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.
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1918-10-13 (October 13, 1918)
Sawyer, Wilbur A.
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Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
Early Career in California and World War I, 1908-1919
I have doubtless furnished you with abundant cause for loud peals of joyous laughter. I now know that our anniversary is
on the fourteenth, for I have received an answer to my letter to the Travelers Insurance Company giving me the particulars
about my policy. It was dated on the day of our wedding, and I am now fully informed. But I am sure that you can not lay
the mistake in the date up to lack of interest, although my heartfelt messages must have produced an effect far different
than was intended, arriving ahead of time. But better early than late or never. I was tremendously relieved to get word
that I would be given thirty days grace in the payment of my premium. The company looked up the record and gave me the number
of my policy and the amount of the premium. I cannot understand why the bill has not been forwarded to me. It is issued
through the San Francisco office, but it should have reached me long ago. I can now pay the bill through proper channels,
and the risk of having the policy lapse is at last past.
I have to confess to feeling a little blue to-day on the eve of a wifeless wedding anniversary. I had held no hopes of spending
it with you after I learned that you could not come down. My going to Washington is practically out of the question until
my station is changed. I have long been resigned to that, but it is discouraging to see only the most remote chance of getting
my orders soon. It takes two days leave and considerable expense to spend one short day in Washington, and there is a special
order out from Washington forbidding the granting of any leaves except under the most extraordinary circumstances. The order
is intended to protect the public against the influenza so prevalent in the camps. It also seemed important to stay in Newport
News to look after the delegation that was to be here yesterday, and I did not learn that Col. Snow and Mr. Embree were not
coming until I received the message the day before. By collecting all the loose change in the office we managed to get Miss
Brown off to a conference at Atlantic City after the message was received. Then I got a wire from Col. Snow saying that a
Dr. Streeter would be here to-day to be looked over as a possible successor. Today I get a wire from Dr. Streeter to the
effect that he is not coming, but will see Col. Snow in Washington to-morrow. So, the man looked upon as my probable successor
is not even commissioned! Do you blame me for feeling a little blue and looking enviously at the physicians who are getting
emergency assignments to transport duty and will be back in port with service stripes on their sleeves long before I get a
chance to see my happy family?
I have been down watching the troops embarking by the thousands. It is a great sight to see vast numbers of men marching
to the ships. I wish you could have come down, as I would have had plenty of time to show you around. The message from Germany
that she is willing to withdraw from foreign soil has obviously had no effect on the embarkations. Neither has the flu.
Last evening I was invited to dinner with the Ruckers the married officers barracks. Col. Cumming was also invited. When
I arrived I found Mrs. Rucker in great agitation. She had just received a telephone message that her daughter in a convent
in Georgetown was very sick and that she should come at once. The Washington and Baltimore boats had already gone and there
were no trains till the next day. Finally a scheme was worked out by which she took a night boat up the James River to Richmond.
From there she could get a train in the morning for Washington, arriving in the middle of the day. Before she left we managed
to get a phone message to the convent and we were told that the daughter was in no immediate danger. After rushing Mrs. Rucker
to the boat and getting the reassuring message, we went and ate the food which had been prepared for us. I had forgotten
that there was such a thing as a thick steak delicately broiled. The steak was about three inches thick and delicious. After
dinner we talked a while, and then I went on the street to get a car. The newsboys were shouting and selling the extras which
announced that Germany was willing to withdraw from foreign soil for the purpose of being permitted to talk peace. It really
begins to look as though the end might be approaching.
All receipts that I had must have been in that bundle of papers that I gave you at the Snow's. I have gone over my papers
carefully and find no storage receipts. Remember that our dealings with the quartermaster are not yet completed and the correspondence
will ultimately have to be finished. So do not lose it.
Dear Sweetheart, I hope that our next wedding anniversary will find us living together somewhere. I am awfully sorry that
we cannot be together to-morrow.
Excuse this rather gloomy letter. I am very tired, having been up late the last two evenings, and so I shall close without
scattering any more gloom.