State Historic Site
TWENTY-TWO YEAR old farm laborer John Alfred Penton was born in Nebraska. After moving to Wyoming in the early 1900s, Penton lived in Beckton, where he worked as a farm hand for the Ennis family.
With his farm experience, it is probably not surprising that when he was inducted into the service, he was attached to the Army Veterinary Corps. He served both stateside and overseas, where horses were used for pulling everything from ambulances to heavy artillery.
After the war, Penton stayed in Sheridan for awhile, working as a driver for the Veterans Hospital at Fort Mackenzie. in the mid 1930s, he and his wife moved to Riverside, California, where he died in 1942.
Dated September 24, 1918, Penton's letter - addressed to his sister, Mrs. Elmer O'Dell of Kirby, Montana - describes his life at the Veterinary Training School in Camp Lee, Virginia. It was printed in The Sheridan Post on October 11, 1918.
(From In the World War)
Dear sister - Your letter just received and was very glad to get it and to learn that you were getting along so nicely. Suppose Elmer is very busy this fall, as every man should be whether he is on the farm or in the army.
I have been transferred from Camp Dodge, Iowa, to Camp Lee, Virginia, and since leaving home I have been through many states, but none of them looked as good to me as Montana.
Camp Lee is five miles from Petersburg and about twenty-five miles from Richmond. We are only 85 miles from Newport News, where there is an aviation training school. Almost every day we can see the airplanes flying over our camp, and there are always two of them together.
It has been somewhat disagreeable here ever since we arrived. It has not been so cold, but it has been damp and foggy, and the cold is the kind that goes right through a person.
We are only about two miles from the place where General Lee had his headquarters during the Civil War, and when we were out on a hike a few days ago, we went past the oldest cemetery in Virginia. It was laid out in 1702. After the Civil War many old soldiers were buried there. Some of the hardest fighting of the war was done near where Camp Lee is now located.
We are in quarantine now and do not know when we will be released. Some of the boys have the measles, and the Spanish influenza is in the camp. We get our throats sprayed twice a day as a preventative measure. If it was not for the quarantine, we would have been getting ready now to go across seas, but cannot tell now when we will go.
We are sure anxious to get over, but do not suppose we will be on the fighting line very much. Our duties will be to get the wounded horses, give them first aid, and get them back to the hospital as as soon as we can. Then we will take others to the front.
We only drill about two hours every day here at camp. The remainder of the day we spend at school. When the war is over and we get back, we will certainly know all about a horse. In the service we will not carry a rifle, but will have a six shooter about as big as a small cannon.