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Letters Home from an Enlistee in IU’s S. A. T. C. Program: Darling Mother

Blog post by Randi Richardson

On October 1, 1918, as nature dressed the trees in lovely autumn colors, many life-changing events were occurring within the Student Army Training Corps (S.A.T.C.) on the IU campus.  That morning, precisely at 11 AM, President William Lowe Bryan met with 1,200 inductees assembled on Jordan Field in an oath-taking ceremony.  Across the nation, in different time zones, at 400 other college campuses, more than 200,000 men stood at attention and repeated the same oath symbolically in unison.[1]

Sigma Chi

The Sigma Chi House, also known as Barracks 14, was never intended to house this many young men.  Photo from the 1919 IU Year Book.

Perhaps the next order of business was assigning inductees to living quarters which were mostly in repurposed fraternity houses.  Glenn was assigned to Barracks 14, formerly the Sigma Chi house at 601 E. 7th St.  Four days after the induction ceremony, he wrote to his younger sister, Olive, accordingly.

How deedo, Sissie…We’re having a good time even if we are restricted from town.  We are getting good eats, the “Y” furnishes lots of magazines, the school library is open to us and [we have] the big campus, 118 acres, to walk around in.

We had the regular Saturday morning inspection this morning.  We fixed our beds up and laid a towel on the bed.  On the towel we put a comb, a bar of soap, a toothbrush and toothpaste.  Then we put clean underwear and socks on the bed, too.  Tell Mamma I put on my last entire suit of clean underwear this morning.  If I’ve got any at home, good ones, I would like to have her send them…

Flu1918

There’s nothing like a warm union suit on a chilly winter morning.  Styles available for both men and women.

Not long afterward, on October 10, he wrote his mother again telling her that he was by then a “full-fledged soldier who had begun drawing pay even though it was likely that he wouldn’t see it for a while and he didn’t yet have a uniform.

Dear Mother…The uniforms are not all here yet, so they have not been distributed, but some of the fellows who saw what are here say they are mighty shoddy looking.  They call them “service uniforms” which is another name for “second-hand.”  For some reason or another, a man in my barracks got his this morning.  It looked worn and the pants were too large and the coat too small.  The leggings [sic] are fierce.  Some of the fellows are having uniforms made for themselves.  They only cost $40 up.  A notice in the paper said we would get dress uniforms a month or two later…

I was issued an army blanket, so I don’t need that comfort.  I’m as warm as I can be.  We’re getting plenty to eat and all the coffee we want morning and evening…We had roast beef, cabbage, potatoes, head lettuce, coffee and canned peaches and store cake for supper.

There are no cases of influenza in the S.A.T.C. as yet, though there is in Bloomington.

No letters from Glenn are available for the next month.  By then, there had been another major event in Glenn’s life– the closure of the university due to the flu epidemic.  By October 8, according to the Bloomington Evening World, flu cases in Bloomington had reached epidemic proportions, and on October 10 it was ordered that the theatres, churches, all public buildings and city and county schools should be closed, including Indiana University, for at least ten days, possibly longer.  In fact, the campus did not reopen until November 4.

Glenn’s mind, however, was on other things as he noted in a letter to his mother on November 10.

Darling Mother—Whee!  I’ve been recommended as an officer candidate for aerial observation.  Think of it!  I’m so tickled I can’t write straight.  I was one of 43 chosen from 300.  Of course, the aviation examiners at Chicago may think I’m not man enough to fly, but I’m not much scared on that account…

There’s one thing I’ve got to have, honey, and can’t get out after it here and may not be able to get out as 22 more cases of the flu have appeared.  I need a good suitcase.  I can’t keep anything in my grip on account of its shape, and I have to keep everything in it…I have to hold myself in readiness to go to Chicago on a few hours’ notice.

Say, that butter is wonderful after that greasy oleo.  I managed to eat most of it myself but had to fight for the “privilege” when the fellows saw the label, “cow butter.”

flu19182

An interior view of IU’s old Assembly Hall utilized as a hospital during the 1918 flu epidemic.  Photo from the 1919 IU Yearbook.

 

On November 11, just one day after Glenn’s letter and 42 days after many of the men were formally inducted into the S.A.T.C., armistice ended the war.  Newspaper accounts of the event reported much celebration in Bloomington streets.  No letters exist, however, stating the manner in which Glenn celebrated, but surely he did.

Unfortunately, the good news did not bring a closure to the flu epidemic.  Beginning in late November, 200 of the S.A.T.C. men daily exposed their arms to a pneumonia vaccine.  Five doctors administered the injections in the course of an hour, an average of slightly over three per minute.[2]   Not everyone responded well to the vaccine, including Glenn.  He wrote his mother on November 26:

Hello, honey…The pneumonia shot did me up about right.  I felt better Sunday and ate about half a dinner, but it made me sick.  I went to bed that night and just now got up.  I ate some soup and sweet potatoes this noon and a piece of angel food cake a fellow got yesterday for his birthday.  Guess that shot must have simply given me a genuine dose of pneumonia.  I’m all right now except for a little headache, though, of course, I don’t have much pep yet.  I think I would have been able to eat sooner if I had had some of your cooking to tackle…Happy Thanksgiving to you all…Safe at the college, Glenn

His news the following day was not encouraging.  Although his parents were undoubtedly excited to learn that Glenn would be home by New Years, they were disappointed to hear that he was not yet feeling better.

Dear Mother.  We were officially informed this morning that by December 21st S.A.T.C. men would all be discharged.  I wish I was home now…I simply can’t eat the trash here since my stomach has been riled up.  It makes me sick to think about it.  As soon as I get over this “wobbly” feeling, I’m going over to the university cafeteria and try to get my stomach started again in something fit to eat…

I ought to be home three weeks from Sunday to stay.  ‘Spose you can scare up a good, square meal of cornpone, skim milk and rhubarb by that time?  Anything that don’t taste slimy while it slides down to my stomach will suit me.  Bye, bye for this time. B. Glenn

[1] Thomas D. Clark, Indiana University Midwestern Pioneer:  Vol. II/In Mid-passage (Bloomington IN:  Indiana University Press, 1973), p. 209

[2] Bloomington Evening World, November 25, 1918, p. 1.

[3] William G. Roberts, transcription of death record from the Connecticut Death Index, 1949-2012, available online at Ancestry.com.

[4] Alessandro Meregaglia, “Indiana University and World War I,” a 5-part blog series at https://blogs.libraries.indiana.edu/iubarchives/tag/s-a-t-c/

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