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April 01, 2020

A Soldier’s Love Story

The Bassett Historical Center is a very unique facility.  One might even say that it is somewhat of a type of time capsule.  When one steps through the doors to the building, it is almost like stepping back into time.  Our collections, displays, and items help to surpass both time and place enabling patrons to see items here that they may not have a chance of seeing anywhere else.  A very special collection encompassed by a true love story, one very fitting for this time of year, was recently donated to the Center.  Hunter Haskins, one of the Center’s invaluable volunteers, graciously consented to work on this project.  This project quickly took on a very personal meaning for Hunter and, with his personal touches, he was able to make this story resonate to show a couple’s love which has transcended over time.  The collection includes a spoon commemorating the U.S. declaration of war in 1917, a period stop watch, a stamp book from England, a World War I Victory Medal, and many personal letters and postcards sent from a soldier to the wife that he longed to be with but sadly, because of the war, had to leave behind.

The following is what Hunter wrote as the description for this very unique collection and display:

In early 1917, the United States declares war against the German Empire following untenable submarine warfare and various other perceived offenses.  Consequently, America began the mass bulking up and training of its armed forces.  Among the enlisted was Robert William Paschal, a farmer from Reidsville, North Carolina.  At just 19, Robert joined the training forces at Camp Sevier in Greenville, South Carolina with the 30th Division, 120th Infantry, Company G.

While he was a good recruit, according to his fellow comrades and officers, Robert’s homesickness led him to look for strength through writing to his wife, Margaret.  Born Margaret Jane Fargis, she and her newlywed husband maintained weekly correspondence from the time Robert entered service in early 1917 until nearly the end of the war in 1918.  Writing about everything from the mundane (the weather at camp) to the humorous (Robert and Margaret’s constantly foiled off-base meetings) to the financial (Robert sending his entire salary back home to his wife), Robert’s letters to Margaret present a fascinating look into one man’s life in the early 20th century.

A typical letter would begin with a notice by Robert that he was “writing a few lines to let you know that I am okay”.  Robert’s ‘few lines’, though, would often become letters seven, eight, or even nine and ten pages long.  Robert wrote in a simplified, train of thought style that deceptively appears boring and lackluster.  However, when examining the contents of his 45 surviving letters back home, Robert’s lack of ‘eloquent prose’ does not devalue the passion of his thoughts, ideas, and plans for the future.  Each letter details how loving he was of Margaret, the ‘best little wife in the whole world’.  In turn, whenever his wife was feeling sad or distraught, Robert too felt glum and distressed.  This is even visible in some of his writings, where by his own declaration he would cry in empathy with her.  Even now, more than a century after Robert’s letters were sent, the stains of dried tears are still visible on his writings.

As time went on, so did Robert and Margaret’s lives.  Around Christmas 1917, Robert and Margaret began talking passionately about their little “brown hound” (their baby) that would soon be joining them.  That “brown hound”, named Margaret Frances, was born May 10, 1918 only days after Robert and the 30th Division left Hoboken, New Jersey for France.  His letters, though getting shorter and shorter while fighting overseas, continued to dream about the future he and his new family would have once he returned home.

Tragically, Robert never got to see his daughter.  He died of pneumonia while serving in the cold, dirty trenches on November 4, 1918, exactly one week before the armistice ending the war was signed.  In a letter from Robert’s cousin to Margaret in 1919, it is clear that she was still grieving from the loss of her husband, who at that time was still buried in Rouen, France.  His body did not stay there, though, returning to Reidsville by 1921.  Robert is now buried at Lowes United Methodist Church Cemetery.

Margaret in time remarried to a James Harrison Morris of Henry County, relocating here with her young daughter.  Margaret had several more children with James before passing away in 1934 at the age of 36, while Margaret Frances lived to be 78 before dying in 1996.  Both mother and daughter are buried at Pleasant Grove Christian Church Cemetery.

While Robert and Margaret have long since departed the earth, the letters left behind by a devoted husband to his wife provide a window both deep and fascinating into the world of the Paschals.  Their correspondence as such is both heartbreaking and beautiful to read more than 100 years later.

Hunter Haskins is presently a junior at Roanoke College.  He is majoring in History and Political Science with a concentration in Public History.  Hunter is always enthusiastic to present the lesser known stories of history and looks forward to making a career of it when he graduates.  We are so appreciative of Hunter’s help and work here at the Center and cannot wait to see what he creates for his own history!

By Fran Snead and Hunter Haskins










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