New Year’s in Paris for a Nebraska Soldier
The Cornhusker, yearbook of the University of Nebraska, in 1918 was dedicated to “Nebraskans—Students, Alumni, Faculty—here and over there” who were serving in World War I. Included was a series of “Camp Sketches” consisting of letters and reports from servicemen associated with the school. Sgt. John Leslie Putt of Omaha, stationed in France with the American Expeditionary Forces, described his recent visit to Paris during the New Year’s holiday:
“When I arrived at the Paris depot a United States marine grabbed me and asked for my pass and then I walked out into the street to get a taxi, as instructed, but there were no taxis for blocks around at that hour of the night and no subways or street cars.” A policeman recommended the YMCA hotel, about eight blocks away. When it proved to be closed, Putt returned to the depot "and sat around in the cold until 5 o'clock. I felt like the only American in France. I returned to the hotel at 5:30, got a room (four francs a day), and slept for a few hours.”
Putt soon met two fellow Nebraska soldiers, Frank S. Proudfit and Charles L. Whedon, both of Lincoln, and the group went to the Casino de Paris, “to see a good show again. It was a wonderful orchestra, and about half the show in English, wonderful chorus and dancing, with real American jazz band.”
Putt tried shopping for souvenirs and “got some shoes (50 francs), gloves (32 francs), and looked in the windows the rest of the time. There is nothing here that you cannot buy at home, and cheaper, so I won't attempt to send anything home. I'll bring some souvenirs when I return. Paris has beautiful buildings of all kinds, statues, and parks, etc., but Omaha would look pretty fine to me.”
Putt was disappointed with New Year’s Eve in Paris: “[I]t wasn’t like it is at home—no whistles, bells or anything.” But dinner the following day with Proudfit and Whedon “in a classy restaurant” was memorable. “It cost lots of money, but it was worth it (83 francs for the three of us) a wonderful omelet, broiled chicken, French fried potatoes, ice cream, cake, etc.“ Putt left Paris the next day.
More information and photographs on Nebraska’s role in World War I, on the home front and on the battlefield, are online at the Nebraska State Historical Society’s website. Become a member of the NSHS and receive four issues yearly of Nebraska History magazine. Selected articles from past issues are posted online. - Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications