A M. A. C. Legacy, Part 2: Martin Crocker

2 04 2018

America entered into World War I on April 6, 1917 and put out the call for young men to join in the fight.  Michigan Agricultural College, later to be known as Michigan State University, answered this call with its own students who both served and contributed at home.  Of those many, three in particular stand out: the Crocker siblings. Thanks to a collection housed in the MSU Archives building and the correspondence between these three, Mary, Emory, and Martin, we are given a unique look into the life of M.A.C. students who stayed and went “over there.”

 

Photo of Martin

Yearbook photo of Martin from 1917 Wolverine

 

Martin Crocker was a member of the M. A. C. class of 1918 and Truck Company no. 6, 23 engineers during World War 1. Both he and his brother Emory left to serve and wrote their sister Mary, who stayed behind to finish school.  Unlike Emory, Mary didn’t have any letters from Martin while he was at school, either because he didn’t write or she didn’t save them. Before joining the armed forces, he was going to school to be a surveyor and asked Mary to look after his drawing tools, but there isn’t much beyond that. He did send her notes while he was in the service that add to the complexity of
understanding military life during this time.

Martin wasn’t exempt from having to deal with disease.  Like any other soldier, he received his inoculations when entering into the army, and he “got all through at 4pm, even had a uniform and a shot in the arm for typhoid and smallpox.” His opinion of military care was tepid at best. He wrote to Mary that “The hospital has two cure alls. If they can see anything on the outside, like a broken arm, they paint iodine on it. If that isn’t the matter they give you a dose of castor oil.” With diseases like measles and the Influenza epidemic running rampant through barracks and civilian homes alike, Martin’s flippant attitude towards healthcare can be understood. But the need for some kind of attempt to curb sickness was constantly apparent.  One night before shipping out to France, after Martin had been enjoying a brief leave to go into Brooklyn, he came back to find out that his entire barracks had been quarantined for diphtheria and spinal meningitis. Martin would also get word about how the other camps were fairing, including the one his brother was in: “If Emory is at Camp Merritt he is good for ten days more at least.  The camp has a measles quarantine on. The head nurse told me about it.” Martin would eventually be hospitalized with mumps, saying that his “face is swelled up like a freshman’s chest.” Earlier, Martin had been hospitalized for rheumatism, and while there, he saw that not everyone who was hospitalized made it out:

“There has been lots of excitement here lately, two fellows had pneumonia with their scarlet. One goes out of his head. I was in bed all the time he was sick so didn’t see him. One night the [sic] brot [sic] over a straight jacket in case of emergency. They called out the reserves about four in the morning and about six of the fellows put the jacket on him, but didn’t tie him down. In the morning the trousers were on the floor. He told them that they got too hot so he took them off. Imagine that? The other fellow with pneumonia died, he just got in from Ft. Leavenworth when he was sent over here, had just three weeks in the army.”

Envelope from Martin to Mary

Envelope of letter Sent from Martin to Mary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Martin’s letters of being an engineer show a very different side of military life than what Emory experienced as a gunner. Once in France, Martin began to write more about what it was like for him to be a military man, and his related experiences are relatively pleasant, especially when compared to what his brother Emory was enduring at the front. One of Martin’s experiences that Emory notes with a little bitterness is that Martin has an easier time than him with the Engineers: “Got a letter from Mart today. He tells how he has a motorcycle to ride around with and French chefs to cook for them and women to wait table [sic]. Pretty soft I would say. We eat our beans sitting on mother earth and want to go to the front to get away from taking care of horses.” There may be some doubt as to how truthful Martin’s situation is, especially since Emory was at the front and in the trenches fighting in the French mud, but Martin’s letters home show that Emory isn’t that far off concerning Martin’s situation: “It is the swellest place in the world.  There are less than a hundred soldiers and a lot of laborers (civil). We aren’t getting our meals from the army but have french cooks using stuff that can be be bought and some from the QM. So the meals are great.” Most people don’t consider a base near the front lines to be “the swellest place on earth,” but Martin seemed to be enjoying himself, nonetheless.

Being in charge of taking care of the trucks, which were still a novelty at this time, Martin enjoyed local attention when the trucks were driven from one place to another: “We make a little sensation everywhere. When we pull through a little town the people all come out and collect the kids and chickens and animals out of the road.” His interactions with the townsfolk was limited by language, but he managed to still make do.  He drank a little since “wine and beer flows like water outside of the camp, but I haven’t found any that I care about yet so haven’t had any trouble finding my pass when I get back to camp.” He also would buy goods from local vendors but was aware that they would treat soldiers differently.  After he bought his sister a watch as a graduation present, he asked his mom to find out how much is was worth in American dollars: “I think it was worth all I paid for it because I got it in a good store, the better the store the less you have to be careful about being charged the ‘OD’ prices instead [of] french prices.”

censored letter from Martin to Mary

Censored letter from Martin to Mary

Despite all of the moments that were written in amusement, there are still reminders that a war was going on.  When Martin was writing to Mary about being in a French hospital, he writes a name of either an area or city, but it is censored thoroughly.  There is a section cut out and the name of the place is eradicated with no possibility of knowing where he was. Despite the somber reminder, it is humorous considering Martin’s next sentence is “I don’t know where that is.” Now, neither will we.

 

Martin’s letters show a different, more lighthearted side of working during the war.  Balancing the darker moments with humorous oversimplifications of common wartime occurrences, he makes for a unique conveyor of his experiences and what it was like for someone in France who was not necessarily fighting, but still a crucial part in the war effort.

By: Catharine Neely

Sources:

Martin Crocker to Mary Crocker, 24 January 1918, Box FD, Folder 5, Boutell Mary Crocker Papers, collection UA 10.3.104, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Martin Crocker to Mary Crocker, 9 January 1918, Box FD, Folder 5, Boutell Mary Crocker Papers, collection UA 10.3.104, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Martin Crocker to Mary Crocker, 10 December 1917, Box FD, Folder 5, Boutell Mary Crocker Papers, collection UA 10.3.104, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Martin Crocker to Mary Crocker, 28 December 1917, Box FD, Folder 5, Boutell Mary Crocker Papers, collection UA 10.3.104, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Martin Crocker to Mary Crocker, 25 February 1918, Box FD, Folder 5, Boutell Mary Crocker Papers, collection UA 10.3.104, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Martin Crocker to Mary Crocker, 26 May 1918, Box FD, Folder 6, Boutell Mary Crocker Papers, collection UA 10.3.104, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Martin Crocker to Mary Crocker, 15 March 1918, Box FD, Folder 5, Boutell Mary Crocker Papers, collection UA 10.3.104, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Emory Crocker to Mary Crocker, 6 July 1918, Box FD, Folder 4, Boutell Mary Crocker Papers, collection UA 10.3.104, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Martin Crocker to Mary Crocker, 25 June 1918, Box FD, Folder 6, Boutell Mary Crocker Papers, collection UA 10.3.104, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

 Martin Crocker to Mary Crocker, 2 May 1918, Box FD, Folder 6, Boutell Mary Crocker Papers, collection UA 10.3.104, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Martin Crocker to Mother, 12 May 1918, Box FD, Folder 6, Boutell Mary Crocker Papers, collection UA 10.3.104, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

 

Mary Crocker Scrapbook, n. d., Scrapbook #244, Boutell Mary Crocker, collection UA 10.3.104, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

1917 Wolverine, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

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