Impressions of Camp Funston - 1918

Interior Views on the Zone at Camp Funston.

Interior Views on the Zone at Camp Funston. Camp Funston Illustrated, 1918. GGA Image ID # 19d521c356

My Impressions.
By Prof. W. H. T. Dau.

My impressions at Camp Funston were altogether favorable. I was in camp and with our camp-pastors three days, moving; about from early morning till late at night, either on foot or in electric cars, jitneys, and autos. I was in every part of the camp to which my pass would admit me.

I visited the boys in their barracks, and sat down to a soldiers’ meal with them. I dined with a friend in the officers’ quarters. I visited the boys in the trenches, and saw them at their grim war-work. I met them at their drills and marches, miles away from the camp.

I saw them at their recreations, after the day’s work was done, and at the hospitals. I talked with the religious workers and the secretaries at the Y. M. C. A. buildings in the camp, and visited a movie, a Chinese restaurant, and a Community Hall at Junction City the last evening, to see what sort of amusements were offered our boys.

I also tried to obtain an insight of the work which the representatives of other Churches are doing. It was strenuous work for me because I was unused to it, and I arrived home completely tired out. But I shall never regret having taken the time for this trip.

The first impression I received was of the vastness of our Government’s enterprise at this place. We climbed the steep hills that extend along the northern border of the camp on Saturday morning, and saw the mushroom soldiers’ city that has sprung up overnight on the Kansas prairie spread out before us in a striking panorama, eight miles long and four miles wide.

Beyond the camp to the south were many square miles of open country, which are used as drill grounds, rifle ranges, and for practice in trench-warfare. This open country is walled in toward the south by another range of hills running parallel to the ridge on which we were standing.

It was a remarkable view; 2,800 buildings had been arranged in squares like our city blocks, with main streets and side-streets running through them at rectangles. Some were paved, but most of them were dirt-roads.

Sidewalks, too, had been constructed in places, and the entire camp has been sewered, and next winter will be heated from central heating plants.

A keen March wind was blowing across the prairie, raising a lot of dust, which to a mere civilian was somewhat annoying. But the sun was shining brightly all the time, and already after the first day's tramp the exposure to wind and sun had put a perceptible tan on my face and hands. I have since ceased wondering at the ruddy color and the sandpapered appearance of our soldier boys.

What I saw of the work of our Government I saw with non-professional eyes, and for that reason any judgment that I may express regarding the efficiency of the Government's agents may be discounted.

I shall leave all criticism of the Government’s methods to experts, and merely express the hope that when they launch forth into criticism, they will always prove their case. For the average civilian, however, who comes into Camp Funston I venture to say that he will be amazed to see so much accomplished in such a marvelously short time by a Government that was not prepared for war.

There may have been deficiencies in the beginning, and there has been suffering in the early weeks at Camp Funston, but it is not easy to see how all suffering could have been avoided. It is my conviction that the Government has spared neither expense nor labor to make the living conditions at the camp as good as they can be made for a soldier.

The camp is kept scrupulously clean. Order pervades it. The barracks, though they look like huge barns, all built of frame and unpainted, afford sufficient shelter in bad weather, and are thoroughly ventilated.

In the reading and lounging rooms at the Y. M. C. A. buildings, of which there are fourteen in the camp, besides the headquarters building, there is even an air of coziness, though here, too, everything bears the stamp of hasty and temporary construction. The soldier’s food is good, substantial food, well prepared, and served in abundant quantity.

Fort Riley immediately adjoins Camp Funston on its western border; in fact, Camp Funston is built on the 20,000 square mile military reservation of Fort Riley. Before the war this fort was a cavalry station; now it is a vast hospital city.

All the original stone buildings have been turned either into hospital wards or lodgings of the doctors, nurses, attendants, operating rooms, dispensaries; and many frame buildings and tents have been erected, in which those afflicted with infectious diseases are quarantined.

There was a Mumps Division, a Pneumonia Division, a Spinal Meningitis Division, and the patients afflicted with these diseases are even removed from one ward to another as their disease develops, from the observation wards to the convalescent wards. Here, too, the strictest order and cleanliness prevail.

A hospital ward is never a cheerful sight, but one could not but look with a sense of satisfaction down the long rows of beds covered with immaculately clean white linen, and see the kind attendants move from bed to bed to attend to their patients, most of whom wore a contented and cheerful countenance.

Real distress I observed only in the Spinal Meningitis Division, where the visitor has a disinfecting mask placed over his mouth and nostrils before he is admitted. I was told that, including the new frame buildings which have been recently erected, there are now 700 buildings in Fort Riley alone.

Towards the northwest of Fort Riley, beyond a high ridge on the top of which is the Ogden monument and the geographical center of the United States, there is another camp, the Receiving Camp, to which the raw recruits go when they answer their call.

This camp consists mainly of long rows of tents. There are only a few frame buildings. The surrounding country to the south and east is level, and is used as drill-grounds and for rifle-practices.

While we were looking at this camp, we saw long files of soldiers scale the rather steep hills on the north, and I was told that this was part of their early training. Another long file came up suddenly from behind a swell in the prairie.

They were marching four abreast, and where dust-stained and looked fatigued. They came in from an endurance march across country.

When the folks at home talk about their boy being at Camp Funston and they hear of another boy, who is a friend of their son, also going to Camp Funston, they imagine that the two will meet every day.

They imagine that the soldiers at the camp are one family, only somewhat larger than ordinarily. This is an incorrect view. Camp Funston, with the adjoining Fort Riley, is a small town.

A soldier living in the southeast comer of the camp may not meet his friend living in the northwest comer for weeks. To find a particular soldier, one must know exactly the number of his barrack, and even when he has found the barrack, he will have to have an officer consult the register of the inmates (if the barrack is a large one) to find in what part of the building the particular soldier is located.

In each building there is a notice posted stating how many soldiers can be accommodated in it; the smallest shelter 50, the largest over 250. Through changes in the service, which occur constantly, a soldier’s location in the camp also shifts.

He may be in this place in the morning and at an altogether different place at night. Besides, while new soldiers are constantly coming into camp, others, who have finished their preparatory training, are constantly leaving.

The latter may happen at a moment’s notice, and the departing soldier may not have time to inform his friends that he is leaving. I mention these facts because they have a bearing on the information which our Army and Navy Board and our camp pastors are able to furnish regarding particular soldiers and their whereabouts at a given time.

It is simply impossible for the Army and Navy Board to keep step with the movements of our boys. Let us take a concrete case. John Smith has been called to the colors and left home, but has not informed his pastor of the fact.

Weeks after, the pastor hears that he has left and may send the boy’s address to the camp pastor or to the Board, which assembles lists of names for particular camps.

When these lists reach the camp pastor, John Smith may not be at that particular camp any more. He may have been transferred to another camp, or he may be on his way to France.

The relatives and friends of our soldiers ought to bear these facts in mind when they feel inclined to criticize the Board or the camp pastors for inefficiency.

The camp pastors and hospital pastors, too, must rely, not on information from a boy’s home or from the Board, to get into touch with him, but must be daily searching their camps for boys belonging to our Church, just like a missionary in a new place is forever on the go trying to find his congregation.

The fact that the presence of a camp pastor is announced on bulletin boards in the camp or at Y. M. C. A. headquarters aids somewhat in bringing the camp pastor and the Lutheran boys together, but it is not sufficient.

The really efficient method is the systematic canvass of the camp, from barrack to barrack. Even then it is possible that some Lutheran boys may be overlooked.

And after the results of the canvass have been properly card-indexed, as I found our pastors at Camp Funston to have done, the index must be kept up to date.

By all possible means the camp pastor must keep himself informed about every soldier whom he has enrolled. He must keep up his visits to the barracks every day, make inquiries of the soldiers attending his service or the social gatherings on evenings during the week about such as are absent.

He must find out promptly when' a soldier is removed to the hospital, and when he is transferred to another camp. If it could be done, some one ought to work out a system by which the various pastors at our camps exchange information regularly and automatically.

You will gather from the foregoing that I have been greatly impressed with the arduousness and difficulties attending the work not only of your Board, but also of our camp pastors. It is a work that requires infinite patience and untiring devotion.

For what I have seen of the work of our pastors at Camp Funston I have nothing but praise. They astonished me with their file of 1,295 names in their card index, and their tales how they had obtained them.

As I walked with them from barrack to barrack and from ward to ward in the hospital, and noted with what unerring certainty they would locate individual soldiers, and observed the ready and cordial contact with each acquaintance that they met, I began to estimate the amount of labor that had to be expended before these results could be obtained. Truly, a camp pastor’s position is no sinecure. It is the hardest work for a minister that I can think of.

Moreover, it is work that requires a. great deal of tact, because the camp pastor moves among men of all sorts of mental and moral caliber, and because in his particular flock his work is to a great extent individual work.

The preaching at the regidar Sunday and week-day service is indeed a very important part of his work, and, because of the peculiar situation in which both the preacher and the congregation find themselves, requires special preparation.

The sermon must, of course, deal with the specific needs of this particular congregation, as all good sermons do. But, after all, the sermon is not more important than the pastoral care which must be extended to the individual soldier, and there is no soldier that I have met who does not need special spiritual attention.

I believe that an open-eyed and sympathetic camp pastor soon develops a sort of spiritual instinct that tells him when he is particularly wanted by a particular soldier, and what it is that he must say.

He must be cheerful, alert, and spirited, as he moves among the boys, and at the same time maintain that dignity which no minister of Christ dare sacrifice, if he does not want to wreck his effectiveness and usefulness.

Soldiers are trained to brief and pointed answers, and to direct and determined ways of approaching an objective. The tactics of modern warfare embrace indeed all manner of camouflage, but as a general thing the soldier is a very plain-spoken man.

As he deals with others, he wants to be dealt with himself. The camp pastor must be ready and prompt in speech and action to make the best impression. Men who have “made good” at their work should be retained, if the Board can at all secure their services.

A camp pastor is immensely more valuable to the Board at the end of six months’ service than at the beginning. It is not because he knows his soldier congregation by that time, for that is a constantly changing quantity, but because he knows his work and the best ways of achieving results. Here, too, “practice makes perfect.”

Our military chapel, the Lutheran Center, is located in Army City, three blocks east from the eastern entrance to Camp Funston. The Manhattan-Junction City Interurban runs past it, and stops almost at its door. This line runs through the whole camp and Fort Riley.

Even soldiers located in the most distant parts of the camp or fort can reach the Center within thirty minutes at the highest. In appearance this military chapel is like everything else in* that region ; it is an emergency structure and has “transitory” written all over it.

But it is, nevertheless, a substantial building, in which every inch of space is utilized, and the arrangement of the sanctuary, or main hall, and of the rest- and reading- and office-rooms at one end is very practical. So is also the little parsonage next door.

The joy of the boys over their pretty church home was freely expressed on Dedication Sunday. The Lutheran soldiers are not only the first, but so far the only ones who boast such a home. It was a success from the beginning.

During the morning and afternoon services, when many visitors had come from the surrounding country, some from a considerable distance, the chapel was crowded to its full capacity, and a number of worshipers were standing outside, looking in and listening in at the windows.

In the evening the audience was almost entirely composed of soldiers. The audience enjoyed the preaching of that day, and engaged in animated conversation with the preachers over what had been said.

The morning sermon was a fine, practical portrayal of the requisites for good Christian soldiership; the evening sermon emphasized the Lutheran interest in the boys and their work. It was, like in the messroom which I mentioned before, good, substantial food, and plenty of it, that was given our boys.

There was a peculiar solemnity spread over the proceedings of the day which I have not observed on any other occasion. The whole assembly was tense with earnestness, and the singing, in which the sonorous and raucous male voices predominated, was such as I have only heard at our Lutheran synodical convoitions.

There were quite a number of strangers, who were awed by the reverence and the fervor which pervaded our Lutheran form of worship.

Your Board deserves unstinted praise for this work, and those who have aided the Board, and speeded this work to its completion within thirty days; especially Rev. Matuschka deserves extra commendation for his zeal and practical ability.

You will have to be prepared to hear your work criticized as expensive, extravagant, and wasteful. But that criticism will be based entirely on ignorance of facts and conditions. No one who has spent but a few days in and about a camp will raise that criticism; they will rather wonder that the work of the Army and Navy Board is carried on at such a low cost.

For others who are engaged in this work are spending much more money, and if it did not sound a little mean and boastful, I should feel like questioning whether they are accomplishing as much. Life in and about the camp is not cheap.

You have to pay city prices for everything you purchase. Heal estate values and the prices of building material and the wages of laborers have soared to incredible heights, particularly in towns like Army City, which have grown up overnight. I am sure that the little parcel of ground on which our Lutheran Center stands could have been bought for a few dollars, and the buildings that have been placed on it could have been erected for a trifle before the war.

Both the lot and the buildings will become practically worthless the moment peace is declared. Now, is not this waste, sheer waste? Yes; but that is what war is in all its parts, and in all that is somehow connected with its prosecution.

All of Camp Funston, all the new frame buildings in Fort Riley, will be scrapped, when the boys are mustered out and return to their homes. That is just the price our country and our Church are paying for our present national enterprise.

We are not making investments for material profits and permanent commercial values. We are, if you want to call it so, wasting a lot of money, but that, under the circumstances, is the only way in which we can keep the souls of our children from wasting.

There, in the hearts of our boys, who are now passing through an ordeal that neither we nor they had expected, we shall have to look for the results of our sacrifices. They need the Church ; oh, yes, they need it.

They have been plucked up by the roots, as it were, from their former mode of life, and replanted into altogether different soil. This sudden transfer has a bewildering, unsettling effect on many of them.

They are thrown into strange companionships. Apart from the besetting sins of camp-life, the contact with different men of an altogether different way of thinking, for which many of our boys have not been prepared, constitutes a distinct element of spiritual danger to them.

There is much searching of hearts, much inquiring about the very fundamentals of the faith that saves, among earnest soldiers. Why should there not be?

Consider what these boys are facing! They had to be torn out of those associations which operated as spiritual safeguards for them hitherto, the home and their Christian friends. Let not now that association be broken which has exerted its silent influence upon their young lives, and which is the only one which we are permitted to keep up with them, the church association.

If that is broken in these months and years while they are in the camps and in the trenches, it will, in the case of many of them, be broken forever after.

The boys that we lose now will be hard to win back. As it is, there will undoubtedly be some loss. It would be a miracle if there were not. But let no loss arise from our indifference, stolidity, or neglect. If ever our boys appreciated their Bible and their Savior and their Church, now is the time.

The very events that have so swiftly overtaken them, and the solemn meaning of the times, have a sobering effect on all, and are making hearts tender and receptive. It is a great seed-time that has come to us in a strange way. Let us be fully awake to our opportunities, and ask the Lord for His grace and Holy Spirit that we may realize our responsibilities.

( Editorial Note. — The parents and friends of our boys in camp will read with much interest the following observations of Prof. Dau, made in Camp Funston. The article first appeared in the Lutheran Soldiers' and Sailors' Bulletin. We reprint it entire, also in order to give our readers a sample of the reading-matter contained in our Lutheran Soldiers’ and Sailors' Bulletin. This is the periodical inaugurated by our Board for Army and Navy in order to keep our people informed of the work of our Church in cantonment and camp. Send 50 cents to the editor, Rev. Karl G. Schlerf, 5954 Magnolia Ave., Chicago, 111., and you will get it once a month for a year.)

W. H. T. Dau, "Hearth and Home: My Impressions," in The Lutheran Witness: Official Organ of the Evangilical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, Vol. XXXVII, No. 13, 25 June 1918, pp. 204-207


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