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Monday, January 5, 2009

The Great War Comes to Kansas

My name is Ward Clarke Griffing. I served during WWI as a member of Company E, 20th Infantry at Camp Funston (part of Fort Riley), Kansas. I was inducted into the army on 5 September 1918 at the age of twenty-one. While training at Camp Funston, I survived the influenza epidemic of 1918-1919, the worst pandemic in history. In all likelihood, had our company not been quarantined part of the time, I would have been assigned to the 10th Division and sent to the trenches in war torn Europe. I longed to “go over” and fight for the Allied Forces but the war ended before the call ever came. After hostilities had ended overseas, my company was detailed to guard duty at a recently completed explosives plant in Nitro, West Virginia where I served for a little over two months before being discharged.

At the same time that I was experiencing military life, my sweetheart, Minnie Grace Frey, was facing her first year of teaching in a one-room school house in Sherman Township, Riley County, Kansas. Her letters to me are full of daily class activities, providing invaluable insight into the life of a country school teacher in the early 1900’s.

Because my family has a penchant for keeping everything, the letters Minnie and I exchanged in 1918-1919 were never thrown away. They were safely tucked away for decades and now provide a window on life in early 20th century America. There are a total 145 letters or postcards included in this collection. Minnie wrote 62 of them, I wrote 80, and my mother (Hattie) wrote three. I’ve corrected some of our spelling errors but transcribed them otherwise exactly as they were written.

Now, won’t you let me take you back to another world – a world of first generation airplanes and second generation cars; a world of picnics, box socials, sunny Sunday afternoon strolls, party phone lines, silent movies, and singing around the piano or the Victrola; a world of muddy roads, interurban railcars, and slow trains; a world of agriculture, dairy farming, and one-room schoolhouses; and finally a world torn apart by war and the scourge of an influenza epidemic that reached deep into the heartland of a place called Kansas.


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  2. Dear Mr. Griffing,

    I am a contemporary of yours having been born on 2 June 1898 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. I very much enjoy reading your letters. They take me back to the days of my youth, although I did not join the service of our country during the "Great War." Instead I enrolled as a student in the course of English at Lafayette College.

    I am proud to say that my son Pfc. William Wellington Taylor, Jr. served our great country during World War II. He wrote many letters home during his service in the war. I am pleased to see that you have linked your site to the blog of my grandson Gregory L. Taylor who is sharing those letters with the world. Being 110 years of age I do not pretend to understand modern computer technology, so I am having him send this letter for me.

    Very truly yours,
    William Wellington Taylor, Sr.