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.

4-6-19-envelope.jpg4-6-19, 14-6-19, 2

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



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





MLB and WW1 Baseball

The Dodgers are headed to the 2018 World Series–a miracle of miracles for this LA Dodgers fan. It’s October in America and time to think about baseball. I’m sure my grandfather, who loved baseball, would agree.

How did World War 1 impact baseball? That question came to me when I read a letter Grandpa wrote on March 30, 1918.

Baseball, Funston, 1


I like how “a big Easter celebration” and “a big ball game” get equal attention.

Why were the Cardinals playing at a military training camp? I did a bit of research and came up empty. Then, on a lark, I called the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, better known as Cooperstown. I realized I’d landed on a bit of good luck when a woman (who only identified herself as Katherine) answered the phone. Not only was she a graduate student in American Social History, with a specialty in baseball, she was also a Cards fan. Within a couple of days, she sent me over 30 scanned pages of information on World War 1-era baseball. In her email response, she answered my specific question on why the Cards played at Camp Funston.

“The St. Louis Cardinals were struggling to achieve any post-season success during the years before/during World War 1,” she wrote, “a trend that changed only after the team brought on Branch Rickey who developed the organization’s minor league farm system. Like many professional teams, the Cardinals lost players to the draft and military enlistment, which was partly the reason Rickey sought to locate reserve players through a player development system.”

She mentioned the teams known to have played for the troops: Chicago, Cleveland, and St. Louis. The MLB sent teams to Foot Hood, Texas, she said, and Camp Pike, Arkansas, as well as Camp Funston in Kansas. Often, professional ballplayers, now in military training, faced former teammates on the field.

From Grandpa’s letters, I know baseball filled the spring days at camp. Beginning in March, 1918, he wrote about playing catch after supper, managing his company “C” team, serving as an umpire, and watching games. On April 27, he told Grandma,

“I never saw as many ball games in my life. There was at least a dozen in a mile square down this side of the river and a big crowd at each one.”

baseball ad, Apr 6, 1918 (0137)

Local vendors sold uniforms and equipment. This ad ran in Trench and Camp, April 6, 1918, p 2. Courtesy of the Kansas State Historical Society.

The army encouraged baseball, noting the benefits of exercise, recreation, and the kind of discipline and teamwork needed on the battlefield. This notice also ran in Trench and Camp, April 6, 1918, p. 6.

baseball excuses, funston


Baseball went with the troops overseas. The army sent equipment, as did the Y.M.C.A. The MLB sent some of its best players. Thanks (again) to Katherine, the intern at Cooperstown, I learned that the Chemical Warfare Service, also known as the “Gas and Flame Division,” included three future baseball hall-of-famers: Branch Rickey, Ty Cobb and Christy Mathewson. All were in the thirties, and all were willing to take on one of the most dangerous assignments of the war.

In an article she sent, “Chemical Warfare Service: World War 1’s House of Horrors,” author Frank Ceresi wrote that over the summer of 1918, the Army recruited  baseball players and athletes “with exceptional skill” to execute a daring plan. “They were tasked to prepare for battle with special orders to anticipate German gas attacks where the heaviest trench fighting would be, then turn the tables on the enemy by quickly spraying their flanks with jets of flame from tanks strapped onto their backs. Then, once their tanks emptied, they were to lob special ‘gas grenades’ at the fallen Germans and clear the area.”

Of the three baseball greats, only Mathewson was injured. The signal to put on his mask came too late, during one attack, and he suffered from exposure to the gas. This may have led, Ceresi suggested, to his death in 1925 from tuberculosis. (1)

Some baseball players stayed in the U.S. Certainly the most famous was Babe Ruth, who had registered for the draft, but hadn’t been called for service overseas. In the 1918 World Series–the only one played completely in September–his Red Sox team beat the Chicago Cubs, 4-2. At that game, a tradition was born when the military band played the “Star-Spangled Banner” during the seventh-inning stretch. The crowd joined in. The singing of the national anthem (so-named in 1931) became standard practice at MLB games beginning in the 1941-42 season. (2)

Baseball has so many traditions, and the one I most treasure, is the practice of handing down the love of the game, one generation to the next. My grandfather is my link to the game. I will always remember the pleasure of sitting at his knee, quietly watching him listen to the Kansas City Athletics on the radio. This memory came to mind on a recent flight home. I shared a row with a man and his son, who was probably a young teenager. “We’re seeing baseball parks this summer,” the father said, explaining the new jersey his son was proudly wearing. We talked about baseball. I told him about my grandfather and baseball in World War 1. I asked him what he especially liked. “I collect signed, first-edition books on baseball.” His favorites? He scribbled them down on the back of a bookmark I had.

Baseball titles cropped

Before we landed, I mentioned one detail that puzzled me in World War 1-era baseball. The Y.M.C.A. sent indoor baseballs and indoor bats to France. Did he know about indoor baseball played during the war? He grew silent and said, no, quickly adding that he wanted to look into this as soon as he got home.

I bet he did. That’s baseball–so many facts and stats and enduring traditions over its long history. It’s no surprise to me that American soldiers played ball at military camps and places in France, however and wherever they could. And watch games. And long to be home to see their favorite teams in person.

When the Dodgers take to the field in the 2018 World Series, I’ll fold into the shadows of this rich history of the game. I’ll marvel at Fenway Park and Dodger Stadium, two of the oldest (still standing) parks in baseball, festooned with patriotic bunting for the World Series. I’ll remember that only one team can win. I’ll take comfort knowing I’m not the only one yelling at the TV, the way my grandfather’s generation yelled at the radio or yelled from the stands. We know best, the fans. It’s baseball.

And so is the hope, that against all odds, my team will win. Go Dodgers!

Thank you, MLB, for supporting the troops in World War 1.

MLB contributions WW1

Included in story, “Baseball’s Bit in The World War,” Baseball Magazine, Feb. 1918, p. 390.



(1) Frank Ceresi, “Chemical Warfare Service,” included at

(2) “Baseball and the Star Spangled Banner” at

Online sources provided by National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

“A Corner in Horsehide,” 34 ff.

“Baseball Champions American Expeditionary Forces,”

Print sources provided by the National Baseball Hall of Fame:

Elias, Robert. “Real War (1917-1919)” in The Empire Strikes Out: How Baseball Sold U.S. Foreign Policy and Promoted the American Way Abroad. The New Press, 2010.

Lane, F.C. “Baseball’s Bit in the World War.” Baseball Magazine, February 1918, 386-391, 436-437.


Write Home! That’s an Order!


Grandma kept the letters from Grandpa in a shoe box. Envelopes marked with “Soldiers Mail” (upper right corner) identified mail from France, which didn’t require postage. Photo (c) Charlene Reichert.

The army encouraged soldiers to write letters, lots of letters. Staying in touch with folks back home would keep up a soldier’s morale, the argument went, and also maintain the public’s support for the war. Over the summer of 1918, as more and more soldiers were deployed to the Western Front—including my grandfather, newspapers across the country ran General Pershing’s official order to “write home often.” The New York Times ran the full order, a portion of which read:

Duty to one’s country does not end on the parade ground, nor even on the battlefield, but consists in doing everything in one’s power to help win the war. To write home frequently and regularly, to keep in constant touch with family and friends, is one of the soldier’s most important duties. (1)

Service organizations like the Y.M.C.A., Red Cross, and the Knights of Columbus, provided writing paper and envelopes to soldiers, both in military training camps and also overseas. Postage was waived for all mail sent from Europe.

The army provided rules and advice. For example, once they boarded a ship, soldiers could not mention specific details of location or troop movement, the numbers of troops, and, later, the numbers of wounded and killed in battle. That information, if it fell into the hands of the enemy, posed a danger.

Of course, for this danger to present itself, soldiers had to carry letters with them. And they did. Grandpa once apologized for not answering some of Grandma’s questions, explaining that he’d lost her letters on the front.

Friends and family also received advice. Trench and Camp, the weekly military newspaper, often ran advice columns for the public. In one, the author recommended keeping letters “hopeful” as a way to counteract a prevailing notion that most soldiers would die.

Do not get the idea that our boys are “going over the top” to die. Ninety-three in each hundred will return. Do not let the “Well, if I do not see you again, good luck and God bless you” farewell send a man off with a stone where his heart should be. Keep this idea out of your letters and their thoughts. To be victorious they must be hopeful. (2)

Keep the letters newsy–with stories about neighbors and happenings at home. This would help remind the soldier of the life awaiting him after the war.

Don’t use letters to explore any misgivings about the war. Criticism was seen as unpatriotic and, in extreme cases, illegal. The federal government, under the direction of President Wilson, enforced the 1917 Espionage Act and 1918 Sedition Act against pacifists and dissenters, or anyone it deemed disloyal. (3) These acts were seen at the time as violations against free speech, and parts (though not all) of these acts were repealed after the war. But their role in the national effort to keep things positive, maintain high morale, and support the war that would end all wars . . . informed the public conversation, including private letters written to and by soldiers. Grandpa sometimes mentioned that he was supposed to keep his letters cheery, and in one poignant example from the battlefield, he remarked,

You know we all write home and send the bright side, although you know we are not having a snap. (from a letter I’ll post in October)

The War Department stepped in with restrictions on second-class mail, especially packages. Cargo ships were needed for military equipment and personnel exclusively, not gift packages from home. Also, these packages slowed down the delivery in France of first-class mail–those all important letters.

TC Puzzle Letter

Published in Trench and Camp, January 5, 1918. Courtesy of Kansas State Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply.

“A letter is a gift that is always timely and never in the way,” appeared in another column published in Trench and Camp. The letters need not be fancy, the author noted. “Literary quality isn’t the thing most needful in them, of course.” (4)

This may explain the quality of a poem Grandpa included in the letter I’m posting below, which he wrote in early September. The poem had been written (or copied?) by a girl “back home” and sent to one of Grandpa’s buddies. The rhyming is forced at times, but the ending makes it worth the read!

(1) “Asks Men to Write Home.” New York Times. 9 June 1918: 9.

(2) “Rules and Suggestions Regarding Soldier Mail.” Trench and Camp. 12 January 1918: 3.

(3) For full discussion, see Patricia O’Toole, The Moralist: Woodrow Wilson and the World He Made. New York, 2018: 290-301.

(4) “Home Letters Revivify Soldiers and Play Important Part in War.” Trench and Camp. 23 March 1918: 3.


Sept 1, 1918

Some place in France.

My Dear Girl.

Almost a week has past since I written you although I have thought of you quite a bit of time. I got three letters from you last night, one from Marshall and one from Mother. So you see I was pretty well fixed for a while. One of yours had the pictures of your dogs Jack loving Ruby and the others and a few days ago I got the other one with the pictures. They were sure gladly received even if they were not extra good. So keep the good work going as the letters are the best thing we get over here.

I haven’t been working so hard for the last week as we have been in reserve. But I think we will go up again soon. I am feeling fine. The weather has begun to get cooler here already. I sure am scringing* for this winter as France is a great deal cooler than Mo. But every thing looks bright so far. We have had four men promoted for their bravery already. Rube Dunlap was made Sergeant, for one, and Clyde Findly made Corporal and a couple more. This event of bravery was while the bunch was under the heavy artillery fire I told you in the other letter. So I guess Mr. Moulton was right when he said there was some in this bunch that could give good account of himself.

Ferris showed me a letter with some pictures he received the other day from Loretta. They composed of her and another girl dressed in bathing suits so you know they were keen. Well My Dear there isn’t much I can tell you only that I am sending with this an extra amount of love and kisses being as it is Sunday afternoon.

So I close

Lovingly Tom.

Thos. W. Alderson

Co. C. 356 Inf

American E. F.

P.S. Below is a couple verses of poetry that a boy in our co received from his girl in Omaha Neb.

*scringing is likely cringing, as in dreading the upcoming winter. In 19th-century American folk language, scringe was often used for cringe.


To My Soldier Boy

I’m feeling pretty worried over all the things I hear.

Of the Shrapnel and the canons that are roaring around you Dear.

Of the Zeppelins and aeroplanes and the sneaky (?) submarines.

But the worst of all the things I fear

That nearly turns me green

Is the fear of all the damsels you’ll be meeting over there

The Parisiennes and the Belgian Maids with fascinating hair.

So be loyal Honey, don’t forsake the girl back home.

No matter how they smile on you,

Don’t let your fancy roam,

For the French girls are so pretty and the nurses are so kind

But do not be a traitor to the girl you left behind.


I know that you are Loyal to the old Red White and blue.

And I hope you’ll be loyal to your little girl, too.

Against the Hun’s they spell with “U” you’ll hold your own I know.

But I fear you may be ambushed by the huns they spell with “O.”

Stand guard against temptations

Don’t surrender to their charms.

And wait until you get back home before presenting arms.

Leave the French Girls to the French men and the Nurses for the Doc’s.

And the soldier in Kaki for the girl who knits his socks.

Tho the French girls may be pretty and the nurses may be kind

Oh do not be a traitor to the girl you left behind.

9-1 (envelope)9-1 (1)9-1 (2)9-1 (3)9-1 (4)9-1 (5)9-1 (6).jpg

England: Rest Camp at Knotty Ash

One hundred years ago today, on June 16, 1918, Grandpa disembarked the Caronia, one of nine ships in a convoy that carried American troops across the Atlantic.

Arrival, 2

After 12 days at sea, his boat landed on Sunday, June 16, 1918.

Where had they landed? On the other side of the card, the postmark provides a clue.

Arrival notice“Old Swan LV” was a neighborhood in Liverpool, one of the busiest ports accepting American soldiers during the war. In the History of the 89th Division, the author confirms Liverpool as the port, p. 40. He also names the army’s rest camp as Knotty Ash.

Both the Red Cross and the American Y.M.C.A. had facilities at the camp. They organized music and sporting events, along with places to write letters home. The arrival postcard includes the Red Cross logo, as well as “Soldiers’ Mail” and “No Postage Necessary,” denoting official army correspondence.

The nature and content of Grandpa’s letters changed when he arrived “overseas.” He couldn’t identify where he was or provide any details that might reveal place or military activities. He was “some place in England,” or “somewhere in France.”

He wrote two letters on June 16, the same day he addressed the postcard. The first one described the trip over, and how he’d been sick “a couple or three days after leaving the States.” He ended with an explanation of why he couldn’t say more, . . .

England 6-17 letter

June 16, 1918 letter to Grandma.

The second letter offered a bit more information. “We have tents to stay in but they are good ones,” he wrote. And then on a personal, perhaps homesick note, he mused, “I supose every one is busy at home farming. I haven’t saw any thing in the farm line here, only a potato patch. Well, my Dear, I can’t write much so will close.”

Once they arrived in Europe, soldiers couldn’t “write much” and they knew each card, each letter, would be read and approved by censors (who could cut out portions or refuse to send the mail). Every envelope I have included some kind of official stamp and a handwritten signature of the censor.

England 6-22, envelope

Grandpa wrote “Soldiers Mail” in the top right corner of envelope that held his June 16 letter.

The postcard and first two letters from England open a new chapter in the correspondence I’m sharing here. The number of letters Grandpa wrote—and received—decreased. At times, he worried that his mail from home has been lost. I have no way of knowing if Grandma wrote less often, or if her letters did get lost in the mail. I only know that he eagerly awaited them. “Keep on writing I will get them some day,” he wrote that first day he landed on foreign soil.


A group of letters carrying the marks and names of official censors. Photo (c) Charlene Reichert.







Reading corner inside a Y.M.C.A. hut at Camp Funston, 1914-1919. Courtesy of the Kansas State Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply.

The Y.M.C.A. ran what they called “rest and recreational” programs in fifteen buildings at Camp Funston. This is one of the smaller structures, called a “hut.” Soldiers wrote letters at desks running along the walls, played board games, or caught up on the news. The “war articles” received special prominence, ingeniously held by clothespins, tied onto what looks like a pipe, and hung from the ceiling.

The welcome banner includes the Y.M.C.A. logo used during World War 1. The inverted red triangle, which originally carried the words spirit, body and mind on the three sides, was adopted in 1897 and used continuously by the Y.M.C.A. until 1967.

4-24-18 letter YMCA

Letter to Grandma, April 24, 1918. Grandpa rarely wrote on both sides of the paper, as encouraged, because the ink bled through the thin paper.

Soldiers received stationery, free of charge, at the Y.M.C.A. They could take the paper and envelopes back to the barracks, or write at one of the desks, as Grandpa apparently did that night, in the minutes before the hut was closed.

The Y.M.C.A. built larger structures at camp for concerts and lectures. The camp’s newspaper, Trench and Camp, often reported on Y.M.C.A. activities and attendance. Here’s the tally for February 1918, printed in the March 16 issue.

  • Estimated attendance at the 15 Y.M.C.A. buildings: 404,999
  • 60 lectures held: 30,888
  • 425 educational classes: 13,575
  • Books circulated: 10,225
  • Athletic events, participants: 20,242; spectators: 18,765
  • 173 religious meetings: 29,154
  • 117 entertainments held: 48,815
  • 109 motion pictures: 73,250
  • 358,795 letters written at Y huts

During wartime, it was no small task to book speakers, or to find and fund the supplies and equipment needed to keep the soldiers entertained. For example: dominos became scarce, as did checkers and checkerboards.

dominos cropped rev.

Trench and Camp, March 30, 1918. Courtesy Kansas State Historical Society.

This story struck close to home. I have a checkerboard my grandfather made, although I’m not sure when. He painted the grid on the back side of glass, and then glued a pad to form a base. I see it everyday, as it sits under my laptop.

Grandpa's checkerboard

I’ll end this post about the good work of the Y.M.C.A. with a nod to baseball, one of the athletic activities much loved at Camp Funston. This cartoon ran in Trench and Camp, in a group of cartoons titled “A Practical Little Game Called ‘Swat the Kaiser.'” Yes, that’s a Kaiser baseball. . . .

Baseball Kaiser cropped

Trench and Camp, May 18, 1918. Courtesy of the Kansas State Historical Society.