200 Plus

First Draft Heading to Camp Dix

By THOMAS P. FARNER | Aug 23, 2017

As the summer of 1917 was beginning to wind down, American preparations for war were gearing up. Camp Dix in Wrightstown, N.J., was preparing to accept and train a large part of the million-man army President Woodrow Wilson had vowed to send to fight in the trenches of France to make “the world safe for democracy.” Meanwhile, young men in New Jersey and across the nation awaited news from their local draft boards to learn if they would be answering the president’s call.

On Aug. 6, draft boards received a directive that would be used to pressure men to report.

“The names of all registered men are on a list arranged in the order in which they will be called for military service. Wherever any registered person imposes upon a local board and improperly secures a certificate of exemption or discharge he advances the time of call of all other uncalled persons on the list.

“For this reason then every registered person and, to some extent, every person in the community is more or less directly interested in seeing that the true facts are brought to the attention of the Government.

“For this reason the public is entitled to know the grounds upon which claims for exemption or discharge are being asked by registered men.

“Local boards should therefore be instructed immediately to make available to the press from day to day the names of persons claiming exemption or discharges, the ground on which such claims are based.”

On Aug. 13, the Official Bulletin, the newspaper run by the Committee on Public Information, ran a story showing this was “everyone’s war.”

“‘Save your gum and candy and ice cream money’ is the message Dr. Anna Howard Shaw is sending to the children of the United States … who submitted a plan to organize the children of the country school districts and teach them to save their pennies as a patriotic duty.

“You can take care of a Belgian child for 8 cents a day, the cost of one bag of candy, and for the price of two strawberry sundaes you can take care of a stricken child of Belgium or of France for two days. And the candy and gum are not good for you anyway. Cut off your indulgences. … you will be learning the sublime lesson of patriotic duty and at the same time will be cultivating habits of self-control.”

Three days later the Tuckerton Beacon gave a detailed report on the progress of the draft to date under their instructions from Washington, to make Ocean County’s quota of 169 men out of the first call.

“Having been in session four days last week, and examined all of the 338 men who appeared before them on the first call, the exemption board of this county find they will not get enough men, under their instructions from Washington, to make Ocean County’s quota of 169 men out of the first call. Notices have been accordingly sent out for the second call, which will consist of 200 men, to appear on Thursday, Friday and Saturday of this week. In addition the War Department has ordered the drawing of 20% above the quota of 169, which would make 34 more or 203 in all.”

Next came the report on what the draft board had determined.

“Of the 338 men called, nine had enlisted; three were in the coast guard one was exempt as a licensed pilot and one was a minister of the gospel. Three were given permits for examination, elsewhere; 17 who appeared were aliens and not liable to draft; 23 failed to appear at all; and 63 were discharged for physical defects by the physicians.”

This was followed by a long list, giving the name and town of each man in every category for all of their neighbors to see and discuss. The next day the New Jersey Home News ran a story reminding that this Army was a segregated one.

“WRIGHTSTOWN, Three companies of the Fifteenth Regiment, colored, of York, arrived Wednesday evening to do guard duty at the cantonment. … The new arrivals brought along their band, and it is expected that a nightly concert will be an added feature of the life here.

“Captain J. Ham Fish, the famous Yale star, is commander of Company K of the colored troops, while white officers, including a major, are in command of the other detachments.”

On Aug. 16, the Official Bulletin began printing tips for the future soldiers.

“Your real training for your duties as a soldier will begin after you and your comrades are assembled at the training camps. However, there are a few simple things you can do during the next few weeks which will be of decided value in getting you started along the right lines.

 “As the men in the National Army must get ready in record-breaking time, their training will be more strenuous than that of soldiers in peace. You will find there is plenty of hard work ahead of you.

“The soldier arises for the day usually at about 6 o’clock, a little earlier in the summer and a little later in the winter. The buglers sound the call known as reveille. The men dress and fall in.

“In the mornings when the bugle rings out the reveille, and you crawl out of your bunk reluctantly, possibly tired and sore from the previous day’s work, you will find yourself wonderfully freshened and cheered up by a few minutes’ vigorous setting up exercises.

“Then comes ‘washing up’ and breakfast. Usually breakfast is followed by a half hour for cleaning the barracks and bunks and putting clothing and bedding in order.

“The remaining two or three hours of the morning are likely to be spent in drill … During the afternoon the work is likely to be varied and to include additional setting up exercises and other drills, target practice, exercises, and later more advanced drilling. About 5 o’clock comes the evening parade and ‘retreat’ when the flag is lowered or furled for the night. The band plays the Star-Spangled Banner, while all officers and soldiers stand at attention. The ceremony is designed to deepen each man’s respect and love for the flag which he serves.

“Supper comes between 5 and 6 o’clock and is usually followed by a period of rest. … Taps are sounded by 10 o’clock. This is the signal to put out all lights, retire, and keep quiet. It closes the day for the soldier and sends him to his blankets a tired and sleepy man.”

On Aug. 20, the Courier News reported some good news for the New Jersey men about to be called. “The New Jersey contingent of 20,665 drafted men will go to Camp Dix, at Wrightstown, N.J., for training instead of to the Petersburg, Va., cantonment, as had been arranged previously, according to a change in arrangements for the mobilization just announced by provost marshal General Crowder. The changes have been approved by the War Department. A contingent of 20,241 men from New York and Delaware’s quota of 1,202 men also will be assigned to Wrightstown.”

The recruits of New Jersey would become part of the 78th Division. The secretary of war sent letters to the men saying, “From the date specified for you to report, you will be in the military service of the United States and subject to military law. Failure to report or unpunctuality are grave military offenses punishable by court martial. Willful failure to report with intention to evade military service constitutes a desertion which is a capital offense in time of war. Present yourself at the precise hour specified in order that you may not begin your military record in the service of your country with a delinquency.

“You may take with you only the following articles: Soap, shaving accessories, comb and brush, toothbrush and socks, and if you desire, changes of collars and shirts, but you will have no use for these after arrival at mobilization camp.”

The War Department announced on Aug. 23, “The first duty of the recruit when he arrives at the cantonment will be to take a bath. He will then be given a physical examination and vaccinated for typhoid, paratyphoid, and smallpox. Recommendations will then be made to the company commander for special forms of exercise to remedy any slight physical defects. The first two weeks of training will be occupied almost entirely with these special exercises, light exercises in setting-up drills and schooling of the soldier. During the second two weeks regular training will begin.”

The next day William Fisher, the editor of Toms River’s New Jersey Courier, made a proposal to make the sendoff better.

“The first week in September, the first draft of men from Ocean County will leave Toms River for (under the present order) the training camp at Wrightstown. It is up (to) Toms River village, the county seat, to give these lads and the succeeding drafts a send-off that will hearten them up in leaving home at their country’s call.

“This draft has from its very nature been a cold-blooded affair. Uncle Sam has reached his long arm out from Washington, grasped this lad and that by the shoulder, and said: ‘I need you to fight my battles. Come.’ And they have come. Up to this time the boys have come at their own expense and without the least bit of community interest or encouragement. We have all been decidedly derelict in not doing something to hearten up the cold-blooded business-like way in which the thing has been done, and showing that we appreciate their standing between us and the danger of war. But our communities have done nothing.

“We must give them a good send-off, it’s the least we can do. And then enough autoes should be volunteered to put the contingent in and, decked with flags, whisk them in a gay parade to Wrightstown, instead of sending them by train. … Show the boys we are not heartless, if up to this time we have acted as if we were.”

From the beaches of Ocean County to the trenches of France, a journey was about to begin ... and for some it would be their last.

Next week: a final goodbye.

tpfcjf@comcast.net

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