One day in January, 1915, I saw Jim McConnell in front of the
Court House at Carthage, North Carolina. "Well," he said, "I'm
all fixed up and am leaving on Wednesday." "Where for?" I asked.
"I've got a job to drive an ambulance in France," was his
And then he went on to tell me, first, that as he saw it the
greatest event in history was going on right at hand and that he
would be missing the opportunity of a lifetime if he did not see
it. "These Sand Hills," he said "will be here forever, but the
war won't; and so I'm going." Then, as an afterthought, he added:
"And I'll be of some use, too, not just a sight-seer looking on;
that wouldn't be fair."
So he went. He joined the American ambulance service in the
Vosges, was mentioned more than once in the orders of the day for
conspicuous bravery in saving wounded under fire, and received
the much-coveted Croix de Guerre.
Meanwhile, he wrote interesting letters home. And his point of
view changed, even as does the point of view of all Americans who
visit Europe. From the attitude of an adventurous spirit anxious
to see the excitement, his letters showed a new belief that any
one who goes to France and is not able and willing to do more
than his share--to give everything in him toward helping the
wounded and suffering--has no business there.
And as time went on, still a new note crept into his letters;
the first admiration for France was strengthened and almost
replaced by a new feeling--a profound conviction that France and
the French people were fighting the fight of liberty against
enormous odds. The new spirit of France--the spirit of the
"Marseillaise," strengthened by a grim determination and absolute
certainty of being right--pervades every line he writes. So he
gave up the ambulance service and enlisted in the French flying
corps along with an ever-increasing number of other
The spirit which pervades them is something above the spirit
of adventure that draws many to war; it is the spirit of a man
who has found an inspiring duty toward the advancement of liberty
and humanity and is glad and proud to contribute what he can.
His last letters bring out a new point--the assurance of
victory of a just cause. "Of late," he writes, "things are much
brighter and one can feel a certain elation in the air. Victory,
before, was a sort of academic certainty; now, it is felt."
F. C. P.
November 10, 1916.