The Donigan Boys

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Richard Jerry Donigan was my great-great Uncle. I am related to him through his sister. Jerry had five children, all boys. During the First World War three of Jerry’s five boys would join the army, Albert James his second oldest, William Thomas and Gerald T. News had arrived June 10, 1918 that Albert and Gerald had arrived safely in Europe. In November of 1918, Jerry would receive a letter from his middle son William telling him about life in the service and his impending trip home. His parents would allow the local paper to print it.


Olean Evening Herald, December 24, 1918, Olean, New York


Priv. Donigan Writes Father from France


The following was received from J. Donigan of 513 North Sixth street from his son, Private W. T. Donigan of the 23rd Balloon company:


France, Nov. 25th 1918

Dear Mother, Dad and Brothers:


Well I just returned from Mass and as this is what they call Dad’s day in France, I thought I would comply with the fashion and drop a few lines.


We have been advised by the censor that we are allowed to tell where we are, so I am going to relate the whole trip from the States.


We left Camp Morrison at 2:00 p.m. Sunday October 20th in trucks for New Port News to be loaded on the Transport Duca D’Oasta,  an Italian liner; we boarded ship just at 3:00 p.m. on the following day, October21st. While we were on our march to the boat I saw me old friend Howard Foley but didn’t get a chance to talk to him even marching at attention when I yelled at him. I should worry when I see a friend from my old home town, on with the trip. Well we were out to sea just 14 days to the hour. We landed after a very rocky journey on the Duca D’Oasta. We were unloaded at 3:00 p.m. and had to march under heavy marching order  about 5 miles to what they call a rest camp and take it form me it was rest, although we sleep on Mother earth. On the night of the 5th we received orders to pack and go to Camp Coëtquidan, or in other words what they call the Camp of Death, but I think its all life because we sure have it nice. Well we arrived at the said camp on November 6th about 11:00 p.m. and was taken in trucks from the box cars to our quarters which were squad tents, we stayed there fro a few days then we moved into the fine brick barracks and they sure are fine.


Well this is all I have got to say in regard to my trip and from the looks of things I am going to beat this letter to the States as everything points that we will be back in the old U.S. before Christmas, I know that is very soon but the way Uncle Sam does things is great.


I wrote to Albert and Gerald but haven’t heard a word from then and I am very anxious to do so, so that I would know that they are safe. When you write be sure to tell me their post office address so can look them up.


Well Dad, as this is Dad’s day you should look up and say well I am proud that I have three sons in the army. I mean one in a balloon company, but never mind I will be home soon switching cars around the old Hump, as that is the height of my ambition now. I wish you could see the railway system over here. But the American boys have showed them a lot about railroading.


Please excuse all mistakes in this letter, as I haven’t touched one of these machines in several months. I put most of my time in grubbing stumps, etc. or fatigue as they call it, but it was all done for the good old cause, eh.


Love to all, I am as ever,

Your Loving Son,



23rd Balloon Company

Amer. E. F

Via. NY

APO 711


What William didn’t know at the time he was writing this letter was that both of his brother’s had been killed in action. His younger brother Gerald was killed in Bony France, September 28, 1918. He was a Private in Company I, 108 Infantry, 27th Division at the battle of San Quentin. His older brother Albert had also died on October 18, 1918. Albert was a Private First Class in Company K, 325 Infantry during the Meuse-Argonne offensive in France.


The A. G. Donigan Post, No. 104, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Olean, New York would be created in their honor in February 1919.


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