September 1918

A very good friend of mine has been spelunking in old family documents and he found a letter excerpted below. It speaks of a place distant in time and place from most all of us and it speaks simply. It’s fascinating.





After eleven years, this is the way I remember the experiences we had in Siberia,where I served in the A. E. F. Army of occupation. This will be a skeleton recital and many of the details of army life will be missing. Some of the things that happened there are forgotten and others better remain untold. It was a wonderful experience. The one year and ten days were worth all they cost, but I would not give a plugged nickel to go back again under any conditions.

On the first of September 1918 we, Co. C., 12th Infantry left San Francisco. The ship sailed under wartime precautions, no lights at night, no smoking allowed on deck, and all the other necessary rules. The first stop was made at Packadada, Japan, where we were coaled and watered. There was not enough coal for us there so we sailed to Otane to finish. While there we were hit by a high off shore wind which blew so strong that it broke our anchor and sent the transport out into breakwater. We struck a heavy coal barge, which was completely demolished. Ship officers were of the opinion that striking this barge saved us from being wreaked. On the way out of the harbor we met three disabled ships that were being towed into harbor for repairs.

After thirty days we arrived at Vladivostok. It was an ideal autumn day. This town is situated on a rolling terrain. It presented a very shabby appearance from the harbor, but that is typical of nearly every seacoast town. The first thing that struck me as being strange was the great amount of American made farm machinery piled up on the dock in the original crates and bundles. This machinery evidently had been taken from the warehouses in order to make room for the troops. At any rate, we were quartered there while in the city.

The first thing we did after getting on shore was to look for eats. We finally found a shack, which resembled an eating-place, as we went in and ordered a meal. We could not tell them what we wanted, but by using our hands making signs and pointing to things displayed, we managed to convey the impression that we craved eggs. I consumed eighteen at one sitting and was not the champion consumer at that. We were kept pretty close to the barracks, so I did not get to see much of the city. After three days we entrained for Khabarvosk. We pronounced this name Ha-bar-us. That was not like the Siberians said it, be we know what we meant and that was all that was necessary. This train consisted of a lot of cars corresponding to our box cars but much smaller. Each car had a stove in it and it was up to us to rustle wood and coal for the trip. Twelve-inch planks were placed along two sides and two ends of these cars on which we slept. The trip to Habarus took three days and three nights. A cook car was attached to the train and at mealtimes the train was stopped, the food set out and the soldiers lined up and served in regular army style. The main was situated five miles from the railroad station. When we reached this station we strapped on our heavy pack, and carried barrack bag and rifle for the five-mile march. Without exception this was the most miserable walk I ever took. We were soft and the five miles seemed to get longer with every step.

After reaching camp, we were reassigned to the Co. C. 27th Infantry, and our duty was to patrol and guard the railroad trains from this point to Vladivostok, a difference of approximately 450 miles. During the summertime we were continually on the move guarding trains and looking up roving bands of Bolshavick bandits, but in the wintertime we were holed up the same as all Siberia.

There were four thousand American troops in this town of Habarus, and fifty thousand Japanese, also a sprinkling of troops from all the Allies. I noticed that this same ratio of Japanese troops predominated in all the occupied territory all during my time over there.

Our first duty at this camp was drilling and building a water work and sewage system. By this time the weather was getting cold and in the absence of our winter issue of equipment we were decidedly uncomfortable. We cut holes in socks and used them for mittens and we tied handkerchiefs over our ears in an effort to keep them from freezing.

I did not get a chance to see much of the business parts of these towns but what I did see of the shops gave me the impression that they were very poorly stocked and looked dingy and run down. Service is a thing unknown in the eating houses. We would wait 30 minutes to a whole hour for food after it was ordered. Don’t know what they did all this time, but we could not get prompt service. As a rule we ordered things that could not be spoiled in preparing . . .