Coming Home, but on his Own Terms

train-postcard.jpg

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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4-5-19, 4

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)

Tom.

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

T.W.A.

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