April 8, 1918 – You’re in the army now

In March and April 1916, a reporter from an Ohio newspaper, the Columbus Citizen was embedded with the United States Army at Columbus Barracks.  The reporter, C.C. Lyon, was “detailed to find out and tell the Citizen readers how the United States prepares its soldier for duty.”  The articles were assembled into a booklet and published by the Washington Printing Office in 1916.

As we learned last week, the U.S. Army training program had been re-built in early 1918.  But Lyon’s articles still give us a good idea of Jay’s experiences at Columbus Barracks in 1918.  Here are excerpts from the booklet that provide descriptions of the first days for a new recruit at Columbus Barracks.


Seventy-two of us recruits presented ourselves at the barracks receiving station the same morning.

“When did you have a bath last?”

Those of us who could show visible proof of acquaintance with a tub within three days were waived aside.  For the rest it was a hot shower with plenty of soap and scrubbing.

“The first thing you learn in the Army is to keep clean,” the sergeant told us.

We were a nondescript crowd that went to the hospital for physical examination.

The physical examinations of us required all morning and was machine-like in precision.

The examining officers divided us into two groups, photographed and finger-printed us and then had us change to our Garden of Eden costume.

“I’ll now test your lungs,” the chief examiner called out and then he went rapidly down the line thumping and testing with medical instruments each man in his turn.

“Now your hearts.”  He made us hop on one foot two or three times around the big room and then applied another instrument.

As he found a defect in a recruit he called it out and a clerk put it down.

He tested their feet.  And their teeth. “Nearly two-thirds of all the recruits examined had something the matter with their teeth.”

The medical examiner tested us for every disease and ailment I ever heard of and many I’d never heard of.

Then he turned us over to an eye, ear, and throat specialist – an Army officer who put us through his tests.



“Now we’re going to vaccinate you,” the sergeant in charge said when we returned to the hospital.  They marched us into a sort of operating room.

“Let me say first that if any of you men get sick while we’re working on you, just lay right down on the floor.  It’ll be alright,” said the chief in charge.

We stripped to the waist and as we marched past a table one attendant dabbed a part of the arm with iodine, and a third one scratched us each with a vaccinating needle.

“This is for smallpox,” the chief said.  “Now to inoculate you against typhoid,” he added.

This was more painful.  He jabbed us with a big syringe just around the corner from the smallpox wound, on the left arm, and show what seemed to be about a spoonful of medicine into each of us.

The blood test was the most painful of all.

“We want about a thimbleful of your blood to make the Wassermann blood test,” we were told.

We bared our right arms.  Only a few were allowed in the room at a time.

“It’s not a bad idea to look out of the window at the scenery while we’re doing this,” I was told.

One attendant tightly bound my arm below the elbow and I was told to clench my fist tightly.  As I did so another operator stuck a rather large pump affair into the most prominent artery.  The outside scenery had ceased to interest me and I turned just in time to see a small test tube filling with my life’s blood.

There’ll be more about turning raw recruits into U.S. Army soldiers in upcoming posts.

A photo of new recruits getting their medical exams:

You can see by the Cyrillic lettering on posters that these are Russian soldiers being inspected but it’s pretty much what the U.S. boys would have experienced.

zz 1918.04.09a



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