On Active Service
In his own words: one man's diary, 1918-1919
Planalp enjoyed seeing the USS Constitution in Boston Harbor. The ship,
shown sailing here in 1997 during a celebration for its 200th year, is
the world's oldest commissioned warship afloat. (Photo #45269 courtesy
Boston is sure quite a city, but I would not care to live here. People
here speak of the middle states as being out west. They think Chicago
is away out
I was talking to a man who enlisted here in Boston a short time ago. He said
he had never been out of the State of Mass. in his life, and only out of the
city of Boston, once. I do not think he really knew where Oregon is, he wanted
to know if it “wasn’t quite a ways out west.” There is a
place here in the city for Sailors called the Shore Leave Club, where we can
nice light, clean room for .50¢ or two can get a room together with two
beds in it for .35¢ each.
No need to worry about my health. I am always the last one to leave the
table. Went to see Bunker Hill monument the other day. I see the old
nearly every day. It is at the Navy yard. It was built in 1797.
Still cold. 11 below zero. The boat we go to work on got stuck this morning
and could not get out until a large boat came and broke up the ice. Saw an
sub in here today. Have not been on liberty for a long time as there is not
much pleasure in going out in such cold weather.
I sure do not like the climate here now. Have had a very little sunshine
since coming here. The Saxonia that was in dry dock at Bremerton nearly
came in here today. She is now called the Sevana [sic]. It used to be a German
Had quite a fall a few nights ago. One of the beams which has the hooks
in that we swing our hammocks to, broke about midnight. I and three
or four others
down with it. We fell about 5 1/2 or 6 feet onto the hard cement floor. Most
of them had the foot of their hammock to the beam that broke, and came down
feet first. I had my head that way, and landed on my back and shoulders. Was
sore and lame for several days. Lots of foreigners around Boston. Jews and
Carl Tomlinson, a 20 year old from The Dalles, served aboard the
USS Saturn patrolling the waters of the Alaska Coast during
the war. Stormy seas were the norm. One trip took five days
and nights with little sleep or rest when in fair weather it
would have taken only two days. During ice storms, each of
the crew carried an axe to remove ice from the frozen riggings.
On normal days, sailors tended to their assigned duties and
pitched in on frequently needed cleaning, painting, or repairing
But life at sea wasn't all work. Tomlinson
described a friend (shown above) that he and the rest of
the crew made: "The bald headed eagle is the Ships
[sic] Mascot and was allowed to fly at liberty over the
vessel and [is] very much beloved by the boys. He finally
became so spoiled that he was confined in the Golden Gate
Park at San Francisco Cal." (OSA)
Have been transfered [sic] to the Torpedo boat destroyer Little, and
will go aboard tomorrow. Think I will like it alright [sic]. It is
an oil burner.
Well Ralph and I and several others have been transfered [sic] off the
Little, and back to the Pier again. Do not know how long I will be
here. After being
in the Navy this long I am not surprised much at anything. You can not plan
ahead much, as you are never quite sure one day where you will be the next.
got into my sea bag and stole my shaveing [sic] outfit, and my two fountain
Had a 48 hour liberty last Sat. and Sunday. Had a fine time. I was at
the Navy Service Club, and five or six men who live here in town brought
and took about 25 of us out for a ride. The one I went in was a new Ford limousine.
We were gone about 3 _ hrs. and went about 35 or 40 miles. We went out in the
country, passing through 5 or 6 little towns and went to the town of Lexington.
Saw the place where the battle of Lexington was fought, saw the statue of Captain
Parker and a marble slab with the words, “Do not fire until fired upon,
but if there is going to be a war, let it start here,” which is supposed
to be what he told his men. Also saw the old house where the Soldiers or minute
men as they were called, were quartered, and the house where Longfellow, the
poet, used to live, and a number of other historical places. We came back a
different way, coming in through the city of Cambridge, which is almost a part
The country around here is quite hilly, but the hills are quite low, and partly
covered with scrubby looking timer. Did not see any good looking farming land,
as the soil is very stony and gravely. I sure enjoyed the trip if the old Ford
did run on three cylinders all the way.
I have been transfered [sic] to the U. S. S. Kearsarge. It is a training
ship. There are about 140 2nd class firemen going aboard her from here.
Well, I am back home again on the Pier. Ralph is here too. We were
only on the Kearsarge three days. There was a mistake somewhere sending
us, as they
want 2nd class men at all, but wanted men who had never been aboard a training
ship. Almost all of the 140 men were sent back here. I have been detailed to
the U. S. S. Shawmut a mine layer.
Was only on the Shawmut detail one day. Ralph and I are both expecting
to leave for New York this afternoon.
Aboard the U. S. S. Von Steuben, Ralph and I are both aboard this ship.
We left Boston the afternoon of April 25. Took the train about 1:30
through the towns of Providence, New London, New Haven and Bridgeport, and
arrived at the Grand Central Station in N. Y. about 8 o’clock. The C.
P. O. (chief petty officer) in charge of the party ordered supper for all of
us at a restaurant
near the station. We had scrambled egg [sic], bacon, hot cakes, coffee and
pie. After supper we took the subway to Brooklyn, and went to the Navy yard
aboard the receiving ship all night. The next day about 50 of the Boston bunch
were transfered [sic] to the U. S. S. Von Steuben. The Von Steuben was lying
at Hoboken, N. J. New York City is between two rivers. Brooklyn is just across
the river on one side, and Hoboken just across the other river on the other
side. We went on a tug boat from the receiving ship down one river to where
together then back up the other one to Hoboken, so got a good view of the city
from the harbor. We passed under the Brooklyn bridge [sic], and saw the large
statue of liberty that stands out in the harbor. The Von Steuben is a
very large transport. It is the former German ship Crown Prince Wilhelm. We
the ship at 4 o’clock. She was all loaded with soldiers, and we started
for France at 6 o’clock. At 8 o’clock Ralph and I went on watch
in the fireroom. We arrived at Brest, France 8 days later. The Northern
went with us. There is a crew of 1200 and a band of 28 pieces. There are 8
firerooms, and 28 boilers. She is 663 ft. in length and 66 ft. beam.
Have a moving
picture machine, a goat called Bill, and a dog called Tomatoes.
nearly 800 feet, the 1913 Woolworth Building in New York City was
the tallest building in the world when Planalp saw it in 1918.
courtesy Kirkland Community College, Iowa)
Went to the top of the Woolworth building this afternoon. Had a fine
view of the city, also Brooklyn, Hoboken and Jersey City. The building
is 792 ft.,
1 in., and 60 stories high. The tallest and most beautiful office building
Arrived back in the States again yesterday. There were 10 transports
and 1 destroyer, with us this trip. Some of the ships were slow so
it took us 13
days going over.
We always have it quite warm for 1 or 2 days while we are in the Gulf stream.
The Gulf stream is much bluer than any where else. It is a very
dark blue and looks pretty when it is just rough enough to show a few white
caps. We are some times in the Gulf stream as long as 4 days. Saw the
dummy battle ship which is used for a recruiting ship here in New York City.
Was out to Coney Island which is sure a big amusement park. Also went
to Central Park. There are 879 acres in the park and it is certainly
a beautiful place.
Have also been through Battery Park.
Think we will leave Sunday evening. We always leave at night about 6
and it is dark by the time we get out to sea. When we were going over the last
trip we had target practice on [sic] day. One of the other ships towed a target
for us, then we towed one for them. The Von Steuben has the most guns and is
the best armed of any of the transports. When we are in the war zone we always
have to wear our life preservers when we go on the upper deck, but do not have
to wear them below deck.
Back in Hoboken again. We left here the 30th of June. We started with
a bunch of other ships, 15 transports, 4 destroyers and one cruiser
in all. On the
second day out it was discovered one of the other transports, the Henderson
was on fire.
The fire started about 1:30 in the afternoon, down in the forward hold. By
8 o’clock that evening, it had got so bad they decided to transfer the
troops, so the Henderson, the Von Steuben and two destroyers stopped, the rest
ships going on. They transfered [sic] all of the troops about 1400 or 1500
of them, over onto the Von Steuben. We were there all night, getting started
again at about 5 o’clock the next morning, the Henderson going back to
the States. We were sure awfully crowded. After leaving the Henderson we put
on full speed, and went through to Brest, with out joining the other ships.
The Von Steuben can make 21 or 22 knots per hr. at full speed. A knot is
1 1/8 miles. We do not have very much fruit or vegetables. Once in a while
orange or 1 apple for breakfast. The oranges are mostly from Florida and
not nearly as good as the Calif. orange, in fact I have not tasted a really
orange, apple or potatoe [sic] since coming east.
Was off on a 48 hour leave Saturday and Sunday. I went over to New York
on the subway which goes under the Hudson river [sic], then walked
bridge [sic] to Brooklyn, and spent the afternoon there. In the evening I
went back to New York and took one of the sight seeing busses around the
part of the city. There was a man with the buss [sic] to explain things and
point out the places of interest. We went around the main business part of
along the Bowery and through the Hebrew part of town, or Grotto. He told
us that 45 per-cent [sic] of the population of the city were foreigners.
was a saying that New York was owned by the Jews, run by the Irish and what
few Americans there were, paid the bills. We also went through the Chinatown.
only covers two or three blocks. He told us how many Chinese there were,
I have forgotten just how many, but it is less than 100 so you see it does
to much compared to the Chinatowns in some of the western cities. In the
Hebrew district the streets are so crowded with people you can hardly get
The people are certainly crowded in the thickest of any place I ever saw.
us in some places there are as many as 9000 inhabitants to the mile. We went
through the Italian part or little Italy. While we were at the Navy yard
I saw the two big battleships Pensylvania [sic] and New Mexico. The New Mexico
very latest and most modern battleship.
Have been out to Palisade Park. It is an amusement park, not as large
as Coney Island, but much prettier. It is on the New Jersey side, on
above the Hudson river [sic]. Am getting around quite a bit, and getting
pretty well acquainted with the city. Begin to feel quite at home here. Am
a good many shows. As watermellon [sic] for dinner today, good and cold,
right off the ice. Only a small piece for each man, but good what there was
The USS Von Steuben in New York City in 1918. The paint scheme was designed
to camouflage the ship. (Photo #45269 courtesy www.history.navy.mil)
Expect to get into Hoboken tonight. Had fine weather going over, but
coming back has been a little rough nearly all the way, and yesterday
we got into
bad storm. Navy men said it was one of the worst storms ever witnessed on
the Atlantic seaboard. The wind blowing was estimated to be more than 125
per-hour, and the waves ran over 100 ft. high. The navigator was forced to
change his course
to keep the ship’s head with the storm, for if she had of gotten her
head into the trough of the sea, it would of meant “good-bye Von Steuben.” Three
of our men seamen [sic], were washed overboard and lost. Four or five others
were quite badly hurt. It was so rough they could not cook anything or set
any tables. They stretched ropes around the mess hall, and we hung on with
and ate a sandwich with the other. When it was the roughest they spray came
down through the ventilators and through the grating into the fireroom and
the firemen were soaking wet. We had a few wounded soldiers aboard and I
talking to him, and he said he was “scared to death.” He said
the trenches had nothing on this. Said when he got to New York if anyone
would offer him $1,000
to cross the ocean again he would not go. I did not mind it, as I was not
a bit sick, and I never was afraid of the water. Have been working to day
out the boilers. Day or night is just about the same with us, Sunday or any
other day, as of course when under way the work has to go on at night the
same as day
and when in port they work day and night loading and coaling getting ready
for another trip. We get most of our liberty at night. A full nights sleep
an uncommon thing, and beans are considered one of the best feeds [sic] we
get, but most of the boys, so they have a saying in the Navy “All night
in and beans for breakfast.”
Took an excursion boat this morning and went up the Hudson river [sic]
45 miles to a place called Bear Mountain. It is a national park. No
go there from the city and camp out. It is a very pretty place. It is in
and is rocky and rough, and covered with timber, but not as nice timber or
as large mountains as we have in the west. There is a lake there with rowboats
an Inn where one can gets [sic] meals “if you have the price.” There
are many beautiful residences up along the Hudson and several small towns.
It makes a very nice trip, but does not begin to compare with a trip up the
Well we get liberty in Brest this time for the first time. Had six hours
liberty so got to see quite a bit of the town. I saw the street named after
Wilson. You see quite a few people wearing wooden shoes. There are very few
wooden buildings, they are mostly built of stone. I had some money changed
money. We brought over a load of Marines this time. Some of them were sick
when they came aboard, and a day or so later a lot of them were sick. They
had the “Spanish
Influenza.” Before we got to Brest 33 of them died. There were two
other ships with us, and about the same number died aboard one of them. We
the bodies back with us. We saw a large ice berg [sic] on our way over. We
burn on an average 7,000 tons of coal on a round trip. Have about 500 firemen
This 1918 postcard shows the view Planalp saw from the top of the Washington
Monument looking east. The U.S. Capitol is in the distance. (Image
courtesy Smithsonian Institution)
I am on a 10 day furlough and am at Washington, D. C. Stopped off at “Philly.” Took
in the city pretty well. Was out to Fairmont Park a very large park. Also
saw the Betsy Ross house where the first American flag was made. Left
and came through Wilmington, Delaware, and Baltimore, Maryland, to Washington,
D. C. I have now been in 27 different states. Have seen the Capitol building
[sic] and the White house [sic] and been all though the grounds. Could not
go to the top of the Capitol as it has been closed to visitors ever since
started. Went through the National Musieum [sic] and the Smithsonian Institution.
Went to the top of the Washington Monument. The elevator was out of order
so had to walk up. It is 550 ft. and was some climb, but had a fine view
city from the top. Heard Secretary of the Navy Daniels speek [sic]. Washington
is a very pretty place, the nicest city I have seen in the east. Saw Warren
Hunter in New York a short time ago. He is on a sister ship to the one
Gildon is on,
and was built in Portland. He said “Whetstone was in New York City
it seems to [sic] good to be true, but I guess it was is all over. Last
Monday morning about 5 o’clock I was awakened by all the whistles and
bells in New York. The whistle on the ship blew and the band played. There
great celebration in New York all day Monday and Monday night. The streets
were so crowded you could hardly get around, and so much paper and confetti
street it looked like a snow storm [sic] had struck the city.
Am on board the steamer Commonwealth to-night [sic] on my way to Boston.
The steamer goes to Fall River and you take the train from there to Boston.
Wet out to Commonwealth Pier while at Boston. Everything looks just
about the same there. Saw two or three sailors who I used to know
men there now, than when we left there. They are sure doing a lot of
repair work on our ship now, and I think we will be in for a long
We have been chipping the painting the coal bunkers [sic] and chipping
the inside of the boilers. Was on board ship Thanksgiving day. Had
a fine dinner.
the best meal I have had in the Navy.
Postcard of the train station at Bourges, France. Planalp saw liberty
in France during his travels. (OSA, Oregon Defense Council Records,
World War I Photographs) View French scenic
Will get three days off at Christmas. Will spend my time around New
Spent Christmas in New York City. Ate dinner at the Cardinal Farley
soldiers and sailors club. It is maintained by the Catholic people.
We sure had
a fine dinner, and all free.
Was out to the Bronx Park this afternoon. There is a large zoo
at the park. Saw Hunter this evening. He just got back from France.
Attended the Automobile show here in New York City. It was sure
quite some show.
Back from France again. Have been sick with the grip for the
last 4 days, and have been staying at the sick bay, but am
Back in Hoboken again. Had 7 hours liberty in France this
Back to the good old U. S. A. once again. They are rushing
the troops home as fast as possible. It sure makes hard
We are only
supposed to stay in port 3 days on the other side, and
5 on this. Have been on the Von
Steuben a little over a year now, and have made 9 trips
over and back, or crossed the Atlantic 18 times.
(Oregon State Defense Council Records, State Historian's
Correspondence, Box 1, Folder 40)