The Story of the American Expeditionary Forces
History and Rhymes of the
A Review of a Doughboy Bestseller
By Margaret B. Haas
I recently became acquainted with "Buck Private" McCollum and his HISTORY AND RHYMES OF THE LOST BATTALION. While searching among rare and collectible books at a used book sale it came to my attention. The brown paperback, measuring five by seven inches, was in a small wicker basket, among obscure, unrelated pamphlets. If it were not for my interest in The Great War Society I would have by passed it. There was no sign on it to attract a buyer's attention. The cover is frayed, the corners bent, the binding loose, and the brittle pages need to be turned with care. Without an owner's name, there is no clue as to whom it belonged or how it came to be in the Buffalo area. It was priced at $8.00 and half price the last day of the sale when I found it.
Who was Lee Charles "Buck Private" McCollum? Did he have other publications?. He first published this volume himself in 1919. The sketches were by Franklin Sky. In reading his poems, I learned that Pt. McCollum saw action in France in many of the same areas as the famous Lost Battalion, but he is not listed on the unit's roster and other unit's are not mentioned. In March 1923 Arthur C. Brucke, (rank not given) Commander of Infantry Post, New York City and committee composed of army officers, endorsed its publication. The Commander wrote that "this book while written in a humorous vein, reveals the Hell thru which the American soldier passed. It cannot fail to arose patriotism and love of a country hidden in every true American heart, and is a story that can be proudly handed down from generation to generation."
In his Forward, Pvt. McCollum revealed much of himself.
In Pt.McCollum's own words, "This volume is dedicated to the memory of "My Buddies" who gave their all "Up There."
I've never had a fling at this thing,
That they call writin'an'such::
I haven't the art a genius owns
To put over the master touch.
I can only tell a Doughboy's way,
Things that we all lived thru,
And if perchance you were "Up There,"
You'll know that they are true.
No artist, whether good or bad,
Can paint the sunset's glow;
Nor can any man who ever came back
describe the war and its woe.
So I'll lay no claim to the master's touch
In the thots I've expressed herin.
But when you've finished reading them,
You'll know what it cost to win.
You'll know how a Doughboy feels when he fights,
And also the joys of his play:
So may you accept them just they are,
In a Doughboy's own crude way.
My late Father, Albert K. Haas saw action at the same time with the 309th. Infantry, 78th Division. In his poems I recognized many of the battle scenes and army terminology my Father integrated in the Diary he compiled in 1919. His words and my Father's narrative came alive following my tour of the Western Front in April, 2003 with Michael Hanlon as my guide. Pt. McCollum wove into his poetry, Chateau -Thierry, St. Mihiel, Raucort, "Over The Top" and "No Man's Land."along with army "Bully Beef "Corn Billy", and the "Old Tin Derby." In other poems he described the endless rains, the skirmishes and the blazing red and green rockets.
In his last two poems Pt. McCollum tells about where he fought from Vesle "clear up to the Rhine , at Chateau-Thierry and in the Argonne Wood" and says "I did the best I could.." It is in this poem he called the "Price" that the author expresses feelings of self consciousness "when people stare" because he escaped death while "some are thinking of loved ones lost.." He concluded with "The Phantoms." .In his words, "Ghostly Phantoms hear the call --"Gather those who gave their all,." -in the Argonne Wood. My edition includes a tribute written by Lt. Col. Whittlesey dated November 11, 1920 and is followed by the address delivered at Lt. Col. Whittlesey's Memorial Service in 1923.
My copy is neither a first edition nor is it signed by Pt. McCollum. It states: Copyrighted 1919, 1921, 1922, 1929 by L.C.McCollum - Four Hundredth Thousand. Later I found a version that claimed "Seven Hundredth Thousand" [copies].
Back Home Again
The Buffalo and Erie County Public Library has one copy in the stacks. It is not circulated. In searching the Internet, I concluded later editions have additional poems , sketches , pictures and tributes. Various editions are available in used and rare book stores throughout the USA.
In his poetry Pvt. McCullun covered the Great War, telling it as it was, making it a treasure of World War I literature.
Thanks: The illustrations here are from the original volume and are credited to Franklin Sly. Later editions included other drawings credited to Tolman Reamer. One of our favorite poesm from Buck Private's collection can be read by clicking here. MH
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