Valentine’s Day

In 1919, Valentine’s Day fell on a Friday. Around King City, Missouri, people were exchanging cards and hosting parties.

Valentine cards

King City Chronicle, 14 February 1919, p. 8.

The King City Chronicle ran this simple question in the February 14, 1919 paper. And the next week, they ran notices of parties like this one.

Valentine party

King City Chronicle, 21 February 1919, p. 3.

My grandmother didn’t attend a party. Instead, she stayed home and wrote a letter to Grandpa, one of only two letters that survive from their wartime correspondence. (*)

14-Feb 19, Gma, 1Her letter, which runs in full at the end of this post never found its way to Grandpa. The envelope records the long and unsuccessful journey–to Europe and back, over four months–as the military attempted to locate my grandfather.

14 Feb 19, Gma, envelope (front)In the middle of the envelope runs the address Grandma thought was correct: Private Thos. W. Alderson/Evacuation Hospital No 24/American Expeditionary Forces/A.P.O. 798. The American Expeditionary Forces presumably sent the letter to France, as did the A.P.O. number, 798, which belonged to the area of the Mesves Hospital Center, where Grandpa had been convalescing. But the Evacuation Hospital No. 24 was incorrect, and that mistake belongs to Grandpa. He thought he wasn’t getting his mail as regularly as his buddies and decided to have Grandma send letters directly to him; but No. 24 was not the number of a hospital, but rather the number of a unit of a larger base hospital (whose number he didn’t have).

Over his name, notice the postmark (in purple) with the date of April 17. I’m unable to read the complete postmark to know if this was stamped in France or after the letter’s return to the U.S. I’m guessing in France, as letters took weeks to make the trip across the ocean and to the military camps.

In any case, on the postmark (or beneath it?) is a pointing finger and “RETURN TO WRITER” stamp. That return trip included a stop at Camp Funston, stamped in all capital letters in purple. And then, on the left edge of the envelope, a handwritten note states, “No Record, 6/12/19.”

14 Feb 19, Gma, envelope, back

The back of the envelope carries still more information. May 15, 1919, stamped in that same purple as CAMP FUNSTON on the front, makes me believe it was received there on that may date. And the postmark of June 10, may indicate the day the letter finally started back to Missouri, to Grandma.

So, where was Grandpa? By February 1, two weeks before Grandma wrote her letter, he had already begun his long trip home. Notice the location he gives, St. Agnan, France. This was the first time he’d identified his location during his service in France. The letter begins on the right half of the page.


Thos W. Alderson

Co C 356 Inf

Feb 1, 1919

St. Agnan, France

My Dear Inis, again I will drop only a line. You will see I have made a move, hope I have started home. I am in a large camp living in tents, having some winter. Had the first snow about a week ago. I have a pair of over shoes and am doing very well. Have nothing to do only sleep and eat. Go out twice a day for exercise. I am feeling good, although I miss the warm food and good bed at the Hospital. They wanted to attach me to the “Hosp” unit and let me stay but I preferred moving—as I think we are homeward bound of course we know not when but hope soon. I got my Xmas box the morn before I left the Hosp. Every thing was fine. I am sure holding on to those socks and the little knife. I expect it will be hard for you to read this as I holding the paper on my mess kit.

So I close with lots of love and kisses


In this letter, Grandpa included cartoons he’d clipped from the newspaper, The Stars and Stripes. Military humor.



The Stars and Stripes, 24 January 1919, p. 7

Here’s Grandma’s Valentine’s Day letter (although without a mention of the day). I haven’t transcribed it, since her handwriting is legible. Her letter is what my family refers to as “newsy,” and it is that. Notice her references to housekeeping and motherhood, which she seems to be looking forward to. The baby she writes about, the one that earned her the title of “Aunt Inis,” was born to her older brother Charley. Join me in wondering about the expression, “busy as a cranberry merchant”! But mostly, enjoy getting to know my grandmother.

14-Feb 19, Gma, 114 Feb 19, Gma, 214 Feb 19, Gma, 314 Feb 19, Gma, 414 Feb 19, Gma, 514 Feb 19, Gma, 6

Happy Valentine’s Day, Grandma and Grandpa! This is my love letter to you.


(*) The second letter returned to Grandma is dated February 16, 1919. More on that in an upcoming post.

Road Trip!

Spirits were high, Grandpa reported, as the troops left Camp Funston, May 23. They spent five days on the train, stopping along the way to march in towns and listen to patriotic speeches. Grandpa sent a map to Grandma, on which he marked the places they stopped. You may be able to blow up this map (which was one side of a train schedule) and see the “x’s” he wrote in pencil.

Train to NY, partial schedule

Detail of map. New York, the destination, is on the right. On the left is the border of Illinois, which they crossed on Day 2, Friday May 24.

Day 1, Thursday May 23


First card from the road, May 23.

By 9 pm, they were moving through Kansas City. “Every one jolly” he scribbled on this card.

Day 2, Friday May 24

Just leaving Hannibal, crossed the Mississippi into Illinois. “The boys have a little slogan like this (is Company C downhearted)–then all yell (Hell, no!).” They rode in Pullman cars, “lots better than I thought,” Grandpa wrote. About that writing–not easy on a moving train.

train rolling

May 24.

Later that day, he sent this postcard.

NY-springfield image

NY-Springfield, note

Another letter from that day included this: “The way we mail our letters is to hand them to someone along the side. We are not allowed to get off.” Also along the side of the train tracks were people who came waving flags, some handing them candy and tobacco. Red Cross volunteers also showed up with coffee and refreshments.

In Springfield, they brought a stray dog on board.

Day 3, Saturday May 25

Approaching Detroit. “I am feeling fine also enjoying myself.” And a favor, “When you talk to Mother tell her how to address my mail.”

Later, they crossed Lake Erie on a boat.

Sounds like the troops were a bit punchy by Day 3. They started yelling out the train window at startled passersby. A sergeant put an end to that.

NY-hollering out the window

Seems like good advice, to “quit hollering out the window.”

Day 4, Sunday May 26

Nearing New York, and it was raining, a lot. But the views were nice. “We had some fine scenery coming through the mountains.”

That dog from Springfield, well, they lost it. “We got another one, a big bull dog. When we go through the towns he gets up and looks out the window.”

“We will get to camp some time tonight, and I hope they have some water there as I and all the rest are getting dirty as can be.”

Day 5, Monday, May 27

“We are sixteen miles from New York city.” When they arrived at Camp Mills, Grandpa received some mail. “Mother talks real reconciled in her letter and it makes it a whole lot better on me when she is. Of course she will worry some. I don’t want you to worry but to think I am doing a noble thing as I could have been exempted if I had tried as hard as some of the rest. But wear your star of honor.”

Camp Mills, Long Island

After they settled into camp, their tents and spirits withstanding days of rain and mud, the troops awaited the ship that would transport them abroad. “We might be here 25 days yet,” Grandpa wrote. In fact, they would leave the next week.

But that week in New York held some pleasures. They went into the “big” city. “It would take me a year to tell you what I saw,” he wrote on May 31, including “most of the large buildings.” He’d been there the day before, on May 30, which was what Grandpa knew as Decoration Day, the forerunner of Memorial Day. “The crowds of people on the streets were something awful. I never saw as many children and never will again. They were like bees . . . ” (Readers, any ideas on the word describing those bee-like children?)like bees

Finally, Grandpa wrote about something remarkable, “aeroplanes.” “They are just like birds flying over our head. The factory where they are built is only about a mile from us.”

And through it all, the train trip and the stay in New York, Grandpa found comfort in the company of a dog. “We still have the dog, he sure is a dandy, we are going to try to take him to France.” That plan changed the next day, when the dog ran off. Honestly, it’s hard to imagine an army company smuggling a dog on the ship. Then again, it’s hard for me to imagine any of this, the crazy lead-up to being shipped off to war.

NY-Co C stamp




Trainloads of Troops

The Army didn’t announce when the 89th Division would leave Camp Funston. But Grandpa understood the clues that signaled their transfer. No more passes home. No leaving the barracks during the day “or more than an hour at night,” to be ready to go at any time. And then there was the demand to cut hair, “the order is to cut it to an inch on top.”

Transfer, haircuts cropped

May 21, 1918 letter to Grandma.

The arrival of trains was perhaps the most obvious sign of the upcoming transfer. From his barracks, which lay in the center of camp, Grandpa must have heard the sound of the approaching trains—their horns blaring ever louder as they pulled into the station, clattering to a noisy stop. Maybe he walked over to watch what he called “most all the heavy stuff” being loaded. Maybe that’s when he took note of the empty passenger cars, the ones that would take the troops to New York, where they boarded ships for England, and later to France.

“There is at least one hundred fifty passenger cars on the switch down by the Depot,” he wrote on May 21.

I can picture my grandfather counting the cars. That’s what he and Grandma taught us to do when we were kids visiting them in Effingham, Kansas. The train tracks for the Missouri Pacific lay on an elevated bed just a block from their home. When we heard the distinctive sound of the train’s horn, low and melodious to my childhood ear, we would rush to the porch to count the number of cars on the long trains that, during the summer months, carried grain from western Kansas to mills in Kansas City. “Twenty, twenty-one,” we’d announce, then fifty-four and fifty-five, until, on a good day, we could shriek in delight, “One hundred cars, we saw one hundred cars!” I doubt our counting was that accurate, only that we knew that one hundred was a big number and the mark of a very long train.

Did Grandpa really have the leisure to count train cars that day in May 1918? I doubt it. But I’m sure he knew a big number meant a long train that would carry thousands of troops. In fact, in the same letter describing the clues of his departure, he answered a question Grandma had asked about the number of men at Funston.

Number in Division

Letter, May 21, 1918.


My California tribute.

Over this Memorial Day weekend, I’ll think of my grandfather setting off for war a hundred years ago. But I’ll also remember, as is the custom in my family, all the members of our family who have died. We decorate graves as a way of honoring them. I can picture my mother picking peonies from our garden, putting them in empty coffee cans filled with water, and handing them (complete with ants) to my brother, sister and me to hold on the long car ride to King City, where we set them out on the graves of my grandparents’ families. Grandma and Grandpa joined them, years later, in this peaceful place, and so has my father.

King City flags 2 cropped

Cemetery in King City, Missouri, photo taken last year by my brother.

After We Are Gone

1-6 envelope, cropped 2

Letter to Grandma, January 6, 1918.

This letter, from January, captures the pervasive fear that settled over Camp Funston during the winter and spring months of 1918. Just when would the troops be sent overseas? And, what would happen–to Grandpa, his family and his dear girl, “after we are gone?”

The specifics of deployment were kept under wraps, understandably. But the unknowns of time and destination and assignments fueled rumors and contradictory information.

January 14, 1918

A French officer said in his speech at the Auditorium a few nights the war would last not longer than four more months.

Only a few days earlier, Grandpa had been asked if was ready to go.

January 11, 1918

The captain ask me today if I wanted to go to France. I told him I wanted to when Co. C went, but did not want to be transferred from this co.

What wasn’t said was clearly seen. In February, he described the departure of a large group, ending with a common refrain, “they say” . . .

Feb 26, carloads

Letter to Grandma, February 26, 1918.

Over the months, troops left, new recruits arrived, speakers filled auditoriums as they offered upbeat reports, or grim predictions about a war that might drag on for years. Training continued. But so did another part of camp life: leisure activities. In January, Camp Funston opened what they called an amusement zone, soon known as the “Zone.”

Zone T:C cropped

Trench and Camp, March 2, 1918, with permission of the Kansas State Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply.

Grandpa could walk a few blocks from his barracks to the Zone, which stretched nearly a quarter of a mile and offered a theater, movie house, pool hall, cafes, stores, banks, and wide sidewalks to amble along.

Trench and Camp reported that the architecture followed the “usual World’s fair style” and mimicked Broadway’s “Great White Way,” so named for the street lights that cast a white light in the evening. It was privately funded and, according to Trench and Camp, the Zone was “the only city ever built within an army camp.” (January 26 and March 30, 1918, issues)


There were other activities at camp, presumably to keep up morale and distract the soldiers from their mounting anxiety of what would happen “after we are gone.” Grandpa reported on a well-attended musical performance by the Shriners from Kansas City’s Ararat Temple on May 5. Their 50-piece band and 50-member chorus belted out patriotic and popular songs, concluding with George M. Cohan’s Over There, “Send the word, send the word over there, that the Yanks are coming,”

That was the goal, sending American soldiers over to win the war. But many of the soldiers Grandpa knew, dreaded the assignment.

February 10, 1918

Some of the boys, in fact most every one here, says they would take a discharge on anything. I tell them I don’t want to quit until it is over because I am no slacker. But every one knows that, don’t they, and I also tell the boys and the world when I come home I want to come home with honor.

slacker, cropped

Among his contemporaries, “slacker” referred to a man unwilling to serve. Where is the slacker? Look for a lonely man on his front porch. That’s not the man Grandpa wanted to be. From Trench and Camp, September 28, 1918, with permission of the Kansas State Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply.

Rumors of war and deployment and abstract notions of service and courage roared through camp like a dust storm across the Kansas prairie, exhausting the thousands of soldiers training at Funston. I think about this and how unsettling it must have been. But soon it would become real, the battles of war. And Grandpa admitted to Grandma that he was afraid. “I drempt that I was in a battle on the western front,” he wrote on April 23, “I was a little scared when I woke up.”

He was worried about his mother, too.

5-21-18, rosey

May 21, 1918.

Croquet and Chemical Warfare

Fearful and homesick, Grandpa wrote this letter a few weeks before his overseas deployment. I’m posting the entire letter, followed by a transcription.

Gas House 1Gas House 2, 3Gas House, 4

I’ve added punctuation in the transcription below. Grandpa often wrote without commas, periods, or capitalization. I’ve also corrected spelling and added a few notes.

April 30, 1918

My Dear, now Tuesday night. I have been out playing catch since supper. The evenings are awfully long when I have nothing to do. Would like to play croquet with you. We were out and tried the gas[s] this afternoon. We have been practicing with them [i.e. the masks] for three weeks so this afternoon they gave us the test. The gas house holds about a hundred at once and we went through three times. The second time we were fastened in with the doors shut five minutes and they say one minute would kill any man. So you know we were awfully careful that they [masks] didn’t come off. They also threw some gas bombs into the trenches to show us how it acted. The smoke and gas hold right to the bottom of the trench.

We are going to move in the next three weeks for France. 355 [an infantry, Grandpa’s group was the 356th] is fixing to go now and they say we will go soon and the Captain told the first Sergeant there would be no more passes issued, and the first Sergeant said we would go inside of ten days and I think so too. But I don’t want you to tell it for I am not going to tell the folks until after we are started and of course they will have to know it. I saw Clyde Black tonight. He was down after his mail. He is in the bunch that was sent to the detention camp [where new recruits were housed]. I sent some of our boys mail up to them by him.

Mother didn’t tell me about writing to you. What was it about. They sent me an affidavit for a farming furlough. I got it today, but the Captain said there wouldn’t be any issued at all so several of the boys were somewhat disappointed as they were looking for a furlough. But the late news has spoil it all. I got a letter from Marie Sawyer today. She was awfully funny. Poor girl, too bad she hasn’t got a beau. Well my Dear, I will quit for tonight.

Love & Kisses



The Last Trip Home


Train postcard

A postcard Grandpa sent earlier in the spring.

Grandpa’s last trip home ended badly, in a misunderstanding with Grandma. When he boarded the train to go back to camp, he knew he’d have some explaining to do.

This trip home, from April 6-14, had been organized by the Army. They sent nearly 30 soldiers to their homes in northwest Missouri to drum up support for the war. As the King City Chronicle noted, April 12, the “soldier boys” came with “their guns, tents and all camp equipment.” Big crowds gathered to marvel at “bayonet charges” and the speedy way the soldiers set up their tents.

The soldiers went, like a traveling show (seems to me), from one little town to the next, staging their exhibitions first at Maysville, then Osborn, Cameron, Union Star, and finally, on Saturday, in King City. At each location, patriotic speeches were offered, bands played familiar all-American tunes, and townspeople bought Liberty Bonds.

Bond ads

These ads ran in the April 12 King City Chronicle, the same issue that described the military drills. Both ads capture the point of view of this newspaper–that the war in Europe was fought to protect freedoms at home.

That Saturday in King City, on the 13th, the last day of the tour, Grandpa sat down at a dinner. I don’t know if Grandma attended, only that Grandpa was finishing up when his buddies told him to hurry up and join them. He looked for Grandma but couldn’t find her to say goodbye. First thing he did, back at Camp Funston, was start apologizing.

First apology, 2 cropped

April 14 letter, written at 9:30pm, after a long trip back to camp. As he often did when he was anxious or in a hurry, Grandpa used a pencil and messy, loopy handwriting.

The “lot of things to tell you” was explored in an unusually long letter he wrote the next day, across five pages. He opened with a note on guard duty, followed by an update on the weather, and then moved right into a reference to his sister Ethel . . .

4-15-18 apology, 1 cropped

April 15 letter

Maybe he’d done the wrong thing?? Who was this “lady?”

In the letters that followed, Grandpa never named her. He tried to explain that she needed a ride home to Clarksdale (south of King City), and that he (along with his buddies?) obliged. He also made it clear that she had taken a train from there to St. Joe, and he traveled the other direction, to Maysville, to catch the train back to camp.

The last time he mentions the episode was in a letter dated May 9.

Apology, 5-9-18, cropped rev.

May 19 letter

Grandpa was ready to move on, put this behind them. He argued, in an earlier letter, April 28, “I sometimes think that was a good thing in some ways. My people sure did hate it, but given things will happen in love or war and this was in both, so I guess that was the reason there was the trouble.”

How did Grandma feel? I wish I knew. I can only imagine the strain the war put on her, keeping up with a boyfriend who could, at any time, be sent to a war that might claim him. How did her family feel about the “lady” episode? There’s only one clue, and that’s the appearance of  Stanley Brown in their correspondence. He had been introduced to Grandma by her paternal aunt, Susie Dykes Frank, who lived east of them, in Madison, Missouri. Grandma wrote Grandpa that her “friend” Stanley Brown had been inducted and was training at Camp Funston. “I will try my best to entertain him,” Grandpa wrote back, “as I know he is nice fellow or you would [not] have had anything to do with him, course saying nothing about me, HaHa.” Their first meeting came, not in Kansas, but months later in a hospital in France, where both men were recuperating after the war. That’s when they shook hands and both pulled out pictures of Grandma.


An undated family picture of Grandma, about the time of the war.

Troubles in love or war. Grandpa got that part right.

Changes at Camp

Late February, 1918, Grandpa wrote Grandma that he had quit the cooking job. He’d been one of four cooks for his Company “C” since mid-October. This job assignment as a cook had surprised me, when I first saw it in his letters. I’d never seen my grandfather in the kitchen, never known him to have any interest in cooking.

Grandma in the Kitchen

Grandma ruled the kitchen in Effingham, even with an injured wrist.

So, why was he chosen to be an Army cook? I haven’t found an answer. Maybe it was as simple as what Grandpa wrote the week after arriving at camp, “I and every one else is just like a horse, we will go just where they say.”

What happened, then, four months into the job, that led to his quitting?

Tuesday night, February 19*

I have quit the cooking job as the captain wanted me to take the barber job for all the time and I ask him quite a while ago to let me drill a while.

Seems the “quitting” was really a way of saying he was changing jobs. But which jobs? Cook and barber? For months, he had occasionally cut hair in the barracks. There were barber shops in nearby Army City, Manhattan and Junction City, but convenience and probably lower cost must have made Grandpa’s services attractive. When his captain, Captain Harris, sat down for haircuts, and a lieutenant, too, I’m guessing Grandpa had earned the kind of respect from his superiors that allowed him to freely discuss his job assignment.

Captain Harris wanted him to become the official Company “C” barber. Grandpa didn’t want that. Instead he wanted to drill, to prepare himself for combat in France.

The captain cut him a deal. He would keep Grandpa listed as Company cook, but would let him take a break from those duties to drill. He also shelved the idea of making him the official barber.

Tuesday night, February 19*

I will drill for a couple of months and go back to the kitchen, so I will have it all, Barber Cook and a Soldier.

I’ll describe the nature of those drills in coming posts. But here, I want to share what I’ve found in the letters that helps me picture my grandfather’s desire for combat training. It started when he watched the troops leave Camp Funston for overseas duty.

February 26, 1918

Feb 26 letter

The war had become real. Grandpa saw the trains leaving the Union Pacific depot, “all night and all day.” (The location of the depot appears in the panoramic map of the camp, linked in the February 23 post.) He ended the letter, musing on feeling lonesome.

Lonesome in war times

For weeks, Grandpa had seen troops disappear into the trains at camp. He would hear rumors on who would be going next, and where they were headed. He attended lectures with speakers who sometimes announced the war would end by summer, and others who painted a more ominous picture of the war lasting years. He found the same differing opinions in newspapers, the gist of which he shared in letters to Grandma. I sense his resolve to go, to fight, to be with his buddies hardened over the spring months. This may be why he wanted to drill.

All the while, Captain Harris checked in with my grandfather. In January he asked if he want to leave early and start his cooking assignment in France. No, Grandpa wanted to stay with his company. When Captain Harris told him that he’d keep him listed as the Company cook, Grandpa knew what this meant: a couple of months until he boarded one of those trains at the depot, a couple of months to learn how to be a combat-ready soldier.


*Sometimes Grandpa only wrote “Tuesday night” on a letter, without giving a date. I go by postmarks on envelopes to assign the date.



500 Doughnuts


donuts cropped

A plate of doughnuts today, distant cousins of what Grandpa made at camp.

On February 14, 1918, Grandpa was up at 3am, a typical start for an army cook. The temperature was below freezing, and chances are—it’s Kansas, after all—the winds were howling. On the schedule that day was battle training in the hills near camp. After he and his fellow cooks served breakfast in the mess hall, the men in Company C (around 150) set out on foot to drill. The cooks traveled with them, some walking the seven miles to the field, others riding in the wagon with the food and equipment. Grandpa’s job, that cold February day, was to provide dinner, the name used for the mid-day meal.

On the menu? Doughnuts. Five hundred doughnuts the cooks had made the day before.

Of all the details I found in my grandfather’s letters, this one about the doughnuts really caught my attention. Maybe because I grew up with doughnuts as a special treat, often on a Saturday morning with my father, I couldn’t imagine these sweet treats as soldier’s grub. I did a quick internet search to investigate doughnuts in World War 1. What I found was both fascinating and upsetting. Turns out, the story of the doughnuts stars Salvation Army women—young, smiling volunteers called Sallies (or Lassies)—serving the treats, along with a cup of coffee, to soldiers in France. (More on that when we land in France.)

What about Grandpa and those hundreds of doughnuts he and his fellow cooks made? And not just on that cold February day, but other times at Funston and on the battlefields of France? The only mention I found of army cooks and doughnuts was in the 1916 Manual for Army Cooks, which is available online ( The Manual includes a recipe for crullers (synonymous with doughnuts in this manual). I’ve copied it below.

So, the army cooks knew about doughnuts long before the Salvation Army “Sallies” started making them in France. And, a bit unfairly I think, it is the Sallies who are remembered every year on National Donut Day, typically the first Friday in June. The Salvation Army established the event in 1938 to honor the service of these women during World War 1 (and to raise funds for Chicago’s poor). This year on National Donut Day, I’ll be remembering my grandfather’s service, too, as I enjoy a donut and a cup of coffee. Grandpa loved coffee.

What else did Grandpa and the Company C cooks serve for dinner that February day in the field? I’ll let him describe that “mess,” which starts at the bottom of the first page, “going to Smoky flat to drill.” For those of you still learning my grandfather’s handwriting, I’ve transcribed part of the letter below.


pages 1, 2

FEB 14-Doughnuts 2

pages 3, 4


pages 5, 6

From the middle section: “All of the boys, they are still going to Smoky flat to drill. They are taking special training. They sure do work them hard. Key Ring and I went out to get dinner and it was so awfully windy and dusty we had some time. Every time we opened any of the vesels [sic] it would almost blow full of dirt and we tried to make a wind break out of our shelter halves and it would blow down about as fast as we could put it up. The fire burned good but we didn’t get the beef on in time, so it didn’t hardly get done, but we served it. We had plates and everything to serve in style also a great dinner, but the plates blew full of dirt and just handed them out a sandwich, cup of coffee and we ran off about five hundred doughnuts yesterday so that was the lunch as we brought all the rest back. I came in on the wagon sure was a rough and dirty ride. We loaded the wagon up, then we thought we would ride the street car as far as Riley, and then was a car off the track about half way up so we had to get off and catch a wagon the rest of the way after all. The company came in about three o’clock . . . . They left the field just after we did. They are sure training [?] them also the cooks. . . . I will turn in early tonight, as I have some headache and my eyes hurt me.”

And here’s the recipe for the doughnuts from the 1916 Manual for Army Cooks, 236-7.

Item 549. Crullers, 1-pound mixture. Makes about 19 crullers.

Ingredients used:

2 ounces butter.

4 ounces sugar.

2 eggs.

1/16 ounce extract.

1 pound flour.

1/2 ounce baking powder.

1/4 pint water (good measure).

“Cream butter and sugar together and add the extract. Beat the eggs well and add them to the mixture. Thoroughly mix the baking powder with the flour and sift on top of mixture; then add the water and stir until smooth. Roll out the dough to a thickness of half an inch and cut with doughnut cutter. Fry to a golden brown in deep grease. Immediately upon their removal from the fat, place the crullers in a colander to drain, after which they may be rolled in granulated sugar or placed on a plate and dusted with powered sugar.

“The same rule applies to this as to other baking powder mixtures: to obtain good results handle as little as possible. The quantity of the liquid used depends upon the strength of the flour. Baking powder may be increased or decreased in this mixture according to its strength as determined by experience.”



Training for War at Camp Funston

One hundred years ago, during the winter and spring of 1918, the U.S. Army stepped up the training of soldiers and began to send them overseas. To set the stage for this training, I’ve included a map (with a detail) and a link to a panoramic photograph of Camp Funston. Upcoming posts will describe Grandpa’s job as a cook–in the mess hall and the field, his training for combat, and the surprising (to me) variety of recreational activities he and his buddies enjoyed.

larger map with arrows

This map was published in Putnam’s Handy Volume Atlas of the World, 1921.

The green arrow points to the area in northwest Missouri where King City, Grandpa’s home, was located. The red arrow points to Camp Funston, in Kansas. Grandpa traveled the distance, roughly 200 miles, by train.

map detail arrows

Detail of same map, 1921.

In this detail, the blue arrow points to Ft. Riley, the historic 19th-century military fort that aided travelers heading West. Camp Funston, shown at the tip of the red arrow, was a completely new facility built on a portion of the fort’s land, a flat area along the Kansas River. Just south is the town of Junction City. To the northeast lies Manhattan. Both these towns were destinations for Grandpa and his fellow soldiers, when they wanted a break from duties at camp.

Below is a link to a panoramic view of the camp, posted by the Kansas State Historical Society.  Have a look, scroll across the image then come back to this page for explanations.

The photograph is dated 1917, when the camp was still under construction. At its completion, the camp sprawled over “more than two thousand acres, contained fifteen hundred buildings constructed with more than forty-seven million feet of lumber, had twenty-eight miles of paved streets, and was a temporary home to over fifty thousand men,” according to Jonathan Casey, director, Archives and Edward Jones Research Center, the National World War 1 Museum and Memorial.*

I chose this image because of the handwritten note, “Company “D” 356th Inf. Stationed here.” The arrow points to a group of buildings that resemble barracks. Grandpa belonged to Company “C” 356th Infantry.  I’m guessing Grandpa’s barracks, where he lived and also worked as a company cook, lies in this cluster of buildings. The one-story extension at the back of each held a kitchen.

The orientation of the view is to the south. The photographer stood on elevated ground at the north of camp. Grandpa referred to the area where they trained as the “hills,” which may have been these, which are part of the Flint Hills.

Notice, on the far right, the arrow pointing to Ft. Riley, 4 miles away. You may recall from my post on Grandpa’s illnesses and hospitalization, that he spent some nights at the base hospital in Ft. Riley.

Back to this map, in the central section, notice a marking for “Hospital.” Grandpa often mentioned how he went to the infirmary to see a doctor or pick up medications; I’m wondering if this building, called a hospital here, was what Grandpa called the infirmary.

You can see the tracks, and even a train belching smoke on the left side of the image; look for the handwritten notation “Camp Depot” for the building and to the right, the train. This was the Union Pacific depot.

For leisure and recreation, Grandpa and his buddies had lots of options at Funston. The Y.M.C.A. built a number of buildings. One is noted here. Some had reading rooms with newspapers and desks for letter-writing. Others had large auditoriums for musical performances and lectures.

An outdoor screen labeled “Picture Show” stands in an open field, as does a “Bout Stage,” probably used for boxing, a popular camp sport. Not shown (or not labeled) is a baseball field. Also missing are references to Army City and another area called the “Zone,” both set up as places where soldiers could attend movies, live stage performances, have their photographs taken, pick up food and do some shopping.

Even as he kept busy at camp, Grandpa kept in touch with Grandma. They wrote almost every day. And she would send him small gifts along with homemade treats like candy and cake. One of his friends from King City, a man named Ferris Keys (nicknamed Key Ring), apparently liked these gifts, too.

Send candy and love, 2-21-18

Letter to Grandma, February 21, 1918

Speaking of sweets, the next post offers up doughnuts, hundreds of doughnuts, made by Grandpa, Key Ring, and their fellow cooks.

*Casey, Jonathan. “Training in Kansas for a World War: Camp Funston in Photographs.” Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains 29 (Autumn 2006), 165.




Was it Spanish Influenza?

After my post on illness at Camp Funston, some of you wondered whether my grandfather was witnessing the Spanish flu. Ever since I began reading his letters, especially the ones from the fall of 1917, I’ve wondered the same.

In writing about the Spanish flu, I realize I belong to a generation that may be the last to know firsthand about this worldwide pandemic of 1918. Many of our grandparents, great aunts and uncles, and their friends fell victim to this virulent form of influenza. In my family, my great Aunt Gene suffered poor health most of her life. Mother told me this was due, in part, to the lingering effects of the Spanish flu.

Influenza had been known for a long time, but was considered a seasonal condition that was largely an irritant, like a mild cold. It could be deadly, but usually only among older patients whose immune systems left them vulnerable to bronchitis or pneumonia.

The Spanish flu was something different. It attacked young adults. The virus often moved directly into the lungs, suffocating and quickly killing its victims. The mobilization of millions of troops to crowded camps in the U.S. and then to the front lines in Europe certainly spread the virus, as did international travel and commerce.

The Spanish flu followed a cyclical path, beginning in a mild form, retreating for weeks, and then returning in ever more lethal forms. John M. Barry has written about the pandemic in his book, The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History, 2004. Recently, he penned an article, “Journal of the Plague Year,” which ran in the November 2017 issue of Smithsonian. (Thanks, Charlene, for the tip.) Barry has concluded that Camp Funston was the site of early cases in the United States, citing March 4, 1918, as the date of the first reported case. (p. 36) He believes that the virus came to the camp from people either visiting from, or called to service from, Haskell County, in southwestern Kansas. That’s where a doctor noted, in January 1918, a number of severe illnesses that couldn’t be identified. (p. 34)

This takes the story of the great influenza back to January 1918. But were there earlier, milder outbreaks, perhaps during the fall of 1917?

The U.S. Army assembled a group of doctors immediately after the war to contribute to the monumental review of medical practices and diseases known during what they called the “world war.” This study, The Medical Department of United States Army in the World War, Washington: U.S. Army Surgeon General’s Office, 1923-29, is available online (My thanks to Jonathan Casey at the National World War 1 Museum and Memorial in Kansas City for calling this to my attention.)

In Volume IX, Chapter 2, “Communicable Diseases,” attention is paid to the general topic of influenza. The authors conclude that “It appears . . . that evidences of epidemic waves of influenza during the war period were noted for: (1) April, 1917; (2) December, 1917, to January, 1918; (3) March to April, 1918; (4) September to October, 1918; (5) January to February, 1919; (6) June to July, 1919.” (p. 84).

But were all these waves the Spanish flu? Barry and these medical writers from the 1920s agree that the answer remains elusive, in part, because different names, in different places, were recorded as the cause of an illness. And, complicating an understanding today, the term “Spanish flu” wasn’t introduced until the middle of 1918. That’s when a major outbreak in Spain, in May of 1918, infected their king (who survived). After that, the illness was popularly known as the Spanish flu.

So, what exactly caused the illnesses that my grandfather witnessed at Camp Funston? It remains a mystery, at least to me. Certainly it was terrifying. Grandpa referred to illnesses and quarantine in almost all his letters from November and December, 1917. He wrote about his buddies running high fevers, one being unconscious, and of watching them be taken to the hospital.

Red Cross new

November 16: “The DeKalb [county] boys that were taken to the hospital Monday was a Castor boy from Wetherby and Hawk(?) boy from Osborn. I was out at the Red Cross wagon when they left. I sure felt sorry. The Castor boy was just a little over 21 years old, and a good boy.”

 He reported the many times he was tested for meningitis, which seems to have caused the most alarm. It may be what is referenced in a letter from a friend back home, to which Grandpa responded:

Victims of Funston 11-13

November 13: “He wanted to know if our co [company] had got that awful disease yet, I think we are the victims of Funston.”

Maybe because he was a company cook, he kept careful note of how many men to feed. At one point in November, a quarter of his company had been taken to the hospital, a drop from 196 to 145 men in a matter of weeks. (Most would return.)

Rumors spread through the camp, and this may have been one.

75% nov 15cropped

November 15: “They say about 75% of the camp is quarantined and lots dying, the ambulances sure are hauling them out of here fast.”

Between November 26 and December 7, Grandpa didn’t send any letters. The last one, excerpted here, provides a window onto his fear and a prelude to what lay ahead for him.

Scared to death 11-26

November 26, ending with: ” and if the boys isn’t sick they are almost scared to death.”

Did he feel that way when he was taken away, soon after Thanksgiving? Identified as a germ carrier, he spent freezing cold nights in an outdoor tent before being sent, on December 7, to the Base Hospital at Fort Riley.