A Letter Home During WWI
Some 40 years ago I was rewiring my attic and discovered a letter. It was from Mark Tenney to his parents and was dated March 25, 1918. “Ship Matsonia … My dear mother and father and all. Well I have been on the ocean eleven days today and they have just told us to get shaved and cleaned up as we may hit land sometime tonight. I have a friend on the boat that was in the hospital with me at Secancus and he just came and told me he had met a sailor on the boat from his hometown. They are going back to the U. S. as soon as we unload and he told him he would take back a letter if he wanted to write as I am sending one with his. Our mail will be censored when we arrive so I could not tell you about the trip. We left Camp Merritt on Thursday, March the 145th and arrived at the boat at Hoboken at about one o’clock. It was like going into a new world on this boat but we know it like a book now. We have a large boat and I think there are about two thousand men on board outside of the crew of about three hundred. We sleep on bunks made out of gas pipe frames with canvas stretched over them. They are about four feet high and made so they can be folded up. We are down on the third deck about even with the water line. It has been rather uncomfortable to sleep down here because everything is closed at night and all the lights are out except for a small blue light that don’t help much. We sailed out on the harbor on Thursday night and it is a great sensation to us when we got on the deck in the morning to see a great circle all around us for as far as we could see and nothing but water. We have four large transports with us and one battle cruiser. They travel at about a half mile apart and the cruiser in the lead. We were met yesterday morning (Sunday) by a fleet of destroyers and we all feel pretty safe now. There are twelve of them and they go much faster then us and they travel back and forth around us. The battle cruiser went back as soon as we met the destroyers. We had quite a storm about the fifth day out and the waves would break clear over the boat and we could hardly stay in our bunks. We have our life preservers on all the time and sleep with all our clothes on. Since we got in the war zone we have been on the lookout nearly all the time and I have got a squad that are on watch every six hours for two hours. They report every ship or thing in the water and the gun crew look it over with their glasses. They took a shot at a pole in the water this morning with their six inch guns. We have four six inch guns and two machine guns. We see lots of fish and I saw one flying fish. The fish are from two to six feet long and they travel in schools of from fifty to one hundred and they dive out of the big waves some times three or four feet. I was pretty seasick for about three days and I could not eat anything and everything came up that I did eat. If a person were not sick he would get sick when he saw the other fellows feed the fish. Well my friend has got his letter wrot so I will stop now. There is so much to tell you I can’t think of all I want to. If you get this don’t tell anyone for our mail must be censored from now on. We have a canteen or small store on the ship and I just got $1.00 worth of candy for we probably won’t get any in France. Lots of love. Mark Co F 126th Inf. Am Ex Force via New York.”
Mark Tenney was a long-time resident of Colon and died on April 7, 1966. The ship Matsonia was built in 1913 at Newport News, Virginia. Taken over by the Navy in WWI, she was returned to her civilian owners in 1919. In 1937 it was sold and renamed Etolin. The Army chartered the Etolin during WWII and in 1946 was put in storage. She was scrapped in 1957 at Baltimore, Maryland.