|Unidentified soldier from World War One|
The United States declared war on Germany and its allies on 6 April 1917. Men not yet enlisted in the National Guard were subject to the draft. In Sherburne County, several hundred men entered the army as a result of the Federalization of the National Guard and the draft. Although events in training camps were never typical, letters sent home, and later published in the Sherburne County Star News, give a sense of life in the camps.
In a letter published in the Sherburne County Star News Theodore Coder described daily life in Camp Cody, New Mexico. “We left Fort Snelling Oct. 10 and arrived at Deming, adjacent to Camp Cody, on Oct. 15,” he wrote. “Had a delightful trip, or at least it was to me, but I did not fall in love with the country on first sight or have no deep affection for it yet.” He went on to describe the hazards of camp life. “The sand blows here like the snow in Minnesota, but give me the snow every time.” He went on to point out the annoying plants and creature in camp life, including: cactus, sage brush, horned toads, centipedes, scorpions, and the occasional rattlesnake.
Overtime, life at Camp Cody became routine. “We roll out at 5:30 and have reveille, then they double time the boys around for a while to give them an appetite,” Coder wrote. “First drill at 7:10 until 11:00. Mess at 12 and woe unto the cooks if there isn’t enough chow. Drill from 1:00 to 4:00. Mess and retreat at 5:15, then nothing to do but write letters until you get ready to go bed. Tattoo at 9:00, call to quarters at 10:00 and taps at 10:30.”
Although a great deal of camp life might be described as boring, the community of Deming sits next to the camp. “The First Minnesota, or 135th Infantry now, is quarantined for measles so none of us can go down town,” Coder reported. “The town is about 3,000 population. It is more like a carnival that a town—curio shops, fruit stands and popcorn wagons whichever way one may look.”
In contrast to life in Camp Cody, New Mexico, some Sherburne county draftees were sent to Camp Grant, Illinois. Life in Camp grant apparently livelier. Built on the outskirts of Rockford, Illinois, the city organized a Red Cross station to provide entertainment to troops. Unfortunately for these troops, this larger camp was also the sight for a deadlier strain of influenza in 1918. Although no evidence pinpoints Sherburne County troops dying at Camp Grant, more than 4,000 died from the disease at the Illinois training installation.
The letters and records of World War One suggest there never existed a typical day for troops in the training camps in the United States. Every location presented a level of boredom and daily challenges for each individual leaving Sherburne County to enter into war.