A Genesee Man Share His
Reminisces By Henry Lorang
(Taken from The Genesee News January 12, 1968)
That time would take one back to the 1917-18 era when all of Western Europe was
facing a common formidable foe at the command of Kaiser Wilhelm of the German
Empire who dreamed nothing impossible by overcoming nation after nation to the
eventual conquest of the Western Hemisphere.
When the United States declared war against Germany on April 6th, 1917 I was
attending the Northwestern Business College to take a business course along with
some newly made friends in Spokane who had come from country towns
in Idaho and Washington.
Well, We registered for the draft on June 5th but decided to finish our various
courses which earned us diplomas at the end of the semester just before the
"Fourth of July" vacation. Then we decided to go on back home
to celebrate and then help with the harvest while awaiting our draft-call and to
meet again in Spokane after fall work on the farm to decide what we would do.
In the meantime we learned that our "numbers" for call were not due
until in early to mid 1918 and mine was due for call on May 15th, so with the vast
demonstrations of soldiers marching up and down Riverside to the tune of brass bands and
rattling drums, we felt the urge of patriotism and decided to enlist together and did just
that on December 11, 1917 and left for Kelly Field Texas on the following December 15th.
Being advised not to take anything along to camp with us, we sent our suitcases
home with surplus accessories and went in our civilian suits and
coats and a few toilet necessities headed for Texas in a
troop-train with hundreds of raw recruits from The Inland Empire.
Christmas came while we were living in the tent-city known as Kelly Field and on
that day we had our dinner of turkey and all of the trimmings, sitting out in the
open in a swirling dust-storm that made our mashed potatoes look as if it were
covered with pepper, but who cared? We were going over to whip the
"Heimies--." After a short time, Kelly Field was stricken with influenza ( flu)
and the entire tent city camp of 40,000 men was evacuated to clean the place up and
build permanently to carry on.
Our contingent was sent to Camp McArthur, Waco, Texas, and here we lived
in barracks, and little by little were taught the rudiments of a soldier and
how to march to drill commands while also being given regulation army clothes to
replace our "civvies" which, by now, were a sorry mess of shoddy
suits. We were lined up single-file and marched to the
quarter-masters warehouse where a supply Sergeant stood at the door and as he sized
you up and yelled out sizes to the men inside " like 36-42 and long or
short" suits came flying out at you to catch and then shoes which were called
out by the sizes of 8 to 12 as you kept on the march ahead. There was no grumbling.
You just took what you got and traded around until you found a suit that was not
skin-tight and yet didnt flap like a tent and with shoes it was the same, but
there were no left or right shoes. And if they were a near fit at all you
broke them in to suit by greasing and softening them up. There were hats, too, known
as "campaign-hats" made of felt with stiff brim and had chin-straps to
counteract the winds. And to fill the gap between the tight pants legs
and the shoes, there were canvas leggings which laced up on the outer sides of ones
calves down to the buckled strap that held them down over the shoe-traps. We were known as
Rookies, and looked the part compared with the tailored suits that were worn by men
of the "Standing Army." The jackets, pants, and coats fairly
bristeled with the long wool of old sheep and goats that was used by the tailors
who had the task to suit-up millions of men at short notice.
The first of our fighting men went to France on June 26, 1917, but naturally the
raw recruits, who had to be clothed and trained, followed in sequence, and our
outfit, the then organized 247th Aero Squadron, went in probably by late February
1918 in a convoy of ships escorted by the
"battle-wagons," on the U.S.S. Celtic. All was hush-hush of course and
there was no writing home from anywhere except on the printed post-cards given out, one to
each man and not one word was to be written except the name and address to whom sent, and
these cards were gathered en-masse and mailed from New York
Harbor, our post of debarkation. My memory fails me as to the printed message
but it probably read "Somewhere over there."
We had learned a number of songs and our favorite probably was
"Good-bye Broadway, Hello France, Were Ten Million Strong, Goodbye Sweethearts,
Wives and Mothers, It wont take us long. Dont you worry
while were there. Its for you were fighting for. And
were going to win this dog-gone war" or similarly. Every boy and girl
recited the little ditty: "Kaiser Bill went up the hill to lick the boys
in France; Kaiser Bill came down the hill with bullets in his pants."
Three of us boys went to England where I was a "sailmaker" and my work
was to sew on the cloth to the wings and fuselage, and to paint
them with "dope" as it was known, a poisonous, quick-drying paint made
from liquid celluloid.
I was in Northern France when the Armistice was declared and the French went
wild as they got down on their knees to kiss the American flag hysterically as
they shouted over and over, "Vive lAmerique---Vive lAmerique, Vive
la France." From now on it was going home which was no less anxious but more
subdued and the highlights of my homecoming was to land by train at Spalding, Idaho where
I was met by my family and that of my sweetheart, Marguerite and the Tobin family but I
dont recall the date of that happy time.
What a half century since then!
January 6, 1968
Historical item from Andrea (Weston)