Broken Hearts, Shattered Dreams

Not long after Grandpa returned to King City, on April 9, 1919, he and Grandma had a falling out. This surprised me. The letters they exchanged over the spring, just weeks before his return, were filled with a shared dream, it seemed, of settling down. In time they did make a life together, but it would take nearly ten months—from April, 1919, to January, 1920—to break and repair their wartime romance.

Daddy and Gma on boat

Daddy with Grandma, 1977, on a vacation in Wisconsin.

Many years later, about the time this photograph was taken, Grandma cranked a piece of paper into her portable typewriter and began recording her memories. Grandpa had died–in 1967–and I imagine my father thought it was time for Grandma to fix her life story in print. I pulled out the transcript to see if she wrote about Grandpa’s return.

remember, cropped

She did recall Grandpa’s discharge from Camp Grant, and how he didn’t let them know when he’d be home. Her recollection matches Grandpa’s, who wrote in one of his last letters that he didn’t want people to “make a fool of me” when his train came in.

When he reached King City he called me, rented a horse and buggy and came out to our house for dinner. I went home with him for a few days. We dated only a few times when we had ‘a little tiff’ and he went his, and I went mine.

She gave no details on the nature of their quarrel. What could have gone so wrong? I only have two clues.

The first clue is a name I’ve shared on this blog: Stanley Brown. Like Grandpa, he had been drafted for service in Missouri (in Madison, which lies to the east of King City), trained at Camp Funston, and sent to France, where a war injury placed him in the same convalescent facility as Grandpa. It was there, in a hospital complex that served thousands of American soldiers, that the two men first met and discovered that each had the same picture of Grandma tucked in their wallets.

I found a notice in the King City Chronicle, dated August 1, 1919, that mentions a visit by Stanley Brown to King City. In the clipping shown here, the names of Mr. and Mrs. Lucian Frank are those of Grandma’s uncle and aunt (Aunt Susie being the sister of Grandma’s father).


King City Chronicle, 1 August 1919, p. 3.

Grandma vividly recalled a summer visit with her aunt and uncle, one that apparently started before this August event reported in the newspaper.

Early that summer Uncle Dot Franks were up from Madison. They insisted that Mary, me and Dorothy and Sidney go home with them for a two weeks vacation, and they would bring us back. What was supposed to be two weeks lasted most all summer. What a time we had, for they were fine hosts. (. . .) Aunt Susie was also good at seeing that everyone had a date. She didn’t have to worry about me for I began dating a boy I had met there before—Stanley Brown.

Had Stanley Brown crowded into her friendship with Grandpa? Maybe. It’s possible, too, that Grandpa’s war experience had introduced new, unexpected elements into their relationship. He was injured, tired, burdened now with helping his 72-year-old father run a farm. Maybe he was restless, too, “like a bird out of a cage,” the term he used to describe soldiers coming home from France.

Without knowing what caused my grandparents’ quarrel, I think it’s fair to imagine it came along the frayed edges of expectations. The dreams they held during the war, the ones that sustained them over the long months, didn’t materialize at the time of their reunion. The war had changed both the dreams and the dreamers.

That second clue as to what caused the tiff? That’s the subject of my next post.

Nothing more to say

dormitory.jpgThe simple caption, “interior view of dormitory,” leaves the meaning of this image up to the imagination. It appeared in the booklet, Souvenir of Camp Grant, Ill. and presumably shows a dormitory there. But I’ve run across other commemorative booklets of training camps that have similar (often identical) images of life at camp–the dormitory, mess hall, recreation facilities, scenes of physical activities and military drills. Most of these souvenir booklets were published in late 1917 or early 1918.

When I look at this photo, I let my imagination sort out its meaning. It’s April, 1919, I imagine, and that one soldier, sitting on his cot, is my grandfather two days before the end of his military service. On April 6, in the letter posted here, he told Grandma that he had walked around camp with his hometown (King City, Missouri) buddy Oda Fuller, before coming back to the dorm to take a nap.

I see him on the cot, looking directly us–at Grandma, his family, his future, as well as his immediate past. He is surrounded by the trappings of a life forced on him, some 18 months earlier. Like thousands of other men of his generation, he wore a regulation coat, hat and uniform, carried a regulation pack, slept in a cot that was identical to all the others, and stored his boots and other items in one of the simple wooden boxes that were placed at even intervals on scrubbed wooden floors.

In this dormitory, light comes in from a window in the distance and, given the shadows, from windows on the right. The exposed beams and rafters support the weight of this equipment and, in my way of understanding a soldier’s life, represent the enforced structure of service, laid bare here in its simplicity and absolute clarity.

Not shown, but present I imagine, is the burden of memories my grandfather carried. The memories of the miserable conditions at the front, of making a bed in the mud and being grateful to live another day. The memories of jumping over bodies of his dead comrades as he raced forward in battle, or beat a hasty retreat to safety. The enduring memory of being wounded, now sketched into his right arm, a permanent and daily reminder of his service. My grandfather carried good memories, too, of the friends he’d made, the men he’d learn to depend on and who depended on him.

I look at that lone soldier on his cot, thinking he represents my grandfather, and wonder about one more thing. Is he ready to face the new unknown, ready to go home to a place that, like himself, has been changed by the experience of war?

That afternoon of April 6, 1919, after finishing a nap, he wrote Grandma a short note, concluding, “I have run out of anything to write.” One chapter of his life was coming to an end.

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Camp Grant Ill

April 6 “19

My Dear Inis

Again a line to let you know I am thinking of you and how I am. This is Sunday eve just think of what next Sunday may be. I am at the Y.M.C.A. came over since supper. It is awfully warm and has been all day. I think it will rain tonight, tried to last night but only sprinkled. Well I got up at four oclock this morn and worked until noon then afternoon I cleaned up and Oda and I walked over to the edge of the camp, came back and laid on my bed the rest of the afternoon. I still don’t know for sure whether I will get to leave here Tuesday or Thursday but you know the one I want it to be. There was lots of visitors here today so many boys here from Chicago and their people come out to see them. I didn’t get any mail today. Here’s hoping I get some tomorrow. We had ice cream and cookies for dinner today. Some of the boys said they was feeding them that trying to induce them to reenlist.

Well my love as I have run out of anything to write I will close, sending lots of Love and Kisses



Coming Home, but on his Own Terms


A postcard in the collection of Grandpa’s correspondence.

Rarely, in his wartime letters, did Grandpa allow emotions to spill out onto the page. He had followed the advice of the army, and in fact was subject to their censorship, to keep letters upbeat and generic. The war effort would be successful, the argument went, if civilians and soldiers alike remained cheerful and optimistic.

The letter posted below, dated April 5, 1919, stands out as an exception to that practice. It’s still written in a style I know from my Midwestern childhood, newsy and following a familiar script: I’m fine, got your letter, hope to see you soon. But tucked between the lines are suggestions that Grandpa felt anxious about going home. How would people greet him? Would life be the same? Were his parents all right, not having received mail from them? Was it possible to simply slip back into the nostalgic picture of home he’d held all these long months?

The moment of truth, he imagined, would come when he stepped off the train. “I would wire you when I am coming,” he wrote, “but I don’t want the people to make a fool of me at the train. I mean the townspeople. So I would rather they not know exactly when.”

This passage surprised me. Yes, I knew my grandfather to be a proud and sometimes stubborn man, but did he not fully understand how the townspeople wanted to celebrate his return? Grandpa AldersonThe people of King City, and those who farmed nearby, had known him his entire life. They’d cheered as he left for war, raised money for Liberty Bonds, spent countless hours knitting and sewing for his needs, buried his comrades, and, of course, penned hundreds of letters meant to keep him wedded to this small, rural community in northwest Missouri.

Was it wrong for them to want a return on their investment of hope and goodwill? Was it wrong to celebrate the return of men like my grandfather?

Not in my mind. Nor was it wrong for Grandpa to refuse it. He had no responsibility to be the hero or brave soldier or whatever else the townspeople wanted him to be. He was coming home, but on his own terms. This was a decision that carried consequences he may not have imagined that day, as he hatched a plan to slip back into town, unannounced.


4-5-19, envelope

Soldiers, their upraised arms eerily similar in shape to the bare tree branches behind them, engage in exercises or drills at Camp Grant.

4-5-19, Camp Grant, 1

Signal Corps, in what seems to be a carefully staged photo to demonstrate disciplined precision.

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Troops share a meal during field training. These images from Camp Grant refer to military training before the war.

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Camp Grant, Rockford, Ill.

April 5 “19

My Dear Inis

Only a word tonight to let you know I am still feeling fine. I just now took a bath in cold water so you see I am not very timid. But I never was that way was I? I have been working in the kitchen this afternoon. Got through pretty early, I got your letter today written the 30thof March. Was a good newsy one, was glad to hear of you being aunt. I know you are proud. And you are getting slim, I guess the long walk you and I taken after the cows when I was home in April cut you down, but I know you didn’t mind it.

Wish I could have gone with you for the cows this eve. But wont be long. Think of it. Eighteen months day before yesterday since I went to Funston. Would hate to do that eighteen over. Hope anyhow the next will find me with you.

I heard this afternoon that we could not get away from here until Thurs.

I would wire you when I am coming, but I don’t want the people to make a fool of me at the train. I mean the townspeople. So I would rather they not know exactly when.

My Service Record and Discharge is complete also got my railroad slip this afternoon, but I am pretty well to the head of the list and there is quite a lot to do. We have to be paid yet.

I still haven’t heard from my parents but presume they are all right or you would have told me. You said in your letter that Jack Call had rented the Mrs Gore farm so I suppose the folks have moved. I don’t like the place they rented but if they do, I should be satisfied.

Well my dear, I will close as I am going to get up at four oclock (over) in the morn to help get breakfast. I am hoping it wont be long until I will be helping you get breakfast, wont it be nice. I sure think it will, so in closing I am sending lots of love and kisses, (more than ever)


PS I am sending a picture of this camp also “but it don’t amount to much”


Camp Grant, Illinois

Camp Grant Souvenir cover

Souvenir brochure in Grandpa’s collection, featuring 21 photographs of the camp.

Grandpa arrived in Camp Grant, Illinois, on Thursday, April 3, 1919. He started writing letters to Grandma, and presumably to his family as well. He wrote every day, a luxury he hadn’t enjoyed in months.

Located in Rockford, Illinois, Camp Grant lies about 90 miles west and slightly north of Chicago. Like Camp Funston in Kansas, and Camp Merritt in New Jersey, it opened in 1917 to train men like my grandfather for combat in Europe. From Grandpa’s letters, dated April 4, 5 and 6, and the illustrated “souvenir” booklet he sent, life at Camp Grant had many similarities to the other camps, with one major exception: here, he would end his military service.

The first letter chronicles these last days in the army . . . health inspections, signing discharge papers, promising to return government-issued equipment “in good condition.” He responds to the news from home, gathered, I presume, from letters, newspapers and accounts from his buddies at camp.

I picture him, a day’s trip away from his home in King City, Missouri, ready to return to a life interrupted by war. A phrase comes to mind, something I remember hearing him say after we returned from a summer vacation. “The best part of the going away,” he’d say with a broad grin, “is the coming home.”

Here’s the first letter in this group from Camp Grant, dated April 4, 1919, and postmarked the next day.


Envelope holding April 4 letter to Grandma.

4-4-19, Camp Grant, 14-4-19, Camp Grant, 24-4-19, Camp Grant, 3Camp Grant, Rockford, Ill.

April 4, “19

My Dear Inis

I just finished reading your most welcome letter written April 3rd, and believe me it was a pleasure to me, as I was getting awfully hungry for one. I know by the way you talk you think I have been getting your mail regularly, but the last one received was the date of Dec 15th. (Again, neither knows at this time that her letters, written in February, were never received. Was Grandma hurt that he hadn’t responded to these, and perhaps other undelivered mail?)

Well we got here a little sooner than we expected, was in Chicago yesterday morn when we woke up but didn’t get out here to the camp until about noon. I am feeling fine outside of a cold I caught on the train. We have been kept pretty busy since our arrival. Took my final exam this morn was marked good although I got a 15% disability on my arm. This afternoon we have been signing up papers. Saw my discharge. Sure looks good. I have been helping in the kitchen some.

Camp Grant mess hall

Mess Hall, from Souvenir booklet in Grandpa’s collection.

Guess we will be here until about Tuesday or Wednesday. Then hoping to be home by Thurs or Fri. don’t that sound good. Some of the boys are being sent to the Hosp. and are disappointed as they are all anxious to get home. Oda got a letter from his sister, said Ferris Keys was at home (i.e. in King City).

Camp Grant YMCA interior

I am at a Y.M.C.A. now just finished signing a clothes slip “saying I would send all the Government property home or back in three months” and in good condition (meaning the very clothes worn into battle?)

Tom Wright the fellow that has been with me all the way through received a letter from his wife today. He sure was tickled as it was the first since the first of Oct. Well my dear I will close and write more tomorrow night. So I send Love and Kisses





Pictures from the trip home: Syracuse and Niagara Falls

Grandpa didn’t write much on the trip from New Jersey to Illinois, where he would be discharged at Camp Grant. He sent this postcard on “Wed morn,” which would have been Wednesday, April 2, 1919. He also sent a souvenir booklet that same day from Niagara Falls. It’s unclear if he visited either place. And, it’s unclear (to me) what this postcard shows, other than people outside a building.

Syracuse postcard 4-2, 19


Wed Morn–Now leaving Syracuse N.Y. will reach Camp Grant about tomorrow night.


Niagara Falls postcard booklet, 4-19

Postmark, April 2, 1919

The postcard booklet had 22 scenes, enclosed in a mailer that romanticized the “Maid of the Mist.” Native American legends were recast (often inappropriately) for the tourist market.Niagara with trainNiagara with manNiagara postcard back