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Veterans Day: Recollection from a WWI Veteran

I am lucky.

My grandfather, with much urging, memorialized some of his memories in a Kinko’s bound book.  This week, I plan to share some of his thoughts leading up to and during World War I.

The only title Grandpa gave his memoir is, “Researched, compiled and written by Frank N. Zyber”  (No date, but as I remember, Grandpa was somewhere around 95 when he put fingers to keyboard and memorialized these memories.)  I record his memories here, exactly as he did.  Where I think clarification or context helpful, I added a few words in [brackets.]

Starting on Page 56:

I really do not know why Louie [Frank’s brother] and I took sick with something that the doctor said was typhoid fever, which was as he said quite rare.  Louie seemed to get over it much sooner than I.  My fever was a continuous 104 degrees and I could not take food and drank what seemed a gallon of water a day, with very little sleep.  This went on for two weeks or more until that one night.  I did feel thirsty and fell asleep and slept until early the next morning when Dad was feeling my head and told me that my head was cool.  But I felt very wet with sweat and fell asleep and slept till late afternoon and found myself wringing wet and the sweat had an awful smell.  I changed clothing and bedding and again slept till some time the next day.  As I awakened, I smelled something that smelt ever so good, that was Mother cooking sauerkraut.  I struggled hard to get down stairs and could hardly wait till supper was ready.  So I started eating and it seemed that I could not get filled.  I found out later that was the worst thing that I could have done.  I was told that during the illness, my bowels were weakened by the bug that was in them and too much food too soon could be disastrous.  Anyway, I slowly mended but with a large loss of hair.

There was that war still going on in the old country [Poland] and this U.S.A. was told by President Wilson they would not get involved, but as things were getting bad over there and it looked as if England and France were unable to cope with Germany invading, it could be seen that it would not be long before we were getting drawn into it.  Only a few weeks later, was was declared on Germany and our boys were on their way there.  The factories became very busy and soon parts of factory buildings were converted to make war supplies.  The engine for the Liberty fighter plane was made in the Buick Motor plant and many other items throughout the plants.  The factories needed men and they were hard to find.  There was the Oak Park just across the street from the employment office and the office personnel went into the part and when they saw any man lounging around, they were asked if they wanted a job.  No one suffered any hardship and this went on till the summer of 1918 when things were getting bad in Europe.  There was talk and soon the papers said that there would be a widening of the draft age.  Also married men without children would be on the next draft call.

World War I, Camp Meade, MD, 1917-1918

All this got me to thinking and maybe it wouldn’t be long and I would be called.  Sure enough, before long that those between ages 18 and 40 were to register.  Then one day as I was reading the paper, I saw a little item that said that Sgt Mills from Camp Meade was in the city and was trying to find band members that would like to enlist in a military band.  He was organizing the “First Field Artillery Band” and needed musicians.  He said that he already had a group of players but needed many more especially in certain sections.  He also said that the regiment was already fully trained for overseas and were on notice that they could be called on a twelve hour notice.  His regiment was stationed at Camp Meade Maryland, which was about half way between Washington D.C. and Baltimore.  I told Dad and Mother about this and tried to make them understand that I would soon be drafted and that would be the infantry, and that was a lot more dangerous, but if I enlisted in the band we would be entertaining the soldiers and we would go to the front only as stretcher bearers whenever the need arose.  And too, we would have better food and quarters.  It didn’t take much talking to get their approval so the next day I went to see Sgt. W. Mills and right ten and there I was signed up and I was told to go to get my physical and I would be told when I was to leave for camp.

It was at this time that a nationwide flu epidemic was raging and it was something that had the symptoms of a severe lung congestion, but much deadlier and was called “The Spanish Influenza.”  It spread very rapidly and became the worst plague that this country ever had.  It was said later that this epidemic killed more people than the war.

….More to come.

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3 Comments

    • Adela Adela

      Thank you, Susan. More from Grandpa tomorrow!

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