The post mark on the envelope simply read U.S. Army Post Office Nov. 9, 1918. Inside the envelope was a letter from Anthony Billian to his sister Ursula. At the top of the letter it said, “Somewhere in France.” – “Dear Ursula just a word from your dear brother,” “I am feeling pretty good.” “Having a great time over here, haven’t saw C. Jeff (Charles Jeffords) for some time don’t expect to see him anymore until we arrive (back) in Ports.” “We hear good news today-the first I heard – since I have been over here – we heard the war will soon be over – well I hope so because I am getting tired of it…”
Armistice was declared on November 11, 1918, thus ending World War I. The significance of the letter written home, was the post mark of November 9, 1918. By the time it arrived home, Pvt. Anthony (Tony) Billian and Charles Jeffords, would have been Killed in Action in the Argonne Forrest Battle. Ironically Jeffords was killed on November 1st and the next day on November 2nd Billian was killed. Two young men that had been friends all their lives and went to war together never to return. Charles and Anthony had grown up together and went to school, attended the same church (St. Mary’s,) and ultimately going to Boot Camp together. Their training was at Camp Sherman in Chillicothe. A story told by Billian’s niece, Leatitia Spiro – was how the boys would sneak out of camp and come to Portsmouth. Then Tony’s mother would have to drive them back to the camp in time for “Reveille” in the morning. That apparently was the way it was with those young men, together through thick and thin. Another story told by Mrs. Spiro – “the guys upon entering the Army, had mentioned to Billian’s mother that if one didn’t make it back home the other one didn’t want to make it either.” No greater pals were those two. They finished boot camp together and were then shipped off to France. In France they were assigned to separate units and didn’t have much contact with each other – as noted in Anthony’s letter.
According to “History Central” – “The Battle of Argonne Forest was part of what became known as the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the last battle of World War I. It was a massive attack along the whole line, with the immediate goal of reaching the railroad junction at Sedan. The US had over 1 million troops now available to fight. While the US troops were not battle tested, the introduction of over 1 million – well armed troops into a battle that had exhausted armies for four years would prove decisive.” – “In the final stage of the battle which lasted until the Armistice of November 11, 1918 American forces advanced on Metz, while French forces conquered the goal of the campaign Sedan. The Americans suffered 192,000 casualties in the battle including 26,277 killed. The French suffered 70,000 casualties, while the Germans had 126,000 casualties among them 56,000 prisoners.” It was in that last decisive battle the friends were forever bonded together in death and as they had told Mrs. Billian – “would not come home if not together.”
A letter sent by the Army dated January 21, 1919 – Subject: Deceased Soldiers – “In reply to your letter relative to the deaths of Private Anthony J. Billian and Private Charles J. Jeffords, you are advised that the records of this office show: 1.) Pvt. Anthony J. Billian … Buried on November 10, 1918, 1 Kilometer West of Andevanne. Grave marked by a peg and two identification tags. 2.) Pvt. Charles J. Jeffords…Buried on November 2, 1918, 306.5 – 287.2, on Road leading West from Bantheville. Signed: Earl Booth Adjutant General. “ Looking at a map of France it can be gleaned that the two heroes were within a few kilometers of one another in those ill-fated last days.
In Greenlawn Cemetery in the northeast corner (Saint Mary Section,) there is a marker that has an inscription – “In Memory of Anthony Billian – Born U.S.A. November 11, 1893 – 353 Hdq. Co. Sig. Corps – Killed In Action Nov. 2 1918 – While defending his country” on the other side of the monument can be seen – Charles J. Jeffords Born May 22, 1893 – Killed In Action Nov. 1, 1918 – Co. H 360 U.S. Inf. – Argonne Forest France.” The monument at Greenlawn is just that – they are buried in France – Both men are interred at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery – Mrs. Spiro shared that she had visited that cemetery and “they were in different rows but catty-corner from one another.” Together forever.
Bob Boldman is a local historian. He can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org