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July 23, 1917 – The Life and Letters of World War I Aerial Observer Lt. Mortimer M. Lawrence

Fort Snelling,

July 23, 1917.

Dear Folks:-

Well we are settled here for a week or ten days and then we move again. As soon as the quarantine is raised, which may be tomorrow or not for two weeks, we will be assigned to companies and start work in earnest. At present we have no drills, nothing except a five mile hike each morning and nothing more to do unless detailed to help the cook or guard camp.

We are living here in tents, large square tents which hold eight men. We have eighteen tents on our company street and we are not allowed off the company street. On account of the fellows receiving typhoid inoculations and having sore arms from vaccinations we will have very little drilling during quarantine but after that work will start in regular order. I expect I will be in the 42nd Infantry when I finally get set.

We left Jefferson Barracks Saturday afternoon about 4 o’clock. There were 520 of us and we had a train of a baggage car, for eats, and 12 pullmans and tourist sleepers. We were assigned between 30 and 45 to a car according to size there being 3 men to a section, 2 men in the lower and one in the upper. Each section had a table and we were fed right on the train, not luxuriously, you understand, but plenty of it.

We came via Iron Mountain to St. Louis, CB & L to Burlington, Ia. and CRI & P to Minneapolis, the most direct route possible. Sunday morning we stopped for an hour at Albert Lea, Minn. And everybody got lots of exercise. We arrived here about 4 P.M.

If you can’t find any of my bandanas buy me two more blue ones and send them. I have about a dozen white ones but they take too much washing. Also you might put in one of those hand towels I had at Ft. Sheridan and that small bottle of “DDD” which I think is in the left hand drawer of my bureau.

“Chow time” at Fort Snelling

“Chow time” at Fort Snelling

I don’t need a new housewife because Uncle Sam gave me a perfectly good one but I am going to try to find some kind of a roll for toilet articles when I get into Minneapolis. If you have any thing around the house that I haven’t read and that you aren’t particular in what condition it is returned please send it because we are cut off from any source of supply now.

The weather has been rather warm but the nights have been good both here and at Jefferson Barracks.

Hope you are well. I am fine and eating like a horse. My vaccination worked only a little and didn’t make my arm sore. I hope it took enough so that I don’t get another.

Love to all. Remember me to all who inquire and tell them I like the army fine. I really think it will do me lots of good physically.

Love to all,



Address mail to

5th Recruit Co.

41st Infantry,

Fort Snelling,



There is no need for a “Mr” or any prefix whatever.

A Son’s Service

More than 122,000 Wisconsin men and women served in the military during World War I, in all branches of service and in hundreds of different units. However, the largest concentration of Wisconsinites served in the 32nd Division, which consisted of the Wisconsin and Michigan National Guards.

Much like today, individual Wisconsin National Guard units were based in communities scattered across the state. When these units were called into federal service, it was a big deal for the civilians in the community as they saw their husbands, brothers, fathers, sons, and friends go off to war together. Tracking the whereabouts and well-being of these local men during the war became an important duty and it was often carried out by the local newspaper.

First to Enlist

First to Enlist

For example, the Stevens Point Daily Journal and Gazette carried articles about local men that spanned their enlistment through their returning home over two years later. Articles tracked their movements and promotions, their training and conditioning, the visitors they saw and gifts they received, and their illnesses, injuries, and fatalities. Families shared letters that they received from their loved ones overseas, and the paper reprinted them. These articles provided the citizens of Stevens Point a lifeline to their loved ones during World War I. Today, they provide us with an incredibly intimate and detailed record of exactly what happened to a specific group of soldiers throughout their wartime experience.

Hans and Ella Moen’s son, Russell, joined the Stevens Point National Guard company in April 1917. Ella clipped newspaper articles and, along with photographs and other ephemera, created a 180 page scrapbook. These pages detail her son’s service specifically, but also provide a level of detail about the activities of his unit that are invaluable to researchers today.

The articles in Ella’s scrapbook reveal that Russell Moen, a twenty-nine year old postal worker who was nicknamed “Pug,” was the first local man to volunteer and be physically examined (“found sound as a dollar”) on April 4, 1917; however, the official enlistment papers had not arrived in Stevens Point yet, so Moen had to wait till the next day. George Macnish, another local man, technically signed his papers before Moen, so the article split the honor of first to enlist between the two.

The local company was Troop I of the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry, and an article two weeks later states that Moen was selected as 1st Lieutenant. “Mr. Moen, while without military training, has the good will and respect of the men and of a large circle of friends. It is believed he will make an excellent officer.”

Ella and Hans Moen

Ella and Hans Moen

From there, the scrapbook describes banquets, ceremonies, and parades in Stevens Point as the community celebrated and sent off their young men to Camp Douglas and then Camp MacArthur in Waco, Texas. Interspersed with the articles about the local men are some more general articles about the first American troops arriving in France and the overall effort there, which puts the activities of Moen and the Stevens Point men into context.

As their training hit full gear, the scrapbook begins to include photographs that Russell sent home to his mother. Articles about the unit’s transition from a cavalry troop to Battery E, 120th Field Artillery reflect some uncertainty. George Arnett, who died aboard a ship while crossing the Atlantic, was eulogized as the first Stevens Point man to give his life to the war. Two scrapbook pages later, Ella included a telegram from Russell assuring her that he had arrived safely in England.

Soon after, reprinted letters from Russell to Ella begin to appear along with articles that tracked Battery E’s movements through Europe. Censorship prevented extremely specific information, but the newspapers printed what they could, mixed with calls for liberty loan contributions. The scrapbook reveals that George Macnish, who shared “first to enlist” honors with Moen, died in France in July 1918, one of sixty Portage County residents to die during the war.

Moen Home

Moen Home

Articles from November 1918 celebrate the war’s end and immediately begin tracking the homeward progress of Battery E, sharing rumored embarkation dates. Other articles start to summarize and celebrate the war record of Battery E and the 32nd Division as a whole, including the adoption of the Red Arrow as their insignia. May 1919 finally saw the Stevens Point men return, and items in Ella’s scrapbook detail the parades and celebrations that accompanied them. However, a separate article reveals that Russell did not return with his friends; rather, he chose to remain in France to help with inspection work at the U.S. camp in Brest.

The remainder of the scrapbook contains postcards, photos, and other paper souvenirs that Russell sent home from his months in post-war France and several other countries he visited. His eventual return home in September 1919 is well documented by articles, along with his decision to remain in the National Guard at the rank of Major.

To "Our Soldier Boy"

To “Our Soldier Boy”

Ella’s scrapbook, lovingly dedicated to the service of her son, is a priceless memento for the Moen family. It is an incredibly valuable historical resource for scholars and researchers seeking to learn about an individual, a field artillery battery, or a Wisconsin community’s response to war. It also highlights the value of period newspapers, an often overlooked resource, for learning about those topics. The Wisconsin Veterans Museum is proud to preserve it, and the story of Russell Moen’s World War I service.

July 13, 1917 – The Life and Letters of World War I Aerial Observer Lt. Mortimer M. Lawrence

Dear Folks:-


Arrived here O.K. and when I reported to the Recruiting Office was told to be on hand to leave for St. Louis at 8 P.M.

Don’t be surprised if you get a telegram soon saying I am on my way home for I know that the physical exam I received was only a preliminary and we will all get a regular exam when we get to St. Louis.  Maybe they will object to my weight then.

This afternoon I went for a farewell swim in Lake Michigan out at Clarendon Beach.  There is a dandy municipal beach now where we used to go swimming four and five years ago.

Don’t say anything about the Army till you hear from me that things are O.K.

By the way will you have Father or Will find out my draft registration number, my card is #5 of the 4th Precinct of Beaver Dam.  The County board of Exemptions had taken all the names and given them consecutive numbers, so each one must know his new number to determine his fate.

Will let you know how I land in St. Louis.


Love to all,




July 10, 1917 – The Life and Letters of World War I Aerial Observer Lt. Mortimer M. Lawrence

July 10, 1917.

Dear Folks:-


As I wired you this morning I have been discharged on account of being underweight.

Thought I’d like to have a few days vacation so I am going to stop in Chicago and elsewhere but will be home soon.  Don’t worry about me because I am O.K. and am not going to do anything foolish.

Am enclosing two express orders.  The one for Sis includes the T.P.A., hose, pictures and the $5.00 I borrowed Sunday.


Love to all,



The La Crosse Light Guard Flag

When the Civil War began and President Lincoln called for volunteers in April 1861, Wisconsin’s volunteer militia companies answered the call. Among the first to offer their services to Wisconsin’s Governor Alexander Randall, the La Crosse Light Guard marched into Madison under a beautiful white silk flag made for them by the ladies of La Crosse and became Company B of the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry Regiment.

On Thursday, May 2, 1861, the Wisconsin State Journal announced the company’s arrival at Camp Randall:

The flag has a personalized dedication painted on the front

The flag has a personalized dedication painted on the front

“The first two companies of the Second Regiment arrived last evening… The La Crosse Light Guard, who were the first to enter the camp, were shown their quarters and relieved themselves of their accountrements…. The La Crosse Light Guards have gray coats and pants, striped and trimmed with black, with a dark blue cap. They bore a white silk flag, with blue fringe and inscribed on an oval ground in the center: ‘Presented by the ladies of La Crosse, July 4th, 1860, to the La Crosse Light Guards.’”

On Tuesday, May 2, 2017, the Wisconsin Veterans Museum officially unveiled that very same flag in its new home on display in the Civil War Gallery. Through the generous donation of La Crosse’s American Legion Post 52, the Light Guard’s flag has once again returned to Madison 156 years later.

The seal painted on the reverse makes this one of the earliest known flags still in existence to bear the Seal of Wisconsin.

The seal painted on the reverse makes this one of the earliest known flags still in existence to bear the Seal of Wisconsin.

Reunited with the rest of its brethren in WVM’s Civil War battle flags collection, the Light Guard’s flag tells the story of the unifying of local and state identity. On the one side is the hand painted personalized dedication from the Ladies of La Crosse – a physical representation of the hometown love and support that those local companies marched off to war with. While on the other side, the flag bears a version of the 1851 Seal of Wisconsin – a symbol of the state that these militiamen volunteered to serve and defend.

With the assistance of those that have cared for and preserved the flag over the last 150 years – especially the American Legion, the La Crosse County Historical Society, and Company B, 2nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Association – this priceless piece of State history will forever stand as a voiceless witness to the deeds of those that answered their country’s call and served their state with the support of their families, friends, and communities back home so many years ago.

La Crosse Light Guard flag

La Crosse Light Guard flag

July 3, 1917 – The Life and Letters of World War I Aerial Observer Lt. Mortimer M. Lawrence

July 3, 1917.


Dear Folks:-

Well tomorrow is a holiday and I think we will all appreciate it.  Some of the men are going to march in the parade at Highland Park but I didn’t volunteer so I am not going.

If this letter gets home before my laundry goes please look up my drawing triangles and the steel rule I bought just a couple of months ago and enclose them with the laundry.  They are probably in the left hand drawer of my chiffonier where I put them when I brought them home from the office.  The rule may be inside the case with my drawing instruments.

This morning I went before the Board of Reviews.  Of course I don’t know definitely how I came out but I received the impression that I would be allowed to stay.  I was only in with the board a short time, much shorter than the rest of the men and they seemed satisfied with my answers to their questions which were along the line of general health, normal weight, education and previous military training.  I think my instructors all gave me a good boost.  Well here’s hoping I come out O.K.  I will probably know by the end of the week.

Must go to the Post Office so this goes out tonight.

Lots of love,




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

June 26, 1917.

 Dear Folks:-


Received your letter today with the pictures also the Citizens.  Thank you.

We are still getting busier every day, till I don’t know where it all will end.

This morning the Captain called several of us into the office and told us that we would probably have to appear before a board on account of not quite meeting physical requirements.  He had received no official notification so could give us no particulars, only a little advance tip.  I know that the only thing wrong with me is lack of weight.  Hope I won’t have any trouble.  But I am not worrying, for I’ll find out when the time comes.

This artillery work is very interesting and becomes more so every day.  So far we haven’t had any mounted drill and only an hour’s gun drill every day.  You see at present there is only the equipment for one battery here and not enough horses for that and as there are six batteries in the two training regiments we have to take turns.

The rest of the day is taken up with dismounted drill, physical drill, signalling with flag and buzzer and at least two conferences or lectures, most generally three.  Our lectures cover everything from training and care of horses (including shoeing, accidents, diseases) to care and use of guns.  Besides we have lectures on gunnery involving a good many mathematical calculations and formulae.

Some of the men expected to find this very easy because we were told we didn’t require any special knowledge of mathematics.  We really don’t as the formulae do not go beyond geometry and algebra but we do need a clear insight and understanding of those branches and I find my knowledge of math and physics is helping a lot in grasping the principles, also my surveying comes in fine.  The latter will help also when we get to military topography.

We had a quiz yesterday covering our work so far.  The marks ran from around 20 up.  My work of 91 was the highest in the battery, the next highest being 80.  Not so bad for a man out of school six years when some of the fellows are fresh from engineering schools.

We were paid last week for which I was thankful as it enabled me to buy another pair of shoes and have my first soled.  The Quartermaster didn’t have my size so I had to pay Marshall Field $7.50, but I think I have a good pair of shoes.

I have been going to buy some additional books but now will hold off till I see the examining board and find out where I stand.

Must stop now and get ready for bed.  Am feeling fine.

Love to all,




Vaccination has disappeared entirely.  No go.

Reserve Officers Training Camp

3rd Bty. – 10th Prov. Reg’t

Fort Sheridan, Ill.


June 19, 1917 – The Life and Letters of World War I Aerial Observer Lt. Mortimer M. Lawrence

June 19, 1917

Dear Folks:-


Just a line to let you know I got back O.K.  The train was late, so was the electric, and I didn’t get in till eleven, but it was O.K.  Had a fine time at the Lake.  Had company all the way down from Minnesota Junction.


Love to all,



Reserve Officers Training Camp

3rd Bty. – 10th Prov. Reg’t

Fort Sheridan, Ill.

This turn of the century postcard shows Fox Lake, Wisconsin, where Mortimer spent his short furlough. Image courtesy of  http://www.theshoresoffoxlake.com/area-information/.

This turn of the century postcard shows Fox Lake, Wisconsin, where Mortimer spent his short furlough.
Image courtesy of http://www.theshoresoffoxlake.com/area-information/.

A War By Invention

By Kevin Hampton, Curator of History

Commonly referred to at the time as the “War to End All Wars,” World War I was in fact not a “last” but a “first.” Innovations in technology, tactics, and equipment ushered in a new era of warfare that defined how wars were fought for the next one hundred years.

While most people associate World War I with the start of trench warfare, it was by no means a new strategy or idea. Employed at great lengths during the American Civil War, trench warfare was a siege tactic that had been around for centuries. So what then was “new” about World War I and how did it shape warfare in the 20th Century?

Trench photo

An American soldier poses with a German machine gun. (WVM Mss 15)

In terms of military tools and equipment, World War I saw the first use of aircraft carriers, flamethrowers, chemical weapons, tanks, and airplanes. Battlefield medicine also evolved with the introduction of guide dogs, x-ray machines to treat battlefield casualties, and established blood banks. Though there are many more “firsts” that were introduced during World War I, with the centennial commemorations of the outbreak of the war in July of this year, now is a great time to reflect on some of the more recognizable innovations.

Machine Guns

Employed for the first time en masse, machine guns ruled the battlefield and in many ways were one of the primary causes of the stalemate of trench warfare. By the end of 1914, with each side realizing the devastating combination of massed infantry assaults against fortified machine gun emplacements, the Allied and Central Powers both dug in for a long war. Despite knowing the lethality of this new battlefield technology, the European powers still stuck to their strategies of massed infantry assaults, leading to some of the most costly battles in military history.


In 1903, the Wright brothers made the first controlled, manned flight, staying aloft for 59 seconds. Ten years later, this new technology was being adapted for warfare. Daring pilots were almost more at risk learning to fly than they were in the dogfights in the skies of Europe. In the case of the famed Sopwith Camel, 413 pilots are documented as having been killed in action while 385 died in training accidents. As the war progressed, aerial dogfights took the war from a stalemate on the ground, to a highly maneuverable battle above the trenches.


Masks like this one protected WWI tank drivers from metal shards and fragments while they peered through narrow, unprotected view slits in their tanks. (K1971.505)


Developed to break the stalemate of trench warfare, the “tank” was an incredibly influential innovation of World War I. Initially these slow, metal behemoths were mobile pillboxes that could advance and provide direct heavy fire support for an infantry assault. By the end of the war, the Allies had produced over six thousand tanks, while Germany had produced only about twenty. The lessons learned about the effectiveness of mobile warfare with this new piece of equipment were not lost on the Germans who would use it to introduce a new style of warfare twenty years later.

Ironically, these innovations developed to break the stalemate, and end “The War to End All Wars” were, in fact, the catalysts for a whole new modern era of warfare.

Many World War I battlefield innovations have defined new tactics that are still used today. Machine guns remain a staple on battlefields. Tanks have become the workhorse of ground troops. Airplanes, manned and unmanned, are now the primary strike force of any military operation.

So as we observe the 100th anniversary of World War I, let’s remember the modern innovations brought about by the Great War, as well as the brave Wisconsin men and women who played witness to an era of battlefield inventions.  Learn more about Wisconsin in World War I at http://bit.ly/Military_History_WWI_WVM

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

Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs