This is Day 5 of Frank Zyber’s memories of WWI. This is the last in the series. If you’ve missed Day 1-4, you might want to click on the related articles. You won’t want to miss what I think is his visit to a cat house. Today’s recollection continues with Grandpa’s experience at Fort Custard.
It was a cold round ride and what seemed like ten mils before we reached a place that had what looked like new buildings and very dark everywhere. We were told to get off and find a building that was open and get in and make the most of it. We found one and after getting in and by the light of a match now and then we found a hot air furnace, but no fuel or beds. Looked around out of doors, but all we found was a stack of iron beds along side of the building and they were covered with ice and snow. They were of the folding type and had to be jerked, pulled and pried to get them apart and taken in and set up. No mattresses or covering of any kind and we having none, only our heavy overcoats. We then tried laying down with the cold iron under and nothing on top. The coat couldn’t be used as a blanket so it was better to have it on at least it was around us and the thought of going to bed wearing those heavy hobnailed trench shoes was kind of funny. what could be found in our duffle bag was used as a pillow. There was only a few hours before morning, but still it was a long night. When the daylight started to lighten the windows, most of us were up and still miserable but a bit of activity was better then (sic) laying. We went out of doors and searching around, we found a heap of coal by a building and began carrying the lumps and in just a few minutes a fire was raging and things were getting cozy.
We had a little difficulty turning on the water in the latrine and bath house but we did not get to use the baths as a messenger drove up and instructed us to get ready and we were to move to a building near the discharge center. It was a comfortable building with beds and blankets and there was nothing to do but wait. It was filled with those being discharged and all had to be near by because every so often a soldier would come in and call names of maybe four or more and they would be led away. They were taken to another building, processed, paid and sent home. I and another Flint man also a bandsman, waited for three days to be called. We finally decided to find out why and went to an officer and told him our trouble. He said he would, and before long he came and told us that our records from Camp Meade were misplaced and all were found except our physical record. He gave us a form and we were to go to the inspection building and get them filled out. But to our dislike, we had to and follow the wide painted line. I was doing okay until I got before the ear examiner and he found something in my right ear that he wanted someone else to look at. So he told me to follow another line which led me up a flight of stairs. When I got to the top I found that this floor did not have any roof on it and no walls in some places with a group of carpenters working. It was cold with December wind whistling through and me without a stitch of clothing on. The carpenters asked me if I wanted a job and it didn’t take long for me to get out of there and went back to where I came from and told the doctor that no one was there. He asked me if I had any trouble with that ear and I said that I did have an abscess which broke, he then said that was only a scar tissue.
Getting through this, I went back to my barracks and sure enough I did like the sound of my name. Went to get my discharge and what pay I had coming, also train fare to Flint. I went back to the barracks and got together the few things that I had and started off for the highway where I would catch a bus to the railroad depot. But as I was leaving the barracks I ran smack into a Captain with the gold bars on his shoulders and I saluted him and started off, but he ordered me to halt and he looked me over and said that he was looking for a KP and asked me where I was going. I said that I was just discharged and was going home to Flint and showed him my discharge, but he didn’t bother to look and told me to get going. I did not want to be held up much longer as I only had about an hour before my train time. With no more delays I was at the depot and what a grand feeling knowing that before long I would be home and be able to do as I pleased.
While at the depot waiting, an elderly man came to me and asked where I was going and I told him where and he said to me that I was very lucky. He said that he would come every day to the depot and wait for the trains to come in and wished and hoped that a miracle would happen and see his boy step down from the car. He said that it would have to be a miracle because the War Department notified him that he was missing in action. It made me feel very bad and all the way to Flint it bothered me. Before long I was standing on Saginaw St., waiting for my street car, then home unexpected. It was the evening of the twelfth of December when I rapped and walked in. It was some time after supper and Dad was reading the paper. With the usual greetings and all were surprised to see me back so soon. When things got settled down, Dad asked numerous questions and said that I looked good and that I put on some weight.
I took a week off to get adjusted, then went to the Buick to see my buddies and see about getting my job back and start work. I though I had a fairly good job when I left and was promised then that my job would be waiting for me, but now it was filled and I would be placed temporarily on something else. Just then it all came back to me what was said when I was leaving. I was patted on the back and told not to worry. Now here I was and not the job that was supposed to be mine. I didn’t like and told my boss so. But after a week or so it worked out. So for the next few years it was a bit more different routine and worked and could operate any machine and do any job in the department. Also, I was kept busy playing in bands and the Flint symphony. Dad said that I should get a new horn. I had a L.G. Conn catalog of band instruments and I chose a B.B. front valve action four valve, silver plated tuba. At that time there was no such horn as a Sousaphone, but there was a circular horn called the “Helicon” but I did not care for it and I was proud to have the finest tuba in the catalog.
… It turns out, Grandpa’s musical ability was his shoe-in to career improvement: in the military, in the shop, and later when he joined the fire department. Everyone wanted a good tuba player. Perhaps you could say, music saved his life. On the other hand, I think he had an excellent immune system, and a strong genetic make-up. Grandpa lived just shy of his 100th birthday: although he became deaf and suffered from macular degeneration, he found ways to continue working a drill-press, mowing the lawn, and keeping his ear to the ground on current events. He told me once that he “didn’t want to die, because floating around on a could in heaven sounded pretty boring.” I miss him.
- Veterans Day: Recollections of a WWI Veteran (theblacktortoise.com)
- Veterans Day: Grandpa’s Experience During WWI (the blacktortoise.com)
- Veterans Day Part 3: Recollections a WWI Veteran (the blacktortoise.com)
- Veterans Day Part 4: Recollections of a WWI Veteran (the blacktortoise.com)
- Dr. Errol Alden: Another Look at Veterans Day (theblacktortoise.com)
- Veterans Day at the National WWI Museum (kansascity.com)