One hundred years ago, on March 27, 1919, Grandpa put an American stamp on a letter to Grandma. This was the first time in months that he’d been required to use a stamp, as postage had been waived during his overseas deployment. That 3-cent stamp was one of the first indicators of his return home.
The letter details the day he left the ship on Sunday, March 23, after twelve miserable days at sea. His group immediately boarded a train for Camp Merritt, an army camp in New Jersey.
Now Thursday morn and I am ashamed I haven’t written you but I believe I can redeem myself. I got off the boat about noon Sunday. Took the train for here getting settled down about five oclock and the bunch was all so tired we went to bed real early. The next day we were busy with inspections and delousing. Also moved a little further over in the camp.
The next day he got a taste of what the country–in small and large towns–had organized to welcome home the victorious troops. New York City staged a huge parade for the return of the 27th Division. And Grandpa happened to be in the crowd, a bit of good luck, he wrote.
Early the next morn they began giving passes to New York so my name beginning with A put me at the head of the list. So I felt lucky as that was the big day. The 27th Div parade. Sure some crowd. They say the largest New York ever saw.
I posted a link below to a surviving silent film of that parade, shared by the National Archives. I really can’t imagine how Grandpa felt that day, standing in a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people. After months of misery and hospitalization and over a year of being away from home, did he feel like a returning hero? Was he thrilled at the attention or puzzled by the scale of it?
One thing was certain, he wanted to be with Grandma. “I am anxious to hear from you,” he wrote. “I think the last letter was dated Dec 15.” Four long months without a letter! Of course he had no way of knowing that she had written, and that the letters were lost in transit. And she, of course, had no way (or not yet) of knowing her mail wasn’t being delivered.
This breakdown in military mail delivery astounds me, and at the very time soldiers needed to find a way to transition back into civilian life, to reconnect with the people whose letters had sustained them during long months of service. Without a reliable means of communication, my grandparents soon ran into a wall of confusion, hurt feelings, and misunderstandings. But that was weeks off. In this letter, Grandpa imagines his own hero’s return.
I will soon be with you and that will be a glorious day.
Here’s the complete letter, including Grandpa’s conclusion that “the boys are just like a bird out of a cage since coming from France.”
Camp Merritt, N.J.
Mar 27 ‘19
My Dear Inis
Now Thurs morn and I am ashamed I haven’t written you but I believe I can redeem myself. Got off the boat about noon Sunday. Took the train for here getting settled down about five oclock and the bunch was all so tired we went to bed real early. The next day we were busy with inspections and delousing also moved a little farther over in the camp. Early the next morn they began giving passes to New York so my name beginning with A put me at the head of the list. So I felt lucky as that was the big day. The 27thDiv parade. Sure some crowd. They say the largest New York ever saw. Also went to the Hypodrome* Theater and it was by far the best thing I ever saw. I came back about nine oclock, only about an hour ride from here to N.Y. So yesterday morn I had got me some paper, started to write when they began to give out passes again, and a friend of mine said I could have his pass so I beat it for New York again. After roaming around all afternoon went to a show and came back about 1:30 last night. I felt sorta sleepy this morn, but managed to get up for breakfast. It is a little cloudy this morn but sure has been fine since we landed “nothing like France.” I was sure glad to get off that boat being on the water twelve long days and every day got longer. I was sure sick the first two days then I felt pretty good until the last two days out when we hit a storm and it was some rough sailing. My head hasn’t hardly quit swimming yet. The first day here when I was standing up I would have to brace myself to keep from falling over but I think now I will be all right when I get caught up with my sleep. We are not doing much, waiting to be sent out. I hear we go about Sat, go to Camp Grant, Ill. to be discharged so I feel like I will soon be with you and that will be a glorious day. I weighed the other day weighing 168 so you see I am pretty fat “but not [word?].” Oda is still in the co with me but Jessie Smith was taken to the hospital as his wound was not completely healed. This is a real nice camp. I like it better than Funston. The boys are just like a bird out of a cage since coming from France, but I think I have enough of the big city, and will stick around the rest of the time here. We are signing the payroll today so I guess we will get paid soon. I haven’t been paid since Aug so I will have a nice bunch. There is some of the keenest Y.M.C.A. here I ever saw. Real Library rooms with large leather bottom seats. Also a large Theater and all kinds of ways for entertainment. I am anxious to hear from you. I think the last letter was dated Dec 15. You then had heard I was wounded. I don’t think you better write me as I would not get it, but if you want to take a chance address me Hoboken Casaul [sic] Co 335 Camp Grant, Ill and I might get it there, but if I don’t hoping to be with by April the 15 so I close sending
Extra mount of love and kisses
*I think he refers to the Hippodrome Theater, a huge event space with seating for more than 5,000 and a stage big enough to hold circus animals and huge choirs and, well, over-the-top performances.