The Forgotten Expedition of World War I

15 11 2018

In 1918, as the Great War was ending in Europe, British and American forces launched a new joint offensive into Siberian Russia. Beyond the general fear of unrest brought about by Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution, what this offensive was to do was, frankly, vague. The Vladivostok forces worked to “assist Czechoslovak military units trying to make their way out of Russia to the Western Front,” yet  the forces in Archangel had even less direction. Both groups of men came to be known as the “Polar Bears,” but the American soldiers at Archangel would become known as the “Polar Bear Expedition.”

The Polar Bear Expedition, or the North Russia Expeditionary Force (NREF), was comprised of men from the 85th Division, primarily Michigan and Wisconsin men, who completed training at Camp Custer in the summer of 1918. The 339th Regiment, along with the 310th  Engineers, the 337th  Field Hospital, and the 337th  Ambulance Company were slated to fight in France but were diverted to Archangel. The resources of the MSU Archives and Historical Collections and the MSU Museum provide a look into several of the Polar Bears’ experiences in Northern Russia.

Archangel Streets

Archangel Streets (courtesy: Michigan State University Museum)

To Russia

The journey from Camp Custer, Michigan, to Archangel, Russia, was not a direct route. The journal of one Polar Bear, Clyde Arnold, of Grand Rapids, shed light on the journey. Initially, the 85th Division was to join the rest of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) along the western front line in Europe. The 339th Regiment, along with some other units, was diverted to Archangel, but not after the men had made half of the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.

Clyde Arnold, who enlisted on April 26, 1918, started his training at Camp Custer. From there, he left for Camp Mills on Long Island, New York, on July 15. At Long Island, he made the journey to England, landing in Liverpool on August 3. Once in England the regiment traveled across the English Channel to Le Havre, France. Over the next few days, the men would make their way down to La Vallée near Saint-Genis-Pouilly, France, arriving on August 12. Arnold notes that La Vallée is the “best place, outside USA,” claiming he enjoyed “good times,” there. However, the men of the 339th were eventually recalled across the English Channel to Dundee, Scotland. Arriving in Dundee on September 19,  Arnold with the rest of the “Polar Bear Expedition” embarked on a ten-day voyage to Archangel, Russia.

Arnold’s experience arriving in Russia differed starkly from his arrival in France. As he noted, he was billeted in “Bolshevik” structures. There he experienced “rain, mud. Poor chow, somewhere.” Arnold foreshadowed the experience of the 339th Regiment, assigned under pretenses to holding back a German advance, but in reality assisting in a Russian civil war.

Aggies in Archangel

A Michigan Agricultural College student  R. S. Clark, through a letter home, detailed his experiences in Archangel. Clark, at the time, was the only known M.A.C. serviceman in Russia.

RS Clark 1920 yearbook

R. S. Clark’s senior picture (1920 yearbook)

The key port is located roughly 600 miles north of Moscow on the White Sea. In 1918, it had  about 40,000 inhabitants. Shipping, Clark observed, was essential to the city as there was “practically no agriculture in this vicinity, only marsh hay and small garden fluff.” The city, as a timber center, is constructed of log buildings, but Clark made the distinction that their log cabins are “not the rough cabin our American pioneers built but veritable log castles.” Utilizing hand tools and time, the Russians made hardy structures that mirror their stalwart nature. Their roads were less admirable than their homes, however. Clark noted that “the Russian streets and roads are very, very miserable, not to say absolutely rotten.” Clark rode a bike to and from his post, which imaginably was a feat in and of itself, considering “a motor truck last[ed] about six months.” As a result, the main modes of transportation out of Archangel would have been walking, sleighs, or small ships and barges (and only in warm months). Considering the rather poor conditions of their roads, the infrastructure Clark described was relatively modern: “Archangel has a street car line, electric lights, telephones, wireless, and a railroad.”

Clark’s interaction with the people of Archangel was that of an outsider looking in. With their elaborate uniforms, the Russian men in Archangel were representative of power and authority. Clark joked that “a night watchman in Archangel has an American Admiral beaten a mile so far as uniform goes.” Despite sharp style and well-made housing, Russians, according to Clark, knew little about modern “American” cleanliness:

The well-dressed people, men as well as women, affect strong perfumery. The ragged people wash only once a year and I shall not try to describe the result—it simply has to be experienced to be appreciated. The houses are devoid of ventilation. There is no adequate sewerage system, open sinks are used that smell to high heaven. Refuse of all sorts is dumped in the street.

Russian peasants were experiencing wartime inflation of around 500%. Clark noted that  “it takes a hatful of [rubles] to buy anything.” The NREF constructed its barracks out of “hurrying methods” that the locals reckoned would collapse in comparison to their hardy cabins. On the contrary, the barracks did not collapse and were better than those on the Western Front in that they were “free from vermin.” The fact that the NREF did not have to immediately deal with rats was a blessing as they could and would scamper across a sleeping soldier, and attack the immovable dead in the trenches or no man’s land. Overall, the conditions within Archangel were bearable and were potentially more enjoyable than the rest of the AEF in France.

The Allied effort throughout the fall and into the winter was to move south along the Volga River and then eventually east. While in Bereznik, slightly north of Shenkursk, members of the British Y.M.C.A. worked “with the American Engineers … to carry out the work” of preparing a building to carry out formal association business. Another Michigan Agricultural College student,  310th engineer S. L. Schneider, may have worked with these Y.M.C.A. personnel. Shneider entered service with the 310th Engineers at Camp Custer in Michigan after spending “two years with the class of ’18.” He was decorated by British authorities for “gallantry in action in the campaign about Shenkrusk” in January 1919.

Left Behind

Shenkursk was overrun in January 1919, several months after the Armistice, and the Polar Bears were pushed east by Bolshevik forces. The winter was a tough challenge as the Polar Bears were constantly on the run, even though the Great War was over. Clyde Arnold’s journal details how his situation changed from a relative comfort with poor food to desperation: “Not enough to eat. Tired out. Cold.” On December 27, Arnold wrote “to hell with the U.S. Army.” The men in the expedition continue to press harder and harder for why they were fighting in Russia. The U.S. government had appeared to have forgotten them, yet it was ice-locked ports that prevented the NREF from leaving Russia until June 1919.

Scene From North Russia

Scene From North Russia (courtesy: Michigan State University Museum)

The overarching strategy of the Archangel Polar Bears—linking up with Czechoslovakia Legion in the interior Russia and fostering support for an anti-Bolshevik force—was ultimately scrapped as there was no logistical support in that action. The men in the “Polar Bear Expedition” were essentially forgotten, shivering on the icy frontier along the Volga River.

Currently on display at the Michigan State University Museum, in the exhibition “War and Speech”, is a vitrine of trench art created by Clyde Arnold.

Documents and images for this article were collected courtesy of Michigan State University Museum and Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections. Contextualization for The Polar Bear Expedition was found courtesy of the University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library.

Sources include:

M.A.C. Record, Vol. 24, No. 12; December 20, 1919.

M.A.C. Record, Vol. 24, No. 26; April 1919.

“Y.M.C.A. Official Reports circa 1918,” Waldo Family Papers and Waldo Travel Agency Records, 00042, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Clyde Arnold Collection, Michigan State University Museum, East Lansing, Michigan.

“American Intervention in Northern Russia,” University of Michigan: Bentley Historical Library, https://bentley.umich.edu/research/catalogs-databases/polar-bear/polar-bear-expedition-history/, 15 November, 2017.

Written by Matthew Brazier

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M.A.C. World War I Casualties

4 09 2018
memorial grove plaque

Memorial Grove plaque located at the Beal Street entrance to campus, next to Sarah Williams Hall.

World War I took a toll on the small college known as Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University).  Many alumni lost their lives during the conflict.  Below is a list of our gold stars.

April 9, 1917: John Woodbridge (short course student, 1915) was believed to be the first person with a M.A.C. connection to die during the war.  He served with the 72d Highlanders, Canadian Infantry.  Woodbridge was killed at Vimy Ridge, France.

February 6, 1918: William R. Johnson (class of 1912) became the first alumnus to die during WWI, when the SS Tuscania sank off the coast of Scotland.  He served in Company F, 6th Battalion 20th Engineers.

William Johnson

from the 1918 Wolverine yearbook

March 8, 1918: Earl Halbert, class of 1920, died at 22 years old of “broncho pneumonia.” He was a private in Company A, 126th Infantry, U.S. Army.

March 16, 1918: Donald A. Miller, class of 1916, died from diphtheria at the Naval Rifle Range in Wakefield, Massachusetts. He was a Yeoman, 3rd class, U.S. Navy.  Miller was 24 years old.

March 29, 1918: Burrell F. Smith, class of 1919, was a private in Company G, 338th infantry, U.S. Army.  He died of broncho pneumonia at 22 years old.

Burrell F. Smith, class of 1919

Burrell F. Smith, class of 1919

April 21, 1918: Norman F. Hood, class of 1915, died at a field hospital from injuries received in action at Monthairon Le Petit. A member of Company G, 23rd Infantry, U.S. Army, he was “buried at [the] American Cemetery of Monthairon (Meuse) Grave 13.” Hood was 26 years old.

June 13, 1918: Gordon Webster Cooper, class of 1918, died of injuries sustained in an airplane crash at Barron Field, Texas. U.S. Army PFC Cooper had finished his 8-week training course with honors. The 23-year-old was the first M.A.C. aviator to die during WWI.

Gordon Cooper

June 15, 1918: LaVerne Thompson Perrottet, class of 1919, died at 22 years old when a shell made a direct hit on his front line trench. He was fighting in the Chateau Thierry sector of France and was buried in the Bois de Belleau.

L T Perrottet

LaVerne T. Perrottet, class of 1919 (portrait: Wolverine yearbook, grave photo: Find a Grave)

June 19, 1918: PFC Louis Kurm Hice, class of 1918, 23 years old, was wounded on June 16 and died on June 19, 1918. He served in Headquarters Co., 119th Field Artillery, U.S. Army.

louis hice

July 1, 1918: Leonard Crone, class of 1913, age 27, was killed in an airplane crash in England. He was a lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps.  He enlisted in the Canadian Flying Forces at Toronto, Canada.

Leonard Crone

The M.A.C. Record; vol.23, no.35; August 30, 1918

July 8, 1918: Thomas William Churchill, class of 1915, died from heart failure following an operation. The 27-year-old Alpha Psi member was a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Veterinary Reserve Corps. He was buried at West Point.

Thomas Churchill

July 9, 1918: Lester P. Harris, class of 1917, died from wounds received during a German air raid near the village of Catenoy, France. A street in Johnson City, Tennessee is named in his honor.  For more information visit the East Tennessee Veterans Memorial Association (https://etvma.org/veterans/lester-p-harris-7073/)

harris

Lester P. Harris (Image source: East Tennessee Veterans Memorial Association)

August 1, 1918: U.S. Army 1st Lt. Donald C. McMillan, class of 1915, served with Company G, 126th Infantry.  He served overseas from February 17, 1918, until his death at age 27 from wounds received in action.  He was buried in cemetery 404 in Bezu-Saint-Germain, France.

Donald McMillan

August 5, 1918: Edwin Harold Ewing, class of 1917, died from wounds received in action during the Second Battle of Marne.  He served in Company G., 32nd Infantry of the Michigan National Guard from June 19, 1916 to September 23, 1917, and in Company I, 126th Infantry until his death.

August 10, 1918: U.S. Army Corporal William B. Lutz, class of 1920, Battery A, 119th Field Artillery, was killed in action at age 20. Lutz fought near Chery, Marne, France.

August 10, 1918: Cosmer Magnus Leveaux, class of 1917, died on August 10, 1918 at 21 years old. He was a corporal in Battery A. of the 119th Field Artillery. Leveaux was killed in action at Chateau Theirry.

Cosmer Leveaux

August 12, 1918: U.S. Army PFC Samuel Rottenberg, class of 1919, age 22, was killed in action. He served overseas in Company A, 1st Infantry, from May 22 until his death.

Samuel Rottenberg

Samuel Rottenberg (image source: Wolverine yearbook

August 19, 1918: Frank Huston Esselstyn, class of 1918, died from wounds received in action on August 11. He was a member of the National Guard 119th Field Artillery company and  fought in France.

frank esselstyn yearbook

August 22, 1918: 20 year old U.S. Army PFC George Smith Monroe, class of 1918 was killed in action.  He served overseas with Battery F, 119th Field Artillery from February 26 until his death.

August 31, 1918: U.S. Army Platoon Sergeant James Shrigley Palmer, class of 1918, was killed in action in Juvigny, France while leading his platoon to the attack. He was posthumously awarded the French Croix de Guerre and Silver Star Citation.

James S Palmer-text of citation-from The_City_of_Detroit_Michigan_1701_1922

Text of James S Palmer’s citation (source: The City of Detroit Michigan 1701-1922)

September 1, 1918: William H. Rust, class of 1918, died on September 1, 1918.  He was a 1st Lieutenant in Company K, 125th Infantry until his death.  He was wounded in action on August 29 while in battle Near Juvigny (Aisne).  Rust was awarded the French Croix de Guerre with Silver Star.  The citation states “The only remaining officer of the company, he led it to the attack with bravery and remarkable energy.  Was killed near the objective which had been assigned to him.” Rust was 25 years old.

September 25, 1918: Olin C. Luther, class of 1919, was killed in action at age 24. He served in the Headquarters Co., 122 Field Artillery, U.S. Army. He participated in the St. Mihiel, defensive sector engagement.

September 27, 1918: Otto William Wissmann, class of 1920, was a Seaman 2nd Class with the U.S. Navy Reserve Force. He died at the Naval Hospital in Charleston, South Carolina, at 21 years old.

September 27, 1918: Ernest Elwin Peterson, class of 1915, died of lobar pneumonia at age 28. He was a corporal with the Medical Detachment Signal Corps.

Ernest Peterson

October 2, 1918: Hubert B. Wylie, class of 1917, died from Influenza lobar pneumonia at 23 years old. He was a private with the U.S. Army Motor Transport Corps, Company D, 307th Repair Unit.

H Wylie

October 7, 1918: Alanson Bartlett King, class of 1919, age 23, died from lobar pneumonia. He was a Master Engineer, Junior Grade with the Headquarters Company 107th Engineers, U.S. Army, and served overseas from January 30, 1918 until his death.

October 8, 1918: U.S. Army 1st Lt. Frank M. Stewart, class of 1918, died at 26 years old. He served with Company C, 111th Infantry. He participated in the Argonne Forest engagement and died of wounds at Bois de Chatel field hospital.

October 10, 1918: Herbert J. Sheldon, class of 1914, was killed in action at the age of 28. He was 1st lieutenant in Company G, 125th infantry and was acting as intelligence officer of his battalion. Sheldon served overseas from July 22, 1918 until his death.

Herbert Sheldon

October 10, 1918: Eugene E. Ewing, class of 1915, was killed in action at age 25.  He belonged to Company A, 18th Infantry at the time of his death. Ewing fought in the Battle of Verdun and the Metz advance.

Eugene Ewing

October 11, 1918: Samuel Robinson McNair, class of 1920, died from bronchial pneumonia on the hospital ship, the USS Mercy. He served in the U.S. Navy on the USS Alabama as a Seaman 2nd class. He was 21 years old

October 17, 1918: PFC Harold R. Siggins, class of 1917, died of pneumonia. He served with the U.S. Army 591st Ambulance Service. His illness was worsened because he had been gassed rescuing a damaged vehicle from a heavily shelled area. His lieutenant wrote; “He is missed by everyone of us. He was our brother.”

October 19, 1918: U.S. Army Private Erling F. Edwardson, class of 1913, died from pneumonia at 27 years old.  He was part of Battery C, 119th Regiment, training detachment.

October 19, 1918: U.S. Army Corporal Rudolph T. Lekstrum, class of 1917, died from wounds received in action. He served with Company A, 107th Field Signal Battalion and was involved in offensives in Chateau Thierry and Soissions sectors. He was 25 years old.

R Lekstrum

October 31, 1918: U.S. Army Major Ira D. MacLachlan, class of 1910, died of wounds received in action at the age of 31. He served with the 125th Infantry and was buried at the Military Cemetery Mars Sur Allier in Nievre, France.

October 31, 1918: Stevenson P. Lewis, class of 1916, age 25, was in killed in action in Romagne, France.  He served with Battery E, 124th Field Artillery, and the American Ambulance Field Service in France.  He was “Awarded [the] Silver Star….this officer was posthumously promoted to First Lieutenant of Field Artillery by the President”

November 5, 1918: U.S. Army Colonel Robert Sylvester Welsh, class of 1894, was killed in action. He was with the 314th Field Artillery and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for exceptionally meritorious services. He was buried at grave 88 in Argonne American Cemetery, France.

Robert S Welch

November 13, 1918: Laurence J. Bauer, class of 1918, enlisted in the Reserve Corps at Chicago, Illinois on July 27, 1917, and was called into active service on June 1, 1918.  He died of wounds received in an airplane accident at a French hospital at Bar Le Duc.” He was buried at Central Cemetery 542, France.

L J Bauer

November 14, 1918: Garth J. Williams, class of 1919, was a U. S. Army private for Company C., 321st Machine Gun Battalion and served overseas from July 30, 1918 until his death.  He was severely wounded on September 15, 1918 and died from a perforated duodenal ulcer on November 14.

G J Williams

December 2, 1918: Farquhar L. Smith, class of 1920, was a U.S. Army private in Company I, 3rd Battalion, 160th Depot Brigade. He died of broncho pneumonia at 22 years old.

December 27, 1918: U.S. Army 1st Lt. William Thomas McNeil, class of 1913, died at 28 yrs old, from wounds received in action near Bois Belleau. He served overseas with Company I, 101st Infantry from January 23, 1918 until his death. He was buried at cemetery 290 Friodes (Meuse) Grave 293.

Wm Thomas McNeil

This list was compiled by Catharine Neely, who completed a joint internship with the MSU Archives & Historical Collections and the MSU Museum during the 2017-2018 academic year.  Please note that this list may not be complete. If you have information about additional M.A.C. alumni who died during World War I, please contact the University Archives (http://archives.msu.edu/about/contact.php?about_contact)

Below is a slide show of certificates from the State of Michigan Adjutant General’s Office with information about some of the M.A.C. alumni who died during World War I.  The certificates are part of the Frank S. Kedzie papers (http://archives.msu.edu/findaid/ua2-1-8.html).

 

 

 

 

Written by Megan Badgley Malone, collections & outreach archivist





A M. A. C. Legacy, Part 3: Mary Crocker

16 04 2018

 

 

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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.”

Mary Yearbook PhotoMary Crocker graduated in 1918 from the home economics division and wrote avidly to her brothers while they served in France.  While Mary herself did not serve overseas and stayed home to finish her education at Michigan Agricultural College, she is an interesting participant to consider in this trilogy because of her collection of letters and her scrapbook.  Her contribution to the narrative of her family and the college was a quiet but crucial one.

During her education she enjoyed what is assumed to be an active social life, joining the Omicron Nu society while she was at school and attending dances. She kept some of the letters from young men asking if she would like to join them in attending dances or football games.  These all date from 1916, before America would enter the war, but several of them are from young men who would in the next year enlist in the armed services, such as Ralph Johnson, ‘16, A. Hopperstead, ‘18, and Harold Parks, ‘18.

She also enjoyed a constant relationship with her brothers. She exchanged letters with Emory and Martin when they were home just as she did when they were across the ocean. Emory wrote Mary a note about thanksgiving plans and how he had told Martin that he couldn’t get together later that afternoon. He also complained that when he tried to visit Mary at Howard Terrace, he was snubbed by some of the other women who were living there.  He wrote, “I rapped at the door and no-body came so I stepped inside and pushed the button and then some of those girls wouldn’t come and find out what I wanted.” He tells her that he’ll be going on a hike with Ralph Johnson, but then continues venting his irritation with her dorm mates: “If a girl would be in the same position the worst rough-neck in the dorm would be decent to her. If there is anything makes me sore it is to have some girl try to make a fool out of me. They knew I was there so all they did was giggle and whisper. The dickens with them.”

A few weeks before America entered the war, Mary sent her brother some sweets to enjoy, and as a thank you, she received a silly letter filled with flowery language from the men that were lucky enough to have Emory share with them: “Due to the fact that Emory is the only ‘Sir Galahad’ in this ward, the rest being nonchalant Knights of the Loyal Order of Jilted and Disappointed Youths, we must look upon him as our only benefactor and champion of our worthy and uplifted cause…Humbly and Confectionately yours.” The men who signed were Emory, Harry Weckler, Frank Warner, J. E. Foess, Cosmer LeVeaux, K. C. Beake, and Frank E. Hausherr.  Every man who signed his name would enlist in the war, and Cosmer LeVeaux would lose his life in the fighting.

During the war, writing to soldiers was encouraged in order to keep up morale, and Mary wrote to other soldiers besides her brothers. One was a M. A. C. graduate, Corporal John F. Galloway, ‘17. In a show of dark humor, probably in response to a question Mary posed in a previous letter to him, John begins with, “Dead? No, not just yet. Just busy, that’s all.” He goes on to tell her he’s proud of her and her accomplishments at school and the people he’s run into. He tells her a humorous anecdote about searching men for alcohol when he was on guard duty:

“Another time I was corp. of the guard and our post was at the terminal of the car line. Our duty was to search every one for booze. As they got off the car we would line them up and pat them in the chest, and hips, etc to see if there were any bottle on them. Usually there would be a bunch of women and girls there too, and you ought to have seen the expressions on their faces as we looked the men over. Must have thot [sic] their turn was next but we do not search them. It sure was comical to see them.”

After his story, he continues by talking about the football team and why they were doing poorly that year and about a messy training session he had on the rifle range. Overall, his tone is a lighthearted one written to a friend more than a letter of a soldier writing home.

Not all the letters Mary received were from friends or family.  One was marked “Dear friend” and was signed by a Pvt. Ray E. Dulmage. Having most likely already gotten a letter from Mary, Dulmage wrote back, “I suppose you already know much more than I can tell you about this country since you have two brothers here. I may tell you another side of the story, which may be of interest to you.” He goes into detail about the people and how they live, that “the houses are of stone and cement” and “very old and just as odd looking” with “ no furniture to speak of, no carpets only dirt, dirt, dirt.” He talks about the people, how the women “seem to be degenerate” and “all the men I have seen are the older ones,” which would make sense since it would be assumed that any man capable of fighting was fighting. He noticed the children were able to quickly learn english. Many of them would sing “Hail! Hail! The gang’s all here” when the soldiers would go back to camp, and Dulmage suspected that the children thought it was their national anthem.

The earlier letters Mary collected show a life expected of young college students, which furthers the understanding of how thoroughly the war would change life for the individuals that are introduced through her photos and correspondences. While only a few letters written by Mary were collected, her contribution is crucial and her viewpoint is more of that of the narrator in this saga.  She herself is silent, and her words are read minimally, but she is the vehicle that allows for a deeper understanding through this intimate look at the life of students, soldiers and how the everyday was changed with America’s entry into the war.

Written by Catharine Neely

Sources:

Emory Crocker to Mary Crocker, 21 November 1915, Box FD, Folder 1, Boutell Mary Crocker Papers, collection UA 10.3.104, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Emory Crocker, et al. to Mary Crocker, 19 March 1917, Box FD, Folder 1, Boutell Mary Crocker Papers, collection UA 10.3.104, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

John Galloway to Mary Crocker, 1 December 1917, Box FD, Folder 7, Boutell Mary Crocker Papers, collection UA 10.3.104, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Ray Dulmage to Mary Crocker, 21 June 1918, Box FD, Folder 7, 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.

Box FD, Folder 14, Boutell Mary Crocker Papers, collection UA 10.3.104, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.





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.





A M. A. C. Legacy, Part 1: Emory Crocker

22 01 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. 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: those who stayed and those who went “over there.”

Emory Crocker

Yearbook Photo of Emory Crocker from The Wolverine, 1917

Emory Crocker, Class of 1917, was a forestry student. Before he began his war service with the National Guard, his career at M. A. C., according to his letters to Mary, was predictable. He wrote of playing football, going on hikes with friends, and asking if Mary could “get me a girl for the Forester’s Party?…Tell her I am not the best dancer in the world but will try and not make life too miserable.” During his participation in the forestry program, he spent one summer studying “the mammoth maple, gray and rock elm, birch and black ash trees” with other young men who at the time were simply students taking classes and learning their future profession. Among this group were others who would join Emory in the war: Sueldon B. Lee, H. N. Putnam, J. E. Foess, Roger W. Billings, Harold A. Clementsen, B. M. McClure, and Cosmer Magnus Leveaux, all with the Class of 1917. Leveaux and Emory were soldiers with Battery A, 119th Field Division, and Leveaux would lose his life on August 10, 1918, fighting “north of Chateau Thiery [sic].”[3]

The letters from Emory to his family start on October 8, 1917 when he was stationed in Waco, Texas. He mostly tells his family of camp goings-on, the people he met, and contagion scares and quarantines. On December 29, 1917, he wrote to tell his parents what Christmas in the military looked like:

“I got more this year for Xmas than I ever got before… I have got all kinds of knitted socks, toilet soap, tooth paste [sic] [,] wristletts [sic], trench caps, candy, tobacco, talcum pow[d]er, handkerchiefs and other things too numerous to mention. The box I got from the Lansing Red Cross was the best. There was even a gem safety razer [sic] in it. I will need every thing [sic] when we get in France I guess.”

Emory’s Christmas in the armed forces included packages from different Red Cross organizations and women who made knitted things to contribute to the war effort outside of his hometown, but he also received gifts from his family, such as “two packages…and a box of cake.” While this time was enjoyable, it was temporary, and a later line in his letter hints to the grueling hours of work: “I simply haven’t had time for nearly two weeks to do much writting [sic]. A man has mighty little time to himself in the army.”

Emory also talks mentions different attitudes that he and other soldiers had during their training: “I hear that every body [sic] that can is flocking to the Quarter Master [sic] Corps and the Ordinance [sic] Corps up North. I don’t blame them.  It is only natural that the majority would try to get in the safest place they could.” Besides the normal fears of the battlefield, Emory also had to face the technological advances that this war presented. The military began using vehicles, and this was daunting and unfamiliar: “Where I am out of luck in this war is that I know nothing at all about motors…. They have taken our horses and are going to replace them by motor trucks and motorcycles and automobiles. I am out of date in this war.” And of course, soldiers understood the military’s censorship rules.  “Don’t publish or talk to any one [sic] about what I write,”

Censorship approval Emory Crocker

Censor Signature of Approval, From Mary Crocker Collection, Box FD, Folder 4

Emory wrote to his mother. “There are strict orders out forbidding soldiers writting [sic] to news papers [sic] without just having the letters censored…. If any uncensored letters are published some one [sic] is going to get it. Of course that will be the soldier.”  While he understood what was at stake, he needed to make the rest of his family aware for his sake. Overall, Emory’s letters show how much war would change and shake up the life of a soldier as well as his family.

In addition to having to train and carry the responsibilities of a soldier at war, he also had to fight a battle with a less visible opponent: disease. Even though influenza is the best recognized illness during this era, other diseases plagued soldiers. In his first letter from Waco, dated October 8, 1917, Emory revealed that his camp was “quarantined with diphtheria” and that “there are a couple of cases now.” A few days later, he writes again, including a sarcastic comment to the perceived overreaction: “Well, we are quarantined to our Battery street. They say we have diphtheria. That is a couple of the men have sore throats so it must be diphtheria you see.” It only took a couple of days for his irritation to set in. He would be released only to be hospitalized again two months later with pneumonia. However, he was more worried about being left behind than succumbing to illness: “It was only a little touch….I only hope the battery doesn’t leave before I get out.” He was going to make sure that when his unit left, he would be with them. About a month later, his unit was scheduled to leave for Camp Merritt, New Jersey. Shortly before they left, he was still in the hospital, but “I argued with them so much that they let me out.”

It wasn’t all bad, however. Emory did also talk about running into people from M. A. C. fairly regularly, and how excited both parties were to see each other:

“I got a surprise the other night. Some one [sic] called me and I stepped outside of the tent and met Bill Anderson,… who graduated with ‘17.  He was shipped down with a bunch from Custer. He certainly was a tickeled [sic] fellow to see some one [sic] he knew….He didn’t know whether he would see anything of us down here and he was sore as the dickens because he didn’t say he wanted to be in the artillery when he first came. I never saw a fellow who was so tickled to see some one [sic] he knew as Bill was…. I took him over to Lt. Donelley and Donelley who knew Bill well in school is going to get him transfered [sic]. Bill Told me all the M.A.C. news from Custer. Harry Stewart is also down here in the 126th. He was another tickled kid to see someone he knew.”

Emory’s letters from France provide possibly the richest and most revealing chronicles of the entire collection of his writings. He started to share more with his family about what he did as a soldier. His new experiences were more richly detailed, starting with his training: “We get a lot of drill with gas masks. They say there isn’t any excuse of a man being gassed if he does as told.” Gas warfare was new in the Great War, and soldiers prepared for encountering clouds of different types of gases.

Gas Mask Museum

Gas mask used by soldiers during WWI with carrying bag, from the Michigan State University Museum Cultural Collections)

What Emory would be most recognized for was his work as a gunner: “I never worked on a gun squad until we came here except now and then an occassional [sic] drill. I was never very close to one when they were firing. The first few times out the firing gave me an awful headache but it doesn’t effect [sic] me at all now.” His work as a gunner became a point of pride as his Battery was the first from Lansing to fire on the Germans. In a newspaper article saved by Mary in her scrapbook, Emory is listed as the gunner, and the shells from the first two shots were “sent back home by Major Amos Ashley” and were “on exhibit in the window of Hurd’s Men’s Shop on south Washington avenue near Washtenaw street.”

Emory on cannon enhanced

Emory Crocker (left) on a gun with another soldier (unknown), from the Mary Crocker Collection, Scrapbook

At this point, Emory’s written trepidation of fighting was gone and replaced with bravado. Emory tells Mary that “I am a gunner and believe me I am going to have the sights of that gun right where they ought to be. I am going to make it a personal grudge.” He also wrote his parents about getting ready to go to the front, saying, “I hope our next shots will be fired towards the Dutchmen.” He would get his wish on June 12, 1918:

“We came to the front several days ago and have seen some hot stuff on two or three occassions [sic]. Yesterday morning the Hun gave it to us for about three hours in good style and then kept up a harassing fire throughout the day. No one in the battery was hurt. The Hun isn’t the only one who has been doing the firing. Up to yesterday morning we have bothered him continually; firing about three times as many shells as he did. Yesterday morning our infantry broke up a nice little party the Hun was figuring on and he got sore and gave it to us….I enjoy the honor of being with one of the two guns that were the first of our regiment to fire at the German. They tell us those first rounds done business too.”

Letter Emory Crocker

Letter From Emory Crocker to Mary, From Mary Crocker Collection, Box FD, Folder 4

Emory’s retelling of his first battle at the front reads as an exciting tale and, for him in that first battle, it was. There were no casualties, and he got to shoot at the enemy just like what he “thought we would be doing…when I enlisted.” However, it is important to pause and consider what these letters would have meant to those at home who had never experienced the kind of technology this war had introduced. If Emory was experiencing new and overwhelming technologies first hand, these revelations read by friends and family through letters must have seemed particularly alien—and frightening—in  nature.

Emory’s letters to his family offers a unique and personal look at what American, and specifically M. A. C., soldiers experienced in France and how they communicated that to their families back home. With varying levels of fear and boldness intermingled with touching, personal moments, Emory describes his experiences in Waco, New Jersey, and France in a way that is deeply appreciated by the people wishing to understand more about this crucial moment in history.

Bibliography:

Emory Crocker to Mary Crocker, 8 January 1916, Box FD, Folder 1, 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.

“Cosmer Leveaux With ‘18,” From The M.A.C. Record, 30 September 1918,  M.A.C. Record digital collection, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Emory Crocker to Mary Crocker, 29 December 1917, Box FD, Folder 2, Boutell  Mary Crocker Papers, collection UA 10.3.104, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Emory Crocker to Mary Crocker, 13 January 1918, Box FD, Folder 2, Boutell  Mary Crocker Papers, collection UA 10.3.104, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Emory Crocker to Mary Crocker, 8 October 1917, Box FD, Folder 2, Boutell  Mary Crocker Papers, collection UA 10.3.104, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Emory Crocker to Mary Crocker, 13 October 1917, Box FD, Folder 2, Boutell  Mary Crocker Papers, collection UA 10.3.104, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Emory Crocker to Mary Crocker, 28 January 1918, Box FD, Folder 2, Boutell  Mary Crocker Papers, collection UA 10.3.104, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Emory Crocker to Mary Crocker, 14 February 1918, Box FD, Folder 3, Boutell  Mary Crocker Papers, collection UA 10.3.104, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Emory Crocker to Mary Crocker, 19 May 1918, Box FD, Folder 4, Boutell  Mary Crocker Papers, collection UA 10.3.104, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Emory Crocker to Mary Crocker, 23 May 1918, Box FD, Folder 4, Boutell  Mary Crocker Papers, collection UA 10.3.104, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Emory Crocker to Mary Crocker, 20 June 1918, Box FD, Folder 4, Boutell  Mary Crocker Papers, collection UA 10.3.104, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Emory Crocker to Mary Crocker, 27 May 1918, Box FD, Folder 4, Boutell  Mary Crocker Papers, collection UA 10.3.104, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Written by Catharine Neely, intern for MSU Archives & MSU Museum





A Brief History of Military at MSU

1 06 2012

The military of M.A.C. in the 1890s

Michigan State University has a history of being involved—whether we want it or not—in nearly every area of social and political life and this includes military service.  M.A.C. had only existed for six years before the onset of America’s next big conflict, the Civil War, and the faculty and students responded dutifully.  In fact, the first seven graduates of the college were not even present at the awarding of their degrees, having already been allowed to leave to serve in Missouri.  Two of these courageous men gave their lives by the end of the war.

The cadets of 1915 have a wall scaling contest.

For its duration, the First World War was not as widely discussed across campus.  Certainly faculty and students participated in the war effort, but there was a restraint in discussions and support that persisted until World War II. And while World War I was no less devastating to the family and friends of M.A.C. than the Civil War in terms of casualties, stories of bravery and commitment, and, occasionally, comical coincidences did float back to campus.  One such story arose from two men named Ralph Johnson and Paul Ginter.  These soldiers met in an aid hospital in France shortly after the outbreak of war, and found quickly that not only were they both graduates of M.A.C., but that both were forestry majors!  Comforting how our college can form bonds between men and women in the most unusual of circumstances.

Two men train on campus in the 1920s.

With the arrival of World War II came a new community spirit the likes of which M.S.C. had never seen before.  After the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the beginning of U.S. involvement, M.S.C. president Hannah was instrumental in adapting the ways of Michigan State.  The college created a new summer school program so that students could finish their degrees within two years and move on to serve.  New interdisciplinary classes and training programs were imposed in order to ready the enlisted youth and faculty—nearly 6,200 of them, just at the start—at M.S.C. for service.  Professors believed the soldiers of M.S.C. needed a rounded education to be entirely prepared-after physical training the students were taught foreign languages, map making and aerial photography skills, and the benefits of geopolitics.

At some points, up to 50% of the population on campus were soldiers assigned for training at MSU by the US War Department.  These great numbers of people, in addition to the usual crowds of students, strained resources in the area, but this was a challenge the students and residents of East Lansing were willing to take.  Civilians in the area learned first aid training and fire fighting skills, they threw parties and sold produce grown in their Victory Gardens to buy war bonds, they entertained veterans around the state, and they researched ways to improve the war.  This included food production as well as penicillin and rubber manufacturing.  M.S.C. also supplied laborers to help on farms that were struggling to meet their quotas.  Radio stations, newspapers, and every college department pitched in to help the effort.  Michigan State experienced camaraderie unlike any before.

Three girls in the Women’s Land Army help out on a farm in 1944.