My Grandfather’s Words: Saturday May 11, 1918 part A


Saturday

The train arrived in St. Louis about 10 AM, and after being switched around the train yards a while, we were hauled out to Jefferson Barracks. We were ordered to stay on the train until we had orders to get off. This being our first orders they sounded rather harsh.

At the Barracks we were ordered off the trains and lined up two by two and marched to the registering hall. We were registered and given a string with a tag on it for around our necks. The tag had our names and the group we were classified with. After standing there for some time we were taken to a barrack and told to rest a while. They showed us where we could wash and get a drink of water. It was now nearly noon. Most of us were very tired and hungry. Mary girl had given me a lunch and some cake and popcorn and candy. So I fared better than some of the boys who had no breakfast.

About half past twelve they lined us up and took us to the mess hall for dinner. The mess hall was a huge structure capable of seating several thousand men at one time. We were seated at long tables. We ate everything we saw. I guess I don’t remember much of what they offered. But we ate it, whatever it was.

Again, we were told to go back to our barrack and rest a while. I lay down and was just dozing off when they came and ordered us to stumble out and to bring our suitcases. We were taken to a great building. After standing a while we were taken to the second floor. We received a lecture on the soldier’s insurance plan. We were then taken out on a balcony where we were told to sit. We sat for some time.

Like Cattle

Then, we were told that inside we would find acontact_green_map numbered stall and that we had to strip and leave our clothes in the stall. They reminded us that if we could not remember, we were to write the number of the stall down. They said to hold tight to our money and valuables, to wrap them in a handkerchief and sling them to our wrist. I tied my money in a handkerchief and tied the hanky to my left wrist with another handkerchief. My watch I carried in my right hand.

From this room we were hustled down to the basement of the building to a series of showers to bathe. Blankets were handed out from near the door as we filed past.

They herded us into the showers and turned a cold water hose on those of us who couldn’t get out fast enough to the next room where we were told to find a seat and wait until our name was called. We were given our classification sheets. I found out for the first time that the Advisory Board for the Northern District of Iowa had advised my rejection on account of my poor eyesight. The objections were overruled by the Cedar Falls board, however, and I were sent through.

From this room we went (still without clothes) into a large room in the basement next to the showers room. We had to stand there as there were no chairs or benches. It was evidently the boiler room of the building as there were pipes and boilers. I finally found a seat, but all the rest stood. After some time we were herded up a long passage which ended in a physical examining room.

Here, we were lined up against the wall as close as we could stand, and about ten men deep. They painted numbers on our chest for all the world like a lot of cattle in a show ring. My number was 11,58. It meant I was the eleventh hundred, and fifty eighth man to go through that day! I knew there were several coming after me, too.

We were given a score card, which was filled with blanks. We were told to hang on to it. Next, our finger prints were taken and we were weighed, our height taken, then we were looked over for scars. If scars were found they were marked on the score card. My teeth were examined and next came an inoculation for smallpox.

A hope dashed

We were bustled to the next place where one man examined me for hearing, and another examined my eyes. I was shoved into a room where another man had me look through an eye examining instrument. I was then ushered into another room where a friend in uniform made us sit down in a row on a bench. He kicked our bare feet out a certain distance and proceeded to hit us on the knees with an instrument resembling an Indian war club. After this, our hearts and lungs were listened to.

Then, out into the main hall room again. This hall was probably 100 by 50 feet of one mad frenzy of activity. Shouting and swearing mingled with the buzz and click of many typewriters. Here we were inspected for blemishes on our bodies, such as stiff fingers or toes or hemorrhoids, and so forth. Then we were started along a line marked on the floor. We were made to hop on one leg so many steps, and then the other leg so many steps, and then we took so many steps on our toes. Then the line wound around past the typewriters.

Here, I was suddenly snatched out and taken to a little alcove at the far end of the room, seated on a bench and told to stay there. While seated I looked at my card and saw that the eye man had marked me “rejected.” I was glad. I began to pray that the next man would reject me, too. My hopes were destined to be disappointed for the next man asked me some questions and marked my card accepted. I was sent out.

And again, I was seized by the arm.

(more to come from Saturday: May 19, 1918 part B)

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