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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Letter 122 ~ December 30, 1918

Jack and Bill Harlan at the Chevy Chase home near Washington D.C.
(Photo taken a couple of years after Ward's visit)

I write Minnie from Washington D.C. while on a 10-day furlough to visit my sister Gussie.

Addressed to Miss Minnie G. Frey, Stockdale, KS

Washington, D.C.

Dear Kid,

As you see by the heading, I have changed my abode but I can’t call this a permanent one as I would like very much to. Perhaps to make this a more readable letter & as properly connected as any school ma’am could wish, I should tell about what has occurred since I wrote you last before I tell you of the time I am having here.

Nothing very exciting has occurred at my happy home in Nitro, more than would naturally take place at a guard barracks. As I expected would be the case, I went on guard Xmas morning. Before we went on guard however each of us received from the “YW” ladies a tiny box of chocolates, package of cigarettes (The Red Cross will teach me to smoke pretty soon), an apple & an orange. I thot that was very good of them to remember us fellows. The night before, Xmas eve, some of us went to a tree they had at the school house & they gave us each a box of crackajack just the same as the other children.

Well, of course my Xmas dinner was a frost. My post to guard was two or three miles out in the brush. They took us out there in a wagon. We stayed all night. They brot us our dinner & supper. The dinner was good enough considering the way it was served to us.... Mince pie, lemon pie, cake, bread & butter, fruit salad, cranberries, pickles, canned peaches, & roast pork. For supper however we had bread & butter, & bologna & tea. Take it all the way thru it was rather a lonesome Christmas but I ought not to complain because it was lots & lots better than many of the boys had ‘over there.’ It was a lonesome old place where we had to guard. It is called the “proving grounds” because there they make tests of various kinds with cannon, ammunition, etc. There were tons & tons of shells there & lots of powder. You see, [you can tell all our friends] I was where the shells were the thickest. Ahem.

Outside of the guarding we do very little hard work & so take it as a whole, it might be worse. There are enough in the outfit so that one man doesn’t have to stand guard more often than once in eight days. One day after Xmas we marched out east of Nitro & I supposed we were going to drill but before long they marched us back. It was just for exercise. We have every afternoon off & I can get a pass to Charleston any afternoon for the asking but of course that doesn’t do any good to the men who are busted….for a city gives up its pleasures only for a price.

Saturday morning after inspection we were loafing around the barracks. It was nasty & cold out & a few of us were sitting around one of those little gas heaters that they use to heat the barracks. They are real nice, have an open front & come as near being a grate fire as a soldier can expect. One of the bunch came upstairs & said there was a notice posted on the bulletin board that there was a telegram for Griffing & I told him he was a liar & forgot all about it. I thot he was joshing as we always are. I happened downstairs a little later tho & sure enough there was a telegram for me.

Well, I wondered who was sick, dead, or dying because in our family a telegram usually meant bad news. I went into the orderly room & got it & it was from [my brother-in-law] Harry [Harlan]. He said to come up [to Washington D.C.] the 28th or 29th because he was on leave until the first [of January]. He would lend me all necessary funds or wire me transportation. Well, of course it didn’t take me long to decide to go as long as he would lend me the money. Otherwise I was going to wait until payday & then go up. I showed the telegram to the First Sergeant & he said I could get the pass so I wired to Harry to wire me a ticket to Charleston. Well, I washed me out a shirt & had it pressed & borrowed a grip from one of the fellows & put my junk in it & was ready to go.

I had to wait until 5:20 to go to Charleston & then take the 7:00 thru from there to Washington. In the afternoon I got two wires from Harry saying that he had wired a ticket & had wired money to the Western Union of Charleston so I was all fixed. After I had paid my fare from Nitro to Charleston, I had just two dollars left – pretty risky for a 400 mile trip, but I got the money all O.K. at Charleston & got started. The train was late however & ran slow all the way.

Harry [Harlan] met me & took me out to Chevy Chase where they live. This house is a dream & the two little boys are something to be proud of. I wish you could see them. [My sister] Gussie & I took a walk yesterday afternoon & I tell you, a person will have to look quite awhile to find a prettier & cleaner city than Washington & nicer homes. Last night I was invited to a belated Xmas dinner at one of Harry’s & Gussie’s best friends & had a nice time. Today, Harry & I went downtown & saw lots of the sights of the city. Many of the more interesting places are closed because of the war. We had a fine ride in a big auto thru Rock Creek Park this afternoon. It is very beautiful now & in summer it must be grand. If you can visit Washington, don’t fail to see it. As I have a ten day pass I will see Charlie & [your sister] Bertha, & I want to go down to Mount Vernon & around as much as I can. I was lucky in getting as long a pass as I did, I think. The telegram helped. It sure is nice to be in a home once more & not have to worry about reveille & retreat, etc.

Harry Harlan in 1924

Dear, I am getting awfully anxious to hear from you. It has been over two weeks now & I won’t get any mail until I get back [to Nitro] either. I hope you are well & that your work is progressing as you want it to. I received a letter from mother the day I left Nitro & she said that it snowed & drifted badly so I expect that you had a lonely Xmas also. I am sorry & would like to put my arms around you and, and – you know.

Well dear, send me lots of love next time you write because I haven’t had any for some time you know. Good night & a great big, sweet, soft, long kiss. -- Ward

  • A “grip” was another name for suitcase.
  • Bill (born 1914) and Jack (born 1917) Harlan were the children of Gussie Griffing and Harry Harlan.
  • In his book, Looking Back at my Life, Bill Harlan said his parents best friends in Washington D. C. were Mr. & Mrs. Wilbur Ward Bill. Mr. Bill was quite a colorful character and would have been a delightful dinner host.

A promotional photograph by Oldsmobile. Rock Creek Park in 1920.

1 comment:

  1. Imagine all these arrangements for Ward to visit Washington, DC. Wiring back and forth must have taken hours. I only assume that the Western Union office was next to the railroad depot so that when he received the wire it was only a few steps to the ticket counter.