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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Letter 34 ~ October 4, 1918

I tell my mother and brother Willis about camp life, give Willis some gratuitous advice about the farm, and update them on the quarantine in effect at Fort Riley and the adjoining camps.

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

Camp Republican
October 4, 1918

Dear Folks,

My squad is on detail as the barracks squad today and as we are thru with our work, I can wash and write. A barracks squad is left at camp each day to police up and do odd jobs around. They take turns at it.

I got your letters and the money and stamps but the leggings haven’t come yet. I may get them tonight. I got the posts the other day. Your letters sure seemed like home this time, especially Willis’ telling about the crops, cattle and other things. I am sure glad you were able to pick up those calves there at home without having to go to Kansas City. Be careful and don’t sell too short of feed. I hope Bonine is well by this time. I sure would like to get home once to see those calves and your crop of [winter] wheat. I’ll bet it looks fine.

It sure is fine that you [Willis] can be with the Sig Alpha [Fraternity] because I guess they are about the nicest Frat bunch in school. I sure wish I could too. My, but I sure would like to run the car just once more. Is McCormick back in school this year?

The wind and dirt today is something awful. We never had it so bad as this back home. The reason is that the land is inclined to be sandy and the grass is skinned off of lots of it. If a person washes and hangs out his clothes, they soon get covered with dirt, but if they are dirty on Saturday morning inspection, it’s the rock pile or K.P. If we ever get out of this camp and into barracks, it won’t be so bad. I would rather be sent right to France than to be kept in this hole all winter.

We were called out just a little while ago because of fire but they didn’t need us. There was a fire up on the hill back of camp but the men around it put it out. If a fire should get started in camp on a day like this, there wouldn’t be a tent stake sticking out of the ground.

A bunch of men is taken out of camp every day but I don’t think many deaths have occurred yet. They make us sleep every night with the walls of our tents rolled up so as to have lots of fresh air and I go down to get my throat sprayed as often as I can. We can’t go down to the canteen anymore because they don’t want crowds. I thot by the time I wrote another letter, I would have some news but it is the same old thing.

I guess I didn’t tell you I was on the main guard Monday and Tuesday. Those who knew their general orders were put on guard and they were to be the only ones issued passes. We were tickled about it but that night while we were on guard, the order came to not let anyone in or out of camp without a special pass. During the day, visitors would stop to see their boys in camp and it sure was hard to turn them down. Sometimes they would let a man go to the road, say hello to his girl, kiss her and say goodbye. And if he was lucky enough, he might talk about a minute.

Well, I hope to see you soon but it may be some time. Write often. With lots of love, -- Ward


  1. Ward's account of having to sleep with the tent sides rolled up in October reminds me of the U.S. Army of the 1960s. At Fort Lewis (and elsewhere I think) there was a meningitis outbreak. The public health geeks dictated that all the barracks windows remain up all year round. Those years saw some record low temperatures and snows. I don't know if this measure controlled influenza at all, but when winter hits Kansas I'm sure Ward will tell us about it.

  2. I had the "pleasure" of experiencing life at Fort Leonard Wood during the winter of 1971-72 when there was an outbreak of spinal meningitis. We didn't have to sleep with the windows open in our barracks (though it isn't really fair to claim they were ever really closed either). They did make us put up "sneeze sheets" all around the perimeter of our individual bunks, however. This apparently was a common practice during the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918 too as I have seen some archive photos showing soldiers in quarantine cots fitted up in a similar way. -- wg

  3. In what capacity did you spend the winter of 1971-72 at Ft. Leonard Wood? This was during the latter part of the Vietnam War era. I spent the War as a college student with a 2-S Deferment. In my junior year they conducted a draft lottery. I was number 328 so my draft worries were over. My brother was number 26. Several days after the drawing he joined the Air Force.

    I remember the spinal meningitis outbreak. As is so often the case these infectious disease epidemics hit hardest in military camps and bases where young men are in close proximity.

  4. I guess that by the fall of 1971, Uncle Sam was in no mood to grant any more college deferments. He cooked my goose when he drew my birth date out of the hopper after only three attempts. I served six years with the USARNG; took my basic and AIT at FLW and then returned home to go to college. I was lucky to hook up with a unit that had just returned from V. Nam and so we were never activated again before the war closed. By the way, I was a cook, so we'll hear no more complaints about army grub! -- wg