Why a Young Man Should Serve

Pride. Character. Betterment. A few of the reasons Aimée McDuff of Brunswick gave his friend Philias Morin for his enlistment in the US Army in the fall of 1917.  McDuff, a Franco-American, enlisted in the Engineer Corps, but transferred to the Medical Corps where his ability to speak French was highly valued.

Aimée McDuff at Camp Oglethorpe. Image: Brunswick Record, Oct 19, 1917 / Curtis Memorial Library.

McDuff’s letter was written from Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, and published in the Brunswick Record October 18, 1917. After describing his long journey from Boston, he gave his friend his rationale for enlisting in what was already an incredibly bloody and destructive conflict:

I am sometimes asked why I gave up a good position and enlisted.  I have several good reasons for doing so.  First of all this war has gone so far that all men between eighteen and forty will be drafted before long, and my French blood will not permit me to be conscript, and I’d rather choose my branch of service and go in as a non-combatant in the Medical Corps and do clerical or stenographic work, which is a branch of service just as important as the Infantry.



Secondly, for pride, after this war is over the men who have stayed behind will certainly feel sorry when friends gather and talk about the good times they had in the army and the world they have seen.  He who stayed at home will not have a chance to say a word but must listen and find himself not up to the standard.

The third reason is that the army is going to better me physically as well as morally.  It stands to reason that when a man goes to bed at nine o’clock and gets up at five and has his three square meals regularly, sleeps in the open air, goes through physical exercises six or seven hours a day, that he will come through as tough as an ox. 

As regards the moral element, we all know that most bad habits are acquired when we are young and don’t know enough to keep away from them until we grow up with them and it is practically impossible then to break away from them or their modes of living.  When a young man joins the army he forgets about them all, gets into a new life altogether.  He comes back with new ideas, he knows how to pick out his new friends, he has seen a bit of this small world, he knows what the world war means, he is respected by everybody and better taken care on than the other fellow.


Despite having been written more than a century ago, McDuff’s words could equally apply to the thousands currently serving their country, and the many who have done so before.

Happy Memorial Day!

James Myall

About James Myall

While I currently work for an Augusta-based non-profit, I spent four years as the Coordinator of the Franco-American Collection at the University of Southern Maine. In 2015, I co-authored "The Franco-Americans of Lewiston-Auburn," a general history of that population from 1850 to the present. I was also a consultant for the State Legislative Task Force on Franco-Americans in 2012. I live in Topsham with my wife and two young daughters.