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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Letter 35 ~ October 5, 1918

I write Minnie more news about camp life, circling airplanes, and the flu epidemic.

Addressed to Miss Minnie G. Frey, Stockdale, Kansas
Camp Republican
October 5, 1918

Dear Little Girl ---

Well this is Saturday morning & it sure is a beautiful day. I expect you are home & enjoying your visit but I am still under quarantine & there is no telling when I can get out. My, how I wish I could go home tonight. Yesterday was an awful day. I believe it was the worst for wind & dirt we have had.

A bunch of men is taken out of this company every day with influenza but I don’t believe any have died from this company. Health orders are very strict. We have to sleep with our tent walls rolled up & the canteen is closed to avoid crowds. Married men whose wives are in Manhattan or Junction City [are the only ones who] can get passes. Some of the boys wish they were married now.

Tomorrow will sure be a lonesome day. Last Sunday I had hopes of seeing someone but this time I haven’t even any hopes. I got your box of candy alright & it sure was fine. I didn’t eat much candy in civil life but I always had honey, jelly, syrup etc. for sweets. But here we don’t get hardly any of that kind & all of us crave for something sweet. I expect sugar is hard to get now at home tho.

Every once in awhile we can hear a roar & look up & see an airplane. We have seen four in the air at one time over camp. The other night one lit just west of camp & then flew over pretty low & we sure got a good view of it. It was a great big thing & made an awful roar.

I was moved into another tent the other night & do you know I got sort of homesick? We had gotten so used to that tent that it seemed like home. But our new tent is a better tent, although there is no place to put up a stove. I trust we will be out of here before cold weather tho. I would rather be moved across right away than to have to stay in this place all winter.

The new “Y” [YMCA] is almost done now so maybe we can have better writing accommodations soon. I suppose you won’t care if we do, will you?

My squad is on fire guard again but it won’t stop our visiting today I guess with this beastly quarantine on. The 10th Division hasn’t moved out yet so we can’t tell whether we will be attached to it or to a new division. The news from the front is sure encouraging, but just the same I would like to take the trip across [to Europe]. I would like to get back in time to go to school [at the Kansas State Agricultural College] next fall. You are still planning to go, I suppose.

Say, there is one thing I won’t kick on when I get home & that is grub. I will have the innards of a mule when I get out of this army. At home, if I didn’t like a thing, I wouldn’t eat it but now the only thing I worry about is the quantity.

Everything is inspection up here on Saturday. [There is] inspection of arms, then bunk & equipment inspection, inspection of quarters, & foot inspection. I washed some of my clothes yesterday but it sure is a hard job to get them clean after living out in this awful dirt with no hot water too. We have got to scrub our tents out with creosote today. Don’t you pity our noses?

Don’t you worry about my getting sick because I am well so far & intend to keep it that way. Well darling, goodbye for this time. – Ward

  • A fellow soldier at nearby Camp Funston named Charles L. Johnston also noted the airplanes in a letter dated October 8, 1918. He said, “There has been a squad of airplanes here for several days, making demonstration flights. They sure do pull off some good stunts.”


  1. Imagine the wonderment of the Kansas boy looking up at not just one airplane, but many. I will speculate that these were probably Curtis "Jennys" the underpowered trainers the Army bought in the thousands. The Jenny (with a larger engine) is the plane you see in film footage of barnstormers. After the war, a Jenny in the crate sold for $5.

    The U.S. did not have a combat airplane in this war and Army pilots flew French planes overseas.

    It's interesting that Ward expresses a desire to "get into it." Anything must seem better than boring and uncomfortable camp life. He seems to see that the war is nearing its conclusion and is already planning his life after the service.

    Scrubbing a tent with creosote? Does anyone know what this was supposed to have accomplished? I know creosote can be a wood preservative, but an antibacterial? I suppose that the Medical Corps figured that anything smelly has to be bad for germs.

  2. Love your comments about the airplanes. It's very clear that the airplanes were quite a novelty for rural Kansans. As for the use of creosote, I suspect this was another classic example of the army desperately trying to do anything that would check the spread of the epidemic. And doing just "anything", in this case, may have actually been worse than doing nothing, given what we know today about the carcinogenic properties of creosote. I found a 1911 Chemical Journal that concluded the "neutral oils" of creosote were a "strong antiseptic." Perhaps this emerging new information about creosote gave them the idea that they could keep the "disease-laden air" out of the tents of the servicemen. Can you imagine what the air inside these tents must have smelled like after swabbing them down with creosote?! -- wg