NOT ALL WHO served the military during the war years were actually in the military. Thousands of men and women volunteered American Red Cross or YMCA facilities - both at home and overseas - while hundreds of volunteer clergymen ministered to the soldiers at their training camps. Ira Willard Kingsley was one of these.
In May 1918, Reverend Kingsley, pastor of the Sheridan Methodist-Episcopal Church, requested a leave of absence from his church duties to serve as a camp pastor somewhere. The request was granted and Kingsley ended up at Camp Wheeler - a 21,000 acre tent city located near Macon, Georgia.
Born in Vermont in 1875, Kingsley had served as a minister his entire adult life, in Nebraska, Wyoming and - later - in Colorado. When he left his comfortable post in Sheridan to serve in the military camps, it was one of the great adventures of his life. Kingsley's undated letters describing some of the events he witnessed were published in The Sheridan Post, starting in May of 1918.
The throwing of the hand grenades was especially exciting. This is done from the trenches. The top of a man's head, when the grenade is thrown, is seemingly barely above the top. The grenade is shaped something like a lemon, and those that they use here are timed so that they will explode in about five seconds after the pin is pulled, and when the explosion comes, they destroy anything within a radius of 35 feet. You may imagine a man does not take any great length of time to 'wind up' when he is making his throw.
Probably will remain here as camp pastor. There will be 10,000 of the northern troops in here between May 25 and June 1. My work will be largely with them.
In a second letter published in June 1918, Kingsley describes this influx of troops.
There are two things in the life of an army camp of unusual interest. One is the induction of new recruits, and the second the sending out of the trained men for overseas duty - both of which events have happened during the past three weeks. The "rookies" of the May draft, ten thousand strong, began to come in from Michigan and Illinois, the latter part of May.
Talk about efficiency! I can't say as to other camps, but I want to say this for Camp Wheeler: the way in which these men were received, assigned, examined, and informed was little short of the marvelous.
The trains came in at all hours of the night, and the men came at the rate of two thousand a day for five days. For days prior to their coming, squads of men were putting up tents, clearing the streets, putting cots in the tents, etc., so that everything was in readiness several days beforehand. The first train had come in about 2:30 a.m., Monday morning, May 27th. They were met at Camp Wheeler station, marched directly to their company streets, assigned to tents and went directly to bed. The YMCA boys met them as they were being assigned blankets, with drinking water and fresh peaches. After a couple of hours sleep they were given breakfast, marched to the medical headquarters for examination, vaccination and typhoid inoculation. In twenty-four hours after arriving in camp. those who were found physically fit (most of them were), had their clothing issued them and appeared in uniform. ...
As you know, the men are in quarantine during the first three weeks. ... These men have [now] about completed their period of observation and will [soon] be assigned to their various units. The fine thing about it all is the cheerful, optimistic way these men take hold. It was a tremendous climatic change, and they suffered a good deal the first few days with the heat; but there is very little complaint, and the officers of the Dixie Division are very proud of them, and believe me when these men are fit, an army of 2,000,000 of them will make the Kaiser know that America is in to win.
In closing, I have just one thing to say: If the people of the United States, the folks who stay home, do not back these boys to the utmost, materially, morally, and spiritually, we deserve to be licked, and to suffer all the indignities that German "frightfulness" can visit upon us.
(From "In the World War")
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