HISTORY OF LETTERMAN GENERAL HOSPITAL
Knights of Columbus
For practical, red-blooded, whole-souled work for the man in the uniform the Knights of Columbus have a war record that no other organization can surpass.
The beauty about the Knights’ work is that it’s done with a smile and a wholesome cheerfulness that it gets right down to a man’s heart.
When “Casey” gives you something, whether it’s a lift along the road or a pack of cigarettes, he acts as though he wanted you to have it and felt that he was the privileged chararacter.
And he doesn’t care whether you’re a Catholic, Protestant, Free-thinker or Buddhist, “Casey’s” building is open to everybody and everybody is welcome. You can step right in and warm your toes at his fireside; you can have half of anything he has and you can stay as long as you like.
In San Francisco the men of the Letterman Hospital have come to appreciate “Casey’s” work here just as much as it was appreciated over on the fighting fronts.
Seldom a day passes but the familiar figure in the Knights of Columbus uniform is found plodding about Letterman Hospital, carrying his stationery and hard candy and cigarettes, and his smile. Every night down at the big building near the marina there are several hundred soldiers enjoying his hospitality. Boxing shows, moving pictures, vaudeville entertainments, indoor baseball, basketball, and, in fact, anything that you might expect to find for recreation or amusement has been a feature of “Casey’s” program.
It was only a few Sundays ago that right here on the hospital grounds “Casey” staged what was beyond doubt the biggest and best vaudeville show the men have witnessed. There was real class to it.
Every number had the zip and the “pep” and the dash that goes with the big-time vaudeville, and the boys certainly appreciated it.
The man who is responsible for “Casey’s” work in this section of the country is Albert G. Bagley, who has his headquarters in the Phelan Building. From there he directs the work in more than a score of army posts and naval districts in the nine western states. Not only that, but he is now supervising the establishment of Knights of Columbus’ work in Alaska, Hawaii and the Philippines, and other points where thousands of soldier boys are stationed, with little opportunities for recreation and amusement.
Director Bagley has been on the job ever since “Casey” entered war work and he has visited personally every post under his supervision.
Out at the Presidio the work is in charge of Secretary Joseph P. O’Connor. It was O’Connor who arranged the big show at Letterman and that isn’t the only thing we have to thank him for. He’s always coming around to find what he can do for us, making some little personal suggestion about something that he thinks the men would like and putting his suggestions into practice as soon as he hears that they are approved.
Six Months of Welcome Work in
By John Wesley Carter, Ph. D.
(Director of Welcome Work, W. C. C. S.)
Nowhere among the thousands of miles of earth’s surface, which our boys covered, was there a spot that looked so good as home. Nor were the boys the only joyful ones. Hundreds of women would break every municipal law as they rushed forward uttering the eternally beautiful works “there is my boy.” Someone said that “it is my idea of Heaven to see these mothers reunited with their sons and, face to face, hear them tell what happened ‘over there.’ ”
It fell heavily upon War Camp Community Service, in San Francisco, to plan a proper welcome, provide clubs, information, entertainment, employment and advice. This it did by organizing the social forces of the city to take up the glorious and final task and make it their own. It was soon discovered that there should be no leading attraction in a real parade to detract from the soldiers themselves.
At first, it would be hard to get a spontaneous response from the civilian throngs who stood, mute but respectful, on either side of Market Street for a mile, as the boys went marching by. Everybody felt like saying “for God’s sake cheer.” This lack of initiative was met by the organization of Community Singing so that the crowds would sing under leadership as the boys went by. A dozen platforms were erected along Market Street, at intervals of two or three blocks, and on these would stand the representative choruses of the city each taking up some new song as the boys came along. Sometimes it would be “The Long Trail,” “Smiles,” “Home Town,” or “Over There.”
The first big welcome of this type that San Francisco had was the home coming of the 143d. Batteries A and B of this regiment were made up of San Joaquin Valley and Oakland boys who were trained at Camp Kearny and left for overseas late in June. When the armistice was signed they were only two days behind the front lines before Metz. They were the first of California’s sons to return from the front, and San Francisco gave these two batteries, of 560 men, a home-coming they never will forget.
One of the greatest receptions ever given in San Francisco was the morning of the 18th of January when the far-famed “Grizzlies” returned from the battlefields of France. As the ferry boat came across the bay, who can ever forget the music of the band and those eight hundred and forty voices singing over the water “I am coming back to California, to the Golden West and You.” Even “Miss Oakland,” with an entourage of flower-bearers had come across the bay to scatter their garlands in the path of the returning veterans. Community Singers were massed at intervals along the street to join with the singing thousands. At Market and Powell, a welcome arch of roses had been erected and in this “mother sector” flower girls were stationed to bombard the soldiers with a flower barrage.
Other spectacular “welcomes” followed in fast order from the time the “Grizzlies” came home until the coming of the 91st on April 22d, which was probably the greatest demonstration ever staged in the history of San Francisco.
A real welcome should consist in supplying the returning soldier with most things he wants and with everything he really needs. After the first reception by the Red Cross and Minute Girls, and after his demobilization at the Presidio, he finds the community around him a camp of organized friendship. During the past six months, our Bureau of Service Contacts has supplied over 200,000 soldiers, who have applied, with information ranging all the way from “where to go, and what to do” to facts about insurance. Five information booths, always open from nine in the morning until eleven at night, are located at psychological points where volunteer workers have dispensed over 120,000 free theatre passes; directed over 15,000 soldiers regarding trains; sent 750 service men to our Placement Bureau of employment, and given helpful advice to 25,000 men regarding insurance, bonus or allotment. In addition, this bureau has secured over 1,200 hotel accommodations; provide home entertainment for over 1,100 soldiers and given two hundred and fifty week-end parties.
Transcribed by Sharon Walford Yost.
Source: ”The History of Letterman General Hospital, Pages 32 & 36. Published by the Listening Post, Presidio, San Francisco, Cal. 1919.
© 2010 Sharon Walford Yost.