General Graves arrived on the THOMAS. It was a beautiful sunny day. The officers already in Vladivostok had arisen at four in the morning to greet the General aboard the transport. Graves was more than pleased with the warm welcome but had to part company at 11 am for a scheduled breakfast aboard the BROOKLYN.
His first official visit into he city was to call on General Otani in order to set straight the question as to whether the American soldiers would march under a Japanese flag. Graves told Otani: "I did not and in fact my orders were of such a nature that I could not relinquish control of United States troops."
Graves told Otani it was, however, his desire to cooperate in every way possible with the Japanese and that he felt assured they could accomplish the same objective because Grave felt the desires of the Japanese Government and the American Government were the same. "I also told him," Grave wrote, "that in view of the limitations placed upon me as to the use of American troops I must insist upon being informed where troops were to be transferred and for what purpose before they were moved."[i]
Graves also verbally told Colonel Styer, who had preceded him in command in Siberia, as to those limitations and requested him to act accordingly. "The Japanese Headquarters apparently thoroughly understood the situation and there has been no friction and conflict in the operations here."[ii]
Later that first day problems were forgotten in one great social event arranged by General Otani. After the officers dressed for the occasion cars awaited their pleasure to take them to the affair. High ranking officers of all nations were on hand. One American said his head was whirling with the realization of how many really important military men from a great variety of countries were there shaking hands, bowing, eating and drinking with each other.
The food was spread out on tables as if there was no such thing as famine, as though there were no hungry peasants. It seemed ironic to some that the monarchy had been overthrown for just such dining and drinking while the peasants had cried for bread. Yet in Vladivostok the Allied officials were that night emulating such festivities while the peasants were starving in the hills. It did not set well with some of our men. It was too much like Moscow again with its banquet tables, high dress, drinks and social intercourse. One man wondered if a bread riot might not follow and had to admit he would not much blame the peasants if they broke down the doors in protest. But nothing happened. The affair was carried off with finesse as the military greats drank vodka and champagne and ate the finest of caviar and other delicacies. It was probably just as well that the hungry American soldiers who had been marching back and forth through the town knew nothing of that gala affair.
The day after arrival was a warm pleasant one. The officers were beginning to wonder just where they would live. "We will probably live in Headquarters," Eichelberger wrote, as he sat in his pajamas in a stateroom on the THOMAS that early September morning.
While some of the men were seeing the cockroaches, Graves was busy with communiques that were piling up on his desk. He began to realize the complexities of the problems that were to face him in the days ahead. Not only was Russia in a chaotic state but the aims of some of the allies were questionable. The Commanding General was keen enough to foresee problems with the aggressive Japanese. On the diplomatic front he had to concern himself with General Alfred Knox of the British army who had no use for Russian peasants. Graves disagreed violently with Knox's opinion and did not appreciate the latter's determined effort to set up a reactionary regime in Siberia by building up the image of Kolchak, a former Admiral of the White Russian fleet.
As the days passed Graves was cognizant of the fact that most of the Allies who were ready and willing to fight the Bolsheviks had anticipated that the Americans would join the Allies. It was impossible for Graves to carry out the President's wishes and cooperate with such aims. Furthermore, Graves was not amendable to making Kolchak the Supreme Commander of the White Russians, in spite of the wishes of the other Allies. Washington itself had given its nod of approval to this matter. Our General knew that Kolchak's henchmen were raiding villages to impress men into the Kolchak army. He abhorred the tactics they used and felt that Washington was not apprised of the situation as it existed. If a village did not cooperate, the leaders of a town would be hauled off to be whipped or shot. Worse still, they were sometimes dipped into frigid waters until they became human icicles. Such reports worried Graves who stated, "I have often thought that it was unfortunate I did not know more of the conditions in Siberia than I did when I was pitchforked into the melee at Vladivostok. At other times I have thought that ignorance was not only bliss in such a situation but was advisable."[iii]
Regarding the piled supplies which could be seen everywhere near the wharf, Graves did not need any communique. A panorama spread before him or arms and ammunition lying around on wharfs or sidings or on vacant lots. Some material was in crates, some unprotected, some covered with huge canvas tarpaulins. Cotton was found thrown on the ground with no covering and nothing beneath it to protect it from dampness. Piles of rubber, so desperately needed by the Allies, were in evidence. There were automobiles that had never been uncrated. If this lifeline of supplies fell into the hands of enemy factions it would be disastrous. Guards were detailed to safeguard the supplies.
Then thee was the problem of the Czecho-Slovaks. By a strange twist of fate these men who the Americans had come to help were now fighting their own battles admirably.
"I was being disillusioned very fast," Graves said. He reread his orders again and again and throughout his service in Siberia he refused to be forced by political or military groups to aide with one faction against the other. It seemed as though there was nothing left for our troops to do but carry out the part of the instructions relating to the guarding of military stores which might subsequently be needed by Russian forces.
However, the term "Russian forces" had to be defined before any steps could be taken to render aid referred to in the policy. In his book Graves wrote that the decision could not be made in Washington. Conditions were such in Siberia that one could not render any assistance to a Russian without discarding the policy of non-intervention in internal affairs. The General stated: "I could not give a Russian a shirt without being subject to trying to help the side to which the recipient of the shirt belonged."
In addition to attempting to determine which of the Russians constituted 'Russian forces,' Graves also wondered about which element should be considered 'the enemy.'
Throughout the intervention Graves' neutral position represented views of the Chief of Staff, Secretary of War and the President himself. At first it was also the view of the State Department. Later, however, the War and State Departments differed. This added to Graves' concern.
As though the situation in Russia itself was not enough to give any man a migraine, Graves was faced with the question of barracks and storage facilities for his American men. Satisfying the question of which army would occupy which barracks was a task of great magnitude, especially as those representatives of those nations having the fewest troops were often the hardest to satisfy."[iv]
The General stated: "It was an almost impossible task to convince the Japanese or Chinese or Italian forces that on account of our sanitary regulations we can only put 150 men into a building. . .(one) into which they would put 300-500. They would not admit that our soldiers were deserving of any more consideration than their own."[v]
Such questions had to be handled with tact and diplomacy.
As though there were not enough problems at hand, General Otani asked each of the Allies to designate officers to sit on nine different committees: Material, Barracks and Quarters, Finance, POW, Inter-Allied Railway, Sanitary and Tariff and Marital Law. This would take more time. In addition, Allied representatives were at first scheduled to meet twice a week, then once a week to discuss matters of common interest. No committee decision was final, but when policies were not violated the majority opinion was usually adopted.[vi]
Later General Graves was to report: ". . .Personal and official relations with Japanese Headquarters have left nothing to be desired except that the Japanese have simply been following a different policy. They have resorted to bribery and trickery in every way. The Japanese Chief of Staff has stated that they have already spent one hundred million yen in Siberia on their army. They spend money in a way and follow methods that Americans cannot and must not follow. However, condemn these methods as much as we do, the fact remains that conditions are such here and the Russian people are such, that. . .I doubt very much whether it is possible for us in the face of such obstacles to realize the American ideals of honesty, liberty and justice in Siberia for years and years to come."[vii]
The doughboys were not as busy as was General Graves and his staff upon arrival, but they were eager to get off the transport and into town for a firsthand look at the city itself.
First, however, they were required to eat breakfast on board. Then they received permission to debark.
Food on the transports was cooked in copper kettles by steam. Under ordinary circumstances the kettles were emptied after each meal, and scalding steam was used to cleanse them thoroughly. In this way, they were completely sterilized before the next meal. This method of cooking aboard army transports has long since been abandoned, but in September, 1918, that was the method used.
When the men received their dinner Labor Day night in 1918, they knew they would be eating their breakfast on the transport as well. The cooks also knew this. Henry Fry reports, "Those damn cooks must have had it figured out in advance that if they cooked more slum for dinner than the men could eat there would be some left over for breakfast. So they did just that, and then, not being military, they were permitted to go to town. Thus, when the slum cooled, and remember it had been sitting in those copper kettles all night, it was just reheated and served again. The effect was ptomaine poisoning."[viii]
The result of that morning meal was catastrophic. After seventeen days on the water nearly every man was sick upon arrival. It has been reported that anywhere from 250 to 1,700 men were stricken a few hours after the meal was served. A survey showed that the men were indeed in the throes of ptomaine.
Stephen Chadwick records that they had no medical men assigned to them. That in itself was disastrous. Chadwick communicated with headquarters immediately, explaining the gravity of the situation, and requested that id be sent on the double.
An officer present at headquarters confided to Chadwick later that the Expedition Surgeon passed the petition for aid off with the remark that some of the men had doubtless had too much vodka. No assistance arrived.
At five o'clock most of the doughboys were too sick to leave their beds. Chadwick called again. An hour later a hospital corpsman with a bag of medicine appeared. He was unable to cope with the situation which existed. So Chadwick and a few others organized the well men into a sort of hospital corps and assisted, as far as they could, those unable to take care of themselves.
"At seven o'clock," he recalls, "to my great relief, two young doctors drifted in. Seeing the situation and fully appreciating it, they immediately raided the so called Base Hospital and returned with two bottles of CC pills and one bottle of castor oil. The latter was said to be the only bottle with the expedition! The pills were given to those able to walk, the oil was soon exhausted on those unable to leave their beds," Chadwick reports, and adds, "To those two doctors, Lieutenants Ehlers and Baronodisk, the men of the transport owe a real debt, for with me they waited and worked throughout the night. I hope the Expedition Surgeon slept soundly."
Other men recalled that some of the sick were put in a field hospital which was set up in Russian quarters. "The doctors and pill rollers gave each of us either salts or castor oil to try to ease the onslaught of the pain," said one man.
In time most of the men managed to overcome the ptomaine onslaught and began to look around them. Many were surprised to see that Siberia was not vastly different from the States. The climate was about the same and the people were similar to people one might meet anywhere in a cosmopolitan city except that most of the inhabitants were wretchedly clothed. But, all in all, it did not seem nearly as bad as it had sounded back home. There were troops from many countries and prisoners of war everywhere. Before them lay a beautiful harbor sight. A Japanese fleet with banners flying, the British KENT (a destroyer), and the American cruiser BROOKLYN were in full view. There were also two obsolete Russian destroyers.
But that first day it rained and rained. It was only a drizzling rain but the kind that soaks into a man's body. Those that had been sick with ptomaine were weak and disgusted. Drizzling rain can knock a weak soldier out. Nevertheless, the AEFers had been ordered to get out with full packs and fall in. After that it was a repetition of orders to fall in and to fall out so many times that the men were worn to a frazzle before they finally received their marching orders. With full packs they were paraded from what was later known as American Base, through Vladivostok, all the way to the far end of Svetlanskaya Street.
To this day the men do not know the purpose of that tram, tramp, tramp. One said it was mismanagement from the top. Another said that "the Brass wanted to make a show to the natives." But most of the men concluded that they looked too awful to be making any kind of a good impression.
"In all my years of service, sometimes marching all day, I have never suffered so much," said Fry. "My shoulder straps from my pack cut into my shoulders. Our morale was not improved by seeing out buddies along the side of the street. I think our detachment must have lost about fifty percent of its effectiveness that day." The "buddies along the street" were the men who had fallen out. After some two hours in the rain those who were able were still marching and the weaker ones simply gave up. Every half block or so another doughboy would just stop and sit down on the side of the road.
They saw by the bewilderment of the officers that they were without any forceful leadership. Graves had not had time to take command of the situation and apparently no arrangements had been made before their arrival. It is that sort of realization that makes for demoralization. The men were cursing and weeping at the same time. They were so hopelessly disordered and dismayed and without any guidance that it was a shock to their sense of discipline. The rain continued its incessant drizzling, but it did not help to wash away the annoyance each man felt.
When some of the men first arrived they cleaned off areas on the floor, spread their blankets and went to sleep. One man says he will never forget that first night. "In this building there was a poor starving family, they had no home, no nothing, and all their worldly possessions were the rags on their backs. They began to make signs indicating that they wanted food. We had nothing to give them as our mess set-up was in another place and we had had our supper. As we had to have a space to sleep our Lieutenant in command had to run those poor people out so that we could clear a spot to bed down on the floor. Of course it was raining, cold rain, as this was early in September and it was already getting chilly at night.[ix]
After the men became organized and got the buildings cleaned, new doors and windows were installed. Cots were issued, and mattress covers which they filled with straw.
Some of the men bought sheets from a Russian woman and managed to get extra blankets to make themselves fairly comfortable.
Henry Fry said his sleeping accommodations were subsequently not too bad as the Russian army bakeries were pretty well set up and sleeping quarters were provided for, according to the number of bakers they had. The higher ranking non-commissioned officers had small sleeping rooms. The officers' quarters were habitable after they were cleaned. The soldiers were thankful that they had arrived in moderately cold weather rather than in the freezing weather of winter. "If we had arrived in Siberia two months later than we did, I doubt if we ever could have made it. When I think back of what we did have to go through I know we couldn't have made it if it had been better cold."[x]
One man recalled that when he arrived his group had been taken to a low field and told to pitch pup tents. "We had two blankets and thin clothing, he said, "and we about froze the night for we had been in the Philippine Islands where it was hot. A lot of the boys caught cold and some even died of exposure so we were pretty disgusted."[xi]
Another man also recalls that camp. He reports, "all of the 31st Infantry was located in pyramidal wall tents until about the end of September. The days were quite comfortable but the nights were very cold. At least it seemed cold to us who had come from the Philippine Islands with only khaki uniforms and very thin underwear. As a result about fifty percent of the men in the regiment became ill with colds or flu. We had small cone type stoves in each tent. There were eight men to a tent. At night we would each take a one hour shift to keep the stove hot because we lacked sufficient blankets or heavy clothing to keep warm. We had to stay in those tents to give the laborers time to clean and repair the barracks we were to occupy. You just would not believe the tons of dirt, excrement and dead flies that were taken out of each of these barracks before we were able to occupy them in late September."[xii]
Some of the troops had taken over one of the Baldwin Locomotive sheds upon arrival. They remained for a day, having mess on the transport. Then they were informed that messing from the transport had to end. These men were equipped as casuals, without kitchen equipment, so feeding became quite a problem. Beef was issued in half and other rations in similar proportions. The men took the only way out. They raided the Quartermaster Warehouse for sufficient supplies to feed themselves. Altogether, there were 1,250 men, formerly of the Eighth, quartered in the Baldwin sheds. They were located about three miles out from the center of the city, and from expedition headquarters.[xiii]
Joe Longuevan was lucky when he joined Company C, 31st; it was already comfortably ensconced in the brick barracks on the Churkin-Dio Joseph B. Longuevan, Co. C, 31st Inf.
[ii]Gen. Graves' official report #2 dated 6/30/19, WDNA
re[prt dated 6/30/19, WDNA
[v]Graves' Final Report, WDNA
[vi]Graves' Final Report, WDNA
[vii]Graves' Report, September 25, 1919 to Adjutant General of the Army, WDNA
[viii]Henry C. Fry, Quartermaster Corps.
[ix]Henry C. Fry
[x]Henry C. Fry
[xi]Alphia Wilber Goreham, Co. D, 31st Inf.
[xii]Lester William Reed, Co. K, 31st Inf.
[xiii]Stephen F. Chadwick, Lt. Co. D, 27th Inf., 1st Bn. Adjutant, Regimental Personnel Adjutant