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Friday, March 20, 2009

Epilogue


Minnie and I were married on October 18, 1921.
This picture of us was taken years later and is one of my favorites.

We raised two fine boys, Bill (a Veterinarian) and Dick (a Physician).

Footenote:
These letters have been posted as they were written. If they offend anyone, it was not intended, and we trust that historians will value them all the more for their unvarnished historical accuracy.
You may contact me at wjgriffing@comcast.net if you desire more information regarding these letters or the lives of Ward Griffing and Minnie Frey.

Ward Griffing Returns Home


My twin brother Willis, my mother Hattie, & me, shortly after my discharge from the service.

After serving almost 6 months in the U.S. Infantry and writing nearly 80 postcards and letters, I am finally put on a train back home to Manhattan, Kansas, with my discharge papers in hand. The ride home was by way of Chicago where me and the boys were able to take in a Matinee at the Majestic Theater (now the Shubert Theater). It was the jakes, I tell you.

I enclose here the ticket stub my grandson found in the breast pocket of my tunic where I had stuffed it 90 years ago. The ticket stub read, "Retain this Check" -- so I did. I also enclose the program for that vaudeville performance that I took home to show my mother. She saved it along with the letters I sent her while I was in the service. You can click on the images to enlarge them.





The impressive playbill included:

KINOGRAMS -- "The Newest News" Weekly Shown Exclusively at this Theater
RENO -- Eccentric -- Pantomimic -- Comedian
FRED HOLMES & LULA WELLS -- Presenting their New Act "An Old Fashioned Bride"
JAMES C. MORTON -- The Famous Comedian
LEW DOCKSTADER -- The World's Famous Humerist
MLLE. NITA-JO -- French Singer in her first apearance in America
EDDIE LEONARD & CO. -- The Minstrels in "Dandy Dan's Return" & some new songs
WELLINGTON CROSS -- The American Musical Comedy Favorite
FOUR ANKERS -- Naval Gymnasts
ORPHEUM CIRCUIT TRAVEL WEEKLY -- featuring the Yermak, Russia's Largest Ice-Breaker


Lew Dockstader in blackface

Letter 139 ~ February 18, 1919


(Click on images to enlarge them)

I write my mother Hattie for the last time from Nitro, West Virginia.

Addressed to Mrs. Hattie P. Griffing, Manhattan, KS

Nitro, West Virginia
[Tuesday] February 18, 1919

Dear Folks,

This morning we took a hike thru a part of the plant called Area “M” which we have just taken over to guard and where new posts are posted. They took us thru these to show us the posts. They are mounted posts. The rider is armed with a Colt 45 and rides 4 hours and is off eight. This part of the plant is to be used for the storage of a certain kind of acid, which is a very high explosive. New posts are being added nearly all the time as the U.S. Guards are being discharged. It takes over sixty privates to form a guard now so one man only misses one guard. When some of us are discharged, the rest may have to go on every time we mount guard. I am glad I am not one to be left.

It has been rather cold here lately and Sunday it snowed. I was on guard Saturday but I had the post that is in one of the office buildings guarding a safe so I wasn’t out in the cold at all. The fellows that had to ride for four hours got pretty cold, I tell you.

The “Y.W.C.A.” girls gave a valentine party last Thursday night. We had a pretty good time, but believe me, a fellow doing guard duty in this place earns and deserves all the fun he can find.

We had our physical examinations about a week ago, which they always give before discharging. One sergeant came down with appendicitis shortly after and two other fellows came down with the mumps so we are to be re-examined tomorrow. I guess they thot it wasn’t thorough enough. I would hate to have to go to the hospital for anything now that my discharge is so near.

The other day I turned in my equipment and extra clothing – all but my rifle and belt, so it looks as tho I would be getting out of here in the course of a week.

Well, there isn’t any news so I will say goodbye. I expect this is the last letter you will get from me. Love, -- Ward

Letter 138 ~ February 13, 1919

I tell my mother Hattie that I expect to be handed my walking papers soon.

Addressed to Mrs. Hattie P. Griffing, Manhattan, KS

Nitro, West Virginia
February 13, 1919

Dear Folks,

It is raining this morning. We couldn’t go out to drill so I will write.

I will write about my discharge first as that is what is on my mind most of the time now and I suppose it is what interests you most too.

I signed my discharge last Monday evening and last night I signed my last payroll. My pay runs until the twentieth of this month and after that I suppose I am a civilian but I must wait here until my transportation papers come and my discharge goes around and comes back. I think I will be safe in saying that I will be home in two weeks. I expect to be examined today. It would be a sorry joke if they would find something the matter with me and I couldn’t get out after all. Some of the fellows are coming down with the mumps but as I have had them, I am not scared much.

One more hitch on guard is about all I will have to do. Then I can tell them to jump in the river.

Tomorrow is your birthday. I suppose you are planning to have the ladies for dinner as usual. I wish I was there to help you eat what was left over.

Last Sunday I went to church in the morning and was asked out to dinner – two girls and their mother. The father is dead. They have a son and brother over in France and so they treated me just like one of the family. Kentuckians, you know, and they sure showed the true southern hospitality. Mrs. Cox says, “Have some more biscuits son.” And I said, “Thanks, I believe I will, mother.” It tickled her to death. They had hot biscuits, roast beef, dressing, etc. etc. It beat hash, molasses, and bread like we had this morning.

The younger girl is about 19 or 20 and awfully nice. She and I went to the afternoon tea up the schoolhouse and we staid long enough for me to beat retreat. I took her home and she asked me when we had supper. Without thinking I told her that they had already had supper so she asked me in to supper. Well, I told her no – that I didn’t want to impose on good nature etc., etc. She says, “Well, if you don’t want to stay, alright.” So, of course, I couldn’t refuse that so had another nice time. We went to church and staid to the picture show afterwards. Ahem, guess I’ll borrow a Kodak and go out walking with her Saturday P.M.

It wouldn’t pay to send your Kodak, Willis, because I am coming home so soon.

It has been rather cold here lately too. I tell you, standing guard around four and five o’clock on a cold morning is a long ways from what I call fun but I’m nearly thru with it.

Well, I’ll see you soon. -- Ward

Letter 137 ~ February 13, 1919

I let Minnie know I think about her all the time and that I believe my discharge is eminent.

Addressed to Miss Minnie G. Frey, Stockdale, KS

Nitro, West Virginia
2/13/1919

Dear Minnie,

It is raining this morning so we didn’t go out to drill; hence the letter.

Have had two letters from you since I wrote last. The one containing an edict concerning the use of certain objectionable adjectives which of course I will in the future refrain from using or even mentioning again. Am sure no disrespect was meant & I am sorry that it was taken in that light. Also one stating the fact that your thots coincided with mine to a strange degree. You wondered why it was. Well, they say that sometimes two hearts beat as one. I suppose when that can happen those same two minds can think as one, can’t they?

When I am on guard is when I do most of my thinking about going home. I just came off again yesterday & if I could have set down on paper just all I had thot about during my eight hours on post, it would have been a piece of literature unsurpassed in happiness & joy, love & kisses….especially kisses.

Say kid, do you all reckon you have forgotten how to kiss like you used to? It has been something like three months now since I have practiced any but I believe I could do tolerable well at it even now. How about you? Say, which do you like best, two or three little short snappy kisses or one great big long one? I’ll bet you think I am crazy writing this kind of stuff but that is what I am thinking about.

I will try & write a little sense now, if such a thing is possible. I’ll bet I have been to church more since I have been in the army than you have. I went twice last Sunday & the Sunday before too.

After church last Sunday a lady asked me if I wouldn’t like to take dinner with them. Sure I would. So I staid to Sunday School & went home with her afterward. They sure treated me fine – the mother & two girls. The father is dead. They have a son & brother in France & so treated me just like one of the family. Kentuckians, you know. They certainly showed the true southern hospitality. Mrs. Cox called me son. “Have some more biscuit, son?” I said, “Certainly Mother.” It tickled her to death. Hot biscuits, dressing, roast beef, jelly, pickle, & all the rest. Oh yes, I had a good time.

The younger girl was awfully jolly, like you. She had just graduated from high school. Well, about four o’clock we went to the afternoon tea that they always have on Sunday afternoons at the school house. I beat retreat. I thot there wasn’t any use in breaking up a nice time like that just for a little thing like retreat. I took her home afterward & was about to leave when she asked when we had supper. Without thinking I told her that they had already had supper so she asked me to stay to supper. Well, I thot that was mighty nice but I didn’t want to impose on good nature, etc. etc. “Well if you don’t want to come alright.” Of course I couldn’t refuse then so I had supper. Then we went to church at the theatre & stayed for the [picture] show afterward. You don’t know how it seems to get to eat in a home where there are women who treat you so good after eating at the barracks so long. I tell you a fellow appreciates it.

Well kid, I signed my discharge last Monday evening. I signed my last payroll last night & must now wait until my discharge goes around again & my transportation papers come. Such things are slow but I am sure of it now at least. So I feel safe in saying that I will see you within two or three weeks. My papers will not come before the twentieth. If possible, I am going home by way of Niagra, Chicago, etc., but I may have to take the most direct route possible.

I expect that I won’t have to do more than one more guard. Thank goodness. When they call, “Turn out the guard,” I won’t have to jump & buckle on my cartridge belt & grab my rifle. I can tell them to jump in the lake. If you want to feel just real good once, all you have to do is put your name on an honorable discharge from the U.S.A. & you will say you never felt better in your life but once, & that was the first time you kissed your girl.

The last time I was on guard, some of the fellows wired the door knob with electricity from the electric lights. We had brot some pies & cakes out & put them in the next room. When I came off post, one of them said, “You had better go in & get your pie before the other fellows get it.” So I grabbed the knob to open the door and --- turned loose of it. Everyone who came in had to get a jolt off that knob, even the officer of the guard got his. Enuf is enuf – yours till you hear otherwise, -- Ward

Letter 136 ~ February 3, 1919

I respond to a letter I received from my brother Willis -- mostly about farm matters.

Addressed to Mr. Willis G. Griffing, Manhattan, KS

Nitro, West Virginia
February 3, 1919

Dear Bill [Willis],

I was mighty glad to get your letter, old top, and wish you would shoot me some more just like it once in a while. It hit me just at the right time. I hadn’t heard from home for three or four days and I was afraid something might be wrong.

I will be drifting by that old serum plant one of these days and surprise yo’all. I expect to migrate with the blackbirds. We heard in a roundabout way from a fellow who flunkies around headquarters that out of the twenty-three applications for discharge, nine were disapproved of by the company commander, but that the Major [Major Walter C. Gullion] ok’d all of them. I suppose at Washington the C.O.’s approval is the one most needed so I think my chances are pretty good for acceptance. I ought to know in a week or two.

You did the right thing in not all four depending on 1 binder even if it is a new one. Now you can make your harvest plans without having to worry about where on earth can I get a binder and then pay forty-seven prices for someone to sit up there and drive while you watch him.

It is too bad there isn’t any stock on the place but you did just right under the circumstances. Maybe we can get hold of a bunch next fall with two silos full of feed and then watch us smoke.

We will certainly have to have more horse power of some kind and there is no doubt but what that is a good colt. I wish we could get hold of a good steady well-broken team of young horses but that is almost impossible.

I wish I could help you pull stumps. Do you suppose I will know the place if you pull all the hedges and orchards? Better leave a stump now and then so I will know where to stop. If it wasn’t for the stumps on the “farms” in this country, they would all slide off the side hill into the creek, so to keep the stumps there they make big rock piles around them. That farm of ours is a pipen now, believe me, and with the stumps and hedges out, it is hard to beat. Believe me, boy, when you and I get to pulling together on the same old double tree, it will be happy days and Uncle Sam can take his old reveille and retreat and chuck 'em in the lake.

If we knew we could have [Louis] Niehenke’s place for more than one year, it would be the proper thing to buy Paul’s machinery. Ask the old man about it and if he says buy, [then] buy it. It isn’t far from the first of March so he ought to come across with some kind of a decision. He talked last summer as tho if he didn’t sell by the first of March, he would write us a lease for five years. Feel him out and see if he won’t do it now. We would be jake if he would.

The other day I mailed you folks the roster of “E” company. I suppose it reached you all right. They are drilling us again now but we are kind of glad of it because there is nothing else to do. Try and find out if you can what they are doing with the 41st Infantry. We have heard that the 70th and 69th are nearly all discharged but the 41st is the one we are interested in because it was an old regiment like the 20th. If they discharge them, we ought to be discharged shortly [too].

All of us fellows got sore at what we found in the paper the other day. Colonel Jordan, Commanding Officer of the 20th [Infantry] with headquarters at Leavenworth had an article in the Kansas City Star saying that 9 out of 10 of the soldiers under his command didn’t want to get out – that they were having the time of their lives and couldn’t be driven out, and for people not to believe the wails of soldiers that were being kept in the army against their will. That was the rankest lie ever printed. Perhaps I should say “mistake” so I wouldn’t have any grounds to be tried for treason.

Well, here’s hoping I can see you all shortly. Yours regardless, -- Ward

Letter 135 ~ February 3, 1919

I make a bet with Minnie that I'll get home from the army before she gets home from teaching school.

Addressed to Miss Minnie G. Frey, Stockdale, KS

Nitro, West Virginia
2/3/1919

Dear Minnie,

I started this letter yesterday but didn’t get any farther than the date. As it is raining this morning, we will not go out to drill. We have started drilling again, so I will endeavor to finish it now.

Your last letter contained your picture. Am very sorry to say that the letters were not so good as it is. Your letter also contained lots of news that I hadn’t heard. It seems as tho every one is getting home except yours truly. I have hopes tho of getting home in a month. Twenty-thee applications for discharge were sent in but [only] nine of them were approved by the Captain [Captain Sterling C. Robertson]. However, the Major [Major Walter C. Gullion] approved everyone so without a doubt some of them will go through. Those with allotments can get out now without affidavits – a personal application is sufficient. We have heard too that all drafted men will soon be mustered out regardless of discharges. Of course that is hearsay but it only sounds reasonable & fair.

About two hours later... We had to go out & play games & box, etc. We wound up by throwing some of the little fellows up in a blanket. Fine exercise & more fun than drill.

I am very glad you are getting along so well with your boys. Your school is out in about six weeks, isn’t it? You mentioned in one of your letters the fact that you thot I must be having a good time. I wish every one who thinks army life is fun had to put up with some of that kind of fun for awhile. Not that I wish you any harm, however.

Have you succeeded in breaking Old Dobin to be used to skirts yet? They certainly use fine saddle horses around here. I wish I could get hold of one & ride around a little but I don’t suppose I could.

Say Minnie, how would you like to make a bet with me? I’ll bet you treats that I get home to stay sooner than you do & then I’ll bet the price of a [picture] show that I made a good bet. How about it? Can the folks tell you from Clara Scott yet? Or are you the biggest? I am not as fat as I was when I saw you last I don’t believe. I haven’t weighed but I don’t look so fat in the glass. I am glad of that even if I do need the weight.

Must close. Yours internally, -- Ward

Letter 134 ~ January 31, 1919


Carol Cunningham and her grandmother, Hattie P. Griffing

I tell my mother Hattie and my brother Willis that I expect to be discharged from duty by March 1st.

Addressed to Mrs. Hattie P. Griffing, Manhattan, KS

Nitro, West Virginia
January 31, 1919

Dear Folks,

I just came off guard again this morning. A fellow gave me my mail. In it was the picture of you and Carol. I think it looks pretty good and I was very glad to get it.

We have just gotten thru with tooth inspection. It may have something to do with the physical examination, which is always given before discharges are issued. I suppose all teeth needing attention will have to be fixed before a man can get out. I hope they do tend to the teeth because I knocked some fillings out [on the train] coming down here ad have been wanting to have them fixed but there has been no dentist here.

Last Wednesday I was called into the orderly room along with about a dozen others to sign our application for discharge. All those like myself whose folks have sent affidavits were the ones called. It is encouraging to know that something is being done even if it is slow. Of course it may do no good but I really believe that I will be home by March 1.

Willis, have you made any arrangements about seed corn?

There isn’t much going on here now. The place will be shut up entirely pretty soon and then it will be a lonesome old hole.

I wish I was home now to help pull stumps but if I get out by March 1, we can do a lot of that kind of work. We hear that most of the boys have left [Camp] Funston. They won’t be treating us fair if we don’t get out pretty soon but so long as we are on duty we can’t tell what will happen.

Well, I think I will catch up some of the sleep I lost while on guard last night so I will close. Yours internally, -- Ward

Letter 133 ~ January 30, 1919


A raised sentry post at the Nitro, W.V. powder plant

I write Minnie while on late night guard duty and tell her of an amusing incident.

Letter Heading: YMCA, Army & Navy Young Men’s Christian Association, “With the Colors”
Addressed to: Miss Minnie G. Frey, Stockdale, KS

Sentry Box #14, Area “N”
Nitro, West Virginia
January 30, 1919

Dear Minnie,

I am again on guard at Area “N” & as it is a four-hour post, I thot I would pass away the time writing letters. I can do this so long as the officer of the day or the officer of the guard doesn’t come around. I am in a sentry box about twelve or fifteen feet up in the air right over a high wire fence which surrounds this area. From here I can see along the fence & stop anyone who has no business in the magazine. I also have to make a patrol around some of the powder storage houses to see that there are no fires.

I saw a rather good picture last night, “The Hoosier School Master.” Perhaps you have read the book. I have. I go to the show nearly every night as that is about the only thing to do.

From my [sentry] box here I can look over to the Kanawha River where a steam boat passes once in awhile. Piled out on the ground inside the fence are tons & tons of cotton. It is used somehow in the manufacture of explosives.

An amusing incident happened at the barracks the other evening. Just over one of the pool tables is a knot hole in the floor & some of the fellows in the squad room upstairs kept dropping stuff down on the table & bothering the players. One of the players jumped up on the table & held his cue ready & when he saw an eye at the knot hole, he jammed it thru. It hit a man right square in the eye. One of the men upstairs was looking down & he saw the man with the cue but another pushed him away & said, “Let me see.” He saw alright. We felt sorry for him alright but we would have had to laughed if it had killed him. He went over to the infirmary & had it dressed. He said, “I wouldn’t have cared only it was my best eye.” One of his eyes is a little crossed. It will hurt him for some time but I don’t believe he will lose it. He is marked “quarters” & doesn’t have to stand guard. I have been in [the service] about five months now & have never been marked “quarters” nor even gone on sick report.

If I am in another month, I suppose I will be entitled to a stripe. If you get home and are ever over to our house, you can see the company roster which I sent to the folks.

The sentry on [Box] # 15 came down & we sneaked a little visit. Anyone to see or talk to helps to pass the time wonderfully when you are on guard. If you wish to find out how much fun guarding is, just borrow Mr. Parkerson’s shot gun, fasten a belt around your waist, go up to the schoolhouse at nine o’clock tonight & walk around it until one in the morning. It will be lots of fun & you will wish you were in the army & could stay in all summer.

The last time I saw you was that night when your folks were all over at our place for supper. That was over two months ago, wasn’t it. I wonder if it has seemed as long to you as it has to me. I wonder too if you have sat & yearned for the time when you & I could again love each other as we used to, until you couldn’t keep still & had to get up & do something.

Every night before I go to sleep, I lie there & think of how I am going to walk in on you sometime. It will be spring & you will be home from your school. You will be sitting all alone in the parlor with your back to the door. It will be just twilight & we can smell the apple blossoms & [hear] the frogs croaking down on the well. I will come up the road & nobody sees me. I sneak up on the porch & see you in there. I then softly open the door so you won’t hear me & then I go up behind your chair, & thennnnnn I, you, we, ahem, I suppose we shake hands & you say, ‘Oh! Why it is Mr. Griffing” & I say “Yes, Miss Frey. I just dropped in to see your father on my way back home.” You say, “Let me see, you have been in the army, haven’t you?” [And I say,] “Yes, I’m just getting home. That’s nice isn’t it?”

Do you suppose it will be anything like that? It would be lots of fun if you would write how you would like to have me come [home]. That’s of course if you have ever thot about such an occurrence.

I know I told the folks but I don’t believe I have ever told you about the bear I saw. A bunch of us fellows saw a black bear about half grown the other day.

Well, Minnie, I will close with a little seasoning *************** you know what I mean. Yours ever, Ward.

I love you little
I love you big
I love you like a little pig
-- Shakespere

When a fellow gets to quoting Shakespere, it is a sign that he is deeply in love with some fair damsel. I hope I make myself understood.

Footnotes:
  • The Hoosier School Master was a silent movie released in 1914 based on Edward Eggleston’s book by the same name.
  • The process of producing black powder required cellulose which was obtained from washing, bleaching, and drying raw cotton linters and hull fibers. The town of “Nitro” actually took its name from the word “nitrocellulose” rather than “nitroglycerine” which is what many people assume even today.

Letter 132 ~ January 27, 1919


C&O Depot, Eccles, West Virginia

I tell Minnie about playing in two basketball games against local kids from St. Albans and Eccles, West Virginia.

Addressed to Miss Minnie G. Frey, Stockdale, KS

Nitro, West Virginia
January 27, 1919

Dear Minnie,

Thank goodness I have a little something to write about this time. I would write more often but I just hate to only tell about the weather & when I go on guard & how I wish I was home & how I want you, etc. etc.

I went on guard last Friday morning as usual & again my post was one of those 4-hour ones. I was on the first relief so went first & was relieved at one o’clock. The post is about two miles from the main guardhouse so our dinner consisted of sandwiches & coffee we boiled ourselves. Having been out to another of those Y.W.C.A. parties the night before, I was afraid I would go to sleep on post that night so I tried to get some sleep but it wasn’t long before I was awakened by the fellows tearing around & raising merry – you know.

About four o’clock the corporal of my relief came in & told me to put on my overcoat & bring my rifle. I didn’t know what was the matter because I didn’t go on again until nine o’clock. He & I went outside & there was another corporal & man to relieve us. The corporal said, “Knock a home run Griffing,” so then I knew that we were going in to play basketball. I tell you going on a basketball trip beats standing guard at night all hollow.

We walked in & had to hurry & get ready to catch the river ferry up to St. Albans across the river. We finally got there because as someone said, that boat could meet a snail but it surely couldn’t catch one.

We finally found the [St. Albans] school house, “ Yo’alls jest foller up yander & yo’alls will see it.” The court was awfully small – far smaller than the one we had been playing on so they had the advantage but we beat them. Actually that was the roughest & dirtiest & hardest fought game I believe I ever saw. Score 15 to 14. The score shows that to be a fact. After the game, we caught the ferry again & got into camp about 11:30. We didn’t eat any supper before the game so of course we went to bed supperless. I had just gotten to sleep about 12:30 when one of the players came & woke me up & said that we were to get up before six o’clock the next morning & go on another trip.

Well, we got up about five thirty & woke a fellow to drive us down to the ferry landing in the Ford truck. It was too early for breakfast, so we lightened our belts & smoked cigarettes. The Lieutenant’s wife went along with him this time. She is an awful nice little lady. We woke up the ferry man & crawled up to St. Albans again & took the Interurban to Charleston. We didn’t have time to eat at Charleston but had to take a train out of there for the place where we were to play – a mining town away off in the mountains about 75 miles named Eccles [Raleigh County, West Virginia].

Well, that train went a little faster than the ferry but its speed was well under 75 miles per hour. The trip was very interesting & pretty even if we were hungry, tired & sleepy. [There were] lots of tunnels, cliffs, trestles & deep valleys. The hills were covered with pine & great tall spruce & oak. Lots of places the grass was green & ferns & holly were thick. It was very pretty even now in winter; I would certainly like to see it in summer. If I don’t look out tho maybe I will see too much of it in summer.

While nature was beautiful you couldn’t say that for man. I wouldn’t live the way most of those folks do for anything in the world. Life there may not be as bad as it looked but the looks are far from imposing. I saw a cornfield that looked ready to slide off the mountain onto the track & I asked one of the boys how they farmed up there. He said, “Oh! They shoot the seed up there in the spring with a shotgun & then let the snow bring down the corn in the winter.”

We reached our destination about two o’clock & was taken to the hotel. “I reckon as how I ken put yo’alls up.” So we cleaned up & finally sat down to supper, breakfast & dinner all rolled together into a tough beefsteak. The town was in three or four parts – each part on the top of a [different] hill. The principle industries of the city were mining, loafing & railroading. It happened to be the junction of two [rail]roads – one down in the valley & the other way up the mountain. The coal mine, however, was the thing.


Eccles, West Virginia, circa 1920

We were shown the hall where we were to play & then hung around the barber shop below awaiting our turns & listening to the wonderful tales of gunplay & fistfights. To hear them talk you might think that they were hard boiled but they didn’t take the trouble to molest us soldiers at least.

We don’t usually eat before playing but we were still hungry & knew we couldn’t get anything after the game so we went back to the hotel & ate a light supper. Soldiers were quite an attraction in that town. The girls in the hotel got all ready & hung around trying to talk their heads off. They turned down the fellows who asked them to go with them & hung around watching us eat supper & when we got up they “wondered who all was going with them.” Well, we all didn’t ask them so I guess they must have gone alone.

Well, those miner lads certainly had the goods on us. They beat us 18 to 43, but they played a clean & sporty game – lots better than the St. Albans team. We couldn’t start the game until after the [picture] show so we could get a crowd, so it was about eleven when we finished. We were one tired bunch when we went to bed that night & we didn’t get up until about nine o’clock Sunday morning. We decided to go back on the other [rail]road as it left at 10:30. We ate breakfast & climbed up the mountain to the station.

The trip home was very slow but we enjoyed it. We stopped at every coal mine along the road & they were about five miles apart. It resembled an interurban more than anything else. Part of the way we followed a mountain river & I wish I could describe it but I can’t. Anyway, it was very pretty. We reached St. Albans about dusk & again enjoyed our speedy trip on the ferry. When I reached the barracks, I got some clean clothes, took a bath & went to bed & the next thing I knew I realized that I was still in the army because the old bugle was “I can’t get ‘em up, I can’t get ‘em up, etc.”

Friday night before I left I got a nice long letter from you. Say kid, that was a peach of a letter. Please repeat dose each day until patient shows signs of coming back. About coming back, some of the men with Class A allotments have received their discharges. We hear that they are discharging the 10th very fast up at [Camp] Funston but as we are on duty & I don’t see who would relieve us, we may be stuck here for some time yet.

This morning I received a box of candy & cake from the folks. They had a party & told me to imagine I was home when I ate the stuff. That was a little hard to do, sitting on a trunk with a bunch of fellows around seeing that you didn’t get more than your share. The piece I got was good anyway.

The weather is simply wonderful here now. All day yesterday we rode on the train with the windows open & our overcoats off.

Last week – I believe it was about Wednesday – one of our men got drunk while on guard. His post was in one of the office buildings & he got to halting everyone, men, women & child indiscriminately & making a nuisance of himself. Someone phoned to the captain & he at once relieved the man & sent him hiking over to report to the battalion commander. He is now laying in the guardhouse facing a very serious charge – disobedience to orders & drunkenness on post of guard in time of war. Some of these fellows – this one [facing charges] included – if they can’t get whiskey, they will buy lemon extract & mix it with grape juice. It makes them crazy & will finally kill them. The Captain said, “If you men want to die, let me take a firing squad out in the hills & shoot you. It will cause less trouble to you & everyone else, so for God’s sake, don’t drink any more lemon extract.”

Say, fatty, you won’t get scared at this man if he shows up will you? I wish I could tell you when my school will be out like you do me. Well, enough is enough. So goodbye. With love & hopes for a kiss from you by April 26. – Ward

Letter 131 ~ January 22, 1919

I write my mother Hattie to let her know what we are doing in Nitro, West Virginia.

Addressed to Mrs. Hattie P. Griffing, Manhattan, KS

Nitro, West Virginia
January 22, 1919

Dear Folks,

I was glad to hear that [my brother] Willis got a chance to go to Kansas City. Maybe they will send him some more.

We are now having some of the best weather I ever saw. During the day it gets so warm that one is comfortable outdoors in his shirtsleeves. At night, it gets sharp and freezes a little, but the days are hard to beat except for the mud. I wish it was like this at home. How is it at home anyway? Is the snow still on enough to keep from pasturing?

Last Sunday I went to a tea party given by the Y.W.C.A. women and had a pretty nice time. I got to talking with a girl there that I had met before. I had noticed her going back and forth to work. We got so interested that I beat retreat and we sat and talked until after dark.

Monday night I was invited to a party at one of the bungalows after the picture show. Had a pretty nice time there too.

Now that the “Y” is closed, they have brot two of the pool tables up here and installed them in the barracks.

They are getting a little stricter with us now. We have to take a hike every morning now. We can’t leave the barracks until after 3:00 P.M. now.

I haven’t heard a thing about those papers that I took into the orderly room. We hear all kinds of rumors about getting discharges but I am afraid they will be slow coming because we are on duty. I imagine those at [Camp] Funston will be discharged before we will.

I was on guard Saturday and had one of the new posts. It is one where the guard has to stay on four hours without relief. Believe me, four hours in the middle of the night doing guard duty makes you think of home and mother. I don’t believe in dreams much, but I dreamed I was home the other night. Maybe it is a good sign.

Keep well and some fine morning I will be walking in on you. Goodbye, -- Ward

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Letter 130 ~ January 21, 1919

I write Minnie about social activities in Nitro, West Virginia.

Addressed to Miss Minnie G. Frey, Stockdale, Kansas

Nitro, West Virginia
1/21/1919

Dear Kid,

We have been having some of the prettiest winter weather lately that anyone could wish for. The natives say however that it is not usually quite so warm this time of year. One can go around in the afternoon in perfect comfort in his shirt sleeves although we are not allowed to except around the barracks. If it wasn’t so muddy, I would ramble all over the hills here but the mud takes some of the joy out of walking.

Sunday afternoon I went to a tea party given by the Y.W.C.A. ladies at the school house. I have spoken of the school house before but I have never described it to you. It is quite a nice building for such a hurriedly and temporarily built place. It has a long hall in it where dances & parties are held. Last Sunday I went around a little & was surprised to see how well equipped it was. Modern laboratory fixtures throughout. They have courses in French, Spanish, Latin, domestic science, etc.

Well, I had quite a nice time at the party. I got to talking with a girl that I had met before. When I get home, don’t forget to have me tell you about her. I can’t do it in a letter very well but honestly, she is different from any other girl I ever met.

Sunday evening they had church services at the theatre followed by a picture show. The house was full but I don’t know which was the main attraction.

Monday night I was invited to a party at one of the bungalows. The folks there treated us fine & we had a nice time. You know I said that they closed the “Y.” They brot two of the pool tables over here to the barracks that had been in the “Y.” As that was one of the great attractions at the “Y”, its being closed won’t be quite so bad. We fellows who practice basketball tho have access to the “Y” gymnasium.

When I was on guard last Saturday, I had one of the new posts. It was guarding a gate into the area where the powder is stored. One has to stay on this post four hours without relief. Four hours from 9 to 1 in the night sure seems most awful long. I have spent four or five hours from about eight until over two in the morning somewhere out in Kansas & it seemed very short but circumstances alter cases.

The rumor is getting about now that it we’ll have to begin drilling again. I sure hope we don’t because now that the war is over, we can’t get the life into it that we did before.

I don’t know whether it is a good sign or not but I dreamed that I was home last night. Do dreams ever come true? Well, Minnie, I hope you are well & still getting fat. As ever, -- Ward

Footnotes:
  • In the book, Nitro, the WWI Boom Town, it is reported that “all protestant denominations were included by the ‘Liberty Church’ which held morning services at the schoolhouse and evening meetings at the theatre.”

Letter 129 ~ January 17, 1919

I write Minnie about guard duty and other camp activities at Nitro, West Virginia. I do my best to make Minnie jealous.

Addressed to Miss Minnie G. Frey, Stockdale, Kansas

Nitro, West Virginia
[Friday] 1/17/1919

Dear Minnie,

Well, I am writing to you because it is time for a letter & not because I have any news to tell. It is the same old story. There are not nearly so many people here now owing to the fact they have closed the Y.M.C.A. We could occupy our time over there while it was open. Some of the pool tables were free to soldiers in the afternoon & also the bowling alley, but now we can’t. The movie theater opened to us soldiers last night so there will be one place to go. The Hercules Powder Company gave their farewell dance last Monday night & I don’t know whether there will be any more or not but I think there will.

Four of the boys out of this company have gotten their discharges but they have been a very long time getting them. [My brother] Willis sent me some papers & some affidavits from some of the men who knew me stating that I was needed at home but I don’t think they will do a bit of good. There has been no order to discharge 50% of the 10th [Division]. The men with allotments will be discharged shortly tho as they have already been filled into the orderly room & asked if they wanted an immediate separation from the service. Of course every one declined the chance. We have some new posts now so our turn to mount guard comes more often than formerly.

Yesterday & the day before we had to carry gravel & sand from a pile behind the barracks around in front & spread it out all over the area between the barracks & the walk. I got out of it both afternoons, however, because of practicing basketball.

One of our posts is guarding a safe in one of the office buildings. The room is full of girls & of all the kidding you ever heard in your life, that beats it. A fellow on guard is not supposed to talk except in the line of duty but there is one place where duty & desire conflict & duty is usually the loser. I was on guard at the door of the ordinance building last time with orders to allow no one to pass without a badge or a pass. Two girls who work in there came up & wanted by but swore by all that was holy that they didn’t have any passes. I knew they did so I stood with my rifle across the door & wouldn’t let them in. Well, they kept fooling around trying to slip by till I finally let one thru & then they showed their passes. They were the craziest girls I ever saw. Most of the girls here would rather go with the soldiers than the civilians.

It must be lonely up there where you are but if you get out in March you should consider yourself lucky. I don’t know when I will get out & you do.

Saturday morning.

I had to stop for dinner & couldn’t get at my letter until this morning. We had to fix walks in front yesterday P.M. I have to go on guard again this morning so goodbye for now. As ever, -- Ward

Letter 128 ~ January 15, 1919

I write my mother Hattie and brother Willis to update them with my efforts to obtain a discharge.

Addressed to Mrs. Hattie P. Griffing, Manhattan, KS


Nitro, West Virginia
January 15, 1919

Dear Folks,

It is a good thing you folks gave that party because maybe you started something and others will entertain now. I wish I had been there. I feel awfully left out when I hear about the parties going on at home and I am not even invited. I’ll bet they had a fine time.

I was sorry to hear about Miss Springs. She sure was a fine girl. I suppose I will hear that Minnie has it next.

That man who called up was named [Alfred A.] Holinquest. I bunked with him at the Depot Brigade. He is a pretty nice fellow although he is an awkward country fellow. He took care of my stuff for me when I was out at Smoky [Hill] Flats and we whacked up on all our candy and stuff. He was transferred to the 70th Infantry a short time before I was transferred.

I don’t know whether those papers will do any good or not. I am afraid not because when I took them into the top sergeant, he said, “Why do you get this G__ d____ stuff from your local board. It will queer you sooner than anything.” He said he would show them to the captain and so I am expecting to be called in most anytime and I don’t know what to expect. All the boys with allotments are going to get out tho. They were summoned to the orderly room night before last and asked if they wished an immediate separation from the service. Of course none of them did. Like fun.

Well, today the Hercules Powder Company turns the plant over to the Ordinance Department and we have to mount a double guard and take the place of the guards (hired by the Hercules P.C.) who are being discharged. This makes us go on every four days. That is practically all we do. Except for the time when we are on guard it is easy.

It is nasty weather again. I guess it just can’t stay good weather here but those clear days were sure pretty. The movie theater opens up tomorrow night so things won’t be quite so dead around here maybe.

How is the car running now? Or is the weather too bad for it? How is Dorr’s leg? Did his trip cure him or not?

We are close to the depot and every train I see pulling out of here I wish I was on with a red stripe on my sleeve. My train will come through one of these days tho and believe me, it won’t leave me standing on the platform. With love, -- Ward

Footnotes:
  • Alfred A. Holinquest was born 3 July 1898 and resided with his mother at 500 Josephine Street in Dallas, TX prior to his being inducted into the service. His draft registration records indicate that he was tall, of medium build, with blue eyes and light hair.
  • A red stripe on the sleeve generally means a soldier was wounded in action. This may have been the case here too, though perhaps servicemen who were being discharged at the time were also issued red stripes signifying their tour of duty had ended. Ward's tunic bears a red stripe on his left sleeve. If anyone learns more about the use of this insignia during WWI, please let me know.

Letter 127 ~ January 13, 1919

I write my mother to let her know how I'm doing in Nitro, West Virginia. Not wanting to worry her, I fail to mention playing hob in Charleston the previous weekend.

Addressed to Mrs. Hattie P. Griffing, Manhattan, Kansas


Nitro, West Virginia
January 13, 1919

Dear Folks,

I just returned off guard this morning. This one was only my second guard. I missed a turn when I was away. After the 16th, we will have to stand guard about twice as often because the plant is going to be turned over to the ordinance department and the U.S. Guards are to be discharged. That will make one man stand guard 1 day out of four. There is no drilling so the work is not hard, but it is very monotonous and tiresome.

I wish you folks were having the kind of weather we are now. It certainly is great. It is warm and the sun is nice and bright. It reminds me of spring weather in Kansas. It is nasty underfoot, however.

The Y.W.C.A. secretaries gave a party and invited thirty boys from each company. I got to go and we had a pretty good time. There were just exactly enough girls to go around so that made it nice. We played games and did stunts and had some drills and marches.

We were paid last Friday. There isn’t any news because there isn’t much doing. I haven’t heard from you folks for a few days but I trust you are all well. With love, -- Ward

Letter 126 ~ January 12, 1919


Washington Street, Charleston, W. Virginia in the 1920's

I tell Minnie about receiving my pay and making a trip into Charleston with my buddies to spend our money and raise a ruckus.

Addressed to Miss Minnie G. Frey, Stockdale, KS

Nitro, West Virginia
Sunday, [January 12, 1919]

Dear Kid –

Well, Minnie, you can tell the folks that you got a letter from Ward while he was in the guard house because that is where I am now. I am on guard & am now stationed at the guard house. This is only my second guard since I have been here. I missed my turn while I was on my trip.

We have been having some nice weather lately but today is especially nice. It reminds me of coming spring at home. It is warm, the sun is very bright, the sky perfectly clear & blue, but it is nasty underfoot. Minnie, it is just the kind of weather that I like to walk over the hills with you. It seems as tho such beautiful weather is wasted unless I do, but perhaps if the fortunes of war favor me I can walk over the dear old Kansas hills with you next spring or at least early summer. Just to think – back to Kansas again.

Minnie, I am sorry you didn’t have faith in me to think I wouldn’t care to come back. You know it is the knowledge that their sweethearts have faith in them & believe in them that often times keeps the boys from going to the bow-wows. And if they find out that no one believes in them or cares for them, it is very hard for them to stand up under the temptations which come their way. Since I have been in the army, I have seen & learned lots of things that would cause lots of boys to take a slide but I have always thought of you & mother & have still got my head above water.

We were paid Friday & as our Company’s basketball team had a game with Charleston, anyone who was not on duty could get a pass to Charleston until Sunday or Monday. Of course nearly everyone wanted a chance to spend all his money as quickly as he could so several of us went down to see the game & take in the city too. I went with a fellow called Nick Sousen. He & I left on the 2:30 P. M. train. We walked up town, had some barber work done, shopped a little, & then went to a picture show. After that, we walked around town a little & then got supper. It seemed good to order what you wanted to eat once more. We went to the game at 8:00 and saw our team get whalloped. Charleston went over, under, around & thru our team – score 17 to 40. We had lots of fun at the game tho. There were about a dozen of us 20th men sitting together & we weren’t afraid to say most anything we could think of but that didn’t help win.

After the game, Nick & I fell in with a company of other E Company men. They were happy-go-lucky, don’t-give-a-damn sort, so we sure had a time. We didn’t want to go to a good hotel & spend our month’s wages all in one night, so we set out to hunt a rooming house. We found a place down town where we could all four sleep in the same room. It wasn’t a very nice place but we didn’t care a bit. We thot it was fun. Well, it wasn’t very late so we went out & ate another supper & fooled around on the streets some more. When we went up to our room, we took some peanuts & candy….

Monday morning [January 13, 1919]

I couldn’t finish my letter last night because I had to go on post & after that I had to get what sleep I could or I might go to sleep the next time I went on.

Well, we threw peanuts all around & the floor was covered with shells. A peanut lit on one of the beds & one of the fellows jumped after it & broke the bed down. We made so much racket that the proprietor came in & told us to make less noise [because] there was a couple in the next room trying to sleep. Well, we fixed up the bed as good as we could & went to bed. As soon as those other two fellows got on that broken bed, down it went again & made an awful racket. We could hear the other folks sputtering but we were out for a good time & didn’t care. They finally took the springs & mattress off the bed & laid them on the floor & settled down.

We slept as late as we wanted to for once. After we got up, the old lady came in & raved about the broken bed & the peanut shucks, etc. She said, “You’alls will have to pay for this or I will call a police man.” As we were in uniforms, we weren’t afraid of any policeman & they couldn’t send our names into the company because we registered under different names so we just walked out. We went to a cafĂ© & ate a great big pile of griddle cakes apiece & then started out & walked all over the city. After dinner, we went to a [picture] show & caught the afternoon train back to Nitro.

The other day our Captain announced that after the 16th, this plant would be turned over to the Ordinance Department & that the guards employed here would be discharged. So we will have double the amount of guarding to do after that – one guard every four days. That won’t be very bad tho because there is no drill whatever. I would just as soon drill part of the day because when a fellow is idle, he hunts mischief because it is so monotonous.

I am sending you something. I don’t know what they call it but I can tell from the looks of it what they do with it. I haven’t been around folks enough lately to notice whether it is used or not but the girl said it was alright. I am afraid it is not very nice but I got the best I could find in Charleston's three department stores.

It is another fine day today. I hope it keeps up this kind of weather & then I won’t mind staying here so much because it is probably bad in Kansas.

Last Thursday night the Y. W. C. A. secretaries invited thirty boys from each company to attend a party at the school house. I went. We had quite a nice time. There were as many girls as boys & so of course that made it lots nicer. We played games & did some fancy marching & drills.

Well, I have said about enough for once. I believe I will try and get a little sleep now because I didn’t get much while on guard. Yours as ever, -- Ward

Footnotes:
  • After researching the WWI Draft Registration cards, I could find no one by the name of Nick Sousen (as Ward spelled it in his letter). Ward appears to only have been a casual acquaintance and may not have known how to spell Nick’s last name. The closest name I can find in the registration cards is that of Nick Sauzan who was born in 1885 and hailed from Chicago’s north side.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Letter 125 ~ January 8, 1919

I tell Minnie I received a promotion while on furlough. I describe my return trip to Nitro, West Virginia, from the east coast and poke fun of the camp cooking.

Addressed to Miss Minnie G. Frey, Manhattan, KS

Nitro, West Virginia
1/8/1919

Dear Kid,

I got back from my trip Monday P.M. & was very glad to get my mail. You should have seen the amount of mail that had accumulated while I was away -- three packages & about a dozen or more letters. It was over three weeks since I had heard from you & [your sister] Bertha couldn’t tell me much so I didn’t know whether you were still on earth or not.

Minnie, you must be a mind reader. How in the world did you know that the very thing I needed was a pen? I expect you were weary of my pencil scribble. That sure was fine candy & it melted away like ice in a skillet.

I am sorry you didn’t get my mail but as you say, my letters to you and to the folks are nearly the same so if you saw their letters perhaps it was alright. Your telling me about that party at Munger’s made me feel left out for a fact. We used to have such good times before this war. When I get out next summer – as I hope and pray that I will – we won’t lose any time in having a little fun, will we kid?

I was very glad to get Ercil [Hoke]’s letter & am glad to hear of his promotion. He will make a good corporal I am sure. Those boys will be coming back before long & I for one will take off my hat to them. I have talked with overseas men who have come back & I tell you those fellows have been through war & you know what war is.

It is too bad your school can’t be kept running but it is much better to shut it up then to get the flu. I am evidently missing lots of winter weather by not being home. It snowed here but only about an inch or two. It is pretty sloppy but not very cold.

Both companies assembled at 8:00 o’clock today to honor Ex-President [Theodore] Roosevelt. Wouldn’t that beat you, his dying that way? It certainly surprised me.

I was made a first class private while I was on my furlough. That means $3 more pay per month. It is easy money because my chores are just the same but I am supposed to show a little more intelligence & willingness than a buck private. I was surprised to get it, having been put into a company of trained men & said as much to one of the fellows. I said I didn’t suppose the captain even knew my name. He said don’t you fool yourself, the captain knows every man in this company & he has been watching you & you didn’t know it, of course. That is as good as I can expect because as it is, that is better than lots of the men who were here all last summer.

The night I wrote you that letter from New York [City], I started back to Washington & got there the next morning. I had promised to let Billy [Harlan] show me through the zoo before I left so [my sister] Gussie, Billy & I went to the zoo. It is in Rock Creek Park & is a very good collection of animals & birds. As near as possible everything is in its natural setting & as the park is very beautiful, it was quite interesting.

That [same] night I left for Nitro & got in the next afternoon. On the train was a man who had been overseas & had been gassed & suffered from shell shock also. A corporal of the Medical Corps was taking him home from the hospital at Plattsburg, New York. He was very talkative & one could tell from the way he talked that he wasn’t quite right. One time we met a train & I saw him jump clear out of his seat, so nervous you know. Well, we met other trains & he finally broke down & had a fit – cried like a baby & shook all over. They laid him down & finally worked him out of it, but my how I pitied him. He certainly gave the best he had for us. His case is mild, however, compared to many others.

While I was away, the grub got so bad that some of the fellows posted some cartoons & signs on the door of the mess hall knocking the cooks & mess sargent & the quality of the grub. One of them showed a skinny mouse chasing a weenie & the mouse said, “Oh Lord, still no change.” Another showed two of the cooks. One is a little dried-up fellow & the other is fat of course. They are exaggerated. One said, “Well, we fooled them again didn’t we?” The other said, “Ha Ha.” They were shown sitting in the kitchen after mess. The mess sargent was wild & he showed them to the captain. The captain said if the fellow who put them up wouldn’t come into the orderly room in a half hour, he would have the whole company fall out with full packs & double time for awhile. Of course no one knew a single thing about how those awfully insulting signs got up there. Why, who would be so mean as to say a word about the beautiful grub & nice cooks. They had to double time good & plenty alright but everyone thot it was such a good joke that they didn’t mind it a bit. The grub has been a little better since. However, there is still room for improvement. I think we will eat off dishes again pretty soon because there was a big pile of them in the kitchen this evening.

Mama said that you were getting fat & that it was improving your looks. Gee, I sure would like to see you. I can never imagine how you would look if you should really get fat. The fact is, I don’t believe you ever will. Your school work must be agreeing with you or perhaps it is because you don’t sit up till morning as often as you used to. Believe me, when I get a chance, I am going to make you sit up once more. I mean, of course, if you don’t mind.

You said you wanted me to tell every little thing about the camp. Well, the most expressive words to describe every little thing & every big thing is to say mud, rain & clouds. That is varied by now. I’m not going to describe this old place. I will tell you about it when I see you. We can’t go to the theatre here or visit at the bungalows on account of scarlet fever.

Well, I’ve raved long enough so good night. If I was on your porch at this time, I would take calisthenics exercises in this manner. Raise arms forward at count of one. Squeeze at count of two. Smack the lips at count of three. Resume position of attention at four.

Footnotes:
  • Ercil Addison Hoke was the 20 year-old son of farmer John Lewis Hoke and Mary Clarissa Perry of Hays Township, Dickinson County, Kansas. He was a student at KSAC at the time of the 1915 State Census. He was born 22 April 1898. He died in Issaquah, King County, Washington in June 1968.
  • On January 6, 1919, at the age of 60, Teddy Roosevelt died in his sleep of a coronary embolism at Oyster Bay, Nassau County, New York, and was buried in Young's Memorial Cemetery.

Letter 124 ~ January 7, 1919


The Brooklyn Bridge and the Woolworth Building in 1920.

I write my mother Hattie and brother Willis a long letter, telling them all about my trip to Washington, D.C. and New York City.

Addressed to Mrs. Hattie P. Griffing, Manhattan, KS

Nitro, West Virginia
January 7, 1919

Dear Folks,

Well, I got home yesterday afternoon and had a fine time on my trip. You didn’t know I was in Manhattan Friday and Saturday did you? Well, I was. It was the borough of Manhattan, however, and was somewhat larger than Manhattan, Kansas. [My sister] Gussie and [her husband] Harry [Harlan] both said I would wish afterward that I had gone if I didn’t so I left Washington for New York [City] Thursday night and spent Friday and Saturday there, getting back to Washington Sunday morning and leaving Washington for Nitro Sunday night, getting back here yesterday evening.

I had not intended going to Washington until after payday and I hadn’t gotten my clothes from home, but December 27 I got a wire from Harry saying to come up the 28th or 29th if possible because he was off until the first and he would send me all the funds necessary for the trip, so of course, I accepted. I showed the wire to the top sergeant and he said I could get a pass so I wired to Harry to wire me a ticket from Charleston to Washington and then started getting ready. I took a bath and changed my clothes and washed out a shirt and borrowed a handbag from one of the fellows and was all ready to go on the 5:20 to Charleston. When I got my pass I was surprised to find that he had made it out for ten days because the usual time is 7 or 8. I expect Harry’s telegram helped. Well, I got the money at Charleston all right that night and was off. Harry met me at the train Sunday morning and we went out to their home.

They have a very nice house both outside and inside. It is very nicely furnished and is very comfortable. [My nephews] Billy and Jack are certainly fine little fellows, hardly ever cry, mind very well, but still are very lively and mischievous. Billy talks a lot and says some very sensible things for a kid of his age. Jack talks a little but not much. They keep a dozen purebred S.C. white Leghorn pullets and get over 4-dozen eggs a week. Billy certainly enjoys getting the eggs and feeding the chickens. Gussie is certainly a fine cook and some of the things she fixed up were simply grand after eating nothing but army fare for so long.

Harry, being off, was able to show me around the city. Washington [D.C.] certainly is a beautiful place—so many fine residences, no factories, and many beautiful government buildings. They keep the streets so clean and have lots of trees. One day Harry took me to lunch at the Cosmos Club. I suppose Gussie has told you about the club. It is the most exclusive and hardest to get into of any in the District. The President and Cabinet members, Ambassadors, etc. belong. They have very beautiful clubrooms and are very hospitable. There I met Dr. [C.E.] Leighty and a Mr. [D.F.] Chalmers. They are both very nice and we four played billiards at the club for awhile.

One evening, Mrs. Bill had us in for dinner and there I met Mr. and Mrs. Vinall. Willis, you know that man we wrote to about seed at Wichita.

When Harry had to go to work, I was well enough acquainted with the city to go around myself. I went up on top of the Washington Monument. Visited the Capitol and sat and listened awhile in each house of Congress as they both happened to be in session.

Some of the buildings are closed because of the war and I couldn’t see everything. The new Museum where the most interesting exhibits are shown was closed but I saw the old one and it is good altho not up to the other. The Pan-American building was interesting and so was the Library of Congress. The White House will not be opened again until peace is signed.

One night Gussie and I went to a movie. It was in a new theater that had just opened and so the theater was interesting as well as the picture, which was very good. The theater was very beautiful and the lower floor will seat 2,000 people and there is not a single post or step in the house.

New Year’s Day I knew Charlie [Scholer] would be home so I called up and found out how to get out there and went out for dinner. Had a very fine visit. It was the first time I had seen Charlie since I went to Topeka with the Freys. Bertha and the baby had lately gotten over the flu but looked well then.

I got back to Washington in time for Gussie’s dinner at about 6:30. They had a man and his wife from downtown and also their neighbor Mr. Stone. That Mr. Stone is the man who developed the gas defensive for the army and also invented a new gas which, if the war had lasted long enough to have [used] it, would have annihilated the Germans because they had no defense against it. He is a big man but is awfully nice to meet and is not a bit stuck up. He couldn’t start his car one morning and so I went down and cranked it for him.

Thursday night after midnight I started for New York [City] and got there Friday morning. Went to the [Herald Square] hotel, got a room, and then started out to see the city. I took a subway down to the battery. From there you look out over the harbor and see the Statue of Liberty and boats coming up and going. They have an aquarium down there where all kinds of live fish and water inhabitants are kept. It was very interesting. From the battery I walked up Wall Street. This is one of the streets which reminds one of a canyon. I then walked along the East side, saw the East River wharves, Brooklyn Bridge, the fish market, and some of the tenement district. It was very dirty and uninviting all along there.

Then I went uptown and saw Central Park. Here is where the famous Polo grounds are, Willis. Near the park is the Metropolitan Museum of Arts. This is one of the finest collections of works of art in the world—paintings, statuary, jewels, collections of armor and old firearms, and swords and Egyptian relics. They had some mummies there. Across the park is the Museum of Natural History [where there are] collections of stuffed animals, birds, one of the finest bird exhibits in the world, minerals, old relics of all kinds, etc. etc.

In the afternoon, I went out in a boat and boarded the dreadnaught Utah. The great Atlantic Fleet you know has come back and is anchored up the Hudson River just west of the city. The jockies showed me all around the vessel, opened up some of the big guns and showed how to load and handle them. Let me look thru a spyglass, etc. They sure can tell tales about the other side of the pond. They are a mighty fine bunch of fellows.

I had supper at a canteen for soldiers and sailors down near the pier. Almost any chauffeur will give a man in uniform a ride for nothing so that evening I rode around town with them and on the sight-seeing buses until show time & then I went to the Hippodrome. This house has the largest stage in the world & they sure put on a spectacle. The place is so large that they use very little talking but use an immense number of people and very gorgeous costumes. In one of the scenes they had a circus parade with horses, camels, and elephants. The troupe of elephants played ball as you have seen them do at a circus.

Saturday morning I went up on top of the Woolworth Building, the tallest building in the world. I got a book of views up there and was going to send them home, but I left them at the hotel. One can certainly see a lot from there. That afternoon, I went to the Winter Garden. This is another theater that is distinctly New York. The performance there was very good too.

New York is very easy to get around in. One is not so apt to get lost in it as in a large city much smaller. They certainly treat a man in uniform fine there – lots better than in the West or the South. The Red Cross and “YM” have information booths, canteens, and places to sleep and certainly do work for the men that is fine and altogether unselfish.

I got back to Washington [D.C.] Sunday morning and Gussie, Billy and I went to the Zoo. I started back to Nitro last night and my visit was ended. My, but I hated to get back here except that I was anxious to hear from all you folks. You should have seen the amount of mail I got when I got here – about 12 or 15 letters and 3 packages. I got that money you sent all right, Willis. I am afraid you need it more than I do. Harry loaned me $35 and I sent $30 of it so when I get my pay, I can settle with him and then send back some to you if you need it. I am sure you will so I will send it anyway. I hate to be under any obligation to Harry and Gussie because they sure showed me a good time and it certainly costs them a lot to live there with the children. I got the clothes but I have already taken my trip so I won’t wear them much now.

I believe you might as well go see Yenewine right away about my discharge because things work so slow in the army. Someone said tho that he read that we could not be held over six weeks longer. If that is true, you wouldn’t need to do it but find out anyway. I am anxious to get out or rather a whole lot more so than you are to have me, I’ll bet. Yenewine ought to be able to tell you what to do. I sure was glad to hear about the young folks of College Hill. It almost sounded like the times before the war. I wish I could have been at that party at Munger’s. I am very sorry to hear about the stormy weather and I hope it opens up good in the spring.

If Claude [Cunningham] gets married, it will be hard on you and Carroll but I don’t believe we can hardly blame him because he has been awfully lonely these years.

Next month I will get $3.00 more pay because I was made first class private while I was gone. That is about as good as I can expect because you see the non-coms have all had at least 18 months training and many of them more. And of course none of them are getting killed. Those $3.00 are about the softest money in the army because a first class private doesn’t have to do any more than a buck private but is supposed to show a little more intelligence and willingness. In the absence of the corporal, the first class private has charge of the squad.

Maybe this letter will make up for my not writing before but I really didn’t have a good chance on my trip to write a real letter so I didn’t write any. I am writing this with a Xmas present. Minnie sent me a clipping of Ercil’s letter. I see he was made a corporal. He will make a good one alright, I am sure.

I have talked with wounded men from overseas and I tell you, those fellows went thru hell and then some. I will always respect the Hoke boys for their share in it. My trick in the service is small compared to theirs.

Where has Arthur been stationed? You know the Willis family is the only one in our club who didn’t have a representative in the service. I wouldn’t feel very proud over that if I were them. It wouldn’t have been so bad if Homer hadn’t tried to keep out. Of course Everett was in the S.A.T.C tho. Maybe that counts. Keep well. There seems to be lots of flu on the outside, but I don’t believe there is much in the army. There isn’t any here. Well, here is hoping I get out in a month or two.

Goodbye. Lots of Love, -- Ward

Footnotes:
  • Ercil Hoke was the 20 year-old son of farmer John Lewis Hoke and Mary Clarissa Perry of Hays Township, Dickinson County, Kansas. He was a student at KSAC at the time of the 1915 State Census.
  • The following description of the Cosmos Club was lifted from the Club's website: The Cosmos Club is a private social club, incorporated in Washington, D.C. in 1878 by men distinguished in science, literature and the arts. In June, 1988 the Club voted to welcome women as members. Since its founding, the Club has elected as members individuals in virtually every profession that has anything to do with scholarship, creative genius or intellectual distinction. Among its members, over the years, have been three Presidents, two Vice Presidents, a dozen Supreme Court justices, 32 Nobel Prize winners, 56 Pulitzer Prize winners and 45 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The Cosmos Club as it looked about 1920 when it was still located on Lafayette Park.
  • Dr. [C.E.] Leighty and Mr. [D.F.] Chalmers both worked for the Department of Agriculture, as did Ward's brother-in-law, Harry Harlan.
  • The identity of Mr. Stone has not been established. Perhaps he worked at nearby American University with Dr. Winford Lee Lewis who headed up a division in the Chemical Warfare Service. Under his direction, the gas "Lewisite" was developed which was never used during WWI.
  • The Aquarium, the Hippodrome, the Winter Garden, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1920.




  • The big guns on the USS Utah in 1919.

Letter 123 ~ January 4, 1919


The Great Atlantic Fleet anchored in the Hudson River in January 1919
(The USS Utah is on the far left)

I write Minnie from the Herald Square Hotel in New York City. I describe visiting the USS Utah anchored in the Hudson River.

Addressed to: Miss Minnie G. Frey, Stockdale, KS

Letterhead: Herald Square Hotel, 114-120 West 34th Street, Just West of Broadway, New York

1/4/1919

Dearest Kid,

Well I am in Manhattan tonight....the borough of Manhattan, however. How I wish that tomorrow night I might be in another Manhattan – one I love lots better than this, although I like it fine here. For in the other Manhattan there is a dear little girl waiting for me, but here – although there are many, many girls, there is not one like her.

I am very anxious to know how you are, Minnie. You know I have not heard from you for nearly three weeks & you know that is not good for a fellow in my fix. I visited Charles & [your sister] Bertha on New Year’s Day. Bertha said you were able to be home for Xmas. I am so glad for you that you could as I suppose it would be rather dull where you are staying [in Sherman Township].

Kid, I have been having a wonderful time. I came up here Thursday night or rather Friday morning, & have been seeing things I have always wanted to see & of course I have seen some things I haven’t wanted to see, over on the East side for instance.

As you know, our fleet has returned from Europe & is now anchored in the Hudson [River]. Well yesterday P.M. I got on a boat & was taken out to one of the battle cruisers, the [USS] Utah. I stayed there quite awhile & hobnobbed with the sailors. They showed me around & told me tales of the other side of the pond. They are mighty fine fellows I tell you.

I have been off duty so long now that I hate to get back except that when I get back I will get some word from you for which I am very anxious. Minnie, by being here in this great city one can see & feel how hypocritical & false society is. The only place to live is away from it all, far from the crowds & roaring streets & out where one is his own master, free to love & work & be happy. How glad I am that I have such a home as I have to go back to even if it is devoid of luxuries. Several men I have talked with here say they envy me in being on a farm. Gee! I wish I was there now.

I have been very much surprised the way New York treats us soldiers & sailors. I don’t believe there is a more hospitable city in the U.S. I have found that my uniform gets me anywhere & Kid, I am beginning to feel more proud of it each day. Down at Washington D. C., no one notices a soldier while here we are treated with simple kindness & much freedom.

I am going to see Alice Brady at the Playhouse [Theater] tonight & it is time to be going so good night dear. With lots of love, -- Pvt. Ward [Griffing] U.S.A.

Footnotes:
  • The battleship USS Utah was completed in 1911 but saw its first real duty during WWI when it escorted troop and munitions transport ships to Europe. After the armistice was signed, the USS Utah returned to New York City and remained anchored in the North (Hudson) River until 30 January 1919, during which time the crew hosted many visitors. In her latter years, the USS Utah was turned into a gunnery training ship and she was moored at Pearl Harbor on the fateful day of the Japanese attack that vaulted the U.S. into WWII. The USS Utah was one of several battleships destroyed that day.
  • Alice Brady was a very popular silent screen actress in 1919.

The USS Utah in 1919.

A view of NYC taken by Ward's Cousin, Lew Griffing, in 1918 when he shipped out to Europe.

Alice Brady