After the U.S. entered World War I, Dr. Sawyer accepted a commission as a major in the Medical Reserve Corps in December 1917.
In January 1918, he moved to Washington DC to take up his duties in the Venereal Disease Section of the Surgeon General's
Office, leaving his family behind in California. In June, after returning from a few days of vacation with his family in Michigan,
he received orders to go to Newport News, Virginia, to serve as Supervisor of Non-Military Activities. In this post he was
the military liaison with local authorities concerned with keeping order in a town full of new army recruits. Sawyer's
military service was his first extended separation from his wife and children (though not his last); his affectionate letters
show that he missed them greatly, but also provide extensive commentary on life in the Washington area during the war, and
on various activities of military and civilian public health organizations.
Item is handwritten.
Number of Image Pages:
6 (375,840 Bytes)
1918-06-25 (June 25, 1918)
Sawyer, Wilbur A.
This item is in the public domain. It may be used without permission.
Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Early Career in California and World War I, 1908-1919
This is the only sheet of writing paper I have, as my trunk has not been delivered yet. But I must write you about my first
day here. The usual discouraging statement about rooms met me. I had made no reservations. They aren't worth much anyhow
and are often a nuisance. But I've had my usual luck--at least so far.
At first I was misinformed and believed I would be put up in barracks without jeopardizing my commutation of quarters money.
So I engaged a room in the officers barracks--a room about eight feet wide and bare with an iron cot in it and a wooden table,
one small window and one chair and a few nails in the wall. Later I found I was not entitled to room there
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unless I had overseas orders, which I had not. So I went out in search of a room. I preferred not to stay in the hotel.
A Lt. Shedden took me in tow and we met the usual discouragements. Finally he invited me to occupy a cot in his room (shared
by another Lt. as roommate) and learned that there would be a room for rent in the house of a Dr. Brixton on Saturday. All
other rooms in a long list had been rented. So I went out then on the street cars and found an elegant large stone house
overlooking the bay--a very modern and elaborate residence. I asked about the room and Mrs. B. told me it opened off a sleeping
porch and a bathroom. I supposed of course it would be way out of reach, and
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asked tremblingly what she would charge. She said she would have to charge $25 for two persons or $20 for one, per month.
So of course I took her up at once, and if nothing happens I will be occupying elegant quarters in a house overlooking the
sea instead of the dingy boarding house rooms many are in. But, honestly, dear Sweetheart, I don't care much what I live
in when I am alone.
For meals I joined the officer's mess. I thought it would be a little more like military life, and it was well recommended.
It will cost me a trifle over a dollar a day, but will give me three meals a day with abundant food. There is white bread,
and everything else that Hoover wouldn't like to have us have. But I suppose we are allowed it as soldiers. Perhaps
they will have corn bread and signs of frugality at breakfast. Helpings are abundant. The help is negro soldiers working
under a white mess sergeant with a German(?) accent.
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Speaking of German accent, Prof. Herms showed me a Berkeley clipping about the whole Weber family, about 5 of them, petitioning
the court to change their names to Waybur in order to take off the German curse. Papa Weber almost has a German accent now,
hasn't he? Somehow this repudiation of ancestors doesn't make a hit with me, and I think the name they have chosen
sounds foolish. But if they want it, I hope they get it. They must be very unhappy.
I hope that the measly patient is much better, and really happy. I know that your wonderful mother love will insure every
comfort and protection to dear little Gertrude, and I wish I were on deck to relieve you from some of the acute pain that
that same mother love brings in the presence of Gertrude's discomfort. I shall anxiously await further word. Dear Margaret,
how much you mean to all of us! Don't you realize how much we love you?
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When I saw Cumming in S.F. he was captain, when I saw him first in Newport News he was major, and to-day he is wearing the
silver leaves of Lieutenant Colonel. And men like Major Snow, in the army equally long, are only majors! It pays to have
a friend dragging you along after him. Cumming is apparently right hand man to Lynch in matters of general sanitation.
Herms is captain and hoping to be major. I believe Col. Lynch has recommended his promotion.
It has been raining freely to-day. This evening I had no convenient place to work so I saw a movie after supper entitled
"Tarzan of the Apes," an African jungle story about a man whose parents died in infancy and who was brought up by
a female ape and became very powerful, etc. Ultimately he marries an American heiress. Naturally this event requires several
Dear Margaret, I have thought of you much to-day. I wish you were here to counsel
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and guide me, and particularly to keep me happy and sane and tolerant. You make life worth living from my selfish viewpoint
and at the same time you make me much more useful to others. The happiness you bring strengthens and encourages. So let's
get together in September and live happily ever after. Until then I shall have to feed on visions of you, and thoughts of
your wonderful courage and devotion to yours. Was ever man luckier than I? I haven't spent a day without happy thoughts
of our honeymoon at the lake and in Chicago. You revealed your great heart to me as never before. I hope that my big love
for you was evident and still makes you happy.
P.S. Bedding had best be sunned for two days before being regarded as safe for other persons. Points of special contact can