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 (404,323 Bytes)
1918-06-27 (June 27, 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 morning I mailed you a much worn letter which had been in my pocket in rainy weather for over twenty-four hours. I did
not burden you with another letter last evening. Two of my scrawls in one mail might be too much for a lovely lady with a
sick child on her hands. A shortage of postage stamps was responsible for the delay. I bought three books of stamps this morning
so as not to be caught that way again.
Yesterday I saw the General,--General Hucheson--and he issued an order announcing that I had been attached to his staff and
that all non-military organizations having dealings with the military organizations at the port of embarkation should deal
with me. Twenty six organizations or groups of organizations were listed in the document, including the Red Cross and the
For two and a half days I have been spending much time walking the streets
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hunting for an uptown suite of offices. One building we thought of renting and fixing up will be torn down, and so is out
of question. This little town is worse than Washington as far as overwhelming prosperity is concerned. Finally we reserved
some rooms held by Admiral Jones. They will probably be vacated and turned over in the middle of July. In the meanwhile I
shall have a desk in Col. Lynch's inner office. I have asked Maj. Snow to pay for the rooms, buy me an auto, and furnish
an expert stenographer out of demonstration funds. I shall use four rooms--One for myself and stenog. One for Lt. Smith and
Lt. Turner, and the special police assigned them. One for their stenographer and waiting room, and one for the protective
officer. A special investigator with experience in N. Y. City arrived to-day to be appointed on the local police force. There
will be something doing here soon. Fortunately the
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town is fairly dry. But it is highly amorous. Some of the hotels have very bad names, and the local police have been totally
I am writing this before supper so as to be sure that it gets written. I am to meet the police board at 7.30 and go to Hampton
to a reception at the house of a prominent citizen after the meeting. The prospect seems bright. I feel that the days of greatest
trial are the house and office hunting days. After establishing a castle, or "base-camp"--whatever you may call it--the
rest becomes relatively easy and pleasant. I wish I could establish a temporary home, but that can only be done by transporting
the sweetest woman in the world, and she is now busy with little Gertrude. I am hoping that a letter will soon arrive and
tell me the news about the sick one. I have had no word since the first letter.
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The weather has been delightfully cool, but sometimes rainy in Washington and here, since I came down from Mich. It seems
to be giving the lie to the horrible accounts of the heat, but the experience in May makes me expect some real hot weather
in July and August.
June 28, 1918
I couldn't finish this letter last evening before the meeting. Everything went fine. The police commission appointed five
extra men and the Sanitary Corps will furnish five. That ought to be a plenty. The first action will be pulled off to-night,
just to wake the town up a little and make vice pull in its horns and crawl out of sight.
After the police meeting I went with Lt. Smith to Hampton to a reception at the home of Mr. Darling, the oyster man.
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He has a large stone house and large grounds. Fireflies were in evidence, adding to the charm of the evening. A Capt. Campbell
(British) was giving a demonstration of gas masks and a talk about gas warfare. He said that in some of the trenches the men
had to wear masks all the time and come out of the trenches at the end of six hours to eat.
Col. Lynch was telling about a colonel who had just come back from the Montdidier section where he had been in action. They
asked him whether he had had a pretty warm time of it and he said "no." Then they said it was understood that Montdidier
was one of the places of hottest fighting and he said he thought it was exaggerated. They said what was exaggerated and he
said "The war." Evidently the bombardments and real fights were not enough excitement for that
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old war-horse to make up for the long waits in the trenches.
Dear Margaret, guess whom I ran across to-day. Dr. Lela Beebe has been here for months under the U.S.P.H. Service doing school
inspection and communicable disease work. I ran across her in the U.S.P.H. Service office today. So there is one more Californian
on the list of local lights.
Really, I think the work here is going to be very interesting. I am enclosing a copy of General Hucheson's order.
Please let me know how Gertrude is. I have not heard for many days. Write c/o Surgeon, Port of Embarkation, Newport News,
Va. I hope she is well on the way to recovery.