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.
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.
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
The U.S.S. Huntington, originally known as the U.S.S. West Virginia, had been a warship active during World War 1.
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.
Many postcards began as photographs taken on board.
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.
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.”
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.
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.