Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

World War I Letters of Forrest W. Bassett: October 16-22, 1917

October 16th, 2017

In honor of the centennial of World War I, we’re going to follow the experiences of one American soldier: nineteen-year-old Forrest W. Bassett, whose letters are held in Spencer’s Kansas Collection. Each Monday we’ll post a new entry, which will feature Bassett’s letters to thirteen-year-old Ava Marie Shaw from that following week, one hundred years after he wrote them.

Forrest W. Bassett was born in Beloit, Wisconsin, on December 21, 1897 to Daniel F. and Ida V. Bassett. On July 20, 1917 he was sworn into military service at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis, Missouri. Soon after, he was transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for training as a radio operator in Company A of the U. S. Signal Corps’ 6th Field Battalion.

Ava Marie Shaw was born in Chicago, Illinois, on October 12, 1903 to Robert and Esther Shaw. Both of Marie’s parents – and her three older siblings – were born in Wisconsin. By 1910 the family was living in Woodstock, Illinois, northwest of Chicago. By 1917 they were in Beloit.

Frequently mentioned in the letters are Forrest’s older half-sister Blanche Treadway (born 1883), who had married Arthur Poquette in 1904, and Marie’s older sister Ethel (born 1896).

Forrest’s recent illness features prominently in this letter. “Here is the one [photo] of me writing to you at the hospital,” he tells Marie. “You can see a small scar on the edge of my jaw.”

 

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, October 21, 1917 Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, October 21, 1917

Wed. Oct. 21, 1917*

Dear Marie,

Just got your letter of the 21st. You got me guessing as to what “this” is, but the stakes are so high that I’ll take you up on the bet anyway. Better stick to regulation style of slapping the stamps on my letters but I am curious to know this one means anyway. Did you get the pictures O.K.? Here is the one of me writing to you at the hospital. You can see a small scar on the edge of my jaw. It won’t show much but there is a small knot (that’s what the Doc calls it) on the bone. I left the hospital Monday morning. It was cold and rainy all day. I got pretty rusty on my telegraph receiving but my transmitting is a lot better.

My best luck was in getting my horse. I can hardly wait to strap a saddle on him. It will be my first time on a horse.

Please invest the 15 cents in stamps. Co A-6 bought over $7,000 in Liberty bonds. I signed up for $100 to be paid at the rate of $20 per month – 5 months. Well I must quit & scrub some clothes.

Yours, Forrest.

*Forrest meant either Wednesday, October 17th, or Saturday, October 21st.

 

Meredith Huff
Public Services

Emma Piazza
Public Services Student Assistant

World War I Letters of Forrest W. Bassett: October 9-15, 1917

October 9th, 2017

In honor of the centennial of World War I, we’re going to follow the experiences of one American soldier: nineteen-year-old Forrest W. Bassett, whose letters are held in Spencer’s Kansas Collection. Each Monday we’ll post a new entry, which will feature Bassett’s letters to thirteen-year-old Ava Marie Shaw from that following week, one hundred years after he wrote them.

Forrest W. Bassett was born in Beloit, Wisconsin, on December 21, 1897 to Daniel F. and Ida V. Bassett. On July 20, 1917 he was sworn into military service at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis, Missouri. Soon after, he was transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for training as a radio operator in Company A of the U. S. Signal Corps’ 6th Field Battalion.

Ava Marie Shaw was born in Chicago, Illinois, on October 12, 1903 to Robert and Esther Shaw. Both of Marie’s parents – and her three older siblings – were born in Wisconsin. By 1910 the family was living in Woodstock, Illinois, northwest of Chicago. By 1917 they were in Beloit.

Frequently mentioned in the letters are Forrest’s older half-sister Blanche Treadway (born 1883), who had married Arthur Poquette in 1904, and Marie’s older sister Ethel (born 1896).

Forrest only wrote one letter to Marie this week, and in it he describes suffering and recovering from a serious illness. “When I was at my worst,” he told Marie, “I was handled with rubber gloves and fed tomato soup thru a glass tube. My face was swollen and my eyes were nearly shut. My ears were like hams.” This illness probably explains the lack of letters over the last two weeks; according to Spencer’s holdings, Forrest’s previous letter to Marie was dated September 25th.

 

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, October 12, 1917 Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, October 12, 1917

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, October 12, 1917

Friday Oct. 12, 1917

Dear Marie,

Well I am just getting out and exercising my pins abit. Still pretty shaky and don’t feel much like doing “To the rear,” or “By the right flank” yet awhile. When I was at my worst I was handled with rubber gloves and fed tomato soup thru a glass tube. My face was swollen and my eyes were nearly shut. My ears were like hams. On top of this I was painted every four hours with a coal black salve. When the Hospital Major first looked at me he said I would be out by Christmas. I am all fine & rosey now though. This afternoon I came down to the city and got a little birthday remembrance for you. You will be several days over fourteen before it reaches you, and I am sorry I couldn’t do better. I sure do hope your new year will be full of happiness and good luck.

I am also sending you a Signal Corps emblem to sew on the left hand front of my sweater coat. The crossed wig-wag flags and torch represent the highest branch of service in the U.S. Army, and you may be proud to wear it. You should see me in my new army overcoat that was just issued to me yesterday. Now when I get some shoes I will be fixed up in good shape. The coat is a “beaut” though, if I do say so.

Say maybe you would rather not wear the Signal Corps insignia. If not then wait and sew it on for me when I get home. Well I must catch the car for the Fort.

Hope you are getting along well in your studies, and in your music and elocution.

Yours,
Forrest.

 

Meredith Huff
Public Services

Emma Piazza
Public Services Student Assistant

World War I Letters of Forrest W. Bassett: September 25-October 1, 1917

September 25th, 2017

In honor of the centennial of World War I, we’re going to follow the experiences of one American soldier: nineteen-year-old Forrest W. Bassett, whose letters are held in Spencer’s Kansas Collection. Each Monday we’ll post a new entry, which will feature Bassett’s letters to thirteen-year-old Ava Marie Shaw from that following week, one hundred years after he wrote them.

Forrest W. Bassett was born in Beloit, Wisconsin, on December 21, 1897 to Daniel F. and Ida V. Bassett. On July 20, 1917 he was sworn into military service at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis, Missouri. Soon after, he was transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for training as a radio operator in Company A of the U. S. Signal Corps’ 6th Field Battalion.

Ava Marie Shaw was born in Chicago, Illinois, on October 12, 1903 to Robert and Esther Shaw. Both of Marie’s parents – and her three older siblings – were born in Wisconsin. By 1910 the family was living in Woodstock, Illinois, northwest of Chicago. By 1917 they were in Beloit.

Frequently mentioned in the letters are Forrest’s older half-sister Blanche Treadway (born 1883), who had married Arthur Poquette in 1904, and Marie’s older sister Ethel (born 1896).

 

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 25, 1917 Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 25, 1917

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 25, 1917 Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 25, 1917

Tues. Sept. 25, 1917

Dear Marie,

Your letter of Sun. 23rd came this noon. Sorry to hear that the Sundays go so hard but I am glad to know that you do miss me. It seems like two years instead of two months since I last saw you yet it seems as if I had been in the army about two weeks. The time sure does fly. Strained most of the day so we had it pretty soft. The captain gave the company a little mounted drill on “shank’s horses” this morning then we had a buzzer class in the barracks. I am holding a seat at the speed shark’s table but it is too fast for me. 20 to 25 words a minute is faster than I can write and I lose a word about every three words. I should worry though as I am no longer expected to become an operator anyway. After this class we put on our slickers and waded over to the stables and groomed and fed our horses. Our saddles are expected this week and then we will have a gay time. When we came back we had an hour of practice at setting up and sighting the heliograph.

After dinner we had a class of semaphore and an hour of infantry foot drill on the muddy roads. At 3:30 the day’s work was called done. I am down to Leavenworth “Y” now and want to get an early car home so will have to quit.

Marie don’t feel that you are making me homesick by writing letters like the one of Sunday. That’s the kind that help me the most and make me want to get someplace. It’s the very most you can do for me and you don’t realize how much that is.

Forrest.

 

Meredith Huff
Public Services

Emma Piazza
Public Services Student Assistant

World War I Letters of Forrest W. Bassett: September 18-24, 1917

September 18th, 2017

In honor of the centennial of World War I, we’re going to follow the experiences of one American soldier: nineteen-year-old Forrest W. Bassett, whose letters are held in Spencer’s Kansas Collection. Each Monday we’ll post a new entry, which will feature Bassett’s letters to thirteen-year-old Ava Marie Shaw from that following week, one hundred years after he wrote them.

Forrest W. Bassett was born in Beloit, Wisconsin, on December 21, 1897 to Daniel F. and Ida V. Bassett. On July 20, 1917 he was sworn into military service at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis, Missouri. Soon after, he was transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for training as a radio operator in Company A of the U. S. Signal Corps’ 6th Field Battalion.

Ava Marie Shaw was born in Chicago, Illinois, on October 12, 1903 to Robert and Esther Shaw. Both of Marie’s parents – and her three older siblings – were born in Wisconsin. By 1910 the family was living in Woodstock, Illinois, northwest of Chicago. By 1917 they were in Beloit.

Frequently mentioned in the letters are Forrest’s older half-sister Blanche Treadway (born 1883), who had married Arthur Poquette in 1904, and Marie’s older sister Ethel (born 1896).

Highlights from this week’s letters include the sad news of a friend’s death and happier news of Forrest’s promotion to first class private (“this simply means that I have qualified in examinations and that I will get $33 a month instead of $30”).

 

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 19, 1917 Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 19, 1917

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 19, 1917

Wednesday Sept. 19th

Dear Marie,

I am sending you a couple cards. One is of Stock and I and the other is of me. Yesterday I got three letters from you which made up for Sun. and Mon. I couldn’t dope out what was wrong after missing two days. That sure was bad news about Wooll Beimer,* he was a mighty good old scout. Sorry to hear that you are having trouble with your arm. I got a little infection in my jaw and had to have it dressed this morning and again before supper. It will be all O.K. in a few days then I will get some more pictures of Stock and I. Last night I developed a W. Pocket film and washed a shirt and a pair of pants. Guess I will have to get a picture of me scrubbing. It’s our favorite indoor sport. When I get home I can say “I used to do that in the Army.” Altogether – “It’s a gay life.” Well I am on stable guard tonight and have to memorize my special orders, I will write a longer letter next time. Hope you have good luck with your music and elocution. What is a hope chest?

Yours,
Forrest.

 

Sat. Sept. 22, 1917

Dear Marie,

Your candy came in fine shape and tasted great. I am going to stand pat on my resolution not to eat sweets. Don’t worry about not doing anything to help me; you are doing more than anyone else could do. Thanks for the candy. Don’t let Blanche kid you about your letters. I didn’t think Snyder would stoop to girls of M.W’s type but I shall not lose any sleep over him. He was not much of a friend of mine anyway. I guess I never had any real friends until I came here among these fellows. Your two pictures came fine. Marie, you can’t imagine how they made me feel. You don’t look like the same laughing little girl that sat in the canoe holding the duck. (Have you got that picture?) No one could see your two pictures without seeing what a big, warm-hearted lovable girl you are. I showed them to Stock and he said, “No wonder you are so loyal to her.” This is true Marie, and he said a whole lot in a few words. Marie, I will always be loyal to you and I will try to make myself as nearly worthy of you as I can.

I am glad you are doing so well with your music and hope you will have good luck in the work, and in the recital. I don’t play any here and doubt if I ever will again. There is always something to do. Wednesday my name was on the list of promotions and I am now a first class private. This simply means that I have qualified in examinations and that I will get $33 a month instead of $30. I am mighty glad that I have made good in a radio company before going into the photographic section.

From now on I am going to take a little more time and write to you oftener. There isn’t much to write about but will write what little I can. Last Thursday “Old Specks,” the horse that got me, claimed his seventh and last victim, Corporal Ryan. Ever since my hard luck this horse has been tied all alone and groomed by the non-com officers. He got Ryan the same way he got me. When they took him over to the hospital he had a deep gash on the cheek-bone just below the left eye. He had to have several stitches taken in it and it is all blue and swollen around the eye. I am getting along O.K. but had to have my jaw dressed twice daily the last three days. One day they had a bandage going around my neck, over my head and around the right side of my jaw all for a little cut about an inch long. They were going to keep me in the hospital once but I begged off.

The captain gave orders that no one should go near “Old Specks” now so he is left in the corral. Well I am down to the City and will have to catch the next car home. An order has just been posted that no soldiers will be allowed to board cars thru the windows so we will have to learn a new way of getting seats.

Gee, I wish I could here you give that recital. Don’t send any more fudges because I will not eat any more – unless I can eat them with you.

Yours,
Forrest.

 

*The Janesville (Wisconsin) Daily Gazette reported the following story on Wednesday, September 12, 1917: “Willard Beimer, of the three brothers of this city whose athletic ability on high school and college teams have gained them considerable repute hereabouts, lies today at the point of death. A four weeks’ fight against typhoid at his home here [Beloit] has been a losing one, and at a consultation of physicians this noon, his chances for recovery were stated to be slim. The young man was taken ill while at work in Gary, Ind., last month. He completed his first year at Beloit college last spring. He was a member of the Delta Phi Upsilon.”

A follow-up article on Monday, September 17, 1917 reported that Beimer “died at his home at five o’clock Sunday afternoon…The funeral will be held Tuesday.”

 

Meredith Huff
Public Services

Emma Piazza
Public Services Student Assistant

World War I Letters of Forrest W. Bassett: September 11-17, 1917

September 11th, 2017

In honor of the centennial of World War I, we’re going to follow the experiences of one American soldier: nineteen-year-old Forrest W. Bassett, whose letters are held in Spencer’s Kansas Collection. Each Monday we’ll post a new entry, which will feature Bassett’s letters to thirteen-year-old Ava Marie Shaw from that following week, one hundred years after he wrote them.

Forrest W. Bassett was born in Beloit, Wisconsin, on December 21, 1897 to Daniel F. and Ida V. Bassett. On July 20, 1917 he was sworn into military service at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis, Missouri. Soon after, he was transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for training as a radio operator in Company A of the U. S. Signal Corps’ 6th Field Battalion.

Ava Marie Shaw was born in Chicago, Illinois, on October 12, 1903 to Robert and Esther Shaw. Both of Marie’s parents – and her three older siblings – were born in Wisconsin. By 1910 the family was living in Woodstock, Illinois, northwest of Chicago. By 1917 they were in Beloit.

Frequently mentioned in the letters are Forrest’s older half-sister Blanche Treadway (born 1883), who had married Arthur Poquette in 1904, and Marie’s older sister Ethel (born 1896).

Highlights from this week’s letters include the arrival of fudge from Marie (“it was the real stuff and tasted great”), Forrest’s accident with a wild horse (“the next thing I knew, I felt something like a good healthy brick on my jaw and I hit the sod like a rock”), and analysis of a hug Forrest shared with Marie before his departure (“if I had thought, when you let me hug you, that you did so without knowing or caring what kind of a boy I was, you never would have made me love and respect you the way I do”). Additionally, Forrest relays some speculation about how long the war will last. On one hand, he opines that “it won’t be long. When I watched the Officers Reserve training at bayonet fighting, I couldn’t help but feel that Uncle Sam is going to hand the Dutch a prize package.” On the other hand, Forrest reports to Marie that “this man, Popelka, says the war is going to last a good two years longer. Somebody is always taking the joy out of life.”

 

Tues. Sept. 11, 1917

Dear Marie,

The fudge and proofs came O.K. Say you sure had good luck with that batch. It was the real stuff and tasted great. Thankee, come again. I did not like the pictures very well. The expression on your face is too sober for the bright-eyed little girl that I left. Your hair looks fine, I think. In another envelope, I am sending some bum pictures. This sure is some poor work. I am going to develop my films myself after this and send them home to get the prints. I was pretty disappointed in the one of George and I. He has my camera case on his shoulder and is operating the heliograph key. We expect to get paid any day now but there are lots of things we expect, that we don’t get. I got something that I didn’t expect this morning. We were grooming the horses out on the picket chain, and I got a wild one. The first sergeant, O’Brien, warned me to watch his front feet and I was very careful and got one side all brushed up fine, with only a few false motions on the part of the horse. Then Captain Mitchum came and said he wanted the names of all expert and amateur photographers. I left the horse and went over to sign up. When I came back, I stepped up to the front of my horse and just as I got within four or five feet of him, a fellow spoke to me and I turned a little to answer. The next thing I knew, I felt something like a good healthy brick on my jaw and I hit the sod like a rock. A couple fellows picked me up and took me over to the hose and washed the blood and dirt away. My shirt was torn in strips from my shoulder half way down my right side. I went down to the hospital and had the cuts on my jaw dressed and then hit it for the barracks. I didn’t miss a single drill period although my jaw was a little stiff and I had a slight headache. Another fellow was laid low by the same horse, and now no one but Sergeant Gillespie is allowed to groom him. I don’t see how the army can use a saddle horse that is wild enough to plunge at a man and knock him down with his front feet, when he ain’t even within arms reach of him. I think I got out pretty lucky and am thankful that no blame was placed on me, for being careless. We are learning to saddle and mount our horses now. I suppose we will just be learning to ride and then I’ll be transferred Co. A of the 5th Bn. is already having mounted drill but we only have ten saddles for 75 men so only a few of us have ever been on one. Each of us will have a horse when we are in the field except the men who drive the horses on the wagon wireless set in my section. It looks pretty neat to see a company of men ride by with each horse in his proper place in the column. When Captain Mitchum called for photographers, I signed up as an expert. He said “How many years experience?” I said four. Then he asked if I knew anything about color photography. I answered, “Autochrome and Hess-Ives process. He looked as if to say “nuff ced” and put me down as O.K. Believe me one has to be a perfectly good little bluffer in order to push ahead. I am not anxious to leave this outfit though, but the more varied my experience the more I will get out of it. I have qualified in wig-wag and all the General Service code stuff such as heliograph and acetylene flash telegraph and can receive and transmit on the buzzer better than some that enlisted as operators. I am going to try to qualify in semaphore next Thursday but it will be by a close shave if I make it. The fifth section was out for 45 minutes last night after supper practicing semaphore. We sure are busy all the time. One day we spent half the afternoon heaving rock. This morning the second section was detailed to shovel about five ton of coal into the basement. Once more, it’s a gay life. Well I must wash the stains out of some handkerchiefs so I can return them to the fellows in the morning so will have to quit. I will write as often as I can because I really like to write to you and I want you to write as much as you can, though I know you, too, will be pretty busy now.

Don’t let those dreams bother you. My heart is too full of good warm love for you to allow the slightest thought of coldness. Well good night little girlie. Gee, I wish I could say that in front of your house. But it won’t be long. When I watched the Officers Reserve training at bayonet fighting, I couldn’t help but feel that Uncle Sam is going to hand the Dutch a prize package.

Yours,
Forrest.

 

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 12, 1917 Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 12, 1917

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 12, 1917 Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 12, 1917

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 12, 1917

Dear Marie,

This will be a continuation of last night’s letter, as I did not have time to write all I wanted to.

I wonder what you must think after reading yesterday’s letter. Anyway I hope I can make you understand why I loved you more after you let me hug you in spite of what I wrote last night. In my dealings with others I have always tried to be square and do the right thing. Wherever I have gone I have always been trusted, whether it was at school, in my work and especially here. Read the letter which I am sending to Mother by this mail and you will see that Mr. Rawson, who was my H.S. mathematics teacher, refers to me as one of “good character.”

I am accustomed to take it for granted that my friends considered me “one of ‘good character’,” and when I met you I tried to make you regard me in that way too.

Although we went together a number of times before that day, you will remember that I never made the slightest attempt to even put my arm around you or anything else. When the day did come that I was sure you trusted me, and cared a little for me, and would not misunderstand, I asked you to come to me. When you said “no” it did hurt but I respected you more because I felt you weren’t quite sure.

When you finally did yield, you didn’t lose a whit in my respect for you, for then I thought that you were at last sure that I was worthy of a good girl. And Marie you were right, then, weren’t you? I don’t believe your character suffered any from contact with me, did it? If I had thought, when you let me hug you, that you did so without knowing or caring what kind of a boy I was, you never would have made me love and respect you the way I do.

It’s awfully hard to write in this way but I hope I have made you understand my viewpoint. I would have loved you very much even if you had refused but not as much as I do now. Now, little girlie do you feel satisfied? I know I could make you see if I could only talk to you, and if you could only see the love for you in my eyes instead of the scratch of this pen.

Sincerely,
Forrest.

 

Sunday Sept. 16, ‘17

Dear Marie,

This has been a very busy week for me and I haven’t been able to write as often as I would like to. I took the visual signal test Thursday and got thru OK. We had to be able to read about 50 letters a minute in semaphore and about 20 letters a minute at wig-wag. It takes an awful lot of practice to develop this speed as it is all new to all of us. I am still plugging along with the fastest class of ham radio operators and can copy about fifteen words or 75 letters a minute. So you see I am also walking on air as they say you are. Don’t feel disappointed at being set back. You have plenty of time and might better take the grade over. I am mighty glad that you are getting along so well. Your mention of the book “Control of Body and Mind,” interested me. Will you tell me more about what you have in this book? Maybe it will help you break yourself of biting your nails. Would you like me to try to help you break this habit?

I am going to cut out all sweet stuff, fudges and everything. But I am anxiously waiting for another box from you. The other box sure was good. Can hardly wait for your pictures to come. Here are a couple proofs of a film I developed last night. One is of Stock and I with the semaphore flags at the first line trenches. The other is of me operating a field buzzer down in a trench by a machine gun emplacement. I will send some prints of these later. I notices the little bronze square on your waiste in the proof you sent, and it sure makes me feel to know that you wear this. It represents the ideal that every man would strive for if he had a girl like you to think of. Gee, girlie, I wish I could feel your head on my shoulder and your soft brown hair in my face. Marie, every time I read your letters I can see you out on the porch that last Tuesday night. Marie don’t change your letters unless you change. I didn’t get any letter today but will watch for one by the first morning mail.

This evening I talked with a man who is training as an engineer lieutenant. I used to work under him part of the time when I was in the City’s employe last fall, surveying. We are going to try to locate Captain Culver, here, this week. This man, Popelka, says the war is going to last a good two years longer. Somebody is always taking the joy out of life. Well I must quit for tonight but will write again as soon as I get the prints. Now will you write me a letter as full of your warm lovable self as your letter of Sept. 13th was?

Yours,
Forrest.

 

Meredith Huff
Public Services

Emma Piazza
Public Services Student Assistant