Letters to Mother: A Brother’s Reunion

Originally called Armistice Day, November 11, 1919, was reserved as a day of remembrance for the one-year anniversary of the end of the Great War.  Observed since 1926 and celebrated as a national holiday since 1938, now known as Veterans Day, honors all military personnel who have served the United States.  This year, America celebrated the 99th anniversary of the day that ended the “War to End All Wars.”  Accessible at the University of Maryland Special Collections, the Milton Reckord papers – which includes letters, photographs, newspaper clippings, awards, and memorabilia – affords an opportunity to compare the correspondence of two of Harford County’s very own “doughboys” from Maryland, General Milton Atchinson Reckord, and his younger brother, Colonel Leland Tell Reckord.

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Born on December 28, 1879, to John and Lydia of Bel Air, Harford County, Maryland, Milton Atchinson was the couple’s second son.  After the birth of two more sons and three daughters, on May 15, 1895, Leland Tell joined the family. Growing up, the boys became aware of military conflict as the Spanish American War raged from April to August of 1898.  At the age of 18, Milton desired to join the military, but refrained until his 21st birthday per his mother’s wishes.  On February 2, 1901, Milton enlisted with the Maryland National Guard as a private.  He moved smoothly through the ranks, making First Sergeant within a year of his enlistment, Captain in 1903, and eventually Major in 1906.  Two years later, Mr. John Reckord, Milton and Leland’s father, passed away.  

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Milton Atchinson Reckord at approximately age 5. Milton Reckord papers.

Although Europe exploded with war on July 28, 1914, it was not until the sinking of the RMS Lusitania resulted in the death of 128 American passengers, that the United States joined the fray on April 6, 1917.

In response to the entrance of the United States’ military forces, in May 1917, the National Guard was ordered into federal service.  Included were Major Milton Reckord, who was soon promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.  A year later, on May 1, 1918, Milton was promoted to Colonel and given the command of the 115th U.S. Infantry, whom he commanded until the end of the war.  Twenty-seven days after his brother’s promotion, Leland, 23, enlisted as a private, and was assigned to 9th Company, 154th Dept. Brigade in December.  During their time overseas, both sons maintained a steady correspondence with their mother, Lydia, Milton’s wife, Bessie, and some of their friends.  

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Milton Atchinson Reckord in 1917. Milton Reckord papers.

On July 17, 1918, Leland wrote to his mother his first letter from France.  Within this correspondence, he mentions that France is a “strange country” and assures her that he has not found a girl he is sweet for.  He asks for her to keep him updated on the news at home and says that he has been, so far, unable to locate “Atch” (Milton).  Most of Leland’s letters do not provide much description of the war activities he was likely involved in, but rather show his interest in what is happening at home in Maryland.

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 In contrast, Milton’s letters to his mother are a bit more elaborate about his experiences in France, but the desire to remain connected to his mother, family, and the events at home are still abundantly clear.  On January 15, 1918, Milton chastises his mother for not writing to him more often.  He begins with, “I don’t know what you are doing but certainly not writing letters as I have not had a real letter from you for a long, long time.  I suppose you are so busy running around that you can’t find time but then Leland and I are stranded over here and we want to hear from you often.”  He then goes on to talk about some of the things he has experienced while in service.
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In a letter home, dated August 5, 1918, Leland is excited with news for he has found his older brother:

“Well I am overflowing with happiness.  Saturday evening, Aug. 3, I was waiting for retreat and a big car pulled up to company headquarters.  I jumped to attention and out came Atch.  I surely was surprised.  We took a long ride and talked many things over.  Without a doubt momzy dear it was the best time of my life.  He is trying to get me transferred and I look for him again about tomorrow or the next day.  If things go right I will be transferred then.”

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Milton also sent a letter describing the two brothers’ reunion:

My dear, dear Mother,

At last I have some news to write you.  The world is not so large after all.  I have seen Leland and had him with me for a long Auto ride yesterday afternoon.  I know you will be delighted at this news and so I will tell you how it all came about.  First of all I had no idea he was over here until day before yesterday.  Well, as I wrote you in my last letter, I have been in the city attending another school.  When walking down the street two days ago a soldier who had formerly been in the 115th Inf. approached me and spoke.  He said that he had been in a little town about fifteen minutes south of here the day before and my brother recognized him as belonging to the 29th Division by his chin strap and had asked him if he saw me please to tell me that he (Leland) was over here.  Yesterday being Saturday I had nothing to do in the afternoon so I went to the Transportation office and got a car and ran down to see Leland.  Well you may imagine he was a surprised boy when I rode up to him outside his little billet.  I had him excused from retreat and took him in the car and over to my own headquarters and back again……

Your Dear Son, Atch

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A few days after their surprise reunion, Leland was transferred to Milton’s unit, where they both served the rest of the war and fought in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the largest and bloodiest operation for the American forces during the Great War.  Both brothers survived the final days of World War I and were eventually shipped home and discharged from federal services.  Leland was given an honorable discharge, and Milton was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and French Croix de Guerre with palms.  Returning to Maryland after armistice was declared, Milton continued his service with the National guard, first as Adjutant General and, additionally, as Brigadier General.

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Stereoscopic view of Colonel Milton Reckord after the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, 1918. Milton Reckord papers.

The Mayland brothers would again answer their country’s call when the United States entered the Second World War… and survive.  To learn more about the lives of these two brave soldiers and other collections related to the First World War, visit the Special Collections and University Archives at Hornbake Library.

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General Milton “Atch” Reckord, ca.1951. Milton Reckord papers.


Jen Piegols (University of Maryland, Class of 2019), Special Collections Student Assistant. Jen Piegols is a first year MLIS student in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland.  She works in the State of Maryland and Historical Collections at UMD’s Special Collections and University Archives.

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