Veterans Day: Part 3 of Recollections of a WWI Veteran

Flag IMG_1960This is Day 3 of transcribing my grandfather’s memories of World War I, the War to End all Wars.  These are Frank Zyber’s words, as he typed them somewhere around age 95.  My last post ended when Frank said goodbye to his dad and boarded the train.

We were going to Detroit to the Delray Station, then change to the Pennsylvania Central and to Baltimore.  It was not a troop train but an elegant passenger train with club car, diner and sleepers.  The food was good but I was wondering if I would be able to sleep in the sleeping car.  That turned out to be the easiest of all because I konked out quickly with the clicking of the wheels and the next thing that I remember the porter pulling my toe and telling me that breakfast would be served in twenty minutes.  I had to hustle and shave and it wasn’t the easiest thing to do and the car rolling and with a straight razor waving in all directions and a few of the others doing the same.

This was September, and looking out the window as we were eating, the trees almost in full color and we were told that we would be in Baltimore in an hour or so.

There was this little thing that kind of amused me as the four of us at the table were giving out our menu order.  The menus were written in a way that made it hard to figure out what the tings were and especially as seldom that i ate in restaurants.  We got our orders in and we waited and after what seemed like a long time a tray of celery was brought in.  All started nibbling on it and I hardly knew what it was but they all seemed to enjoy it so I started at it.  I was very disappointing on the first bite bout did manage to nibble it up.  Still no food and I was wondering if we would be in Baltimore before we got the rest of it or was there more to come.

Arriving at the station we were met by a sergeant and a corporal.  All were introduced and visited for a while then walked some distance to an electric train depot.  The train arrived and soon we were high tailing it for the camp.  It was about an hour before we reached the guarded military camp gates.  On the way coming in the sergeant told us that many died in camp due to the epidemic and on one occasion we met a truck loaded with large boxes and were told that they had caskets in them.

Getting through the gates, we went through the regular procedure and were assigned to our company and barracks.  Then we were marched to the supply building to get our issue of clothes.  We were taken to the quartermaster’s counter where a surly looking G.I. was scowling at us.  As we got to him we could call out our sizes and he stood there and looked at you and growled out that he knew your size just by looking at you.  So the items were thrown at us and he would spot the little guys would know just by looking at them that they were far to big and would complain and he would tell them that the army would make them grow up and invariably he would do the same with the big fat guys and tell them that it wouldn’t be long the the blubber would be off.  He said he didn’t have time to be fitting anyone.  So the only resort that we had was to go to our barracks and try them on and make an exchange with someone.

In our group there were a few short guys and when they put on the undershirts which was winter issue, they were knee length and the same with  the drawers which wen pulled up came to their chins.  Trying to stuff the extra material into the pants did make one look funny and in spite of it all, we did get a lot of laughs.  Finally when no more fitting could be done, we went back to the quartermaster and he would with a chuckle, give us the proper fit.  He would tell us that it was much easier to issue and let everyone find his fit by trading.  This was all overseas equipment and was ill fitted because of it.  A poor fit wasn’t very dressy to be seen especially in town and as our officer wanted us to look good, especially the band.  We had no dress shoes, our issue was two pair of heavy hobnailed trench shoes that gave us a lot of trouble with the wrapped spiral puttees.  The shoes being a bad fit at the top of the shoe due to the oversize top opening and stiff leather, would cause the wrapped leggings to unravel at the shoe tops and during drilling and marching would undo and trail several feet behind and to make matters worse, the one in the row behind would make every effort to step on it and sometimes wind up with no puttees.  Late on we were issued side lacing leggings.

the band would march through the camp streets playing reveille and that was 6 a.m., then breakfast.  Then one hour to police the barracks and the grounds, then band rehearsal till 11 a.m.  About one hour and sometimes two more drills, then rehearsal till 7 p.m.  It was the same every day except Saturday and Sunday.  We could get weekend passes to Baltimore or Washington, but that took money and we didn’t have much.  The thing that I did like to do was to get a permit and go horseback riding.  A group of us would go to the stables and ask the stable sergeant to select a good horse for cross country riding and he would tell us the nature of the horse and give us a few pointers on how to manage it.  The only drawback here was that after bringing back the horse to the stables and reporting to the sergeant, he would make us do a thorough job of cleaning and watering the horse and it was seen that a good job was done.  I said that I would rather was two cars than one horse.

There were frequent physicals to go through and one day a week we had to go to the artillery range.  Then at times during the middle of the night we were aroused and told to line up for orders.  The order was that there was to be a brief inspection and we were to get ready as we were to ship out for overseas.  I am not sure, or maybe it was only a rumor or as someone said,  that during inspection some had the measles.  So again we were bogged down in camp.

….more to come. 

I am unfamiliar with “puttee”  I case you are too, here’s what I found:  Puttee (n):  1— a long strip of cloth would spirally around the leg from ankle to knee for protection and support.  2 — a leather legging.

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