Posts Tagged ‘Camp Lewis 1917’

I will give my great uncle this: he had ambition. He was also very intelligent and a quick study, and it frustrated him no end to be commanded by people who were not on the same level.

Camp Lewis, Oct. 28, ’17

Dear Mother & Dad,

     Well, it is beginning to be sort of wintry out here too. We had a heavy frost last night and it is always cold in the morning. The wind blows the dust around a lot in the day time. It hasn’t rained much though and we can stand the wind and cold better than rain while we are drilling.

     The company went to Tacoma yesterday to see the football game between the Ambulance Cos and the 91st division teams. neither side scored but it would have been was a fine game anyway.

     I came back this morning but some of them are not back yet. This will be about the last time off I guess for most of us. We have orders to issue no more passes and I guess that means a closed camp.

     The base hospital force is to leave here about the 15th of December. That means that we go soon too, because as soon as the hospital is established the ambulances and field hospitals come before the main body of Troops. The draft comes in February and we must be out of here before then anyway.

    I haven’t seen either of those fellows from Montana but there are so many here that no one could be found with a fine tooth comb unless you go through headquarters and that is too much trouble. I’ll send you a picture of part of the camp soon to give you some idea of its size.

    I had some pictures taken but they did not suit me and I made the photographer refund my money. I intend to get some soon though and I’ll send you a half dozen or so.

    I just left off writing to watch an aeroplane fly over. I bet I won’t leave off writing to watch a little thing like that in a year from now.

    French keeps on as usual and I intend to start a German class this coming week at one of the Y.M.C.A. buildings (you know there are about 8 buildings in camp).

    There is to be an officer’s training camp opened here and I am going to try and apply on the strength of my French and German as well as my other experience. I don’t expect to make it but I’ll give myself all the exposure possible. I don’t figure on anything anymore, but will just keep on bulling along and it won’t hurt me any to work when there is nothing else to do in the Army but work, eat and sleep.

    After Nov. 1st it will cost us poor soldiers a cent more on all our letters. The soldiers get the bad end of it all the time. The business men prey on them, they are pestered to buy Liberty Bonds, and I don’t know what all. Above all, they are expected <to be> and are, for the most part, a bunch of rough necks.

    Well, that is enough for this time, I guess. It is the same old round here only a bit fiercer than it was a while ago.

    I have some ties and a civilian hat that I’ll send to John if he wants them. The ties need a little pressing but are all right.

Your son


~~~~Dale is correct about the postage being a burden on soldiers. After the war, in 1919, the rates dropped back down to two cents.

For some reason, there are no more letters in October and none at all in November. Dale’s next missive is dated in December:

Camp Lewis, Dec 2, 1917

Dear Mother and Dad,

     The winter has begun I guess. It snowed some last night and has been raining hard ever since Thanksgiving. We are in for it from now on.

     I inquired about my application for Officer’s Training Camp and found that it has gone on above this company. I don’t know what they said about it but to know that it has gone on is some consolation. If it gets high enough it may go through because it will strike the place where they have been told of my knowledge of French and German. I want to get out of here somewhere into the regular line. All the stuff they are teaching us here is so simple that I could learn it all in two weeks of study. In fact I knew most of it before. I don’t want to stay under command of men who know so little about commanding us as our officers do. Our new captain is the only man of them that knows anything about military things and he doesn’t have much to do with us.

    Some of our company had been moved into a different building because we were crowded in to much in the regular building. I like the new place pretty well because I have a corner and more room on the shelves, etc. I am still teaching French to the sergeants and to the class at the Y.M.C.A. Ww are getting along pretty well now. I use a lot of French in the class and make them answer in French. They know how to ask for food and handle money, ask their way and a few simple tings like that already.

    Well, there is not much to tell this time. I’ll close now. The real address is the one on the outside of this envelope but anything will get me.

Your son



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001American Lake Camp

The photo is from a news clipping in my great-grandmother’s scrap book.

Eugene,Ore. Sept. 4, ’17

Dear Mother and Dad,

      We got orders yesterday to report at Eugene immediately and so we came down last night. We found that we are to leave here about Thursday morning for some training camp. We don’t  know where but we think it is American Lake, Wash. which is just a little distance from Tacoma.

     I didn’t get to see anyone in Portland while I was there except a few fellows I met on the street.

     I sent my blanket and the comfort to you this morning by Parcel Post. I would not be allowed to take any baggage with me except a few things like towels and soap etc. so I couldn’t take the blanket.

    I paid the premium on the Insurance and will send it to you to take care of for me. The amount of the premium is stamped on the outside of the policy and is due in February and August. I you send my February premium, send it to Eugene. You won’t have to do that is I am in this country, but if I am not, I wish you would keep it up, because it may be hard to get money to this country.

      I will write more next time when I am in Camp and can tell you about conditions there.

Your son

Dale D.


That insurance policy was the smartest thing Dale did in his short life!


Camp Lewis, Wash. Sept 6, ’17

Dear Mother and Dad,

      We left Eugene at 4:30 this morning. We ate breakfast in Portland and got up here about 2:30 this afternoon. We have got one meal and have signed a receipt for one cot, one canvas and two blankets.

      We are quartered in large two story buildings, the lower floor is used for mess and assemblies and the upper one is for sleeping. About a hundred men are on single cots in ours. We haven’t had our uniforms issued yet but probably will have them in a few days.

     This camp is over nine miles long. There will be 15000 men here before Sunday for the drafted Army.

     I don’t think conditions will be half bad. We have a fine bunch of fellows. The grub is not as bad as it was in lots of camps I have been in. The sleeping quarters are airy and are roomy enough. But thn I’ll tell you more about it later on. The only bad thing about the place is the black dust and that will soon be taken care of because it is raining tonight a little.

    You write soon and let me know how you all are coming

Your son

Dale Melrose

Camp Lewis Wash

c/o Ambulance Corps #14


Because those are such short missives, I have opted to transcribe a third one which describes life at Camp Lewis a little. In this one, Dale mentions a “housewife”. I knew what he meant, but did a little search on the internet to see if I could find a good definition for the reader, and came across a little blog on the subject by The Costume Historian. I can only assume the young lady mentioned is Norma – but that is an assumption based on the letters I possess. I do not know for certain who he means (but when I get to the letter of 1944, I think the Reader will agree with me).

Camp Lewis, Oct 20 ’17

Dear Mother and Dad

       I am sorry that you didn’t get the letter that week because I know what it is like not to hear from people <from whom> you are in the habit of getting word regularly. I am not doing anything now but teaching French. The study of French was made compulsory in this company last week. That makes me teacher of over 100 men here besdie about 30 at the Y.M.C.A. The Director of Ambulances, a Major Southmayde asked me a few days ago if I would teach a class for officers. I told him that I would do so. It seems that I ought to be able to get something better than the job of a common “buck” private. I may use that as a card later on to draw a transfer with.

     Pruett has been sent over here and has his bed right beside me. He is in Tacoma tonight seeing his wife who has come this far with him. This draft does work a good many hardships in cases like that. Pruett doesn’t look forward to our leaving with a great deal of enthusiasm.

     I dont know whether we have had all of our shots yet or not, but I think we may have for the present. We may get more before we leave for the front.

    I wish I were a sergeant or something so that I could afford to take a trip down to Eugene and around before we leave, but it would cost me two thirds of a month’s wages to make it. “Scotty” has gone down to Eugene on a 72 hour pass.

    I was surprised to get a housewife in the mail the other day. I still have the one you made for me when I came out here, but this new one wraps up and has a fine pair of scissors, pins needles, buttons, and a lot of junk. It was from the one that wanted me to marry her a while ago. She sends me magazines all the time too. She is a valuable possession.

   Have you had any snow yet? I hope you dont have as hard a winter as you had last winter.

   I had some pictures taken yesterday and as soon as I get them I’ll send you some. They ,ay mot be very good, but they are cheap.

   I’ll quit writing for this time and go to bed.

Your son



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