John Erle Davis

John Erle Davis, the recipient of Laura's letters recorded in this narrative, was also 29 years old when the U.S. declared war April 6, 1917. Like Laura, his roots were deep in Jennings County, Indiana. His Scots-Irish great-grandfather Phanuel Davis, who'd served as an Ohio Militia sergeant in Detroit in the War of 1812, had established a farm in the county's Campbell Township by 1819. Phanuel's wife was descended from English, Scottish and Protestant-Irish stock who were among the earliest pioneers on the Virginia frontier in the 1700s. Davis's Presbyterian grandfather married an Irish immigrant in 1843, and thereafter that branch of the family was Roman Catholic.

The Davis and Huckleberry farms at one time adjoined at one corner, but in rural Indiana a century ago, Protestants and Catholics scarcely spoke to one another, let alone socialized. Nevertheless, as Laura's wartime letters reveal, she and Erle had been interested in one another since high school days, a relationship growing when they both worked in Chicago in the immediate pre-war years.

Erle's father had been a stonemason and foreman of stone-worker crews building roadbeds and bridges for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and was now a clerk in the State government in Indianapolis. Erle was the oldest of three, his siblings being sisters Audrey Elizabeth (Betsy) and Harriet (Hettie). Because he had lived for years with his aunt. Mrs. John N. Rees, her sons Jack and Billy, midshipmen at the U. S. Naval Academy during the war, were like brothers to him.

In 1917, Erle was a journalist who'd dropped out of high school in the 11th grade to learn the printing trade, later becoming a reporter and editor in Louisville, Kansas City and now Chicago. At the time his Illinois State Guard unit was federalized in May 1917, he was an editor with the Western Newspaper Union in Chicago, a syndicated news service for weekly newspapers.