huns but the cost had been bitterly heavy.