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

PERSONAL REMINISCENCES

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

Tom.

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.

ship-transport-uss-huntington.jpg

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.

Lovingly

Tom.

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.