World War I Letters of Forrest W. Bassett: August 14-20, 1917
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 include Forrest receiving a special letter from Marie (“you have at last written the letter that I have hoped and wished for, but hardly expected”), finishing with mess hall duty (“believe me I am glad that someone else is taking his turn at it”), and hoping for an exchange of photos (“I am anxious to get that photo of you. I am going to get me a vest pocket Kodak”).
Tuesday, Aug. 14, 1917
Dearest Little Girl,
You have at last written the letter that I have hoped and wished for, but hardly expected. Marie, I love you now and I know I always will. We both have lots of time to change our minds in, but I am well enough acquainted with myself to know I will never change. Marie, it is the hope that some day you will really my little girl that makes me contented here, trying hard to make myself somewheres near worthy of you. Don’t worry about me, and have the best times you can. Whatever you do, don’t doubt me for a minute. In your next letter tell me that you really do believe that I will always love you and want you. The days are getting full of hard work here and I won’t be able to write very often. Marie please continue to write the same kind of letters that you have written. Make them as long and as frequent as you can.
Sunday, Aug. 19, 1917
This is my first day out of the mess hall. I had a week at being Dining Room Orderly and believe me I am glad that someone else is taking his turn at it. From 5:30 A:M to 7:30 P:M with just enough time to eat, and a rest between 3 & 4 P:M is no “light occupation.” It will seem good to get back at signal practice tomorrow. I will have to study and buzzer practice every evening so wont be able to write much. There was no letter from you today but will expect some in the morning. Gee but I wish I could talk to you.
It sure is going to be hard to leave without seeing you at all. If I didn’t have such a healthy bunch of folks I could dope out some way of having a day in Beloit. I can hardly wait to get your picture. Send it as soon as you can. Maybe I’ll get some here pretty soon. I should like to see you with your hair done up. Did Lauretta ever fix it for you? I sure am glad that you and Lauretta are such very close friends. Don’t ever tell her that I ever “hugged” you. She and you are the only girls I have had very much respect for — say nothing of anything further.
One reason I respect and like her so well is that I know she would never allow anyone to get too familiar. Any girl that hasn’t got pretty high ideals would never get a second thought from me. (Probably wouldn’t want one either) I don’t know why I am writing this to you — I guess its because I want you to know one reason why you have “wrapped yourself completely around my heart,” as Blanche put it. Everything that I have learned about you has increased my respect and love for you. The reason I know I will always love you is that I know you will never change.
Marie you are just exactly as I would have you in every way. You always were and I am sure you always will be.
Don’t let Lou “kid” you about school. I will admit that I admire any girl that has learned to reason and think independently, without getting muscle-bound between the ears.
Well there goes “taps” so I will have to quit.
Monday, Aug. 20, 1917
Just got your Sat. letter today. I wrote you a letter last night but addressed the letter to Beloit. There is quite a bit of talk that we will go to Fort Omaha, Neb. next Wednesday. There is an aviation corps there. I wonder if that will mean anything to me. We spent most of this afternoon out in the field with the wireless pack sets. We had four stations operating. I just bought a new text book on radio telegraphy this noon. We had an hour of unmounted drill, and the rest of the morning in semaphore and buzzer practice.
I hope you won’t stay in Chi. very long as I am anxious to get that photo of you. I am going to get me a vest pocket Kodak if I ever get out of that condition known as badly bent. It has just been a month since I enlisted at Jefferson Barracks. I wish I knew where I will be Sept. 20th. I sure would like to come home for a day about the first of the month. Well I don’t feel much like writing tonight. I hope you will get Sunday’s letter O.K. If you don’t — tell me.