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May 27, 1917 – The Life and Letters of World War I Aerial Observer Lt. Mortimer M. Lawrence

Sunday 8:30 A.M.

Well today is another cold raw disagreeable day and I sure am glad we don’t have any drilling to do. I suppose it is a good thing to have some cold weather now and get us toughened up a bit for I imagine it will be pretty cold when we go over to France next January.

We have our third and last typhoid inoculation Tuesday. All will be glad when it is over but then we have small pox and scarlet fever vaccination. Everyone has to take the typhoid inoculation unless they can prove they have had it within the last two years. It is only good for five years.

I suppose Paul & Fred are with you today. Wish I could come in for a few hours.

How are all of you feeling? Hope you are as well as I am.

Am returning the T.P.A. letter which I think is a fine one. Please keep it for me.

Jack Millspaugh has been transferred back to Co N. and is in the same barracks.

There doesn’t seem to be much else to write just now. Will write again in a few days.

The last letter I received was dated May 23rd. Hope you are not sick and that everything is O.K.

Love to all,

Mortimer.

Lawrence and two friends, French and Rieves, in the midst of cleaning their barracks.

Lawrence and two friends, French and Rieves, in the midst of cleaning their barracks.

May 26, 1917 – The Life and Letters of World War I Aerial Observer Lt. Mortimer M. Lawrence

Ft. Sheridan

Saturday, May 26th

[1917]

Dear Folks:-

Well here we are at the end of another week and it doesn’t seem as though I had been gone three days.

Things certainly have been rushing along in fine style. We are getting busier every day, and while we are on the subject I might say that no one hesitates about soaking it to us as far as work is concerned.

So far we have had to learn two signal systems and codes, have finished one textbook complete, and have been issued two more, making seven in all and have covered everything in squad and company drill including aiming and sighting drills but no range practice.

We have had and completed a course of instruction in bayonet instruction but are going to take it all over again. One of the boys from the famous Canadian “Princess Pat” regiment is in camp and has given the officers pointers on how it is done in France and their method over there is so different that it necessitates our unlearning what we have had and learning the principles all over again.

Yesterday we took a practice march with what is called a light pack. Including the gun we carried we were toting about 25 pounds. We were out two hours and as we took it easy we only went about seven miles. It was easy, no trouble at all.

This morning at inspection we were out with a full march kit of forty pounds which with the gun made close to fifty pounds. We did some drilling after the inspection and altogether were out and hour and ¾ but I noticed the full pack even less than I did the light pack. This week we have a practice march with the full kit. It ought to be easy after this morning.

Our inspection this morning was complete in every way and was really a double one being a company inspection on the parade ground and then a barracks inspection later. Both were on the line of our Culver inspections.

As this last week has been rather rainy and muddy our barracks floors were rather in poor condition so yesterday afternoon after drill we all got busy and moved out everything except the stoves and scrubbed the floors. We had a fine looking place when we finished I can tell you. I was orderly in charge of the barracks from yesterday noon till this noon so you can imagine I was rather busy this morning, for besides shaving and cleaning my gun and getting my pack ready I had to see that the whole of the barracks was dolled up. Of course everybody has to clean up around his own bunk so there wasn’t much actual work to be done.

This afternoon I went over to Highland Park and did a little sight seeing (?). It is rather a nice little place and I was able to get a few little things I wanted.

To-night the Y.M.C.A. had a house-warming at their new building (temporary like our barracks). The band from the U.S. Naval Training Station at Lake Bluff furnished the music and Col. Nicholson, the Camp Commandant spoke. Everybody had a good time for a couple of hours.

The weather this week has been rather changeable. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday were cold, rainy and distinctly disagreeable. Wednesday was cold but sunshiny, Thursday warmer and Friday was fine. Tonight it rained again but the sun showed up about seven o’clock so we hope for a good day tomorrow even if today was cold and raw.

Well it is getting along toward Taps so I guess I’ll finish this tomorrow.

Two of Lawrence’s fellow soldiers, White and Aseltine, demonstrate close quarters combat techniques.

Two of Lawrence’s fellow soldiers, White and Aseltine, demonstrate close quarters combat techniques.

May 24, 1917 – The Life and Letters of World War I Aerial Observer Lt. Mortimer M. Lawrence

Ft. Sheridan

May 24th

[1917]

Dear Folks:-

Your letters rec’d also a letter from Sis. The jersey came Tuesday and the box Wednesday. Thank you. Today has been a fine day and everybody has enjoyed the good weather. Things are fine here and I am feeling fit as a fiddle. Will write more on Sunday. Love to all,

Mortimer.

Lawrence took this photo of a fellow soldier, R.E. Mauger, reading mail from home while training at Fort Sheridan.

Lawrence took this photo of a fellow soldier, R.E. Mauger, reading mail from home while training at Fort Sheridan.

May 22, 1917 – The Life and Letters of World War I Aerial Observer Lt. Mortimer M. Lawrence

5-22-1917

Dear Folks:-

Your letter received also the jersey for which I thank you. The latter comes in especially handy. The papers came also. I passed them on to Emil Prellwitz after I read them.

Since Sunday it has done nothing but rain. We have had no outdoor drill at all except an hour’s hike this morning for exercise during a short let up. We stuck to the paved roads and all felt much better when we had finished than when we started.

Today we received our second inoculation of Typhoid Prophylactic and everyone seems to be complaining of sore arms. Hope mine won’t get too sore, because I must eat even if I don’t work.

Hope Katinka is having better weather in Madison than we are here. She no doubt will enjoy her trip.

I suppose you are reading the Fort Sheridan news in the Tribune, every day. Don’t believe too much of it for it is a lot of bunk and written mostly for the effect on the men who are to be drafted to serve under us after we are commissioned. Don’t think from that this training is any joke. Far be it from such. It is work of the hardest kind and everyone who finishes the course ought to receive some recognition from the Government. Some of us may not, but time alone will tell that.

Can Will get me ½ dozen pairs of light weight natural color wool sox size 10? I could buy them here but Marshall Field & Co’s store here wants 50¢ per pair and that is too much.

It is time for bed now so will close.

Love to all,

 Mortimer.

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May 20, 1917 – The Life and Letters of World War I Aerial Observer Lt. Mortimer M. Lawrence

Ft. Sheridan

May 20th

[1917]

Dear Folks:-

 

1st Lt. N. P. Morrow, Lawrence’s first company commander. Lawrence liked him a great deal, describing him in this letter as “strict without being unreasonable.”

1st Lt. N. P. Morrow, Lawrence’s first company commander. Lawrence liked him a great deal, describing him in this letter as “strict without being unreasonable.”

I don’t know how long a letter this will be because it isn’t any too warm around camp this morning. It was very hot all day yesterday and last evening it rained and turned cold. This morning it is decidedly chilly.

When I reached here Tuesday morning the first thing I had to do was register and be assigned to a company. After registering everybody went to the Hospital for the first inoculation of Typhoid Prophylaxis. Then we reported at Company headquarters where we were given barracks assignment and issued a cot, a mattress, a mattress cover, two blankets, a pillow and a pillow slip. We are to receive four sheets and another pillow case to-morrow. After setting up our cots in the barracks we reported at the office, were issued five text books and went to the mess hall for a conference on a lesson assigned in one. Since then we have followed a regular schedule which I will give you later.

The first eleven companies of the Wisconsin-Michigan regiment are quartered in the old stone in the post, the other four companies, (M, N, O, & P.), also the entire Illinois regiment, are quartered across the ravine in the new pine barracks.

We are very comfortable. On one side of the regimental street is the mess hall with the kitchen in the rear. Now that they have installed modern ranges they no longer use the field kitchens described in the Tribune. Each mess hall has two long tables with stationary benches like a picnic table.

Across the street from the mess hall is the first barracks. The front of this is the company commander’s office. The barracks proper starts back of that. Back of this building is the second barracks. Each of these buildings holds 75 to 80 men. Companies have been reduced to 150 to 155 men. Back of the second barracks is the lavatory with showers and everything complete.

Our Company Commander is 1st Lt. Morrow of the Field Artillery and he certainly is a dandy. He is strict without being unreasonable and I sure hope that when we are split up into Field Artillery etc that I draw Morrow for a C.C.

We have a mighty fine bunch of fellows in Co N, all very congenial and anxious to learn. Emil Prellwitz is in N – but no one else from Beaver Dam. Jack Millspaugh of Milwaukee was my next door neighbor for a few days but was transferred to Co. E.

We are very busy every minute of the time. Our daily schedule is something like this:-

Reveille at 5:15 A.M. – assembly at 5:30. After assembly we police the Company Street and the barracks. Mess is at 6:20. At 6:55 is First Call for Drill with assembly at 7:00 From then till noon we have drills of various kinds such as Physical, Signalling, Rifle Sighting and generally a conference of an hour or hour and a half on the text books or on proper use of our equipment. Noon mess is at 12:00 and from then till 1:00 we have nothing to do. From 1:00 till 3:00 we have more miscellaneous drill and some Company drill and from 3:00 to 4:00 and most of the time a little after we take hikes across country. After drill we are allowed to loaf till mess at 5:30 and after mess until 7:15 when we are called to quarters for study from 7:30 to 9:30. Taps is at 10:00.

We have five textbooks – Infantry Drill Regulations, Manual Interior Guard Duty, Signal Book, Field Service Regulations and U.S. Army Regulations. And they are not a bit particular about how long lessons they assign.

Saturday we have inspection in the morning and other odd drills but are free for the afternoon. There is always plenty to do.

Sunday we don’t have Reveille till 6:30, mess at 7:15.

Since I started this letter we have set up a stove in the barracks and are comfortable now.

The meals here are good but nothing luxurious.

Altogether we are in good shape here. Our rifles and other equipment were issued Friday so now we have everything complete except uniforms. I did not stop in Chicago long enough to get anything so was measured for uniform when I got here. They were expected Saturday but have not come yet. Hope they get here soon, for my clothes are in hard shape.

Please send my raincoat when you have a chance.

Love to all,

Mortimer.

May 18, 1917 – The Life and Letters of World War I Aerial Observer Lt. Mortimer M. Lawrence

Co. N – R.O.T.C.,

Ft. Sheridan,

May 18th

[1917]

Dear Folks:-

Received the towels, etc. this afternoon. Thank you for sending them so promptly. Thanks also for the papers and the chocolate.

Everything is fine here. So far it has been more like a vacation – not that we don’t have to work and work hard all the time, but it is such a change that I can’t realize until I think back just how much work we have done.

There are several things I would like to have you send me when you have the chance, among them are my shaving mirror which I think is in my old Culver trunk, my best canvas puttees, which were on the shelf in my closet, my two suits of pajamas, my tennis slippers, bathing suit and supporter from Fox Lake and my ’09 Culver jersey. If you can find my blue celluoid soap box send that along.

I intend to send all my civilian clothes home in a few days.

I think you will find in my drawing box (on my closet shelf) a bicycle oil can, which please inclose also one of those samples of Marble’s gun oil of which we had so many last year.

Will write a regular letter Sunday.

Love to all,

Mortimer

Please don’t send any cookies, etc as I intend to stick to straight Army rations for a while at least.

 

The front of Mortimer’s May 18 letter to his parents.

The front of Mortimer’s May 18 letter to his parents.

May 15, 1917 – The Life and Letters of World War I Aerial Observer Lt. Mortimer M. Lawrence

5-15-1917

Dear Folks-

Reached here this A.M. and went right to work. We are almost settled now, in the new barracks. Please send me some Bath Towels and some face towels – old ones preferably and when you send my laundry – don’t send any pajamas.

Address me-

M.M. Lawrence,
Co. N – R.O.T.C.
Ft. Sheridan, Ill.

Love to all,

Mort.

Lawrence took this photo of a barracks building at Fort Sheridan.

Lawrence took this photo of a barracks building at Fort Sheridan.

A Veteran’s First Vehicle: Incorporating the Automobile into the Army during WWI

By Bobby Brito, Oral History Intern



The Great War inaugurated the twentieth century, while the proliferation of the internet can be thought of as one of the events that bookended the twentieth century. Conventional conversations would not typically involve both events in relation with each other. However, through my work at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum these two events are inextricably linked. In preparation of the centennial anniversary of the United States involvement in World War I, I have worked in the museum’s Research Center with the Museum’s collection of World War I oral history interviews. I have been tasked with using the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer in order to index these interviews and make them publicly accessible on the internet.

The interviews provide a wealth of information that cannot be gleaned from history textbooks or other archival sources.  For example, in his interview John Pavlik (OH 464) describes his experiences with a new technology and mode of transportation that was being integrated into the armed services when he enlisted, the automobile. The prior generation of medical transporters, Pavlik explains, relied on mule drawn wagon ambulances in order to transport patients from the front. Travelling in a convoy, Pavlik describes, could be difficult.

 Wisconsin Veterans Museum Collection – John Pavlik, World War I – Every Veterans Is a Story

No windshields, no side curtains, and you carried either eight patients sitting up or four     on litters… if you were second and third you just were feeling your way because of the dust and so forth. You had no clear vision of the road… No windshields, no—none of that. If it rained, it rained in on you, and you put your poncho in front of you to keep water off your legs and feet […]it was hard riding, really.

While riding in an early ambulance versus a horse drawn carriage may not have felt very different, the early ambulance ride was certainly faster. Automobiles also eventually replaced horses when it came to transporting heavy artillery. Pavlik recalls how soldiers were trained to value the lives of their horses above their own in the event of a gas attack.

Wisconsin Veterans Museum Collection – John Pavlik, World War I – Every Veterans Is a Story

As you know, all our guns were moved up by horses. The horses and the guns were moved up sometimes very fast, and we would be in the area where when we would get shelled they would drop shells which were filled with gas. We would then hear the Klaxon horn go “oo-ah, oo-ah, oo-ah,” whereby meant that you put your gas mask on. Well, the boys that were taking care of the artillery, the horses, their job was to put the gas mask on the horse first before they put their own mask on themselves. Horses were very valuable, and we needed that.

In a number of ways, automobiles helped to save the lives of soldiers, whether by transporting wounded soldiers faster, or by making the war effort more efficient.

The past couple of months have truly been an exciting time for me as I worked with WVM’s Oral Historian, Ellen Brooks, preparing these interviews as part of the WVM’s larger efforts to memorialize the U.S.’s involvement in World War I. The interviews represent a broad array of experiences, and provide different perspectives from which to learn about World War I. It is my hope that these interviews, now more readily accessible thanks to the internet, provide the public with a similarly illuminating experience.

To listen to the complete interview with John Pavlik, and other interviews with World War I veterans, visit our Featured Interviews Page.

A Shared Experience

Written By: Andrea Hoffman, Collections Manager

While there are numerous reasons Wisconsin residents have joined the military over the last 150 years—each generation met with unique historical events and changing social expectations—serving one’s country has also been a shared experience within families. Whether a parent and child, siblings, or spouses, serving simultaneously or successively, answering the call to duty through tradition or circumstance, many such families have left their multi-generational stories in the care of our museum. Such is the case of the collection from Orville W. Martin Sr. and Orville W. Martin Jr., a father and son from the Oshkosh area who each gave over thirty years as career officers in the United States Army.

c. 1944 photograph of recently-promoted Colonel Orville W. Martin Sr., Division Artillery Commander of the 7th Armored Division.

c. 1944 photograph of recently-promoted Colonel Orville W. Martin Sr., Division Artillery Commander of the 7th Armored Division.

Orville W. Martin Sr.—better known as “Doc”—was born in Neenah, Wisconsin in 1897. He began his studies at the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1917, although World War I quickly intervened, leaving Martin to serve as a field artillery officer in Germany before completing his education. Following his 1919 graduation, he returned overseas for an influential tour of the battlefields of Europe. This experience gave him a great personal interest in the history of the war and its landscape, knowledge that would prove useful later in his career.

In 1920, Doc joined the 24th Field Artillery stationed in the Philippines. It was here he met his future wife Priscilla, the sister of one of his fellow officers. They married in 1922, and moved back to Oshkosh the next year ahead of the birth of their first and only child, Orville W. “Sonny” Martin Jr.

Doc’s career moved them all around the country during Sonny’s youth. The younger Martin described post life during a 1995 oral history interview as happy and well adjusted. Clearly, it was also influential, as it became apparent in his teens that he would follow in his father’s footsteps. His father had already included Sonny in base maneuvers since he was twelve, letting him dress in uniform and drive teams of horses right along with the troops. His father also sent him to radio school, made him learn to lay wire, and of particular future use, helped him become proficient in map reading.

While Doc attended Command General Staff School in Baton Rouge in 1940, world events again intervened. He was sent to Fort Knox, training grounds for the 7th Cavalry Brigade (Mechanized)—the Army’s first mechanized unit—to be one of the first to implement tactics in the new field of armored field artillery. Major Martin was given command of the 68th Field Artillery Battalion in 1941, and was sent to North Africa the following year with the 1st Armored Division.

This January 1924 postcard labeled “Junior’s Smile” shows Doc and Sonny while in Fort Lewis, Washington.

This January 1924 postcard labeled “Junior’s Smile” shows Doc and Sonny while in Fort Lewis, Washington.

The same year, Sonny moved to Madison to attend the University of Wisconsin, also participating in the University’s compulsory ROTC program. In 1943, he turned down a transfer to West Point, instead choosing the Enlisted Reserve Corps. He explained it was “because my father was already overseas and I thought the war was more important than going to the school for boys on the Hudson… I knew I wanted to be in the war. I felt very strongly about it.”

Early in 1943, the elder Martin was injured during the attack on Sened Station in Tunisia, taking shrapnel in both his leg and arm. The March 15, 1943 issue of Life featured a full page image of the wounded Martin, arm in sling, on his way back to Fort Knox. Following his recovery at Fort Knox, now-Colonel Martin was put in command of the 7th Armored Division Artillery. He arrived in England in June of 1944, was sent to France that August, and found his division redirected to the Netherlands before ultimately being ordered to St. Vith, Belgium on December 16th, the commencement of the Battle of the Bulge. Here, the 7th significantly slowed the German advance for a week before being forced to withdraw. Eventually, they would regain St. Vith before redirecting their efforts toward the fall of the remaining German resistance within the Ruhr Pocket.

Lt. Martin strikes a pose similar to his father’s while the Aide-de-camp to Brigadier General Kurtz, April 1946.

Lt. Martin strikes a pose similar to his father’s while the Aide-de-camp to Brigadier General Kurtz, April 1946.

At the same time, the younger Martin was preparing for his own deployment to Europe. Having completed Armor School in December 1943, 2nd Lieutenant Martin headed to Camp Bowie, Texas with the 13th Armored Division to assist in battle training. In April 1944, the 13th was suddenly stripped of the majority of their lower ranks. Sonny recalled being reassured despite this action by a speech from General George C. Marshall, who stated “I can’t tell you what or exactly why, but you are very soon going … to be very proud of the men you trained and of the contribution that you have made toward the war.” Unbeknownst to them then, their troops were separated in order to participate in the Normandy Invasion, a testament to the superior training of the 13th despite being a newer armored division.

The 13th’s officers spent the remainder of 1944 training, finally arriving overseas early in 1945. In April, they commenced a long march to relieve the 4th Armored Division near Kassel, Germany, but were redirected—just like Sonny’s father—to instead assist in closing off the Ruhr Pocket. While until now the 13th had met minimal opposition, it was not always the case in the lingering Ruhr Pocket resistance. Sonny recounted, “It varied and you didn’t know what you were going to hit next. You could hit one of these old German units that were tough as nails. I asked my father about this and he said, “Well… some of the severest fighting I saw was in the Ruhr Pocket. Some of those old German units just were not going to quit.”

This was not the only commentary on the war the father and son shared. Sonny described Doc’s appreciation of the 13th’s troops during a visit in Bavaria in May of 1945, explaining “… my father came down from Halle [Germany] where he was Division Artillery Commander… he said, ‘You know I could darn near have cried…I’ve talked to some of your soldiers and some of yours in the Battalion here…these people could have been officers in the 7th Armored Division… they’re better material than some of the officers we had who were good combat officers—it showed, you know, the caliber of people.” It was high praise indeed coming from a man with over 25 years of experience in the Army.

The elder Martin returned stateside that year, and eventually retired as a Colonel from the Army in 1950, having been decorated by three European nations as well as the recipient of two Silver Stars, the Legion of Merit, three Bronze Stars, the Purple Heart and the French Croix de Guerre with Palm.

Sonny remained in Germany with the Constabulary force until 1949. He went on to serve in Korea and Taiwan, and worked at the Pentagon before becoming the Editor in Chief of Armor Magazine. He retired, also as a Colonel, in 1974, having been awarded the Legion of Merit, two Bronze Stars, the Meritorious Service Medal, three Army Commendation Medals, and the French Croix de Guerre.

A Fateful Day

By Andrea Hoffman, Collections Manager

Rhoda Ann Ziesler

Rhoda Ann Ziesler

The Wisconsin Veterans Museum is rich with stories of World War II veterans who eagerly and patriotically answered the call to service following the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Fewer are the accounts of Wisconsin service members who had already enlisted prior to the decisive moment in history. Because of the scarcity of such collections, the museum is privileged to have recently received the highly comprehensive collection of Rhoda Ann Ziesler, a Manitowoc, Wisconsin native who served in the Army Nurse Corps beginning in 1940. Not only was Captain Ziesler one of the first–if not the very first–nurses from Wisconsin called to active duty, chance had stationed her on the island of Oahu on that fateful day, making her a firsthand witness to the harrowing event and its aftermath.

Ziesler had begun her nursing career at Manitowoc’s Holy Family Hospital. When she later signed up to assist the Red Cross, she was asked to indicate whether or not she’d between willing to serve her country, a question she answered in the affirmative. Ziesler then entered the Army Nurse Corps on December 16, 1940, almost one year to the day before the Pearl Harbor attack. During November of 1941 she was transferred from her training grounds at Camp Custer, Michigan to the 215th General Hospital located at Schofield Barracks in central Oahu, appointed head nurse of a 112 bed ward. During this time she served as the assistant to the chief nurse for the 600 bed hospital as well as acting supervisor of six other nurses.

While Schofield Barracks, a long-established mobile defense post for Pearl Harbor, was not a direct target that December morning, the adjacent Wheeler Army Airfield was a primary point of attack preceding the assault on the harbored fleet. Ziesler later recounted her experience while applying for the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, recalling, “On the morning of the attack, I and several other nurses were on duty and stepped outdoors to see what was happening. The Japanese planes were flying so low. We could see the rising sun [on the planes].”

Artifacts from the Rhoda Ann Ziesler Collection

Artifacts from the Rhoda Ann Ziesler Collection

Ziesler’s collection represents both ends of the spectrum of her service experience, from souvenirs reflecting a carefree tourist to those that document the realities of day- to- day existence while at war. Souvenirs given to the museum include a carved wooden blossom-shaped perfume holder still scented by its original ginger blossom contents, a full length native grass “hula” skirt, several Hawaiian-themed linens and a cloth sugar sack from the nearby Honolulu Plantation Company. Donated objects also include her uniform, watch and wallet, as well a flashlight retaining its original blue cellophane used during the strictly-enforced nighty blackouts on the island. She also returned with the hunting knife her father gave her before leaving, having alternatively hidden it in her girdle or beneath her pillow for her full tenure stating “they’re not taking me alive” in the event of an invasion.

 

Rhoda Ann Ziesler, December 9, 1941

Rhoda Ann Ziesler, December 9, 1941

Ziesler remained at Schofield Barracks through the rest of the war, her care given to numerous ailing service members likewise documented in other pieces she brought home, including a Japanese teacup recovered from the ruins of Okinawa given to her by a grateful Marine. The nurse also returned with another souvenir of sorts—a friendship with fellow Wisconsinite soldier Raymond Weller—that turned into a romantic relationship after their return home. In 1948 they were married and went on to have four children, one of whom, Dennis Weller, donated this collection.

Ziesler’s experience is a reminder of the important role ordinary people played in extraordinary times. The completeness of her collection—which further consists of her diary, various ephemera, letters, scrapbooks, and even a recording of a radio interview she did while still stationed in Hawaii—gives the Wisconsin Veterans Museum a unique and significant means to continue to share her story for years to come.

The Wisconsin Veterans Museum is an educational activity of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs.

Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs