WHEN TWENTY-FIVE year old Kirby, Montana, farmer Elmer Evert Kobold enlisted in the army in March 1918, he probably thought he'd be sent to France to fight in the mud and the rain and the heat. Instead, he ended up in the Philippines - where rain and heat were much more prevalent than mud - and there was little in the way of actual fighting.
Kobold served with the Army's 27th Infantry, which had been serving in The Philippines on and off since the regiment's creation in 1901. In this undated letter from Manila, printed in The Sheridan Daily Enterprise in June 1918, Kobold describes his trip to the islands (via Hawaii and Guam), and a little of life in America's most distant colony.
By the way - shortly after he wrote this letter from Manila, Private First Class Kobold and the rest of his comrades got a big surprise when they were sent to a new location; not France, as some speculated, but Siberia, where they became known forever after as "The Wolfhounds."
State Historic Site
We do not have a photograph of Elmer Kobold in our files. If you know of one and you'd like to share it with us, please contact us at email@example.com.
On the fifth of April we went on board the U S army transport, Sherman, and sailed slowly out into the San Francisco Bay and passed through the Golden Gate, and beautiful California soon faded in the distance. ... Nothing happened of any importance til the third day out when we passed two ships bound for San Francisco. After the third day we saw nothing but salt water until the ninth day out when we woke up in sight of the Hawaiian Islands, and believe me, it was a welcome sight to us. We were on shore 48 hours and during that time I and my partner were over the entire city of Honolulu. The first place we went to was the army and navy YMCA building, which is the best I ever saw. It covers an entire block. It was formerly the Royal Palace, the home of the king and queen, but was afterwards converted into a hotel and finally into the YMCA, for which we are all thankful.
The island that Honolulu is on is about ninety miles around, and there is somewhere near 20,000 U S soldiers stationed on it, so you can see how well protected this island is.
It would take me a week to tell you all I saw at Honolulu, but I'll tell you this much, that they had some of the finest bananas that I ever had the good luck to taste. We just roamed about, eating and sight-seeing until at last our shore-leave was up and we went back on the ship. We backed away from the docks and once more started on our way across the Pacific and the shores of Hawaii soon became dim in the distance.
The next morning when we went on deck we were once more out of sight of land. For fourteen days we never saw land or ship; nothing more happened until ... we came in sight of the city of Agana, the largest city on Guam Island. Now, before, I go further, I will add that we did not go on shore at Guam, for the reason that there are no docks there. We cast anchor about two miles from the shore. There were lots of natives who came over to the ship in their canoes and sold us bananas and cocoanuts. ... The natives of Guam live on rice, fish and cocoanuts. Uncle Sam is trying to teach them how to farm. How far he has succeeded in the task I am unable to say. The natives speak the Spanish language and wear almost enough clothing to hide their nakedness.
On the morning of the sixth of May we woke up in Manilla Bay. ... I will now tell you a few things about Manila. I've been to see the old cathedrals, some of which are four or five hundred years old. The streets are very narrow. Our sidewalks in Sheridan are almost as wide as the streets. Here the sidewalks are wide enough for two persons in some places, and in other places for only one man. ... The streets are crooked, and you can follow one street and go clear around the city. The most of the draying is done with ox carts drawn by caribou or water buffalo, as they are sometimes called. In passing along the street, you will see lots of natives with sticks across their shoulders carrying a large bundle at either end. They go at a fox trot, as this gait takes the jar off their shoulders. If they are carrying anything very large, there will be four of them with two sticks. I have on two occasions seen four natives carrying a piano.
I am assigned to Co. K, 27th Infantry. The 27th is a famous regiment. We were sent here to bring this regiment up to war strength. There is some rumor going around that we are going to France pretty soon, but I don't think anyone will know when we are going until we are gone. However, the way we are drilling, we must be going. It is closer to France from here than it is from America, so we will probably go from here if we go. It is 7,500 miles from here to San Francisco. That puts me about 9,000 from Sheridan. I'm so far away from home that if I was to go any farther, I would be started back!