State Historic Site
FRANK BOYD O'CONNELL was born in Malcolm, Nebraska, in 1892. He registered for the draft in Gillette, Wyoming, putting down his employer as Willis O'Connell, Rancher. Willis was Frank's brother, and owned a ranch near Arvada. It is to Willis that Frank wrote the humorous letter excerpted below.
When it came time to enlist, Frank went back to Nebraska and joined the Fifth Nebraska Infantry, which became the 134th Infantry after it was mustered into federal service. After the war was over, he joined the Nebraska National Guard; by the end of his thirty years' service, he had attained the rank of Colonel. He also spent two years as an advisor for the Chinese Nationalist Army under Chiang Kai-shek.
When he wasn't on Guard duty, O'Connell served as secretary of the Nebraska Game & Park Commission; he also served a term as president of the International Game & Fish Commissioners and - not surprisingly - the Nebraska Writers Guild.
I don't suppose a recruit ever came down the pike who was as rare as the one who answers the roll call with the above "yours truly." When I say "rare," I refer to the lingo of the restaurant - in other words, I was decidedly raw! I had never marched in my life, and I couldn't tell the captain from the cook. Someone had told me that a soldier should not have much baggage, therefore I reported for duty with only one trunk, a typewriter, a handbag, and two suitcases. Needless to say, an officer soon informed me that I still had just a little too much to carry on my back from here to Berlin, via Hades - or New Mexico, as the unsophistical recruits call it.
I had reported at the armory early in the morning, and with a half dozen other rookies was put in charge of a corporal who was instructed to take us back to camp. The officers took no chances; they had looked the six of us over and decided that it would not do to let us go without someone to herd us.
It was thought best to start us to soldiering at once. So we took the middle of the street afoot and headed for the camp. I did not know what the people whom we passed thought of us, but I am amply convinced that their sympathy was with the drill master whose fate it would be to make us over into soldiers. Or perhaps they thought we were prisoners of war, for the corporal was the only man in uniform, and before we had gone many blocks, all of us appeared rather long-faced and disconcerted. None of us had marched very much. ...
After we reached camp, we were consigned to quarters. ... We spent the first of the day in doing what our mothers had been trying to get us to do for twenty years - namely, sweeping, dusting, scrubbing and cleaning up in general. Then, after the work was done, we were issued our equipment.
After pestering the quartermaster with requests for feather beds, sheets, neckties, rubber boots and pajamas - all of which we did not get - we settled down for the night. It was our first night as soldiers. Long into the hours I lay awake listening to the snoring of my bunkies and wondering if we would be drilled on that particular art. I fervently hoped that we would for our nasal music was most unharmonious. You can't beat the snoring and grunting and sighing of a hundred rookies who have been used to sleeping in feather beds with pillows stacked all around them!
The next morning, after a hearty breakfast, the officers put on their spurs, took their ropes and began rounding us up for drill. I have punched cattle on the plains in the west and brought in outlaw steers, but I have never worked harder than those officers did that morning. After tying ribbons to our right arms, putting straw on our left feet and a bee in our ears, they finally succeeded in getting us all in step for a period of three seconds. I always supposed that an army officer had a soft job, but I have changed my mind. I have no ambition to become a drill master.
Day after day for a whole long week they have been working with us. It sometimes seems to me that they would make better headway if they temporarily changed their commands to "gee" and "haw" and to "get up" and "whoa." But we rookies are learning - slowly but sure, but we are learning to be soldiers nevertheless.
I thought before I enlisted that I might be signing up for a term of prison and for several weeks I went about with a face as long as some of the hikes they gave us. But my countenance has changed. There isn't a finer bunch of boys in any camp than there is in ours, and the life is not hard at all. We have to work and study, you can bet your life, but there is fun and play, too, and above all, it is making better men of us.
There is no room for the dandy or the sissy in our camp. Fond mama may have run herself to death waiting on her dear son, but here Johnny is quickly taught to wait on himself and perform his duties. He will come home with a new conception of manhood as well as with a more helping hand to do the work of the world. Here I have found a new kind of manhood - a sort of collective manhood that I never found before. Perhaps the environment will make me a part of it; at least I hope so.
We're a great bunch of rookies, to be sure - every new man of us - and we don't know just what is ahead of us, but that is what makes the life interesting. We're ready to do what they tell us, and we're looking forward to the day when we will have a chance to show the Boches and their autocracy just what we think of it. And we hope that it won't be many months until our Annies at home will be able to address us "Dear Sammy" without doing an injustice to the name.