I break the news to Minnie of my transfer to Nitro, West Virginia, to guard a new explosives plant.
Addressed to Miss Minnie G. Frey, Stockdale, Kansas
December 11, 1918
Dear Little Girl,
Well, I won’t get to eat Christmas dinner with you & I probably won’t get to see you again until spring at least. I am sorry I didn’t get to come up & see you last Sunday.
Monday morning the Captain [Sterling C. Robertson] said he had received several letters from the parents of some of the men saying that they had not heard from their sons for months. He said he would not mention any names but that we knew ourselves who it was & that when we wrote to say that we would probably be sent to Nitro, West Virginia sometime this week. He said that those who hadn’t written must write at once & if he had any more complaints of that nature it would go hard with the guilty one. He said also that men were bothering him about discharges & the next man that came to him wanting a discharge would get a week in the kitchen. He said that the company commander did not discharge men. He mentioned that some of the drafted men had the impression that they ought to be let out immediately but that they could be held so long as there is an emergency & so long as we have men in France, there is an emergency. He said we would not be let out before spring anyway.
When I heard this Monday I thot that I would not write until we were ready to entrain so that in case it was a false report you wouldn’t have to know about it, but they started to pack up yesterday so I know that we are ordered to move & the only thing that could keep us here now might be another outbreak of influenza.
Yesterday they packed all dishes so we are eating off our mess kits again. We didn’t drill yesterday but hung around the barracks all day expecting to go sometime before night, but we didn’t. Today we learned why. We went out to drill this morning & the Captain gave us a talk about our conduct on the trip. He said that he wanted to create a good impression in Charleston [West Virginia] & that everyone was to conduct himself accordingly. He said he didn’t care how much the men drank if they kept out of sight when they got drunk & he didn’t care how much they swore if they did it under their breath, but he didn’t want any loud yelling, etc.
Lieutenant Boone said that we were to guard the Hercules Powder Plant. You have heard of it, haven’t you? It is about 15 miles north of Charleston, West Virginia & is connected to that city by trolly so we will have easy access to amusements. He said it was kind of a ticklish job because those miners & munitions workers didn’t like the soldiers & if we went hunting for trouble we could sure find it. Then too we are to guard tons & tons of very high explosives which in itself calls for strict attention to duty. They have wooden barracks there similar to these but it will not be a crowded place like this because only two companies, E & F, are going. The 20th is being all split up – E & F going to W. Va., A & B to Ft. Riley, G & H to Leavenworth, L to Rock Island, Ill., C & D to Ft. Brady, Michigan (this is where we nearly went), etc.
Lieutenant Boone said that he thot we had about the nicest trip because he didn’t think it would be quite so cold there as some of the other places. The reason we didn’t go yesterday was because they decided to wait for Pullman’s. Chair cars were ready but as there were only two companies going, they thot we might go in style. We may not go until Monday now. We will have to drill until we go but we only carried light packs today.
We marched down to the Kansas Building this afternoon & had our picture taken. We are to go back again this evening for something. I don’t know what.
I sure hate staying in the army so long now but there is no help for it. However, I will not be the only one. They are not going to demobilize the 10th Division as the first impression was. They are going to keep 12 Army Divisions in the U.S. besides what are now in Europe. Things are a long ways from being settled. The South American countries are trying to start things down there but so long as we keep a large well-trained army ready for business nobody is going to monkey with Uncle Sam.
Captain [Sterling C.] Robertson said that the 20th would probably be assembled next spring back at Ft. Douglas, Utah. That is its old home. They will need me very much at home in the spring & I trust that nothing happens to keep the drafted men from being turned out by March at least.
Well dear, don’t worry about me. I will be as well cared for or better there than here but I won’t be able to get very many week-end passes home. I think tho that I can manage to run up to Washington [D.C. to visit my sister] sometime before I come home. I think it is only about 300 miles from Charleston. If I can do that it will help to lighten the idea of staying in the army.
I have just come back from the Kansas Building where General Wood delivered a farewell address to the 20th Regiment. He praised the 20th & said he felt as tho he was losing a member of his family, etc. etc. He said however that we still belonged to the 10th Division & that if the fortunes of war so demanded it, we would again be assembled here & be prepared for any emergency. He said that he did not know when the drafted men would be discharged but that they would be held for the present at least.
Monday I received three letters from you written while I was still in [Detention Camp] No. 2 about the first week or two of November.
Say, for lands sake kid, don’t feel bad about that blessing. Honestly we never thot of it at all. I hate to think, girlie, that that night is to be the last time I will see you for possibly three or four months. If you happen to come east to visit [your sister] Bertha after school is out, don’t forget to hunt up your old acquaintance, yours truly. I will get more lonesome there than I ever have here probably, so as soon as I send you my address I want you to do your derndest with pen & ink. Maybe I can find something new to write about. At least I hope so & I expect you are tired of this same old dope too.
If you happen to come home Sunday & I am still in camp, I will try & call you up. Well, be good & don’t forget to think of me once in awhile. As ever, Ward
- Nitro, West Virginia was named by the U.S. government because of the establishment there during WWI of a large federal plant for the manufacture of black powder explosives. The town is in the Kanawha River Valley a few miles from Charleston – the State Capital. The plant was erected in less than one year, sending its first shipment in November 1918.
- According to the book, Nitro, the WWI Boom Town, “two companies of the 20th United States Infantry, consisting of 16 officers and 510 enlisted men were stationed at Nitro. It was their duty to patrol the outer boundaries of the reservation and man the observation points on the surrounding hills.”