"FOR THIS MY SON WAS DEAD, AND IS ALIVE AGAIN; HE WAS LOST; AND IS FOUND."
He was lost by the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps.
He was officially dead as a result of official misinformation.
He was entombed by the French Government.
It took the better part of three months to find him and bring him back to life—with the help of powerful and willing friends on both sides of the Atlantic. The following documents tell the story:
104 Irving Street, Cambridge, December 8, 1917.
President Woodrow Wilson, White House, Washington, D. C.
It seems criminal to ask for a single moment of your time. But I am strongly advised that it would be more criminal to delay any longer calling to your attention a crime against American citizenship in which the French Government has persisted for many weeks—in spite of constant appeals made to the American Minister at Paris; and in spite of subsequent action taken by the State Department at Washington, on the initiative of my friend, Hon. ——.
The victims are two American ambulance drivers, Edward Estlin Cummings of Cambridge, Mass., and W—— S—— B——….
More than two months ago these young men were arrested, subjected to many indignities, dragged across France like criminals, and closely confined in a Concentration Camp at La Ferté Macé; where, according to latest advices they still remain—awaiting the final action of the Minister of the Interior upon the findings of a Commission which passed upon their cases as long ago as October 17.
Against Cummings both private and official advices from Paris state that there is no charge whatever. He has been subjected to this outrageous treatment solely because of his intimate friendship with young B——, whose sole crime is—so far as can be learned—that certain letters to friends in America were misinterpreted by an over-zealous French censor.
It only adds to the indignity and irony of the situation to say that young Cummings is an enthusiastic lover of France and so loyal to the friends he has made among the French soldiers, that even while suffering in health from his unjust confinement, he excuses the ingratitude of the country he has risked his life to serve by calling attention to the atmosphere of intense suspicion and distrust that has naturally resulted from the painful experience which France has had with foreign emissaries.
Be assured, Mr. President, that I have waited long—it seems like ages—and have exhausted all other available help before venturing to trouble you.
1. After many weeks of vain effort to secure effective action by the American Ambassador at Paris, Richard Norton of the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps to which the boys belonged, was completely discouraged, and advised me to seek help here.
2. The efforts of the State Department at Washington resulted as follows:
i. A cable from Paris saying that there was no charge against Cummings and intimating that he would speedily be released.
ii. A little later a second cable advising that Edward Estlin Cummings had sailed on the Antilles and was reported lost.
iii. A week later a third cable correcting this cruel error and saying the Embassy was renewing efforts to locate Cummings—apparently still ignorant even of the place of his confinement.
After such painful and baffling experiences, I turn to you—burdened though I know you to be, in this world crisis, with the weightiest task ever laid upon any man.
But I have another reason for asking this favor. I do not speak for my son alone; or for him and his friend alone. My son has a mother—as brave and patriotic as any mother who ever dedicated an only son to a great cause. The mothers of our boys in France have rights as well as the boys themselves. My boy's mother had a right to be protected from the weeks of horrible anxiety and suspense caused by the inexplicable arrest and imprisonment of her son. My boy's mother had a right to be spared the supreme agony caused by a blundering cable from Paris saying that he had been drowned by a submarine. (An error which Mr. Norton subsequently cabled that he had discovered six weeks before.) My boy's mother and all American mothers have a right to be protected against all needless anxiety and sorrow.
Pardon me, Mr. President, but if I were President and your son were suffering such prolonged injustice at the hands of France; and your son's mother had been needlessly kept in Hell as many weeks as my boy's mother has—I would do something to make American citizenship as sacred in the eyes of Frenchmen as Roman citizenship was in the eyes of the ancient world. Then it was enough to ask the question, "Is it lawful to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned?" Now, in France, it seems lawful to treat like a condemned criminal a man that is an American, uncondemned and admittedly innocent!
Very respectfully, EDWARD CUMMINGS
This letter was received at the White House. Whether it was received with sympathy or with silent disapproval is still a mystery. A Washington official, a friend in need and a friend indeed in these trying experiences, took the precaution to have it delivered by messenger. Otherwise, fear that it had been "lost in the mail" would have added another twinge of uncertainty to the prolonged and exquisite tortures inflicted upon parents by alternations of misinformation and official silence. Doubtless the official stethoscope was on the heart of the world just then; and perhaps it was too much to expect that even a post-card would be wasted on private heart-aches.