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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Letter 120 ~ December 24, 1918

I write Minnie on Christmas Eve about holiday festivities in Nitro, West Virginia where I am stationed to perform guard duties at the government's explosives and munitions plant.

Addressed to Miss Minnie G. Frey, Stockdale, KS

Nitro, West Virginia

Dear Little Girl,

I wonder if you are going home [to Manhattan, Kansas] tonight for Xmas. I hope you do. It won’t seem like Xmas if you don’t. If the weather there is like it is here, you will stay all night in the school house for fear of getting stuck in the mud when you go Parkerson’s. Such rainy weather is sort of depressing but we are becoming accustomed to it now.

We are getting nicely settled now & are taking up the routine of guard duty. I haven’t been on [duty] yet so I am pretty sure of getting [it] on Xmas day. There are enough men in the two camps to make eight guards, so one man needs to go on only once in eight days.

The Major [Major Walter C. Gullion] offered all those who wanted them 7 day passes to go home for Xmas, but it is so near the end of the month that everyone is busted & besides hardly anyone could get home & back in seven days. If I wasn’t so near busted, I would go to Washington [D.C.] but I will have to wait until after payday. When I go off duty the first time after payday, I am going to ask for a week’s pass & I think I can get it. We can get passes to Charleston most any afternoon. The train leaves at 2:00 and gets back at about 11:45. We can get in at any time of night here & no one cares. We would be out of luck if we tried that at [Camp] Funston.

Minnie, I have been planning all along to have my picture taken & send it to you for Xmas. There were plenty of places at [Camp] Funston but there is not a one here. So I will try & get to Charleston as soon as I can and get it taken there. It is a poor excuse of a gift but I trust you understand the embarrassing financial circumstances of a buck private.

I will begin to think that I haven’t any little girl (or mother either) if I don’t begin to receive a letter or two pretty soon. If I don’t get one on Xmas I will be like the little boy [who said], “I know they ain’t no Santa Claus.”

They furnish the guard with rubber boots & flash lights & as most of the posts are somewhat sheltered, guard duty here is not half bad.

The “Y” made us a present of a Victrola today. We played some of those old pieces & I came almost to the edge of being homesick but thot better of it & decided I would put that off for awhile longer. They have put up a cedar tree in the company area & I suppose there will be some kind of entertainment tonight. Do you remember last Xmas night, & the one before, & the one before that? I do. Our cooks & the baker will do themselves proud tomorrow & I suppose we will have Xmas dinner with all the fixings, but of course it will not be like home or anyways near it. If I could only get up to W[ashington] D.C. [to visit my sister], I wouldn’t mind being away from home for Xmas but I don’t imagine these barracks will be “ringing with mirth & glee & happy voices around the Xmas tree.”

Dear, I send you lots of love & best wishes for a very merry Xmas & a happy New Year. And with it, I trust that we may be together before many months & enjoy the peace that has finally come to this earth. Goodbye, -- Ward

Letter 119 ~ December 21, 1918

A view of Explosives Plant "C" and Area "A" at Nitro, W. Va. in November 1918

I write my mother and brother Willis some details about our trip to Nitro, West Virginia. Much of it is the same material I wrote to Minnie on the same day but there is enough variation that I think I'll include it here in its entirety.

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

Nitro, West Virginia
[Saturday evening] December 21, 1918

Dear Folks,

It is raining now. It has been cloudy all day and raining part of this afternoon and evening. This is the kind of weather we will have most of the winter – slush and mud. If it is a little depressing outside, it is fairly nice inside compared to [Camp] Funston. We drew sheets and pillow slips today so we think we are getting pretty stylish. The inside walls of these barracks are covered with this beaver boarding and are painted white. The woodwork is stained brown and the outside is painted like our barn so it is a lot nicer place than Funston in that respect. We are still eating out of our mess kits but I think we will have dishes when we get better settled.

Our company went on guard today. We go on one day and [Company] F goes on the next. It only takes about fifty men all together for a guard so I don’t believe a fellow will have to go on oftener than once a week. We probably won’t have much to do besides guard because I doubt if we can find a level piece of ground big enough to drill on. The country around here is awfully rough. They say the hills are the foothills of the Alleghenies but they are much in the way of mountains. They are covered with oak and pine.

Nitro is about 14 or 15 miles north of Charleston. It is a large plant and employs around 50,000 people – both women and men. Lots of them are quitting now and part of the plant has shut down. The employees live in little cottages. There are rows and rows of them, stained brown and all alike.

There are a lot of U.S. Guards who guard the interior part of the plant. They are sort of a semi-military organization but do not belong to the army. I expect we will tangle up with them before we get out of here because they are pretty blamed stuck up and believe me, these regular army men don’t like to take anything off anybody.

Say, Willis, we can be satisfied with the place where we are farming because it compares mighty good with some of the places where people are trying to farm down here and on the road down here. Some places it looks as tho they would have to prop a stalk of corn up with a rock to keep it from sliding down hill. There would be a little patch of ground on a side hill with a rail fence around it and a few shocks of fodder in it. I suppose it must have been tended with a hoe and cut by hand. I saw some pretty nice farms but I saw lots of land that wasn’t fit for anything – rough and hilly, or swampy. We came thru the worst part of Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana tho. The northern part is better.

I am glad I got to come on this trip because I think I can get loose in the spring. Aside from the drunks and lack of good grub, the trip was fine and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

We got into Kansas City after dark and as there were no cops around where we stopped, some of the fellows bought booze thru the car window. They weren’t allowed off the train. Well, from then on till we got off here there was one sloppy train. We stopped quite awhile at St. Louis and one of the sergeants slipped off and brought back a whole suitcase full [of liquor]. Even the officers got drunk and got to acting gay. One of them started to do the manual of arms with a shovel and he grabbed a broom and said he had to police up. One fellow got the idea in his head that he ought to clean out the car so he socked one fellow over the eye and drove him away from him. They finally got him to sleep and he slept till about noon the next day. We didn’t get much sleep the first night because of the fellows slopping around. One fellow across the aisle got sick and threw up out the window but others weren’t so lucky and spilled theirs all over the cars. It kept the porters hopping, I tell you.

The only thing hot we had on the road was coffee. The bread ran out Wednesday and the rest of the time we had to eat hardtack. It about knocked all the fillings out of my teeth. Canned tomatoes, corned beef, cheese, beans and canned apple sauce was about all we had.

I bought me a coat hanger and a shoe polishing outfit. We have to look neat here, and besides, a fellow wants to anyway because there is a feminine parade in front of our barracks everyday. A fellow can get a girl by just saying hello to them down here.

Well, it is nearly Xmas and I haven’t thot much about it. I did think I would have my picture taken and send to you folks for a Xmas present but I don’t believe there is a place to have that done here. And besides, I am nearly busted again, so if I can’t find anything here I will wait until I can get to Charleston after payday. I hope you folks have a merry Xmas and you might eat a piece of candy for me.

I got a card from [sister] Gussie saying they wanted me to come up [to Washington D.C. to visit], but even if I could get a pass long enough to get up there for Xmas, I wouldn’t have the money so I will wait until I get this month’s pay.

I hope everything is getting along alright and the weather is favorable for pasturing. Write often, even if there isn’t much news because I can’t get home on weekends anymore. Our mail got here as soon as we did but the only thing I got was that from Gussie.

Well, good night, -- Ward

[P.S.] I asked a conductor on the train how far it was to Washington and he said it was about 400 miles -- leave Charleston in the evening of one day and get there the next P.M. I would need four or five days. If anyone should ask you what I could use for a Xmas present, a good fountain pen would come in handy.

Letter 118 ~ December 21, 1918

The “small street” near Ward’s barracks at Nitro, West Virginia, where it is “muddy all the time.” This photograph was taken 8 days prior to Ward’s arrival in Nitro.

I let Minnie know we arrived safely in Nitro, West Virginia. I describe the trip and our new post in a lengthy letter.

Addressed to Miss Minnie G. Frey, Stockdale, Kansas

Nitro, West Virginia
Saturday A.M. 12/21/1918

Dear Kid,

Well, we arrived here a little before noon yesterday & are getting nicely settled now. I am certainly well pleased with our new quarters but I will have to see the sun once before I say I like the country. It rains a whole lot here & as the soil is red clay it takes a long time to dry & so it is muddy nearly all the time. I always dislike cloudy weather.

We have larger barracks & two whole barracks to each company while at [Camp] Funston we had only 1 ½. The barracks are painted on the outside & the woodwork is stained inside. The walls are covered with white beaver boarding which makes it look a whole lot nicer than at [Camp] Funston. We have a recreation room right here in the barracks where we can gather to read, write or play games like checkers, cards, etc. Instead of the straw bed sacks that we had at [Camp] Funston, we have nice soft mattresses, feather pillows, sheets & pillow cases. My bed was so soft last night that it took me quite a little bit to get used to it but I was so sleepy from loss of sleep on the trip that I slept like a log when I once got started. I suppose we will eat off of dishes when we get settled but we aren’t now.

We went on guard this morning with 36 men besides the non-coms. If that is all they need all the time, it looks as tho we would have it rather easy here because 36 doesn’t come very often in 500, but we may have to use more later, I don’t know. They got in a wagon & were hauled away off in the brush somewhere so it looks as tho we only guarded the outskirts of the plant & the U.S. Guards guard the interior. Those U.S. Guards are a sort of semi-military organization but don’t belong to the army at all. I shouldn’t wonder but what us soldiers and the guards will have a row before we get out of here because they don’t look good to me.

Nitro is about 14 or 15 miles west of Charleston. It is a very large plant & somewhere around 50,000 people are employed here. The most of them live in little cottages near the plant. There are rows & rows of them all alike & stained brown. It looks as tho half the people employed here were women. Anyway, lots of girls are going past the barracks nearly all the time. There is a small street near the barracks on which is a market, grocery store, barber shop, restaurant & a few other shops. Not much of a place & no places of amusement although I think there is some kind of a moving picture show about a mile down the road east. They have dances about every other night at a school house somewhere near but I wasn’t enough interested to look it up. Guard duty here may get tiresome after awhile but it looks pretty nice now after the drill we had at [Camp] Funston. I think there will be enough excitement with the roughnecks to keep us from going stale.

The country around here is awfully rough. They say we are among the foothills of the Alleghenies but these hills here wouldn’t do for mountains at all. I think I will climb around a little tomorrow. All the hills are timbered & are not used for anything so far as I can see.

Our mail got down here about the same time we did & I supposed I would get two or three letters because I haven’t had any for nearly a week, but I didn’t get anything but a Christmas card from [my sister] Gussie which she sent direct to Nitro. She asked me up [to visit them in Washington D. C.] & as soon as I can get paid again I am going to ask for a pass. I don’t know whether I can get a long enough one or not but it looks as tho I could. A conductor on the train said it was about four hundred miles & that if I left Charleston in the evening of one day, I would get there the next P.M. A weekend pass would do no good.

Believe me, the fellows sure had a time coming down here. We stopped long enough in Kansas City for those who wanted it to get some booze. We weren’t allowed to get off the train but some civilians sold it to them thru the windows. It was dark and they could get away with it but if they should get caught selling liquor to soldiers it would mean the long road for them. Well, some of those old army men (& new ones too) were drunk nearly all the way down. I never saw anything like it before. About 1/3 of the men in the car I was in were drinking the first night & wouldn’t let anybody get much sleep. One got the idea in his head that it was his duty to clean out the car so he started in to do it. He hit one fellow over the eye & nearly knocked him over. They finally got him to sleep the next day. One fellow in the berth across the aisle got as sick as a pig & emptied all of his out the window. Then he settled down & went to sleep. The fellow I was sleeping with drank but he didn’t get dead drunk. He smelled like a brewery.

We stopped quite awhile at St. Louis & one of the sargents slipped off & brought in a whole valise full. From then on that train sure was nicely slopped up. The officers got drunk & got to acting like kids. One of the Lieutenants grabbed a shovel at St. Louis & started to do the manual of arms with it. Then he walked down the aisle with a broom saying he was going to police up. I am glad W. Va. is dry or there sure would be trouble in camp. They will get booze all right but they will have to pay so much for it that it will be in small quantities.

Aside from the drunkenness on the trip & the lack of grub, it was a fine trip & I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. It sure was fine the way the people treated us. At Topeka. St. Louis & Louisville, Red Cross ladies passed around cigarettes, hot coffee, sandwiches, cookies & candy & also post cards. The people all along the road would wave at us & greet us as tho we were heroes.

They didn’t cook anything on the trip. The only thing we had hot was coffee. After Wednesday, we didn’t even have bread but had to live on hardtack. If anybody gives me anymore hardtack, I am going to knock him down with it. Corn beef & beans & canned tomatoes & cheese & such things as that is what we had.

Say girlie, do write often because I can’t get home now & I want to know what is going on & what you are doing. Just address to: Pvt. Ward C. Griffing, E Company, 20th Infantry, Nitro, West Virginia

  • The book, "Nitro, the WWI Boom Town," describes a “sizeable interior police force called the Nitro Guards (later, the “U.S. Guards”) consisting of 11 officers, 305 guards and 90 mounted patrolmen. They patrolled the streets of Nitro and the plant area day and night, manned regular posts, and generally handled all police matters.”
  • “The most identifying characteristic of early Nitro was its hundreds of brown stained look-alike houses all arranged in neat straight evenly spaced rows.” Source: Nitro, the WWI Boom Town, p. 64

A view of the explosives plant in Nitro, West Virginia with the brown bungalow houses of the workers in the foreground.

Letter 117 ~ December 20, 1918

I let my mother know we arrived safely in Nitro, West Virginia, and are settled into our barracks which compared favorably to those at Camp Funston. I withhold my judgment, however, as to whether I'm going to like the country or the weather.

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

Nitro, West Virginia
Friday night, December 20, 1918

Dear Folks,

Well, we arrived here a little before noon today and are fairly settled here in our barracks.

I haven’t decided yet how I am going to like the country but our barracks are quite a bit nicer than those at [Camp] Funston. They are larger and we have two whole barracks to each company while in Funston we had only 1 ½ barracks to a company. There is a recreation room downstairs in this barracks where we can write, read & play games. We have nice mattresses instead of straw ticks and also feather pillows. They say tomorrow we will get sheets and pillow cases. All these things make it much more agreeable and homelike.

The chief reason that the country looks so dubious is because it is muddy and the natives say that it is dry compared to what it usually is. It rains a whole lot here and the soil is red clay that certainly is sticky. I always did hate rainy weather. They are blowing lights out. I was going to write a long letter but I will have to put it off till tomorrow. Please send me my suit. Just address it to—

Pvt. Ward C. Griffing
E Company, 20th Infantry
Nitro, W. Va.

  • For story on Nitro, click here.
  • According to a 16 year-old farm boy who came from Iowa in 1918 to work at the munitions plant in Nitro, "There were some Army barracks across the street from the Depot. Troops of the 20th Infantry, Companies E and F were here, for guard duty, and behind the barracks was a large corral where nearly a hundred horses were quartered. The stables were next to the barracks and below them, about a block or so, was the hospital. All of this was across from the tracks." To read more of his recollections of Nitro, click here.

Ward's Postcards Enroute to Nitro, WV

After waiting several days for transportation, we (Companies E & F of the 20th Infantry Regiment) are finally loaded into Pullman cars for the 870 mile ride from Junction City, Kansas to Nitro, West Virginia. The trip took three days -- from Tuesday noon, December 17, to Friday noon, December 20, 1918. I sent postcards to my mother Hattie, my brother Willis, and my sweetheart Minnie, from several points along the route...

I mailed these first two from Lawrence, Kansas:

To Miss Minnie G. Frey, Stockdale, Kansas
Post Marked: Lawrence, Kansas, December 18, 1918

On board train Tuesday night. We left this P. M. Expect to reach Nitro sometime Friday. We have pretty good accommodations & are not crowded. It is a long train however & we go very slow.
To Mr. Willis Griffing, Manhattan, Kansas
Post Marked: Lawrence, Kansas, December 18, 1918

On board train Tuesday night. Well, we pulled out this P.M. and expect to arrive Nitro sometime Friday. A lady gave us postcards and apples in Topeka. Am well.
I mailed two more postcards from St. Louis, Missouri -- one to Minnie and one to my mother. I will only show one since the image and messages are identical.

To Miss Minnie G. Frey, Stockdale, Kansas
Post Marked: Saint Louis, Missouri, December 19, 1918 9 A.M.

Wednesday P.M. [December 18]. Have reached St. Louis & must stop for about six hours to water & feed the horses & mules. The trip has not been very tedious as yet, but we are only half way there.
Finally, I mail two more postcards from Milltown, Indiana. Milltown is 25 miles northwest of New Albany, Indiana, and on the route of the Norfolk Southern Railroad.

To Miss Minnie G. Frey, Stockdale, Kansas
Postmarked: Milltown, Indiana, December 19, 1918

Somewhere in Indiana. We are hung up out here in the brush somewhere waiting for them to fix a drawbar. Our train is so long it broke in turning a sharpe curve this morning. Am well. – Ward

To Mrs. Hattie P. Griffing, Manhattan, Kansas
Postmarked: Milltown, Indiana, December 19, 1918

We are hung up somewhere in Indiana waiting for them to fix a drawbar. Our train is so long that it broke in turning a sharpe curve. We haven't had a hot meal since Tuesday noon and won't get any until we land in Nitro. Am well. – Ward

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Letter 116 ~ December 14, 1918

Soldiers watching a football game at Camp Funston on Thanksgiving Day

I write my mother and brother that our departure from Camp Funston is imminent. This letter is abbreviated to eliminate some of the redundant material written in a letter to Minnie the same day.

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

Camp Funston
December 14, 1918

Dear Mother,

I have been sent over here to the “Y” to help answer telephone calls, run errands, etc. It doesn’t keep me very busy and so I can write in between. I attempted to call you up awhile ago but central [switchboard] said you didn’t answer so I will call again later...

Thursday afternoon we all had to go out and watch a football game in the rain. I don’t know what I would do these rainy days when we don’t drill it it wasn’t for the camp library. I have read several books lately and they are good ones too. I hope there is some kind of library where we are going but as it is only a small camp, they may not even have a “Y.” I expect guard duty will be pretty old before the winter is over.

... We have to get another shot in the arm either before we leave or shortly afterward for pneumonia.

I got me a pretty good ring but I paid more for it than I want you folks to spend on me for Xmas, so I will just call it my Xmas present from all of you and you won’t need to get me anything. This will be the strangest and I shouldn’t wonder but what it will be the loneliest Xmas I ever had. Some of the store windows show some decorations already. It doesn’t seem as tho it could be so near Xmas.

One or two of the boys’ fathers have been here trying to get discharges for their sons but they didn’t have any luck. We will just have to wait until spring anyway now,

Inspection passed off without any trouble this morning.

Harlow Hudson doesn’t know what he is talking about half the time. This division is not to be discharged and [General] Woods is still in command.

I am glad to hear that the sick folks are getting along alright and that Willis is getting the work done up so well. I hope the weather stays good now for awhile now that it has cleared off. Well goodbye and good luck, -- Ward

  • Ward purchased a plain gold infantryman's ring (crossed rifles on the face). He wore the ring until his son (my father) graduated from high school in 1940, at which time he gave it to him to wear in lieu of a class ring. The story goes that my father wanted to purchase a class ring but the family couldn't afford it so Ward gave him this ring instead. My father it wore it from that point forward, most of his life, until he passed it on to me and now I wear it. -- wjg
  • Harlow K. Hudson lived in an adjacent farmhouse on College Hill northwest of Manhattan.

Letter 115 ~ December 14, 1918

The Camp Funston Library where Ward "made a pretty good start" reading all the books.

I tell Minnie what we've been doing at Camp Funston while waiting to be sent to West Virginia.

YMCA Letterhead
Addressed to Miss Minnie G. Frey, Stockdale, Kansas

Camp Funston
[Saturday] December 14, 1918

Dear Kid,

I have been sent over here to the “Y” & help answer the telephone & to run errands, etc. It doesn’t keep me very busy so I will try & write a little in between.

Passes are not being issued today except in cases of severe illness or death so of course I won’t get one. It seems like a long time since I have seen you now. What will it be by spring or summer or whenever I do see you? It seems too bad that you won’t be able to give a nice Xmas program as you had planned but I suppose the kids won’t mind it much if they don’t have to learn anything. I kind of hate to see Xmas coming because I am afraid my Christmas will be a little lonesome. It will be strange to say the least. Some of the store windows are already decorated I noticed last night and it sort of startled me & kind of made me homesick. We always thot a good deal of Xmas at home.

I don’t suppose you came home today or I would try & call you up this evening. I am going to get the folks if I can.

We didn’t drill Thursday & Friday but just hung around the barracks except when we all had to go to the parade ground & see a football game in the rain.

I don’t know what I would have done when we were idle if it hadn’t been for the Camp Library. There are lots of good books there & I have made a pretty good start at reading them. I have put in more time just lying around reading this week than I have ever before. Our company is on guard today but I didn’t have to. I guess we will get all the guard we want before the winter is over with.

We are going to leave tomorrow or Monday. Some of the companies of this regiment have already left. Most of the boys are wild to get out of here. They think Funston & Kansas are about two of the worst places this side of the infernal regions to hear them talk.

It looks as tho tomorrow would be a nice day. Gee, I wish I could come up & see you but it’s not what we want that makes us rich in this world. I wonder if you remember our first Xmas night together as I do? That was some time ago & lots of things have happened between & I expect lots of things will happen before we have another together too.

Well, Good Bye. Minnie, I do believe I’ll try to call the folks now. With lots of love, -- Ward

Letter 114 ~ December 11, 1918

I let my mother and brother know that I'm being transferred to Nitro, West Virginia to guard a munitions plant. Most of the content in the letter is repetitious of what I wrote Minnie on the same day so I'll only include the material that is different.

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

Camp Funston
December 11, 1918

Dear Folks,

Well, Willis, you might as well tell Mr. Hays to hand over that dollar because I will be about fifteen hundred miles away from home at Christmas.

Monday the Captain said ... we would likely go to Nitro, West Virginia sometime this week. I didn’t want to write you folks about it until we were ready to entrain. I was afraid it might be another of those false reports. However, we began to pack up yesterday so there isn’t any doubt but what we are going. They packed all the dishes so we are eating off of mess kits again. Lieutenant Boone said this morning that we were to go yesterday (we didn’t go out to drill at all) but they decided to wait until they could get Pullmans. We could have gone in chair cars yesterday but they thot that only two companies could go in more style than that, so we may not start until Monday.

Our job will be to guard the Hercules Powder Plant. He said it would be a ticklish job because the miners and munitions workers there didn’t like the soldiers. He said that if we went hunting for trouble, we could sure find it. There are tons and tons of high explosives stored there too so they will be mighty strict about what kind of a guard we put up. This place Nitro is about 15 miles north of Charleston, which is quite a large city and is connected [to Nitro] by trolley.

The Captain [said] they are going to keep 12 army divisions in the U.S. besides the men in Europe. Things are a long ways from settled and now South America is trying to start something.

The 20th [Infantry Regiment] is going to be scattered from Fort Riley to West Virginia. [Companies] A & B went to Fort Riley today. G & H go to Leavenworth. C & D go to Fort Brady (that is where we almost went), L goes to Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois, E & F to West Virginia, and some go to Fort Sheridan. They will probably be assembled in the spring at Ft. Douglas, Utah.

Washington [D.C.] is only about 300 miles I should judge by the map from Charleston [West Virginia] so I may get a chance to go up there before coming home. Maybe you had better tell [my sister] Gussie to wait until you get my new address before she sends that paper. All men who were out on passes were called in by wire and no more passes are being issued, I will try and call you folks up just before I leave if I can. I got that pillow today. As soon as I get settled, I will want you to send me my serge suit probably. There are wooden barracks there similar to these here but of course the camp is very small. Our work all winter will be guard duty and close order drill. We went out to drill this morning and most of it was close order, but believe me it was snappy.

Well, I hope you folks will write often and tell me how the weather is and how the cattle are getting along, etc. I have been so close, I could tell about when you could pasture or not, but it will be different [when I am] there. This is still good pasture weather, isn’t it? I expect they are on the whole field now and doing fine.

Well, I will be home in two or three months any way so do the best you can. I would be home now if I could but I can’t so there is no use worrying about it. Write often and don’t worry about me. With lots of love, -- Ward

Letter 113 ~ December 11, 1918

The Kansas Building at Camp Funston

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

Camp Funston
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.”

Letter 112 ~ December 11, 1918

Minnie writes me about several new cases of flu in her school.

Addressed to Pvt. Ward C. Griffing, Co E 2oth Infantry, Camp Funston, Kansas

Stockdale High School
[Wednesday night] December 11, 1918

Dear Ward:

I have been outlining my book this evening. I got over eighty-three pages. I think that’s pretty good for one evening. My hand aches so I can hardly write now.

I only have one girl at school now. Five [out of 17] of my pupils are out because of the “ flu.” I’ve been working on a Xmas program but am afraid it won’t amount to much but we can’t have anything in the evening anyway if there’s only a few of us going to school. If we can’t have a program, we can have a good time anyway. I know of lots of things we can do.

So you got a pass last Sunday and was home. I read in today’s paper that Camp Funston was quarantined so you were lucky getting home. They may not let you go again for awhile.

I would have gone home last Sunday eve for about 80 minutes. Chalmers went down to take some of their folks and came back again that night. They said if they had only thought they would have asked me to go along. I wish I could have.

I wonder if you are on your way to another camp? You would be going by this time, wouldn’t you, if you are to go?

I had a letter from you and Mama yesterday. About all either of you talked about was that [Grand] Review last Saturday. It sure made me provoked when I wanted to see it so much and couldn’t. I don’t have any idea when I’ll get home again. I may get to this weekend but probably not.

If you are home for Xmas dinner, you will be likely do better than I. If it should happen to be bad [weather] Xmas eve so the folks couldn’t come for me, I would be doomed to stay here. I don’t believe the Blue Valley train runs on Christmas Day (It never hardly does go if it can possibly escape).

I wish you could have come up last Sunday. It sure would have been fine. There’s not any news and it’s getting late. I’m almost asleep. Good night Ward, -- Minnie

Letter 111 ~ December 8, 1918

The General Review of the 10th Division held on December 7, 1918
Ward Griffing paraded with men of the 20th Infantry Regiment

I tell Minnie about the 10th Division parade review in which I participated at Camp Funston. I also fill her in on what I did while on a pass to Manhattan on Sunday.

Addressed to Miss Minnie G. Frey, Stockdale, Kansas

At home [Manhattan, Kansas]
December 8, 1918

My little Girl,

My, but today has sure been a beautiful one, hasn’t it? This is the kind of day I would like to walk with you up to “our” rock. You know that place up in the hills where we fixed those sticks?

The parade came off yesterday & I was like a drop in the bucket. It was quite a sight & one I will remember for a long time. It will probably be the last time I will ever see so many trained men in a body. To my notion, there are but few things more pretty & grand than to see a well trained body of soldiers on parade -- the colors flying & the band playing & each one in perfect step. I tell you it gets into a fellow’s blood. Our regiment got back to the barracks after the parade about 11:30 & I asked for a pass & got it. They started granting four-day passes too the other day. We started off for the parade before daylight Saturday morning.

I thot sure that Willis would have the car fixed up by today. I wanted to come up [to Stockdale] yesterday afternoon or today [to visit you] but they had to send away for an [ignition] coil so it is still down town. It may be tho that I can use it next time if I am still in the country & the weather permits.

We are supposed to be on our way to Ft. Brady [in Michigan] some time this week but the fact is, I don’t believe we will get to go because they are issuing passes out of the regiment. I wouldn’t mind going up there just about a month but I do hope I can get home to help Willis out this spring [with the farming]. He will have it pretty tough if I don’t. I am beginning to believe that I won’t leave Camp Funston.

Willis & I went with the Hays [boys] hunting jack rabbits this morning. We went over to the college pasture back of your place. Caught three jacks. We saw your [Frey] boys & Arnold boys playing football over in your pasture so we went over there & fooled around with them awhile. They said that they went up & saw the parade yesterday. It sure was a fine day & the roads were pretty good too.

It is nearly Christmas, isn’t it? I expect you are getting ready for a Christmas program. I hope I can get home for Christmas dinner at least. Are you going to get down anytime before Xmas?

Keep well & write often. – Ward C. Griffing

General Wood, State Governors and Staff Reviewing the 10th Division at Camp Funston

Letter 110 ~ December 8, 1918

Leonardville, Kansas ca. 1915

Minnie writes me about her school activities and what she did over the weekend in Sherman Township.

Addressed to Pvt. Ward C. Griffing, Co. E 20th Infantry, Camp Funston, Kansas

Stockdale, Kansas
[Sunday evening] December 8, 1918

Dear Boy:

Well, I had to stay here this weekend. I taught school yesterday and little Nellie Klein visited school. She intends to be in a little drill we are going to have. And we sure had one time of it. She’s only four years old and not the least bit bashful. Well, in the afternoon she began to cut loose and the things she didn’t know. She was playing with some blocks and she knocked them off the desk and they rolled all over. She jumped up in her seat and yelled out real loud, “Gosh! Darn!” She drolled it out long and loud. Well, that was just a beginner. I never heard tell of a child of her age using the slang and curse words she can, and she’d yell out any time and all the time. I just burst out laughing, I couldn’t help it, and so did all the children. I’m afraid we wouldn’t have much school if she was there all the time.

The mail man told me yesterday that all the schools were to be closed (just as they were before) the 20th of December. He said it was in that day’s paper. Well, I went into the school house & told the children what he said and we all went home thinking we would have no more school. When I got home I found nothing of the kind. The Manhattan schools were to be closed and I think that’s what he saw. So today I had to call all the children and tell them we would have school.

This morning I intended to do some of my school work that I have been putting off from time to time, then Mrs. Parkerson wanted me to go up to [William] Hoffman’s with her. There were three families there. Two car loads came from Manhattan last eve. We stayed there till noon. Then this afternoon we went to church and Sunday School over at Grandview, a rather nice country church and real nice people. It made me think of the day we went to Vinton Church. I met lots of people and sang in the choir. I would have much rather not have done that but they insisted so I thought I better.

Tonight Krause’s called and wanted me to go up on the hill to the German Church with them. I went and had a ‘good time.’ There wasn’t much preaching and I was with the craziest bunch of kids. So the work I didn’t get done between church this afternoon and church tonight, I had to finish tonight when I got home. It’s getting pretty late now.

I called Mrs. Dyer this morning and had a nice long talk with her. She is going to meet me in Leonardville next Saturday and take me out to her home if Parkerson’s or anyone around here goes to Leonardville which they are almost sure to do.

You know I wanted to go over to Camp Funston so bad yesterday [to watch the Divisional Parade Review] and Mrs. Dyer told me they were over there and saw my folks. She said they just passed them – that was all. I sure was raving when I heard that. It seems like I never do get to go when I want to go. I didn’t have any idea the folks would go up yesterday.

The German preacher said tonight that he was talking to a soldier boy today and the boy said that beginning with today, they were going to release ten members from every Company each day till they were all discharged. I hope you will be one of them if that’s true.

Next week is the end of my third month of school. It ought to be nearly the end of my 4th month.

Well, I must go to bed or I’ll not have any pep tomorrow in school. Keep good care of yourself boy and don’t get the flu. I’m sure afraid of that.

I wonder what you did today since you couldn’t get a pass. It was such a pretty day. I wish we could have been together. Your little girl, -- Minnie

[P.S.] Write often.

  • Nellie Klein was the four year-old sister of Zelphia Klein, one of Minnie’s students.
  • Probably 48 year-old Mima (Carey) Dyer who lived with her 74 year-old husband Samuel Dyer and their three children on a farm in Madison Township, Riley County, Kansas. Mima and Samuel Dyer’s eldest daughter, Louisa, married Minnie’s brother, Jesse Frey, on 5 September 1916.

Letter 109 ~ December 6, 1918

Minnie writes me the news from Sherman Township where she is boarding with the Parkerson's while teaching school.

Addressed to Pvt. Ward C. Griffing, Co. E 20th Infantry, Camp Funston, Kansas

Stockdale, Kansas
[Friday evening] December 6, 1918

Dear Ward:

The mail man sailed right by the school house today and didn’t give us a chance to go out. We didn’t see him till he was nearly by, but he always has honked his horn if he has any mail for me. So I didn’t think I had any mail today. When I got home tonight there was a letter from you. I was surely surprised. He had a man driving for him. I think that must have been the reason he didn’t stop. I was glad to get your letter. I haven’t heard from you this week but I wasn’t going to fall into a fit if I didn’t hear because it always turns out alright.

The folks didn’t come for me today so I’m going to teach tomorrow. Then I have plenty of work and a book to read over Sunday so I won’t have time to get lonesome except at night before I go to sleep. I always have plenty of time to wish myself home.

I had a visitor at school today – Miss Hazel Krause. She is the “bell[e]” up here, so I hear. She’s quite sociable but too cheap looking and not much to hear. And [she] has tuberculosis.

My books came yesterday that I ordered last winter. I was supposed to get them the first of September but didn’t. They are just great. They’ll help me a lot with my school work, especially the little folks. I can’t seem to find enough to keep them busy.

Say but I’m glad you got your pass just when you did. You were lucky to get off at all. That will sure be the limit if they send you way off and keep you six months longer. I hope they don’t, but just can’t ever tell what they will do.

I hope they will let you get weekend passes before I get a chance to get home again. For my part, I wouldn’t see you if you were able to get them for awhile. But just the same, I bet it doesn’t set well to have to stay there when you might just as well be at home over Saturday and Sunday. They will surely go to issuing them again soon, won’t they? My, I hope I get to see you again before they take you off... if they do.

I thought Saturday they must be issuing caps to the soldiers. I saw several with them on. You must look funny with a cap cocked on the side of your head. There’s nothing I despised more than to see you put a hat on the side of your head. But there was never any reason for you doing that. They always fit.

A person can get all the sugar he wants now. I’m sure glad of that now that Xmas is almost here. I’ll send you another box of candy some of these days, if you don’t leave.

Is the flu breaking out up at camp? It’s awful bad all around here again.

Good bye, -- Minnie F.

  • Hazel Krause was the 16 year-old sister of the Krause twins who attended Minnie’s school.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Letter 108 ~ December 4, 1918

Minnie tells me she was embarrassed that her papa was unable to say grace when called upon by my mother at the family Thanksgiving dinner gathering.

Addressed to Pvt. Ward C. Griffing, Co E 20th Infantry, Camp Funston, Kansas

Stockdale, Kansas
December 4, 1918

Dearest Boy,

My, everything seems to be going just so smooth and nice. This has been the best week of school I believe I have ever had. Hasn’t today been just great? It was so warm and nice and this afternoon we didn’t have to have a fire at all. There was a honey-bee between the curtain and one of the windows all afternoon. It kept buzzing all the time. It seemed like spring. I wish it was time for spring. I just dread to think of winter.

We are well started on our Xmas program. I’m sure anxious to see what success it will be. Am afraid tho. The flu seems so much worse all around. We may not be able to have a [box] social. By Xmas we will have all our three weeks made up. If the children continue to work the way they have been, then maybe I will get Thursday and Friday off after Xmas day. I hope I do.

I would sure like to go up to Camp Funston Saturday [for the Divisional Parade]. The more I read about it, the more I want to go. But I guess I’d better teach instead and then anyway, my soldier boy didn’t invite me up.

Ward, I never will forget how embarrassed and what agony I was in the other evening when your mother called on Papa to ask the blessing. Ward Griffing, if there had been a hole for me to crawl into I would gladly have disappeared from this earth forever. I thought I had been in some very embarrassing situations in my life, but nothing has ever come up to that. Oh, if your mother had only called on Mama or any of the rest of the family almost, it would have been alright. But Papa never has done that. We always tried to get him to [say grace] at home. We told him it was absolutely ridiculous for anyone who professed to be a Christian not to, but he never would. Now he feels so ashamed, I believe he will [in the future]. Maybe some good will come of it. I would rather it would have happened anywhere on earth almost than at your home – and [with] Clause and Ruth there too. Glory, boy it is awful. And I tell you it kinda hurts to know your father has been laughed at, even if he does have his faults.

Isn’t Ruth a nice girl? I don’t know her, but she looks and seems like she would just be awfully nice if one was well acquainted with her – and jolly too.

I finished my book last night. I was sorry when it ended. I liked it fine and it would have gone on a little farther. Have you ever read it? (The Reclaiming) I don’t suppose you have unless at the “Y” at [Camp] Funston. It was just put out in October. Next week is the end of another month. I don’t like that I always have to put all the grades in the Register, make out report cards, and fill out the Monthly report to send in.

Ward, do you know how old children have to be before they are compelled to attend school? Dorothy [Condray] hasn’t been to school since a week before Thanksgiving. Her father called tonight and said he wasn’t going to send her for awhile yet. He’s afraid of the ‘flu.’ She’s seven years old and I thought they had to attend when they are seven. Mrs. Parkerson said I ought to report her but I’m not real sure. Maybe I’ve something around here that would tell me this.

I have another fine trade last for you Ward. Just the kind you would like to get, or at least I think you would. I can’t write it tho, there’s too much to it that I’d have to tell. I’ll bet this Christmas will seem rather lonesome. [My sister] Bertha won’t be at home for the first time, and she’s just great to have around then. I wish you could spend Xmas with me, at least part of it.

I see there has been one transport of men landed and two more on the way. I just wonder if there are any boys we know amongst them. I guess they are mostly wounded soldiers tho. That makes me think, have they heard anymore from Lester Foltz [not sure that’s the way to spell his name but you know who I mean] or have you heard. I hope he will be found alive. It seems worse to hear about them being missing now since the war is over than it did before.

Well, I must write home. Goodnight darling. Yours, -- Minnie

  • Corporal Lester Lawrence Foltz was the 24 year-old son of Cyrus Foltz and Hattie Whitney of Zeandale, Riley County, Kansas. In 1910, he lived with his 36 year-old sister Mildred, who was married to Perle Kimball of Ogden Township, Riley County, Kansas. Lester worked on a farm in Wakarusa, Shawnee County, Kansas just prior to the war when he enlisted in 1917. While serving in Company K, 140th Infantry, 35th Division, Lester was killed in action on 30 September 1918 following heavy shelling in the area between the town of Exermont and the Montrebeau Woods in the Meuse Argonne Offensive. He lies buried in the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery in France along with over 14,000 other WWI American soldiers.

Letter 107 ~ December 4, 1918

I write my mother and brother about the possibility of my being transferred to Ft. Brady up in Michigan.

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

Camp Funston
December 4, 1918

Dear Folks,

Well, I got my four-day pass just in time because when I got back here there was an order posted to the effect that no more furloughs, four-day passes, or weekend passes would be issued until further notice. This was dated the 28th and I got my pass on the 26th. The reason given was that the railroad systems were too crowded. Someone said that the 69th Regiment were getting four-day passes again so maybe I can get a weekend pass after awhile.

I called for my mail when I got back and along with three or four letters, I got that package we thot was lost. It had been lying there in the orderly room for quite awhile, I guess. A mouse had gnawed a hole in it and the fudge was dry but it disappeared anyway.

While I was gone, the men had been issued caps and gloves so I got mine Saturday afternoon. All the caps that were left were too small so mine just sits on my head.

Lieutenant Pierpont told me something Monday afternoon after parade that I don’t know whether to believe or not, and I don’t suppose I ought to say anything about it because it is so uncertain. He said that the 20th and 41st [Regiments] were just unlucky and had been picked out to be held after the rest of the division had been discharged. He said that we couldn’t expect to be discharged for six months. He said tho that we would leave this camp within two weeks but he didn’t know where. We heard later tho that the 2nd Battalion (that’s the one I am in) was going to Ft. Brady, Michigan, up near the Canadian line for guard duty. I sure hate the idea of going that far north for the winter but maybe we won’t. We have had so many false alarms that we can’t be sure until we are on the train, but indications point toward our staying in for a time yet because the other night we had our equipment remarked and they issued some leggings, shirts, and hats to those whose clothes were nearly worn out. I got another pair of shoes.

We haven’t been paid yet but I think we will be soon. I meant to bring that letter paper up with me this time but forgot all about it. Will you put that Larkin paper in that box of notepaper of mine and send them both up?

I am sore all over today. I played in the [football] game against H Company yesterday and it was a hard game. This sure is fine weather to pasture cattle, isn’t it? I sure hope it stays this way. Goodbye, -- Ward

Letter 106 ~ December 3, 1918

A map showing all of the army camps in 1918. Note Fort Brady in Upper Michigan.

I write Minnie about a possible transfer to some other army post for guard duty. I also let her know that I get relief from drilling because I am on the football squad at Camp Funston.

Letterhead: Knights of Columbus War Activities, Camp Funston

Camp Funston
December 3, 1918

Dear Kid,

Well, I got my four-day pass just in time. When I got back there was an order posted on the bulletin board to the effect that no more four-day or weekend passes or furloughs would be issued until further notice. This was dated the 28th, two days after I got my pass. The reason given was that the railroad facilities were inadequate. I think I was lucky for once in my life at last.

During my absence, the company had been issued caps & gloves so I got mine Saturday. The only caps that were left were all too small so to keep mine on, I had to cock it over one ear & if I keep from wagging my ears, I get along very nicely.

When I got back, I went into the orderly room & got my mail & there was that package we thot was lost. It had been in there quite awhile. I don’t know why I hadn’t gotten it sooner. They probably forgot all about it. The fudge was awfully dry but that didn’t make any difference in the way it disappeared. One of the socks had a hole gnawed into it by a mouse. I also got a letter from you that you wrote November 11. No telling how long it had been in the office either. I got those pictures. They are fair but I hope that we can get some better ones. I wish I had of had my picture taken when I was down home but if I don’t get home for some time, I can have it done here. Land knows there are plenty of places on the zone where they fight for a chance to take your picture.

I heard some news yesterday. I don’t know whether to believe it or not & for that reason I don’t suppose I ought to tell you about it. But it at least gives me something to write about. We had a regimental parade yesterday & when we were halted after the parade, the Lieutenant leading my platoon said that we didn’t expect to be discharged within six months. He said that the 20th and the 41st [Infantry Regiments] were unlucky because they had been picked to remain intact for some time, probably to do guard duty at some army post. He said that the 20th would leave this camp, however, inside of two weeks. He said he didn’t know where we were going but we have heard rumors of our going to Ft. Braden [Fort Brady] up in Michigan near the Canadian line. I sure hope it isn’t any farther north than this but I am afraid it may be. My, but you can’t imagine how I dread being in here six more months. But I am not going to worry about it until we are actually moved because lots of men from this camp are going to be discharged shortly after that Divisional parade which comes off Saturday. I had had hopes of being out by Christmas but maybe I won’t now.

I am on the football squad & so I haven’t drilled any this week. We have to go out to the drill field tho, and practice out there. When we got through with football practice, we went over to where the rest of the company had unslung their equipment. There is a Swede in the company that always makes a hog of himself at the tables. Well, we unrolled his pack & put about 8 or 10 iron grenades & another piece of old iron in it. We didn’t get to see him carry it but I’ll bet if he carried that load clear in, it nearly killed him. It sure tickled me because that “ornery” Swede sat next to me at the table once & all he ate was prunes. He grabbed that prune dish & filled his plate full & the rest of us didn’t get any. I expect we will get weenies again for breakfast tomorrow. We only had them once today.

Well, be good & write often. With lots of love, Ward Clarke Griffing

  • The Zone” was a shopping and entertainment mall constructed during 1917-18 for the troops stationed at Camp Funston.

An infantryman in front of "The Zone" near Camp Funston in 1918. Note the depth of the mud.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Letter 105 ~ December 1, 1918

Minnie writes to say how good it was to see me in Manhattan over the Thanksgiving vacation.

Addressed to Pvt. Ward C. Griffing, Co. E 20th Infantry, Camp Funston, Kansas

Stockdale, Kansas
December 1, 1918

Dear Ward:

Well, I wonder how you spent this long day. I know I would have been dreadfully lonesome if I hadn’t of brought a book to read. Mama got me a new book Saturday [called] “The Reclaimers” – one of Margaret Hill McCarter’s new books. I have it over half read. Then I brought another book, “The Riders of the Purple Sage.” When I get those read, I’m going to have Mama send me some more. I love to read and that’s something I can do this winter. My school work won’t keep me any where’s near busy, especially when I have to spend my weekends up here. Sometimes I think I’ll just go crazy with nothing to keep my mind busy. My school work don’t any where’s near do that. My school is all I know about now and people get tired of hearing about that. I was lot’s better company three or four years ago than I am now. I am certainly anxious to get in college where I’ll have my studies and nice places to go.

I wrote to [my sister] Bertha and [my brother] Jesse tonight so I’m about played out on the letter writing. I didn’t want to quit reading my book at all. It’s sure interesting. I’ve been reading all day. Sit in one chair awhile, then in another and so on, all day.

Say Ward, you sure did look nice this trip. Your hat and uniform and all looked so nice. You were certainly a fine looking soldier. Did you have your photo taken? I hope you do if you haven’t already.

Well, I must go to bed now and start to work in earnest again tomorrow. I don’t suppose I’ll see you again for a long time. I’m not planning on getting home again till Xmas. Write as often as you can and care to. Time goes so much faster when I get letters, doesn’t it for you?

Goodnight Boy, Yours, -- Minnie Frey

Letter 104 ~ November 26, 1918

Minnie writes me to say she wishes she were home when she hears I'm expected to get a four-day pass for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Addressed to Pvt. Ward C. Griffing, Co. E 20th Infantry, Camp Funston, Kansas

Stockdale, Kansas
Tuesday, 11:25 A.M. [November 26, 1918]

Dear Ward:

I am doing something I thought I would never do [and] that is write during school but I am ahead just a little and I want to get this off in today’s mail. It being so nice today, he may come a little early.

Just think, you were to go home in about half an hour now. I sure hope you get to. If you do, I will see you before this letter gets to you but [I'll write anyway just] in case something should happen that you didn’t get to go home.

I wonder if they ever said any more to you about letting the gun stack fall. I don’t believe they will, to you it doesn’t look like it would be at all right for them to. I hope nothing interferes with your coming home today. I sure want you to be there tomorrow when I get home.

Our company is going to leave today. Parkinson’s took them to Manhattan yesterday. They did intend to go to Camp Funston but they didn’t.

Your mother said Mr. Finney told Willis that Kate [Taylor] and Frank [Blair] were married and were keeping it quiet. I don’t believe it at all but I don’t see what Finney wanted to tell that for if he didn’t know something about it. It can’t be true tho.

I haven’t anything new to write about. I wish I were going home today noon. I’m afraid if it clouds up again [and rains], I won’t get home till Thursday noon. I intend to go on the freight Wednesday night if the folks don’t come for me. But I may not get to.

Had a couple of letters from you yesterday. Good bye, Minnie G.F.
  • Probably Herbert C. Finney, a 56 year-old store manager with a residence on Fremont Street in Manhattan, Kansas.

Letter 103 ~ November 25, 1918

Minnie writes me after visiting her folks in Manhattan over the weekend.

Addressed to Pvt. Ward C. Griffing, Co. E 20th Infantry, Camp Funston, Kansas

Stockdale, Kansas
Monday Morning, [November 25, 1918]

Dearest Ward;

I wanted to write to you last night but didn’t get a chance. I’ve a lot to tell you but not enough time – only fifteen minutes.

I called your mother Saturday evening and told her you called. She was glad to hear from you. I went to a [picture] show last night. It was fairly good; have seen lots better tho. Sunday we went over to Munger’s in the morning. Stella [Munger] said she would go home with us for dinner if I would wait till she got her things ready so she could go right out to her school as soon as she came home. So we went down to your place while we were waiting. [My brother] Lester wanted to see [your brother] Willis, but didn’t get to. He (Willis) had been out ever since early in the morning looking for his cows.

Your mother said she wrote to me last Sunday evening. She put the wrong address on the letter tho. So I didn’t get it. Sorry I didn’t.

Papa brought me home [to Sherman Township] last evening. He didn’t have to bring me any farther than Chalmer’s. Parkerson’s and their company was there. They waved at us so we stopped. We came home after supper and Hoffmans came down. We played the Edison [phonograph] and I nearly “died a laughing” if I ever did. Parkerson’s haven’t played it for a long time and before we oiled it and fixed it up some it sounded just awful.

Did I tell you about Parkerson’s company? [They are] Mr. & Mrs. Mondfort from Ohio. He is a very good friend of Mr. Parkerson’s but they haven’t been together for 17 years. He has all gold teeth and wears a wig. I just discovered they were ‘newlyweds.’ He is 59 and she is 58 -- the jolliest, nicest people. I wish they would stay. They are just like a couple of kids and Oh so sweet on one another.

Left my keys down home. Sure hope I see you. With love, -- M. F.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Letter 102 ~ November 21, 1918

Minnie writes me that she hopes to see me over Thanksgiving.

Addressed to Pvt. Ward C. Griffing, Co. E 20th Infantry, Camp Funston, Kansas

Stockdale, Kansas
Thursday Evening, [November 21, 1918]

Dear Ward:

Had a letter from you today and I take it that you won’t be home this weekend. But if you get four days Thanksgiving, why that will be better. I sure hope you will now since I’m not going to teacher’s meeting.

You said we were about square on the letter deal. “Nix on it” Mr. Man. I wrote four at least last week and this is my third this week, and I didn’t get any letters last week and two this week. You’re about four behind. If you don’t want me to feel rather forgotten, you had better make up for lost time. Maybe that’s what you wanted. If you did, it had the desired effect alright.

This week has sure gone fast. Tomorrow is Friday already. I tried to call the folks this evening to tell them to come for me tomorrow evening. I didn’t get them but am going to try again in the morning. If they don’t come tomorrow, I’m going home Saturday.

Mama sent two of those pictures up that we took the 2nd Sunday you were home. If I don’t get to see you this weekend, I’ll send them to you. I think the [the first] one of you and Eben [Scholer] is just fine.

The school board is holding a meeting tonight. They have to borrow money to pay me and I told them I wanted my money tomorrow sure. I would like to be there at their meeting. [Then] I’d know what they thought of their teacher and whether there was a chance of her getting the same school next year. School is sure going fine from all appearances.

My, but I’m glad this horrible old war is as good as over. Ward, you can never imagine how I felt when the good news kept coming. I used to just love to think and think of you, and yet it just hurt because I never knew what would happen. But now I’m reasonably sure you will get back home someday not so very far off. Now I can just dream and dream of you and feel perfectly happy. God has sure been good to me. Just think how awful it’s been for some girls. The uncertainty of it all – and some few – my, but my heart sure goes out to them. I ought to be very grateful and believe me, I am.

Your Lieutenant didn’t know what he was talking about did he? You said the 20th [Infantry] may go to Utah for the winter. Don’t let the Mormons get you if you go. But you would see something worth while I imagine if you go near Salt Lake City, it must be awfully nice.

Some of the kids knocked my watch off the desk today and broke the face. I don’t see how it ever happened without breaking the crystal, but it didn’t. When I asked them who did it, everyone was perfectly innocent, of course. But it happened just the same. I saved the pieces that broke out. I suspect Smith can fix it up alright. The watch runs yet so it didn’t hurt the works.

I sure hope you get your four days off Thanksgiving. That sure sounds good to me. Did you see anything of the folks when you were home?

Folks up here that have seen you think you are a “husky big fellow.” I was up to [William and Pearl] Hoffman’s one evening for supper and Mr. Hoffman said, “Say, that fellow that was up here to get you the afternoon I was dragging roads is sure a big fellow. I’ll bet he will make a fighter. He looked like he could lick about three of me.”

I hope I can see Stella [Munger] this weekend. I don’t know how it will be, but I don’t want the “flu.”

I’m sure anxious to find out what they really will do with you. For a very selfish motive, I wish they would keep you at Camp Funston until you’re discharged. But I know you would like to go somewhere else where you’ve never been before and I sure can’t blame you for it either. I rather wish they would let you too if they don’t let you out fairly soon. Just so it’s as good as Camp Funston and they treat you good. You might just as well see some “sights” off of ‘Uncle Sam.’

Well I must go to bed. Goodnight dear boy, -- Minnie G. Frey

P.S. Have you forgotten how to write your name? One would think so from the way you sign your name or is it lack of time?

Picture Left. In addition to the picture above, Mrs. Frey sent Minnie this badly focused picture. I believe the family members, from left are: John C. Frey, holding his granddaughter Ruth Scholer, Eben Scholer, Hattie (Clarke) Griffing, Eliza (Brewer) Frey, Ward Griffing, Carol Cunningham, Minnie Frey, Bertha (Frey) Scholer, and Willis Griffing.