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Forrest W. Bassett papers

Seventeen letters, 21 December 1917 - 26 June 1918, of Wisconsin native Forrest W. Bassett, stationed first at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., and later in South Carolina at Camp Wadsworth, Spartanburg, describe his World War I military training camp experiences. The bulk of Bassett's correspondence is addressed to Ava Marie Shaw, his girlfriend, in Beloit, Wis., and describes activities and life in camp.

Bassett's initial impression of Camp Wadsworth is conveyed in a letter of 31 May 1918: "Tall pine timber, hundreds and hundreds of horses, cities of tents, with everything in a cloud of yellow dust." He writes that the camp was comprised of over sixty thousand men from every branch of the army. Bassett himself belonged to the Signal Corps and was part of a team responsible for setting up radio communications between the target ranges and the main camp at Wadsworth: "Before we came messages were carried by mounted or motorcycle orderly" ((8 June 1918).

Bassett details many of his observations in his letters. Several praise the beauty of the Blue Ridge mountains in which the target ranges were located and others provide detailed descriptions of his activities and the life around him. He describes receiving news reports over the telegraph: "I just finished a message...and then I `listened in' for the big gov't Radio Station at Arlington W. Va., which sends time signals at 11:00 P.M. (Eastern time) every night....After giving the long dash at exactly 11:00 p.m. the operator sends the weather reports for every section of the country. Tonight he sent a war warning: `War warning, enemy submarines may be encountered anywhere'--and then he gives the places around Nantucket where submarines have been reported" (9 June 1918).

Bassett also describes the men and armaments he sees: "A machine gun battalion is about the same size as a sig[nal] corps B'n, about 450 men. They are armed with a Colts' .45 auto-pistol, same as we, also a big knife about the size of a bayonet only wider and thinner. They were shooting the Vicker's machine gun at the range but will use Browning in France. I saw several Browning guns here" (12 June 1918). Another letter relates his encounter with a gas mask: "A big rubber mouthpiece has to be gripped by the teeth, a spring clip pinches the nostrils together so as to prevent nose-breathing, and the culluloid eyepieces make it pretty hard to see anything....[The mask] has to be taken from the haversack & put on the face with mouthpiece and nose clip in place in seven seconds" (15 June 1918).

Bassett's last letters discuss his impending transfer overseas. He writes to Marie Shaw that "This will possibly be my last letter from Camp Wadsworth. From now on our mail will be censored" (26 June 1918). He ends this final letter of the correspondence by writing: "Whatever happens, Marie, remember that you have my most enduring love & respect, & remember why" (26 June 1918).

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