Costa, Joseph Louis
edited by Barbara McIntosh
UK-born Joseph Costa, RC ‘22, was a naturalized US citizen. His father, August, was born in Paris, France, and might have been of Portuguese or Italian descent. Joseph joined the French Foreign Legion rather than the American Expeditionary Forces, perhaps out of loyalty to his father’s place of birth. He was a Catholic, which might explain why his Rutgers friends called him “Pope” in many letters. Costa’s letters indicate that he had a friendly relationship with both Luther Martin and George Osborn, the Rutgers College registrar and librarian respectively. In addition to being close colleagues, George, Luther, and Earl Reed Silvers were themselves quite close. Costa’s letters, whether addressed to George or “Lu,” ended up in Silvers’s files.
Costa’s epistolary manner is warm and effusive, and he goes into great detail about the lives of the eight Rutgers men serving in the Medical Department at Base Hospital No. 8 in Savenay, France. He even repeats substantial portions in separate letters to Martin and Silvers. One imagines he was a bit envious of their camaraderie, all sleeping together in the same attic of the École Normale. The last three letters in Costa’s file give a somewhat revealing look into his experiences in the French army; it is not known to whom they were addressed or indeed if they were mailed on the dates given. Costa is one of the only Rutgers alumni to admit to feeling lonely in his letters. He closes his letter to “Lu” by saying: “Drop me a line now & then as I am lonely as they make them.”
- “Services today for Dr. Costa,” The Tustin News (Tustin, California), March 27, 1969, p. 1.
Joseph L. Costa to George A. Osborn, Late 1917
New Brunswick, New Jersey
Dear (& Co.)
A lazy spell got a hold of me, and while I had all good intentions of dropping you a line as soon as I got here, between making purchases, getting settled, and the Red Cross girls, why, it just slipped along.
First about our trip. It was a regular summer school. We had a Red Cross gang on board, and the trip was a , and dancing, with much eating and drinking (?). There was lots of talk of submarines and torpedoes, but we did not encounter anything, being convoyed by two torpedo boat destroyers in the danger zone. Our boat was armed with a 2—6” and a 3”. The last three days in the danger zone, the orders were to sleep with clothing and with life preservers. About half the fool passengers slept on deck during the whole
dtrip, and dragged the life preservers where vever they went, no matter if it was the drawing room or the dining room. The only trouble was that there were no lights allowed on deck at night, not even a smoke or , so we had to promenade the deck in the dark. Very convenient.
Anyway, after 24 hours fooling with customs officials, and passports, etc. they let me come on to , and take it from me, this is Paris, even if it is wa
The only differences between war time Paris and peace time Paris are that prices are on the whole higher, lights never show up at night on the streets, and the place is gayer than usual. Theaters, etc. all go to full capacity, only the cheapest seat is about 15 francs. The
New Brunswick, New Jersey
Joseph L. Costa
cheapest shoes around town are 60—70 francs (10—12 dollars) and the cheapest soap about 40¢ a small cake. Outside of these few commodities, however, things are either about the same as in America or cheaper. Fruits, vegetables, wine, etc. is much cheaper. They have this system of tickets for getting milk, coal, etc. but it works very well, that is, nobody goes short; there is plenty to go around. Another thing that is dear as anything is typewriters. The American a
frmy has cleaned up all machines in France, and the cheapest machine obtainable, a Remington 10, costs about $200. delivery in a month or two.
Americans are not as well looked on in France as they say in America. In fact, unless they are careful there is liable to be trouble. The trouble is that every town the army hits, prices go up from double to a hundred times, and the French people in town can’t get anything any more. This is the case all over France, as our army is scatter [sic] all over the country, from 100 to 3000 in a village.
Another trouble with this town is that the cars stop running at
I8 o’clock at night, the subway at 11 o’clock, and t xaxis don’t run at all, so that is necessary to keep pre etty good hours or walk. I don’t do either. I hang up at some relative in any quarter I happen to be.
Can you possibly get ’s address, that is, the unit he is in?
New Brunswick, New Jersey
Joseph L. Costa
I have to write on my own paper because this week there is a shortage of stationery in Paris. Envelopes absolutely cannot be had. Commercial firms are using stationery that we wouldn’t even wrap a parcel with.
At present, I am at the , and it will do for a month or so until I see everybody I want to in town and get tired of the place, when I will move, I don’t know where yet.
My address is:
With a 2—cent stamp:
American Expeditionary Forces,
With a 5—cent stamp:
I am having a great time in the old home town, keeping usual French hours: 9—12; 2—5, and then usual evening hours.
Take it from me, George, from what I hear from soldiers here, travelling on a transport is pretty punk, and I would think twice before taking transport accommodations for the front.
New Brunswick, New Jersey
Joseph L. Costa
Talking business, I hope whenever any debt of mine may show up at the office, you will drop a line quickly home, so that things may get settled; I suppose however by this time you have duly spent your valuable time closing my affairs.
Till I get enough energy together to write you again,
I also hope to receive a line from you, and the regulation line from from time to time.
Joseph L. Costa to Luther H. Martin, Early 1918
Just a word in pencil to let you know that I have my easy time and enlisted in the French Army, artillery to go to the I am now a perfectly good private making 5 ¢ a day. The course is 4 months and graduates with a temporary commission, which is made permanent in 3 months.
I was down to see the fellows at the Sunday, about 1 mile from , near . It is a monotonous life they lead but easy. A fine building with about 100 Americans. has an officer’s ward. had scarlet fever &
had the mumps while I was there, was playing bridge, smoking a cigarette in bed. ‘19 slings the hash. has a ward. They have the easy life, with good stuff to eat, in a section of France that is green practically all year round. They are, however, extremely restricted in what they can write which is a nuisance. Their incoming mail, however, is not censored. I forgot to mention , who spends his time practically memorizing the .
In this respect, I should feel, as long as there are so many Rutgers men there that
it a copy might be sent care of one of them each
week. It would be unnecessary to send so many circulars all the same, but they would welcome a Targum regularly. They all sleep in the same room, an attic, but very comfortably.
They get very good grub, much better than I am getting at present.
Drop me a line now & then as I am lonely as they make them. This is no longer Paris.
Joseph L. Costa
Ecole Militaire d’Artillerie,
Joseph L. Costa to Earl Reed Silvers, February 1918 [?]
It was a pleasure to get a copy of your Quarterly for January, altho [sic] I receive it at a different place, far from gay “Paree” now a full fledged , a perfectly good private in the 32e French artillery. Let me know, am I the first Rutgers man to be a regular in the French army?
Now at the artillery school at Fontainebleau, to take a 4 months’ course before leaving for the front with temporary commission (French: aspirant) in the French army. Beginning here Feb. 15 I ought to be out June 15. Now making the usual 5¢ a day, and drinking the usual sour red ink.
Let me write for your bureau’s information, a little of
the Rutgers bunch at the Base Hospital.
Being as I was pretty free, I decided to take a trip to see U.S. Base Hospital #8 near (Savenay, ) France.
At the mouth of the (Loire) this town is about 7 miles from St. Nazaire,
the an important port since America has entered the war. Arriving at 4:00 a.m after having left Paris at 8 p.m. I roamed up a road for about a mile and found the hospital a large, 3 story stone building or rather group of buildings. After waiting till 6:30 A.M. I was showed into the mess room where everything was humming. The first sight was “Tody” Bracher
coming down the isle in kakki [sic]. After a substantial breakfast of meal (with sugar — a rarety for everybody but Americans in France), eggs, as many as you wish, coffee, and fine bread. Then resolved to wake up some of the rest of the fellows who were sleeping away.
On the 3rd floor in a spacious roomy attic, well aired were the sleeping quarters.
“Slats” Maar, as usual, sleeping in bed smoking a cigarette.
Ross Miner was just getting up and already started on a good game of bridge.
Jill Jackson, still in bed, was scrutinizing the football issue of the Targum.
Anton Ward expecting me, has been attending to showing me around, now left to take care of
his officers’ ward.
In the meantime, I stalked across a fine green courtyard to the Registrar’s Office, and surrounded on all sides with heaps of vouchers was .
was showed up eventually, and appeared to be .
Joe Herben could not be seen, being confined with scarlet fever, while Meff Runyon was down with the mumps.
At noon mess, I had an opportunity to see Mike Merritt, who was busy
All The men are apparently coming along nicely on the French, from the grade I heard from some of them, Anton Ward particularly who took me around town to see some of the celebrities he had already made acquaintance with, where he
spouted French almost like a native.
The town was “bone dry” the blue law extending to practically every restaurant in town.
The town itself while not unusually attractive is in one of the finest districts of France, the climate even in winter is temperate, and in February the grass was green, many trees in foliage, and violets out.
It is certainly regrettable that the men are limited in their mail and cannot write their experiences.
Note:— Reed: Use your judgment about telling or publishing the name of the place
I can get any information you want about any of the men at #8. by going down to see them.
Will you note my new grade and address
Joseph L. Costa, Aspirant—élève,
5 ème Brigade,
Ecole Militaire de l’Artillerie,
Best wishes to , and my regards to Miss Davidson
Keep shooting across your newsletters: what with and all the math we get, and poor nourishment, your stuff looks good
Forgot to say I received a letter from he is on the American sector near I believe, but his letter is scant.
Met in Paris a month ago, he was corporal in the medical corps, we took in a “movies” to—gether.
New Brunswick, New Jersey
Costa, Joseph Louis, Aspirant 12,194. Jeune Aspirant plein de l’espirit de sacrifice et de devoir. S’est distingué maintes fois dans la preparation et execution de tires sous un feu souvent violent.
Costa, Joseph Louis, Aspirant 12,194. Young Aspirant, full of the spirit of sacrifice and duty.
Earl Reed Silvers to Joseph L. Costa, March 11, 1918
March 11, 1918.
Mr. Joseph Costa,
5 cme [sic] Brigade
Ecole Militaire de L'Artillerie
Seine — et— Marne
Just a word to thank you for your interesting letter which came in this morning’s mail. All news of the office you will get from Luther and George and the other gossip is found in the service letters, so there is nothing I can say except to send you my very best of good wishes and I hope that sometime we may see you back here again.
Very cordially yours,
Earl Reed Silvers to Joseph L. Costa, April 30, 1918
April 30, 1918.
Brigade 5 bis
Ecole Militaire d'Artillerie,
of the class 1918 is also in the French Army so you are not the only pebble on the beach. Fravell’s address is , . At the present time he is at the Ecole d’artillerie Quartier, , Fontainebleau.
How about our these days?
Joseph L. Costa to Unknown, July 2, 1918
France, July 2, 1918.
Got your letter while en route to the front so I waited until I got here to answer.
I have got the job you would like:— beautiful country, good grub, no shortage of champagne, fine comrades in the battery, and a quiet sector. I arrived here and found the place demolished, but I have now for myself a hole in the ground about six feet under ground covered with logs and corrugated iron. The Boche is quiet and only sends over a shell now and then. The first night I slept to the hole I got a dose of gas, but nothing much — two or three sneezes and that’s all. Just think of me when you see a communique with something going on “south of the Aisne,” for that is where I am.
I am really having the time of my life. What do I have to do? Get up at 8 or 9, breakfast, write letters, eat at noon, take walks in the afternoon if the shelling is not heavy, eat supper, and go to bed. This is the life!
Joseph L. Costa to Unknown, July 20, 1918
July 20, 1918.
This is the war here. Our battery position is now on the second German line, and you undoubtedly know all about the famous attack here. I am now before Soissons and we are always moving forward. I am living in one of those muddy trenches you read about to the Saturday Evening Post. It is impossible to make decent dugouts, as there are too many “stiffs” interred. The odor of the place, besides, is not at all invigorating.
This whole drive is intensely interesting, the surprise having been complete. On the positions hereabout there are dead Germans caught on the stairs of the dugouts and in their holes. The Americans have done splendidly.
There is an awful amount of junk left here. Every day the battery brings up a truck and we slip back German machine guns and munitions. All the men have their mess of booty, and there are quite a bunch of American affairs — rifles and equipment — strewn all over the fields. German batteries have been taken all harnessed up, and we are now using some to goad advantage. Thousands of machine guns are hanging around, and the guy that goes out and doesn’t come back loaded can’t find water in a river. We are still moving ahead. Let’s hope we keep going!
Joseph L. Costa to Unknown, August 11, 1918
August 11, 1918.
Just the usual short line, shorter than usual because I am not in complete shape after the gas yet. I got it fairly mild, yet it knocked me out of shape quickly, although I have kept in line. I can see pretty well now and the burns are all healed up, but I cannot yet taste anything I eat and the cough doesn’t let me sleep. Quite optimistic, nevertheless. The sector has become quiet, and although Soissons is still the first line, one can safely roam around and give the empty city the O. O. Empty is no word for it. The Huns completely cleaned it out, furniture and all. The town is less than two miles away from where we are.
The General expressed the opinion at table recently that three more months and the war will be over. I’m ready.