If you haven’t been following along, this is a multi-part series lifted from the pages of my grandfather’s diary from the 1918. He has just entered the service during WWI. This is Part 2 of His First Day in the United States Army.
I was taken by the arm back to the place where I was grabbed out of line, and was started past the typewriters again. Certain lines were typed on my cards and papers, which I was to collect somewhere along the line. Finally we got to a man who was stamping names and numbers on a little aluminum disk. We were each given two of these with our names and service number on them These we were told to string on the card string we still had on our necks that we’d been given at the registration hall.
From here, we were passed to a little place in the last corner where one man disinfected a spot on our right shoulder blade, another shot a syringe of anti-typhoid stuff in, and a third man swabbed the place with iodine.
I forgot to say that we left our blankets at the door when we first entered the torture chamber much earlier in the day. All this time we had nothing on. We were handed another blanket as we were sent down along a passageway at the end of which lay a flight of steps leading down to the basement again. At the bottom we were told to stand in a row around the room. Here, we were all called by number and measured first for shoes and then clothes and then hats. We took our papers from one desk to another. Each desk man made certain cabalistic marks on our papers.
Suddenly, we were hustled up another flight of stairs into a kind of supply room. One man grabbed our papers, glanced at them, and shouted a lot of, what sounded to me like, unintelligible gibberish. The next man thrust a large blue denim bag into my hand. I was shoved along an aisle between shelves and tables stacked with uniform clothing, blankets, shoes, and what-not. One man stuffed a uniform into my bag, the next, leggings. All the time I was being hurried along. The next man clapped a hat on my head, the next handed me a pair of shoes, underwear, socks, a tin plate, cup, knife, fork, and spoon all put into my bag while I was hurried forward.
Then, out a door and into the original room with the numbered stalls where we had first undressed. We were told to send all our civilian clothes, suitcases, and so forth back home as no man would be allowed to go out the door with a suitcase or civilian clothes in his possession. I had no difficulty finding where I had left my clothes, as many men did, but I wondered how I was to send my clothes home without going out of the room. However, I soon discovered over in one corner was an Express office with several clerks, so mystery solved.
As we dressed there were uniformed men shouting at us to hurry, hurry, hurry. All of us were to get our new clothes on, but to hurry, even if it meant we had to lace up out shoes outside. Their shouting continued with a lot of cursing thrown in. I hurried, but it was still some time before I could get into the strange clothing and could transfer my toiletries, handkerchiefs, etc. into the barrack bag as we were told to call our denim bag. I had to pack my suit, hat, shoes, and miscellaneous into the Gladstone bag I had brought with me. All was finally accomplished while trying to keep cool under the shouts and taunts of the uniforms who were hurrying us. I carried bag and barrack bag over to the Express counter. There were soldiers standing there. One of the soldiers advised me to keep my raincoat, which I did. (And I find it has come in handy many times since. I wish I could thank that lad for talking me into keeping it.)
After I had my bag tickets, I was told to walk out another door and into a room, which I discovered was the Express office proper. Here Express agents and a corps of soldier assistants were busy weighing the bags, giving receipts, making change, and such. My bag was taken from me and I was given my prepaid receipt. I had to leave my barracks bag with them, too. I was fired out onto the front balcony of the building with the other men. We were told to wait here. Soon a man came out and asked if we had all the papers that were given us as we came through. I should mention here that all our way through the building we were frequently reminded to hang onto those papers. In fact, where we were handed our uniforms, we were told to put the papers in our hats until we had a chance to get into our clothes.
For When I Die
We were taken a few at a time through another door, our papers being inspected at the entrance. We were conducted into a large room buzzing with activity. By this time my legs were so tired and my senses seemed to be so dulled that I did not care what they wanted done next. I listened to what they said to us abut the insurance. We were shuffled toward little tables where young soldiers were drumming away at typewriters. I was to sit where I was to sign up for the $10,000 of insurance, which the lecturers had urged us to take, making half of it payable to Mary dear, and the other half to my mother. I was questioned regarding dependents and asked whether I wished to make an allotment or not. I was told that an allotment of one half my wage was compulsory to my wife. I wanted to make it twenty dollars a month to her, but the fellow told me that the government would pay her fifteen dollars a month in addition to my allotment and advised me to just allot fifteen a month, though if I wanted to send more home I could do so on pay day.
The insurance, he explained, would cost me about $6.50 a month. I would not have so very much left then. I let it go that way.
I went to the next desk. I’d like to point out that the insurance lecture we had received earlier on this crowded day had not made out that the insurance was compulsory, but had intimated that we would save a lot of trouble if we took it out, or that it would be best if we took it out. After the insurance papers were fixed up, and after Mary’s address was taken and after other things were filled out, they had me fill out an occupation card: What I could do. What I had been doing. Whether I could furnish public entertainment or not, and so forth.
We were marched out onto the street and around to the room where our barracks bags were and told to get them. We were lined up and marched out in the street again. It was raining, but not hard. We stood a while in the rain while they counted us to make sure we were all there. Carrying our bags, we were marched to the mess hall. We were given an orange, a piece of meat and a piece of bread and marched out again into the rain as we ate. We marched to the bunk house assigned to us. It was around 9:30 at night. We had been going through the examinations for nearly eight hours. I was so tired I could hardly get my blankets out of my bag and get them spread on my bunk and get under them. I whispered a prayer, asking God to care for Mary dear, and my mother, and to keep me. Then I fell asleep.
So ended my first day as a soldier.