Life at the Naval Training Station
Sports as training for war
USS Alert baseball team circa 1918
studying, chores, sleeping, and eating consumed most
of the time
of the men stationed at military training facilities.
Yet, many weekend days often were relatively free. Most
a range of pursuits as long as they were "morally
Boxing and wrestling matches were
a common way to blow off steam. Robert Blumenstein noted
one such encounter: "Charley Weis had a fight with
a fellow in our Company and gave him a good licking.
Baseball was a popular way to keep
the competitive juices flowing. Bluemenstein's brother,
David, serving in the Army couldn't help but crow about
his exploits: "Well we finally
won the championship of the regiment. Won ten straight games
and have lost
No team has scored more than two runs and we always
got from five to ten. I got to pitch against the champs
of the 2nd Battalion, F Co. and won nine to one....
Tell Ed Mason we have a team like the one the last year
played. There [They're] the hardest hitting bunch in
the Regiment and any of them are liable to knock the
old ball out of the lot."
(Image: San Diego Historical
Robert Blumenstein grew up in Elgin and got a job as a car inspector
for the railroad. By March 1917, his younger brother, David, had already
left his post office job to join the Army. He was stationed
Barracks and soon was sending letters back to the family. Perhaps one of
these letters inspired Robert to enlist six months later. He could help
win the war and see the world at the same time if he joined the Navy.
A very different place
Blumenstein's naval career
started at the bottom as an apprentice seaman. The Navy wasted no time
in sending him to
San Francisco. More specifically, he was stationed at Goat Island,
now known as Yerba Buena Island, in the San Francisco Bay. The scenic
vista from the station was striking to a young man from a small eastern
when there is no fog the view from there [a hill on the island] is
great. Frisco is about two miles across the bay to the west and Oakland
same distance to the east of the island. Both cities are lit up by
thousands of electric lights and large ferries are continually crossing
the bay. In the daytime you can see ships coming in and others leaving,
bound for all parts of the world. There are a couple of warships
lyeing [sic] at anchor in the Frisco harber [sic] now, I think one
of them is
the old Oregon [USS Oregon battleship that served as flagship of
the Pacific Fleet]."
Blumenstein's appreciation of his station waned on foggy days, however.
It was so thick at times and so difficult to see that it reminded him
of winter snow storms in Elgin. When the fog would roll in off the
ocean "two blankets hardly keep one warm enough."
Vaccinations come early
By the time of World War I, vaccinations
were becoming more routine for those serving in the military. Certainly,
of death from
disease rivaled those related directly to combat and military planners
were keen to cut losses wherever they could. As a result, Blumenstein
and many others endured a series of
smallpox and typhoid. Because the use of vaccines on such a large scale
was relatively new and still inexact, negative reactions were not uncommon
and deaths sometimes followed. Blumenstein described his experiences:
...I had my last T.P. [typhoid vaccination?]
a week ago. I have been vaccinated three times but neither
one has taken. When we got our second T.P. they injected the
serum from a tube five inches long and one half inches in diameter
into our right arms, the first and the last shot was only half
as large. After each shot we would have a headache and fever
for a day then we would feel all right except for a sore arm.
A few of the fellows fell over before the doctors had time
to use the needle but he gave it to them while they were on
the floor just the same....
Truly yours, Rob
Blumenstein had to stand guard duty periodically. The radio
station on the top of the hill required particular attention since it
was, he believed, the largest wireless station on the West Coast. It
was a key naval communications asset and had to be protected. Four guards
would watch over the radio station during the day but 16 drew duty
at night, slowly walking within sight of each other and allowing only
those with passes near the radio station.
Army recruits train during World War I. Soldiers, sailors,
and marines all drilled long hours. (Image courtesy freepages.military.rootsweb.com)
Bluemenstein and the others in his company spent much of their
days drilling and in spite of the sense of bewilderment that came with
learning new drills, he was satisfied that they were "pretty
good and have the cleanest company up here." Of course, Blumenstein
had an incentive to stay focused: "If any of the men don't pay attention
to orders when we are having battalion drill they are made to ride their
guns behind the band like kids used to ride stick horses." Blumenstein
had managed to avoid the fate but several others each day would "ride
Life after drilling
The seemingly constant drilling led to very healthy appetites.
While the food may not have been remarkable, often consisting of potatoes,
meat, and eggs, the quantities consumed reminded Blumenstein of what
a ravenous saw mill crew would
all of the food, he craved more sweets such as fruit and jellies.
That problem was solved by eating candy purchased at the canteen. Yet
money was strictly limited. The sailors could not draw all of their
pay until they completed training. In the meantime, they had just been
issued their first pay of two dollars each.
Soldiers sit down to eat in a camp mess hall. No branch
of the service was known for the exceptional quality of its food,
Without much money to spend and with infrequent shore leave, the men
spent much of their free time reading and writing letters to family
and friends. While the Navy experience was an adventure, homesickness
still played a part for many who had never left their homes for any
period of time before enlisting: "Seems like mail time is the
best part of the day when everyone is looking for letters from home." And,
with limited drills on the weekends, writing became a very popular
"It is hard to find a pen and ink to write with on Sat and Sun
as everyone is spending his spare time writing."
Steering the ship
After he completed training in November,
Blumenstein went on to successful service in the Navy. He earned promotion
second class and
three months later became a seaman serving on the USS Dorothea that
operated in the West Indies during the war. The ship patrolled in Mexican
waters and along the southern coast of the United States until 1918.
In December 1917 Blumenstein gained promotion to coxswain. His duty,
among other tasks, involved steering the ship. Soon thereafter,
Dorothea sailed from New Orleans for Havana, Cuba, where it was used
for the remainder of the war to train Cuban naval officers. Months after
the signing of the Armistice, Blumenstein was discharged
(Oregon State Defense Council Records, Personal Military
Service Records, World War I, Box 6, Union County, School District