Letters have always been the lifeblood for soldiers and their families back home.
The ones from Roy E. Kidd to his folks in Emsworth are yellowed from the 90 years that have passed since he wrote them in 1918 as a young infantryman with the American Expeditionary Force in war-ravaged Europe.
As a first-hand account of the horrors of World War I trench warfare, they're too mundane to offer much insight. The sentiment of the day was to avoid nasty descriptions of life at the front.
But to Mr. Kidd's descendants, who didn't know the letters existed until a Clarion County teacher found them at a yard sale two years ago, they provide a personal window to a war almost entirely faded from living memory.
Only a handful of World War I veterans remain.
At 10 a.m. today, his 25 letters will be presented to Mr. Kidd's grandson, David Kidd, in the gym at Union High School as part of a ceremony hosted by the school and the new Donald R. Lobaugh War Museum in Rimersburg, Clarion County.
The program will include the display of the letters, patriotic music, poetry and a few comments and exhibits about The Great War.
"The VFW and American Legion will present the colors, play taps and fire off a volley," said Jim McCullough, head of the museum, which opened on Memorial Day. "We're hoping for a good turnout."
David Kidd, who works for the Department of State in Washington, D.C., couldn't be reached yesterday because he was traveling to the school, but he plans to donate the letters to the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center.
The letters were lost to the Kidd family for decades until Ken Gibbs of Rimersburg, an English teacher at Union High, attended a yard sale held by an antiques dealer. He bought a box of cookbooks for $6 and found the book of letters at the bottom.
No one knows how they ended up there, but after reading them, Mr. Gibbs recognized their historical value and sought the help of Joe Gardner, a retired professor and World War I buff, to locate the Kidd family.
David Kidd, who is in his 50s, was able to make the trip.
His grandfather was a member of the 145th Regiment of the 37th Infantry Division and spent July 1918 through January 1919 in France, participating in several campaigns.
In addition to his usual duties in the infantry, Mr. Kidd was a runner, carrying messages from the front to the command post and other units. It was the same job Adolf Hitler had for the other side, and it was dangerous work.
Yet the letters say little about it, nor do they discuss the overall terror of a war in which hidebound infantry tactics outmoded by technology -- particularly the machine gun -- claimed an entire generation of young Germans, Frenchmen and British.
The Americans arrived at the end, nearly four years into the muddy stalemate, but still suffered heavy losses -- more than 116,000 killed and 205,000 wounded.
In the letters, Mr. Kidd seems to downplay it all.
Of one campaign in the Vosges Mountains, he wrote to his father, "there was not a great deal of activity but it seemed like a lot to us rookies. During our stay of six weeks there were nine soldiers of the 145th killed and a number wounded. However, the losses among the Germans were much greater than our own. The men showed a dash and daring that was surprising."
In another letter, he talks about going "over the top" and describes how a piece of shrapnel penetrated his gas mask.
But in general, said Mr. McCullough, "he spares his family the gory details."
That's typical of war letters of the time.
"Kidd's have all the common earmarks: don't worry the folks, show them you are spiritually strong, that you miss/love them, all will be 'normal' when you get home," Mr. Gardner, vice president of the Bradford County Historical Society, said in an e-mail. "But, as an historian, I can look at the dates on his tomes, the towns he mentions, even the weather, and, knowing his unit history, can ascertain that all may not have been so pleasant."
When Mr. Kidd talks about being "lightly shelled" and suffering only a few casualties at Montfaucon, for example, Mr. Gardner knows that this was actually part of the Meuse-Argonne battle. In reality, he said, Mr. Kidd's unit was under "seriously heavy artillery fire" that killed and wounded many of his fellow soldiers.
Mr. Gardner also notes that Mr. Kidd, like any grunt, had little appreciation for tactics beyond his trench or the grand strategies of the war.
"That's what makes history so much fun and letters like these so worthwhile: They give first-hand accounts from a 'mud-level' viewpoint," he said. "The generals want a sweeping victory; he wants warm, dry socks!"
Torsten Ove can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1510.