Through War Torn Europe: An official trip after WWI told in the words of James Gordon Steese
Number One

At Sea, U. S. Army Transport "Leviathan"
Sunday, July 13th, 1919.

 At last we are off and I have already earned my "blue chevron". We have a small passenger list; the West Point Class (277 Second Lieutenants) of 1921, about a dozen other officers, and a few miscellaneous, including the wives of three army officers who are going over to join their husbands.

I had quite a scare at Hoboken. The Commanding General had a wire from Washington canceling the releases of a number of officers; in fact, of all, except myself, one of General Pershing's aides, and those in charge of the cadets.

As you know, my orders were very unexpected and were only received on June 26th. Then I had to make that western trip and returned to Washington only on the evening of the 10th of July. I had done practically no packing as I had been notified that my boat would sail the 12th. Upon my return, I found a note stating my boat would sail the 11th. Fortunately, that same night I got a notice by telephone that the sailing was definitely fixed for the 13th, so I had the 11th in which to get ready. I left for New York City that same night at midnight. I had taken the first two shots of the typhoid prophylaxis, so Saturday morning all I had to do at Hoboken was to take the third, also a physical examination, got my orders, military passport, got my picture taken, get assigned to quarters, check in my baggage, get a Sam Browne belt, a musette bag, an overseas cap, and a few other odds and ends.

Saturday night, naturally, was spent in New York City. We came aboard about one o'clock this afternoon and got away about three. As we passed down the River, we met the "Imperator" just coming in loaded with soldiers. The "Leviathan" is about 20 feet longer and about 5,000 tons bigger than the “Imperator”. The two boats together just about fill up the Hudson and crowd out the ferries.

Colonel *******, General Pershing's Aide, and I share one of the few suites left undisturbed; our quarters are really a little too much. We have a big bad-room with twin beds, bureau, couch, two wardrobe closets, three full length mirrors, trunk and linen room, bath room in tile with porcelain tub and separate shower booth, and an office with desk, tablet two more closets, three big chairs, and a couch around two sides. The whole suite is trimmed in Circassian Walnut and the furniture is made to match the paneling. This suite was listed at $2500 for the trip one way.

Five years ago, I made a reservation on this boat for her maiden trip at $250. It must have been an inside stateroom about six decks down. But I could not go on account of being still in the hospital after my accident.  Biddle and I had planned to go to Russia and he did go. The War caught him in Petrograd and he had quite a time getting home across Scandinavia and the North Sea.

This Knights of Columbus stationery was not designed for a man who leans as heavily on his pen as I do, but, so far as I have been able to discover, it Is the only kind on board. So please pardon the blots and general muddy appearance of this letter.

Monday July 14th, 1919.
What luxury to sleep under a heavy blanket in July, especially after Washington. I have no stateroom key, merely press a button and the door is opened by electricity. All closets and drawers have automatic electric lights in them. Master buttons are placed all around so that the main lights can be turned on or off from either side of either bed or from the couch, or from several other points in the bedroom.

The boat has been sadly out up to accommodate the troops. The Ritz Cafe remains. The Naval Officers and the ranking Army Officers are served there. Most of the cadets are served in the main dining room. I happen to be the senior officer on board except the Captain of the Navy, who commands the ship.

On her last voyage, the "Leviathan" brought back about 4,400 casual junior officers, in addition to more than that many troops. As there are first class accommodations for only about 350 people, these officers had to occupy standee bunks in big squad rooms and eat out of mess kits the same as they did in the trenches. While waiting at Brest, they were only too glad to accept any accommodations in order to get home quickly, but, as always happens, after they got home a few of then rushed into print and even got some Congressmen to introduce resolutions to investigate the War Department for bringing officers home "steerage". We had heard of the rumpus at Hoboken. As a matter of fact, the officers were given the best of the quarters available, were given two standee bunks apiece so they would have some place to stow their plunder, and had the run of the ship. By this means they were brought home from a month to six weeks earlier than would otherwise have been possible.

It seems strange to be going overseas now that everything is practically over.  To put in fifteen years in the Regular Army and then to miss combat service in the greatest war of all time! I would have made a good troop commander, too, I believe. You remember I had a pretty high-spirited, hard-working outfit in Galveston six years ago, when I was Chief Engineer of the Fifth (Expeditionary) Brigade. I remember once getting a note from Headquarters because I brought my men into camp at 2:30 one morning singing. When I explained that we were finishing up a day's hike of 46 miles from Houston, the General was aghast and said any outfit with such spirit had permission to sing whenever they felt like it. Those men would have done anything for me, yet I was transferred to another job and so missed the Vera Craz fiasco. 

This war started alright for me with troop duty at Port Riley and Fort Leavenworth. From the celebrations at the time and many little incidents since, I am sure I won the respect, loyalty, and affection of that, Missouri-Kansas-Colorado crowd. How I wanted to go with them to the 89th Division! Had I gone to France, I might have gotten side-tracked on some road job outside the theatre of operations, but I do not think so. I have always wanted to command troops in action and I would have fixed it somehow and gotten my D.S.M. just the same, or possibly a D.S.C.

The past year has been quite a mess in Washington, with the sudden and totally unexpected ending of the War, or rather signing of the Armistice, the demobilization, Congress, the next election, the League of Nations, and the lack of anything resembling a military policy. I have been several times upon the point of resigning, especially when some one comes along with a tempting offer. But I have been having a much more Interesting (to me) life than most of my friends outside the Army, and, besides, I really like the Army, especially the Corps of Engineers, with its great variety and its opportunities for getting around over the world and meeting interesting people who are doing things. Also, I like the authority and responsibility, and I want to have some part in helping to work out a rational military policy for the country.

Tuesday, July 15th, 1919.
Your telegram was delivered late Sunday evening after we had passed Sandy Hook. It was mighty thoughtful of you to send it. Among the various parting, gifts I have received is a basket of fruit and candy, The basket was strangely overloaded so the lid would not close down at all. I unpacked carefully, suspecting there might be some foreign article in the bottom. It proved to be all fruit and candy, however. I came away so hurriedly , I neglected to make provision for seasickness, snakebite, etc.

One of the Naval Officers showed us a bomb he found in the effects of a deserter. Also we have just heard of a German raider that has escaped from the Kiel Canal, outfitted in Sweden, and now is on the high seas looking for us; so I my not make good on that 45 year boast after all. Lots of all sorts of steamship rumors afloat; almost as bad as an Army camp.

Two unsuspected Congressmen showed up for dinner last evening, One of them, Mr. Bascorn Slemp, of Va., I know. We were 721 miles out at noon today, or about one-fourth of the way across. We should be in Brest next Sunday.

This letter has grown to quite alarming proportions, so I'll close It up though it can not to mailed until we reach port. I'll number my letters, so you will have a check on them, though there is no remedy if any fail to show up.

End Notes and Bibliography