STENOGRAPHER-FOR-HIRE and former high school teacher Lena Annis Stover wanted to do something for the war effort above and beyond knitting sweaters and rolling bandages for the Red Cross. So she enlisted in the United States Navy. Forty-four years old and unmarried, Stover attained the rank of Chief Yeoman and served as private secretary for one of the ranking officers at the Puget Sound navy yards at Bremerton, Washington.
In the summer of 1918, Stover obtained a pass to Camp Lewis (the primary army training camp for men from the western states) in order to visit with her nephew, Private Fay Harper of Banner, Wyoming, who volunteered for the remount service and was stationed at American Lake, Washington.
While Stover's letter tells very little about her own experiences in the Navy, it does give a great deal of detail about Camp Lewis, as well as Harper's experiences and attitudes. The undated letter was published in The Sheridan Post on August 2, 1918.
State Historic Site
A pleasant two-hour ride by boat took me from Seattle to Tacoma. From Tacoma to Camp Lewis, a distance of about eighteen miles, I went by auto. There is a fine paved road all the way, so we were not long going out. A second road, parallel to the first, is being built, which will be a great help in handling the large volume of traffic between the two places. We passed through some good farming country, with beautiful orchards, meadows and fields, and comfortable looking farm houses. In a good many places, however, the timber comes down to the road. As we approached the camp, we passed through some heavy timber where groups of soldiers were at work cleaning out and burning the underbrush.
The entrance [to Camp Lewis] consists of an archway built of stones with a wing on either side, but there is no fence around the camp, at least not at that end. ... I found my way to the hostess house without difficulty, arriving there before eleven o’clock. There were boys on the porch and in the lobby, but Fay was not among them, so I brushed up a bit, and found a seat on the porch where I would be sure to see him when he came. The hostess house is a very comfortable place. The porch has chairs for about a hundred people. The lobby, reading room, and dining room are all large. ... There were people coming and going all the time, some to see relatives and others to see the camp. ... It is a great thing and provides a good meeting place for the men and their relatives.
Twelve o’clock came, but no Fay. I began to think my letter had not reached him, or perhaps he had been sent away, but a few minutes after twelve the bus stopped in front of the house, and here he came, apparently very glad to see me. His pass had been delayed, so he had not been able to get away until twelve o’clock. We had a good dinner, then sat a while on the porch before starting out to see the camp.
Fay looks fine and seems in the best of spirits. He says he weighs more than he ever did, and that he gets plenty to eat. He told me he had a chance to learn to box, and I said, “That will be fine exercise. He replied: “Exercise! They give us exercise before breakfast and after breakfast.” So you see they are kept busy, which, of course, is a good thing.
Fay has learned a great deal about army life and uses army terms quite frequently. He seems to realize that orders must be obeyed promptly and that a clear record will give him greater privileges. He said he had escaped the guardhouse so far, but that he got called down occasionally, and that the captain gave him a week’s kitchen police duty because he failed to report for duty on the dentist job. It seems that the captain was going to put him in the infirmary to work for a dentist, but Fay failed to show up. When the captain got hold of him and asked him about it, Fay told him he didn’t think it was any use to report as he didn’t want that job anyway. The captain let him off, but gave him a good lecture on obeying orders and put him washing dishes for a week. After that they assigned him to one of the barns, which suits him all right.
He says they have a lot of horses, but are not breaking many of them just now, so about all the bronco riding he does is when people come out to visit the remount station, which seems to be a popular place with visitors. One day a bunch came out, and the captain called Fay and another boy to ride for them. That night Fay went to the theater and discovered that the people for whom he had ridden in the afternoon were the entertainers for the evening. His company is made up of cowpunchers, and he says there are a lot of fine riders from Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho among them. At first his company had cavalry drill and were told they would go across as cavalry, but now they are getting infantry drill.
He spent the Fourth at Tacoma and was in several of the riding contests. There was one contest, which, I judge, was something like a relay race. A package had to be passed from one boy to another and then handed to the captain. At the last minute Fay’s company decided to put in a team just to give the other teams a run for their money. Roy Barkey, Fay, and two boys from Miles City, Montana, were chosen. The boys agreed among themselves that they would ride hard to win the cup, and succeeded in doing so. Their captain told them their names would be engraved on it, and it will, I presume, be kept as a company trophy. Fay rode in the “Rodeo” at the camp, so he must be considered a good rider.
Fay told me he had asked for a transfer so he could go across as he didn’t want to come home after the war and have to say he did all his fighting in a barn at Camp Lewis. I was glad to hear him say that as one doesn’t think much of the fellows who are looking for a soft job where they will be out of danger, but of course, we want him to come back to us safe and sound. It will be a great experience for him, and I feel that death does not touch a man until his work is done, no matter where he may be. When I saw all the boys there going about their work, I was glad we had a boy among them, and I suppose I looked just as proud of Fay as the other people did of their boys, for I know I felt mighty proud of him.
We rode as far as we could in the bus, then walked across the main parade ground toward the remount station. Men were drilling in every direction. After crossing the parade ground, we came to a grove, all around the edge of which are hurdles, vaulting bars and such things, which are used in examining the men for overseas service. Fay says they are put through a stiff examination, but seems to be confident that he can get through.
Beyond the grove was an open space, and here a company was drilling. It was a warm day, and Fay had unbuttoned his coat, but I noticed that he quickly buttoned it up. I also noticed that he was careful to salute all the officers we met and that he salutes well, which is always the mark of a good soldier. In crossing the parade ground, I said: “Fay, isn’t it a little hard drilling on this pebbly ground?” He replied: “Oh, you don’t have time to think about anything like that. You just keep your head right up in the air, for if you don’t they are right after you.”
Farther on the wagon train was drilling. There were probably thirty or forty wagons, each drawn by four horses or four mules. This drill is chiefly for the benefit of the drivers. We got in the shade of a tree and watched them for a while. Later on we saw them come in from drill, two wagons abreast with outriders, and they made quite a procession. I was fortunate in visiting the camp on a week day as I got to see the men at work.
Finally, Fay located his company away over so far that I could hardly see them. He said one day they deployed them in skirmish line and ran about a mile, having them lie down every few rods as though they were shooting, then turned them around and ran them right back again. Just imagine a bunch of cowpunchers running two miles on foot and living to tell the tale! Fay said his feet gave him some trouble at first, but that they did not bother him much now.
We got to the remount station in time to see Fay’s company come in. He pointed out the lieutenant and the first sergeant, and, as soon as their backs were turned, made strange signs at the boys who answered them with broad grins. Of course, Fay had the laugh on them that day for he didn’t have to drill.
It seems that if the boys do not want to drill, they just slip into the brush and stay there until drill is over. Fay said that one day he hit for the tall timber, but so many other fellows came out that he decided there would probably be a roll call, so he went up and drilled. He said he hadn’t missed drill but a few times, as he figured drilling one hour a day was better than drilling eight or doing kitchen police duty. Fay doesn’t seem to be very fond of washing dishes. ...
He gets to hear good entertainments at the camp theater, for the most noted people of the United States appear there. There are ball games, boxing matches, riding contests, and all those things which men enjoy. ... He is having a good time and learning a lot, while the training he is receiving will be valuable to him after the war is over.
We rode back to the hostess house and rested there a while. Then Fay took me to the bus station, where a car was just ready to leave for Tacoma, so I got back to Seattle in good time. I certainly enjoyed the day and have tried to tell you all about it.