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); they would not move to
Washington until late September. 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.
Letters from October mention the effects of the influenza pandemic that killed millions in 1918.
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1918-10-11 (October 11, 1918)
Sawyer, Wilbur A.
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Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
Early Career in California and World War I, 1908-1919
Before you try to take off the crates yourself, please try to get the Quartermaster at 17th and F Sts. to do it for you.
I do not remember whether you have tried or not. He undertook to crate and transport our furniture from the house in Berkeley
to the house in Washington, and we had no house when the furniture arrived. He has any receipts which were given by the warehouse.
You have all the correspondence written by the quartermaster since the furniture arrived, for I gave it to you and explained
its importance the day I left Washington, or the evening before. I probably have the receipt for Victor's stuff, and
I will look it up and send it. You will probably save a considerable sum of money by letting the quartermaster bring the
stuff to the house. Besides, you should keep in touch with him until we have made the claim for damages, which should be soon.
I was very much disappointed to get a long distance message this afternoon saying that Mr. Embree had wired that he would
not come to-morrow on account of rumors of some sort of a quarantine for influenza at Newport News, and that Col. Snow would
therefore postpone his trip also. That seems to make my return to Washington all the more remote.
I have an account now in the Washington L. & T. Company, but I suppose it will do no harm to have both our accounts in
the same bank, except that we probably shall later want to put the several accounts in both names and then we shall have to
move one to another bank.
I think you had best get the bank account transferred to a savings bank in Washington if you can find a satisfactory one that
pays four per cent. Also please get the bag of valuables & accounts as soon as possible, as the lost note book has caused
much expense and trouble. My insurance is now, overdue, and I have not received any bill, although I wrote to the main office
in Hartford and asked them to try to identify the policy by the name and approximate date and send me a duplicate bill. You
see the note book showed the number of the policy, the date, and the size of the premium. A navy officer was telling me to-day
of the endless trouble he is having because his policy lapsed. Did you by any chance get my bill and pay it? I think I shall
mail a check to-night large enough to cover the premium, and keep a carbon as evidence. The company can then return the change,
and the check may arrive within the days of grace, but I have little faith in the mails now-a-days.
I am so glad to get your happy description of the view from the hill top. I began to fear that you were so wholly confined
to house work that you had little time for walks. I could be quite happy even here if I only knew that you were happy.
I don't seem to remember anything about the cold weather stopping influenza epidemics, but I feel confident that this
one will burn itself out very rapidly regardless of any change in the weather. I think that the peak has been passed here
in the civilian population. It has already been passed in the army camps here. I don't remember the other epidemic!
I think it was in the nineties, but later than '92.
I presume Gertrude is doing everything possible to trace her trunk. Isn't there some way to trace it step by step through
the records of the railroads? Certainly she should put in a claim for a large enough sum to keep the company interested in
finding it. It may turn up yet. Whole freight cars are getting lost for weeks at a time, and are finally recovered.
It is very late and I must write again to the insurance Company.