Waiting, waiting

The New Jersey leg of his trip home lasted over a week. Twice he went into New York, but mostly he spent his time, as he writes here, “not doing anything today only sticking around.”

3-29-19, Camp Merritt NJ, 13-29-19, Camp Meritt, NJ, 2

Camp Merritt N.J.

Mar 29 “19

My Dearest Inis.

Again I endeavor to send you a line. I am feeling fine getting pretty well rested up. We are having some winter, but not so bad either. Not doing anything today only sticking around. Going to leave here Monday. I don’t think we will be over a couple days going to Camp Grant. I was at a show here in the camp last night but didn’t care much for it. May go tonight “only wish you were here to go with me.” Think I would like the show better. I think it a little one sided me seeing so much without you but you know I am a good talker “don’t you” and might tell maybe one or part of it, but you can say that every boy that went to France earned all he got to see and more.

Our boys are buying insignias of all kinds, they look like a bunch of circus clowns. I don’t like so many. One thing I wear that every one don’t is a wound stripe. They are sure trying hard around here to get the boys money, and are succeeding in most cases. Some of the boys are getting mail. I wish I could have a letter from you. I think I will get it. Send it as I directed you, to Hoboken Casual co no. 335 Camp Grant Ill. I have run across several of the boys that were in the Hospital with me here. It seems just like a reunion. Well my love it seems like there is not much to tell you but hoping it only a short time when I can tell you all, so I will close

With love and kisses


Hero’s Return

One hundred years ago, on March 27, 1919, Grandpa put an American stamp on a letter to Grandma. This was the first time in months that he’d been required to use a stamp, as postage had been waived during his overseas deployment. That 3-cent stamp was one of the first indicators of his return home.


The letter details the day he left the ship on Sunday, March 23, after twelve miserable days at sea. His group immediately boarded a train for Camp Merritt, an army camp in New Jersey.3-27-19-camp-merritt-nj-1.jpg

Now Thursday morn and I am ashamed I haven’t written you but I believe I can redeem myself. I got off the boat about noon Sunday. Took the train for here getting settled down about five oclock and the bunch was all so tired we went to bed real early. The next day we were busy with inspections and delousing. Also moved a little further over in the camp.

The next day he got a taste of what the country–in small and large towns–had organized to welcome home the victorious troops. New York City staged a huge parade for the return of the 27th Division. And Grandpa happened to be in the crowd, a bit of good luck, he wrote.


Early the next morn they began giving passes to New York so my name beginning with A put me at the head of the list. So I felt lucky as that was the big day. The 27th Div parade. Sure some crowd. They say the largest New York ever saw.

I posted a link below to a surviving silent film of that parade, shared by the National Archives. I really can’t imagine how Grandpa felt that day, standing in a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people. After months of misery and hospitalization and over a year of being away from home, did he feel like a returning hero? Was he thrilled at the attention or puzzled by the scale of it?

One thing was certain, he wanted to be with Grandma. “I am anxious to hear from you,” he wrote. “I think the last letter was dated Dec 15.” Four long months without a letter! Of course he had no way of knowing that she had written, and that the letters were lost in transit. And she, of course, had no way (or not yet) of knowing her mail wasn’t being delivered.

This breakdown in military mail delivery astounds me, and at the very time soldiers needed to find a way to transition back into civilian life, to reconnect with the people whose letters had sustained them during long months of service. Without a reliable means of communication, my grandparents soon ran into a wall of confusion, hurt feelings, and misunderstandings. But that was weeks off. In this letter, Grandpa imagines his own hero’s return.

I will soon be with you and that will be a glorious day.

Here’s the complete letter, including Grandpa’s conclusion that “the boys are just like a bird out of a cage since coming from France.”

3-27-19, Camp Merritt NJ, 13-27-19, Camp Merritt NJ, 23-27-19, Camp Merritt NJ, 33-27-19, Camp Merritt NJ, 4

Camp Merritt, N.J.

Mar 27 ‘19

My Dear Inis

Now Thurs morn and I am ashamed I haven’t written you but I believe I can redeem myself. Got off the boat about noon Sunday. Took the train for here getting settled down about five oclock and the bunch was all so tired we went to bed real early. The next day we were busy with inspections and delousing also moved a little farther over in the camp. Early the next morn they began giving passes to New York so my name beginning with A put me at the head of the list. So I felt lucky as that was the big day. The 27thDiv parade. Sure some crowd. They say the largest New York ever saw. Also went to the Hypodrome* Theater and it was by far the best thing I ever saw. I came back about nine oclock, only about an hour ride from here to N.Y. So yesterday morn I had got me some paper, started to write when they began to give out passes again, and a friend of mine said I could have his pass so I beat it for New York again. After roaming around all afternoon went to a show and came back about 1:30 last night. I felt sorta sleepy this morn, but managed to get up for breakfast. It is a little cloudy this morn but sure has been fine since we landed “nothing like France.” I was sure glad to get off that boat being on the water twelve long days and every day got longer. I was sure sick the first two days then I felt pretty good until the last two days out when we hit a storm and it was some rough sailing. My head hasn’t hardly quit swimming yet. The first day here when I was standing up I would have to brace myself to keep from falling over but I think now I will be all right when I get caught up with my sleep. We are not doing much, waiting to be sent out. I hear we go about Sat, go to Camp Grant, Ill. to be discharged so I feel like I will soon be with you and that will be a glorious day. I weighed the other day weighing 168 so you see I am pretty fat “but not [word?].” Oda is still in the co with me but Jessie Smith was taken to the hospital as his wound was not completely healed. This is a real nice camp. I like it better than Funston. The boys are just like a bird out of a cage since coming from France, but I think I have enough of the big city, and will stick around the rest of the time here. We are signing the payroll today so I guess we will get paid soon. I haven’t been paid since Aug so I will have a nice bunch. There is some of the keenest Y.M.C.A. here I ever saw. Real Library rooms with large leather bottom seats. Also a large Theater and all kinds of ways for entertainment. I am anxious to hear from you. I think the last letter was dated Dec 15. You then had heard I was wounded. I don’t think you better write me as I would not get it, but if you want to take a chance address me Hoboken Casaul [sic] Co 335 Camp Grant, Ill and I might get it there, but if I don’t hoping to be with by April the 15 so I close sending

Extra mount of love and kisses


*I think he refers to the Hippodrome Theater, a huge event space with seating for more than 5,000 and a stage big enough to hold circus animals and huge choirs and, well, over-the-top performances.

Heading Home on his Birthday

USS Huntington, crowd

Postcard from Grandpa’s wartime materials.

On his birthday–March 11–Grandpa crowded onto the U.S.S. Huntington to start home. They sailed the next morning. Unlike his trip over, which brought him through England, his group left from the French port city of Brest, on the far western tip of France. He estimated there were 2500 troops packed onto the ship.

He sent Grandma a 61-page booklet, Fighting the Hun on the U.S.S. Huntington.

USS Fighting Hun cover

That’s Grandpa’s handwriting at the top. “P.S. After reading the note in the back tear it out as it is such bum writing. T.W.A.” Here’s that page, dated March 14. The torn edges show that someone did tear out this page; who did that and who folded the page are unknown to me.

3-14-19, USS Huntington booklet, note,13-14-19, USS Huntington booklet, note, 2


March 14

My Dear Inis

I am now about one thousand miles out in the ocean, came aboard the ship on my birthday Mar 11, sailed the next morn about eight o’clock. The water was awfully rough that day all day. I got pretty sick “fed the fish a time or two” but it has been good sailing the last two days and I am feeling good only a little dizzy at times. This is the history of the ship we are on. There is about 2500 troops on. We are making good time. Will reach New York a week from tomorrow if nothing happens.

So I close with love


The U.S.S. Huntington, originally known as the U.S.S. West Virginia, had been a warship active during World War 1.

USS Huntington Camo drawing

This drawing appeared on page 16. The camouflage was added to mimic the look of waves.

After the armistice, the U.S.S. Huntington was converted into what the booklet called a “troopship.” By converted, it was emptied of everything that could be removed to create the maximum amount of space to bring home large numbers of soldiers. The ship crossed the Atlantic six times during the spring of 1919, carrying more than 12,000 troops. The U.S.S. Huntington was one of 24 battleships and cruisers pressed into service for this purpose, according to the booklet.

USS Huntington, view

This postcard shows the exterior of the ship. From Grandpa’s materials.

Many postcards began as photographs taken on board.

USS Huntington photographer

A cartoon published in the booklet, p. 25.

The postcard Grandpa saved, shown at the opening of this post, documents the crowded conditions on board, and the nearly identical regulation clothing worn by the troops. When they landed, this clothing would be laundered and the soldiers themselves cleaned up (including delousing). But notice the helmet–with its distinctive spike–worn by the man in the detail below. It’s a German helmet called a Pickelhaube. Although the U.S. Army forbid taking anything from an enemy captured or killed in battle, such souvenirs made their way home as prized trophies of war.


Detail of postcard in Grandpa’s collection.

World War 1-era postcards can be seen online. I searched with the words “USS Huntington March 1919 troop transport” and discovered other views of life on this (and other) transport ships. On one site, I found a postcard titled “Bucking the Big Ones,” which seems to document Grandpa’s description of rough waters. Another one, “The Spray Line March 11, 1919” was taken on Grandpa’s ship. Here’s the link: https://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/OnlineLibrary/photos/sh-usn/usnsh-w/acr5-q.htm

If you’re interested in the history of postcards from this era, the Smithsonian has a nice overview:  https://siarchives.si.edu/history/featured-topics/postcard/postcard-history.

For Grandpa, the postcard was a handy way to send off a quick note. This one, written during his lay over at Camp Merritt in New Jersey, captured the simple dream of soldiers deployed overseas. As Grandpa wrote, “This is what we longed to see.”

Statue Liberty

Postcard Grandpa wrote on March 31, 1919, after landing in New York.

Statue Liberty card message

Message on back of March 31 postcard.

Mar 31. We are still at Merritt, leaving tomorrow for Camp Grant, will be about three days going there, feeling fine, hoping to be home soon.



P.S. picture on other side is what we longed to see while in France.

Grandpa saw the Statue of Liberty after spending nine months in Europe, half of that time in battle and the other half in a hospital. A long trip, and not over yet.



The Long Trip Home

As Grandma’s Valentine’s Day letter made its trip to Europe and back, a second one set out on a similar journey, neither letter finding its way to Grandpa.

returned envelopes, Gma

The envelope shown here, top, belongs to the February 14, 1919, letter. The lower one held the letter written two days later, on February 16. Notice how the second letter was the first to be returned, with a June 19 postmark from Camp Funston, Kansas.

She began her letter with an update on the mail she had received from him.

16-feb-19-gma-1rev.jpgThat January 21, 1919, letter from Grandpa was a short one. He told her he was still in the same place, a hospital where he served as a Ward Master. He also told her that he would probably soon be on his way home.

In this February letter, Grandma shared her happiness at being an aunt to her brother Charley’s first-born child, a girl named Jean Louise.

The kids think she is about the smartest, brightest baby they ever saw and the rest of us think her A1 too.

Grandma’s mother–the woman we called Grandma Dykes–had gone to Charley’s place to help with the baby, her very first grandchild.

Gma photos, detail of Gma Dykes on porch?

Grandma Dykes on front porch of family farm, undated photo.

Of her four children, Charley was her second and her only son. Mattie was the eldest, then Charley, then Grandma, followed by Mary. At the time of Jean Louise’s birth, Mattie was away at school, Charley had set up his own home, leaving my grandmother and her sister Mary on the family farm.


One morning, Grandma Dykes called to see if Grandma and Mary were coming out to visit. “We thought the roads would be so bad,” Grandma wrote in her letter, adding that when they decided to go, “we flew like cyclones.”

16 Feb 19, Gma, 2

In this letter, and the one she wrote two days earlier, I picture Grandma as a young woman imagining her own future, on her own with Grandpa. In the February 14 letter, she noted that she was busy in her mother’s absence, “but any way I like it, the experience I’m getting.” And in this letter, which I’ve included below in full, she opens up about her feelings for Grandpa and also about the privacy she guards when it comes to their friendship. The scope of that friendship included respect for his mother. “I called your mother tonight and had quite a visit with her,” concludes her letter.

While her letters were moving across continents and seas, returning finally to Missouri, Grandpa was doing the same, preparing for the long trip home. In the four months since the Armistice, he had received very little mail. The army had been so good delivering mail during the war, seeing it as a way to keep up the morale of the fighting forces. But the system failed after the guns quieted, especially for soldiers like my grandfather who were isolated in convalescent hospitals. What went through his mind, I wonder, as he headed home? Would his return have been made easier, if he had received the letters that never found him?

16-feb-19-gma-1rev-1.jpg16 Feb 19, Gma, 2Feb 16, Gma, 3:revFeb 16, Gma, 4:rev16 Feb 19, Gma, 5

16 Feb 19, Gma, 6

Grandma’s letter, written on February 16, 1919, and returned to her in June.