Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

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: twenty-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 fifteen-year-old Ava Marie Shaw from that following week, one hundred years after he wrote them.

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 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.

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: twenty-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 fifteen-year-old Ava Marie Shaw from that following week, one hundred years after he wrote them.

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 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.

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

 

World War I Letters of Forrest W. Bassett: September 4-10, 1917

September 5th, 2017

In honor of the centennial of World War I, we’re going to follow the experiences of one American soldier: twenty-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 fifteen-year-old Ava Marie Shaw from that following week, one hundred years after he wrote them.

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 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.

Forrest spends considerable time in the first of this week’s letters questioning the progression of his relationship with Marie and seeking her opinion. “Do you think we have gone too far,” he asks her. “That is one reason why I thought you should go with other boys, although I hate to think of you with anyone else…Marie tell me exactly what you think. Would you prefer that we just be very good friends?” Highlights from the second letter include Forrest’s new “mighty fine military wrist watch” (“it is sure some watch – 15 jewel with Swiss movement, and luminous dial and hand”) and Forrest’s close call with a mule (“I was brushing the hind legs of 1 of the new mules, he suddenly plunged around sideways at me, kicking with both feet”).

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 5, 1917 Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 5, 1917

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 5, 1917 Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 5, 1917

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 5, 1917 Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 5, 1917

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 5, 1917 Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 5, 1917

Did you get the postcard in my last letter?

Wed. Sept. 5, 1917

Dear Marie,

I have just been reading your last letter from Rockford. You sure spoke the truth when you said that we would never tire of eachother, no matter how much we were together, if we really loved eachother. Every time we have been together has strengthened my love for you, but I know that I never realized how much I cared until leaving you. I think about what D.B. said in the clipping was right, as a rule. But do you think we have gone too far. That is one reason why I thought you should go with other boys, although I hate to think of you with anyone else. Marie, I want you to do the things that are for your own good. You are very young, but you seemed to understand me so well that I couldn’t help but treat you like an older girl. Marie tell me exactly what you think. Would you prefer that we just be very good friends? Surely your mother knows what is best. I hate to think of giving you up even for just a few years, but love you too much to think of anything but that which will make you the happiest in the long run. What is it, Marie, that you don’t like to write to me? I am telling you everything; can’t you do the same and trust that I will understand? I was not surprised at the change in your regard for L. I have exactly the same experience when I saw her “at home.”

Won’t you write everything you think, and not wait until we see eachother? Your letters are exactly as I would have them. They do make me mighty lonesome for you but the things that make me lonesome also make me happy in a different way so please don’t write any different because of that reason. Marie let’s be as close to eachother as we can even although there are a good many miles between us. I am wondering what the surprise is that you and your mother are planning. I am losing lots of valuable sleep for fear I won’t be pleased. We don’t get up until 5:45 A.M. now, but we drill later in the afternoon. This afternoon we cleared a lot of rock out of the A-6 corral so the horses wouldn’t break their legs galloping around. Believe me it was some hot piece of work. I had to scrub my pants, shirt and four handkerchiefs after supper. We have three bathtubs in the basement for washing clothes. We soak our clothes, then lay them on a board across the tub and scrub them with yellow soap and a big brush. It’s a gay life. Can you picture it? We groom our horses every morning now. It has been my luck to draw one horse and a packmule every day for the last 4 or 5 days. I sure do wish that I could go bike riding and hiking with you this Fall. Didn’t we have some fine times up the river, and “everything ‘n everything.”

Marie, is there anything I can do that would make you the least bit happier? In your next letter please answer the things I ask.

Yours,
Forrest.

I am sending the card you asked me to.

This picture of the erection of a field wireless station is a very true representation of how it is done.

 

Sept. 9, 1917

Dear Marie,

If any girls’ letters could fill a man with enthusiasm and ambition, your’s surely do. You are every bit the girl that I have always believed you were and I know I need never have any case to doubt you. I know that this war can’t last very much longer and I feel that I will surely come back to you no matter how things go. Somehow, I can’t see the dark side of anything anymore. Everything seems to come my way. I wonder if you expect very much of a change in me when I come back. If you do you will surely be disappointed because I’ll be the same boy that said “goodbye” that Tuesday night. Marie are you sure you love me enough to give yourself to me for all time? I should like to know just what you think you know of me. That is something you can tell me when we see eachother again. I am anxiously waiting for the fudges. Blanche sent me some more but they go pretty fast. Sorry you had hard luck the first time. I just got a mighty fine military wrist watch from Art Goss. It is sure some watch – 15 jewel with Swiss movement, and luminous dial and hands. Almost half of the men and all the officers have wrist watches; no fobs are allowed to be worn. I guess we get paid tomorrow so I will get the Vest Pocket camera. Corporal Westrum and I went out taking pictures this afternoon. If they are good I will send some. Westrum is acting as Co. clerk at present and he says they expect to hear from Washington what is to be done with photographers very soon now. I don’t want to leave here very soon as this is sure a great place. Yesterday the Vth section moved into a separate room of our own. We have got a fine sergeant. He cusses us up and down during the foot drill period but I guess we deserve it. Friday 5 other men & I were detailed to round up 11 new mules and lead them to the A-6th stables. They were loose in a little half acre corral and believe me we had our troubles. They were a wild bunch and it took the six of us over an hour to get the ropes on them. I’m glad there are no mules in the wagon section. Yesterday morning I had my first very close call. When we groom the horses we take them from the corral and tie them a yard apart to a chain stretched taut between posts about four feet high. I was brushing the hind legs of 1 of the new mules, he suddenly plunged around sideways at me, kicking with both feet. I stepped ahead just in time to miss the hoofs but was pinned in between the picket chain & the mule. The chain caught me between the ribs and the hip bone and the force of the blow doubled me up for a minute. Friday afternoon another fellow from the Vth section went to the hospital – more horse thumbprints. Take it from our truly, this lad is going to watch his step.

I know just exactly how you felt about that sweater coat. It is yours until I come back and Ethel had no right to urge you to loan it to her after you refused it. I do not care if she wears it – but I want you to do just as you want to. I do think your folks were wrong in making you give the sweater to Ethel.

Well I suppose you will be back to school when this reaches you. If I were you I would drop that piano playing at school. Do your own work the best you can and no more.

Yours,
Forrest.

 

Meredith Huff
Public Services

Emma Piazza
Public Services Student Assistant

World War I Letters of Forrest W. Bassett: August 28-September 3, 1917

August 28th, 2017

In honor of the centennial of World War I, we’re going to follow the experiences of one American soldier: twenty-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 fifteen-year-old Ava Marie Shaw from that following week, one hundred years after he wrote them.

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 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.

Highlights from this week’s letters include Forrest’s description of various bugle calls (“the one that sounds best is ‘taps’…the ‘soup & beans’ call sounds good, too”), his possible transfer to the “photo section” (“they are simply waiting to get enough men to ship together”), his request for more letters (“I am mighty glad you do like to write because you can’t do it often enough to suit me”) and fudge (“but don’t put any nut meats in it”) from Marie, and his description of watching some “real war motion pictures in the college Riding Hall.”

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, August 29, 1917 Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, August 29, 1917

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, August 29, 1917 Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, August 29, 1917

Take any music you want

Wed. Aug. 29, 1917

Dear Marie,

I am waiting to be surprised with your “bright idea.” Let ‘er shoot. Some fancy dress and ribbon, I’d say. If you had one of these bugles tooting in your ear every morning at 5:15 you wouldn’t need Andy to pull you out. A large megaphone is set up on a post and a bugler puts his music box up to the mouthpiece of this horn and sounds the different calls. The one that sounds best is “taps” at 9:45 10:00 P.M. First one bugle away over the hill will sound then a nearer one, then one still nearer. Finally the bugles in back of our barracks will blow. The “soup & beans” call sounds good, too, in a different way. This morning we had the usual hour of foot drill, an hour of heliograph practise, an hour of wireless, and an hour and a half of grooming horses. The heliograph consists of mirrors and shutters mounted on two tripods. The shutter is opened and closed by a key and makes the dots and dashes in the telegraph code. The mirrors reflect the rays of sunlight to the distant station thru the shutter when it is operated by the key. Under favorable conditions it is possible to send a message 120 miles at the rate of 8 words per minute (40 letters). We have been having it pretty soft this week in the afternoons. We go to the corral, get our horses and feed them on the grass by the roadside in the woods. We have over 100 horses for our company and it keeps us busy watching them. I like to “monkey” with these horses; they are beginning to show the results of a good care and feed, too.

I was talking to Sergeant Williams today and he said I could feel sure that I will be transferred to the photo section pretty soon. You see they are simply waiting to get enough men to ship together and meanwhile they give us the regular signal training as photography is a branch of the Signal Corps, the same as a telephone, telegraph, radio, and visual signaling, you see the Signal Corps is the information dept. of the Army and the photographer gives his information in the form of maps and record photographs. Well this will have to be enough. I wish I knew if I could plan to come to Beloit for a day. You can bet Lyle and Ethel would have nothing on us. I can’t help but think of all the good times we had.

Yours,
Forrest.

 

Friday Aug. 31, 1917

Dear Marie,

You said that you love me more every time you think of me, so I’m going to try my best to keep myself in your thoughts. I am mighty glad you do like to write because you can’t do it often enough to suit me. The very most you can do for me is to write the some helpful and inspiring letters. I would like some of your fudge just as often as you want to make it. But don’t put any nut meats in it. You sure are one mighty good girlie to do these things for me. I wish we could eat a dish of fudges together – you know how. Do you remember what a day we had the 4th of July? I am not going to try to come home, I guess. Last night we saw some real war motion pictures in the college Riding Hall. We saw a Zepplin raid over London and saw one machine set on fire by an anti-aircraft gun. The pictures were of all the warning nations and were interesting. I have only seen two motion picture shows since I came here and they were at Leavenworth City. They have free motion pictures here three times a week but I haven’t seen any yet. I know that I liked the shows in Beloit just because they were a good excuse to be with one mighty sweet and lovable little girl. This evening Sergeant Baber played “Flower Song” three times in succession. I went over to the machine to listen and told him that I knew a girl at home that played the piece on the piano, with the phonograph. He looked up and said “Same here, by gosh,” and the look in his eyes told that he was thinking of Her too.

But there is not a single one lucky enough to have a girl like You to think about. Make that photographer get those pictures out “doubletime” as we say in drill. I wrote to Mother to send my film tank so you make get some “snaps” of me sometime. I did the transmitting on the field buzzer today for the class of “ham operators,” of which yours truly is one. Well I must quit.

Yours,
Forrest.

 

Meredith Huff
Public Services

Emma Piazza
Public Services Student Assistant

World War I Letters of Forrest W. Bassett: August 21-27, 1917

August 21st, 2017

In honor of the centennial of World War I, we’re going to follow the experiences of one American soldier: twenty-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 fifteen-year-old Ava Marie Shaw from that following week, one hundred years after he wrote them.

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 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.

Highlights this week include discussions about horses (“yesterday one sergeant hopped on a ‘green’ horse and was next ‘among those present’ in the hospital”), army discipline (“just now they posted a notice that any gambling would mean three months, with a cute little shotgun tickling the victim in the ribs”), new raincoats (“it’s as roomy as a young tent”), chores (“I got to get out my “housewife” which is a kit of needles, thread, pins, scissors, etc. and stab a button on my shirt. It’s a gay life”).

 

Thursday, Aug. 23, ‘17

Dear Marie,

You sure are mighty good to me to keep on writing. I guess you know how I feel. Be sure to write from Rockford too. Did you get the letter to Beloit? You must have had a great time in Chicago. That fortune telling gets my goat right. Or I mean it would if I let it. I suppose you are too young to go with boys. What Lauretta said gives me one good healthy pain. A girl is never too young to know herself. Lauretta may be a wise one but there is an awful lot she don’t “know about war.” All the real truth we learn at any age never will hurt any. Let the grandmothers and old maids argue to the contrary.

We are having about the same stuff every day now. You should see our big “slickers.” We just got them Tuesday as we have been having some rainy weather. It sure is some hot here when it’s clear. We get about 2 hours with the radio sets in the field every day now. This afternoon five of us run a buzzer telegraph line out in the hills. We crossed a road and hooked the wire up on a couple trees. It slacked up some way and hung down so that when one of the captains drove by in an auto, it knocked his hat off. He didn’t get very peeved about it but I guess our sergeant expected some hard words. When we got in from the field, the company went over the corral and groomed our horses. Yesterday one sergeant hopped on a “green” horse and was next “among those present” in the hospital. Most of the horses are in pretty good shape now. We had good luck in getting our pack mules, too. I wish you could see this place. There are herds of sheep and cattle, and a lot of garden truck is raised for the table. I guess the military prisoners do most of the work. Believe me, you won’t see yours truly lockstepping around with a guard behind him carrying a good healthy autoloading shotgun. The guards here carry these buckshot cannon instead of rifles. The engineers have the hardest work of any branch of service in the army. The camp here is building a line of trenches and tunnels out in the field. There used to be quite a few sham battles but I haven’t heard any for over a week. Some of the officers reserve in training here, left a few days ago. You should have seen the handshaking among those fellows as they left for different places. A fellow certainly makes some good close friends in a camp of this kind. The Signal Corps is about the big hest branch of service in the army and there is none of the “wop” class that you find the Infantry. At Jefferson Barracks about half of the 23rd Recruit Company were hardboiled Chicago roughnecks. You don’t see any dice or cards here. Just now they posted a notice that any gambling would mean three months, with a cute little shotgun tickling the victim in the ribs.

Any one that likes to split wood, mow the officers’ golf course, hoe the corn, or break rock for the new roads have my permission to start a little game of Sixty-Six. If you even hit a horse with a brush, or anything else except the open hand, you can be tried and given in the brick house with the barred windows. The regular army is strong for discipline, which is a good thing, and one has to be on the watch all the time. The officers are all very strict, but are all a pretty decent bunch. When anyone gets within 30 feet of a commissioned officer he has to salute. I have been jumped on twice for forgetting this, but haven’t had any worse luck yet. I sure am glad that I enlisted but I won’t be sorry when the time comes to gallop home. This is a great place here. I guess we don’t go to Fort Omaha after all. Well, I must go down and wash a pair of pants. Then I got to get out my “housewife” which is a kit of needles, thread, pins, scissors, etc. and stab a button on my shirt. It’s a gay life.

The first thing I’ll do will be to execute a flank movement over to my pal’s bunk and hook a piece of fudge that his girl sent him. George says that whenever he wants me to practice semaphore I am always writing. This is a pretty long letter for me. I bet you can’t read it though.

Say listen, don’t ever ask me to excuse your writing.

I hope this will find you in Beloit, O.K. Don’t forget that picture.

Yours
Forrest.

 

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, August 26, 1917 Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, August 26, 1917

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, August 26, 1917 Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, August 26, 1917

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, August 26, 1917

Sunday, Aug. 26, 1917

Dear Marie,

Your letter of Friday came this noon. I know now that you understand me and I shall say nothing more. Don’t think for a minute that I see anything silly in your letter. It is too sincere for that. Whether I can come home or not depends on the Folks, entirely. If I do come it will have to be pretty quick. Yesterday, the First Sergeant sent for me and made a typewritten report on my knowledge of, and experience with photography work. I feel certain that I will be transferred as soon as they are ready. I am sure that I have something to show for my four years of study and work, and I am confident that I’ll make good as soon as I am given a chance. I am in the furtherest advanced class of student operators but I think I could serve better in the photographic section. I hope your photographer won’t be all year in finishing you pictures. If I don’t really see you pretty soon I sure will be mighty disappointed. You ought to see me in my raincoat that was issued a few days ago. It’s as roomy as a young tent. It rained quite a few nights last week.

We have to groom over a hundred horses every day. The sergeant that was thrown last week is still at the hospital with his head bandaged and his leg tied up. He waved his cane at us as we marched by this morning. My friend, George Stock, got kicked in the head by a mule this morning but it only scratched his temple a little. I haven’t had any hard luck so far but had one close one. George Stock is about the closest friend I have ever had. He is about 25 years old, and was a teacher of Chemistry, Physics, and Mathematics in some Kans. school. These are the three studies that I liked so well at High School. We saw “The Slacker” last week at Leavenworth. It sure was good. Last night I got “La Paloma” and “The Flower Song” for the Victor Machine. Gee, but it stirred up a funny feeling when I thought how we used to play together. Someone is playing “Flower Song” now. I’d give most anything to be sitting on that piano stool now with you. Well I must stop. Will you tell me what day school starts?

Yours,
Forrest.

Take any of my music you want.

 

Meredith Huff
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