One hundred years ago, Wisconsin went to war. In partnership with the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, we’re exploring stories from Wisconsin men and women who served. Today, John Haddock, a Milwaukee native, tells us about his enlistment and training. The tape quality isn’t great so you’ll hear his voice transition to Peter Sobol reading from the transcript along with oral historian Ellen Brooks.
“The war had been declared, and everybody had the war spirit. I got the war spirit, and I wanted to be a hero [laughs]. I was only sixteen years old at the time. I went up to the recruiting man on recruiting duty in front of the door outside on the street. I asked him, “How old do you have to be to enlist in the National Guard?” “Gee,” he says, “I don’t know.” Here’s the man on recruiting duty that don’t even know that. He said, “I think it’s seventeen. How old are you?” I says, “Seventeen.” So he says, “Well, come on up and see the lieutenant.” He took me upstairs to the lieutenant. “Here’s a lad wants to enlist,” he says. The lieutenant looked at me and he said, “How old are you, lad?” I says, “Seventeen.” “Oh,” he says, “You’re too young.” He said, “You have to be eighteen. Come back in a week.” So I came back in a week, and he says, “Weren’t you in here last week?” I says, “Yes.” He says, “How old are you?” I says, “Eighteen.” “Swear him in, Sergeant.” So that’s how I became a member of the 5th Wisconsin Infantry, Company F of the 5th Wisconsin Infantry.”
John James Haddock was a Milwaukee native. He joined the National Guard on June 7, 1917. His unit eventually became Company F, 127th Regiment, of the 32nd Division. Haddock spent a month and a half drilling and learning the manual of arms at Camp Douglas followed by intensive training at Camp MacArthur in Waco, Texas. Reflecting back on those days at Camp MacArthur, Haddock admitted that he and his fellow soldiers didn’t always follow the rules to a T, citing one particular scheme that ended in a hilarious bit of discipline.
“This is a cute story. I have to laugh when I think of it. We were so tired out from drilling every day, and I don’t know, probably nine hours I would say, that we used to lay and take five minutes to get dressed, lay till the last minute. Then hurry up and get dressed. Then some bright soldier got the idea to put on our long overcoats. We had overcoats—even in the summertime—that reached to our ankles. Don’t put on your clothes or anything or your uniform; just jump out of bed at the last second and jump in and put that big long overcoat on. Put your rifle belt on that, and come out and stand reveille with your rifle on your shoulder. Well, that was swell. Even the sergeants started doing it. Everybody was in love with it. Give you another five minutes to sleep, laying there anyhow.
Somebody tipped the captain off to it. So one morning he stood up in front of the company at reveille, and he says, “Well, men, I understand you have a new dress format.” He said, “All you men please remove your overcoats and fold them up neatly and lay them in front of you on the ground.” So here was the entire company in underwear. Long underwear—we wore long underwear winter and summer. He says, “Well, what do we have here? All right, Sergeant,” he says to the first sergeant. “You take these men for a little stroll up and down every company street in the regiment,” he says, “Let them show off their beautiful underwear for the rest of the regiment.” [laughs] So we paraded up one street and down the other and how they did catcalls and what have you and give us the raspberry as we walked in our underwear. So that cured it; none of that went on after that.”
Discover more about Wisconsin in the First World War at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum’s Temporary Exhibit – WWI BEYOND THE TRENCHES: STORIES FROM THE FRONT.