Letters Home: Ralston McClain on the U. S. S. Columbia

As printed in the July 25, 1918 edition of the Skidmore News (Skidmore, Missouri), page 1:

From R. J. McClain.

July 18, 1918, U. S. S. Columbia.

Dear Editor: —

After so long a time I will try and drop you a few lines and let you know that I am still among the living.

It sure seems good to get the News.  I get more real enjoyment out of it than all of the large papers in the city.  The boys kid me about the size of it and call it “The Weekly Squeek” but nevertheless I read every word of it and I have about got them all in the notion of moving to Skidmore after the war.  If they do we will have a regular sea going jazz band that will make the Skidmore band sit up and take notice.  The life of a bandman in the navy is filled with many woes that a civilian band don’t get, one of them is playing a sea going concert when the ship is rolling from 20 to 30 degrees.  Occasionally we find ourselves trying to keep our music stands from falling over and keep the bench from jumping from under us all at the same time.  On one occasion the ship gave one awful jump and we all landed in a corner, instruments, stands, music and all.

Aside from playing three concerts a day we have a few other duties such as berubbing paint work, shining bright work, swabbing decks, administering first aid to the wounded, acting as stretcher bearers and numerous other things to help pass the time away.  Then aside from that we have to wash our teeth, shave, take a bath and scrub clothes in a half pail of water and after one has done all of that he saves the water for his shipmate to use.  O it is a great life if you don’t weaken.  In spite of the inconvenience and discouragements we have a good time and when we go ashore after a month at sea we forget all about our troubles.

I would like to tell you what our ship is doing and where we have been, but I am not allowed to do so. I like the sea life as well as I did at the station and feel more like I was really in the war.

When the ocean is calm it is a pleasure to be out on it, but when it is rough, O boy! it isn’t quite so pleasant.  One day the ship rolled 37 degrees and when one would start down the deck he would meet himself coming back.

I notice by the paper that the Skidmore people are still in the Red Cross work and I am glad to know that you don’t stop when you have reached your apportionment, but always go away over the top.

Your friend, R. J. McClain.

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