Oregon Secretary of State

In His Own Words: One Man's Diary, 1918-1919

USS Constitution sailing in 1997
Planalp enjoyed seeing the USS Constitution in Boston Harbor. The ship, shown sailing here in 1997 during its 200th year celebration, is the world's oldest commissioned warship afloat. (Photo #45269, www.chinfo.navy.mil)


Jan. 18

Boston is sure quite a city, but I would not care to live here. People here speak of the middle states as being out west. They think Chicago is away out west. I was talking to a man who enlisted here in Boston a short time ago. He said he had never been out of the State of Mass. in his life, and only out of the city of Boston, once. I do not think he really knew where Oregon is, he wanted to know if it “wasn’t quite a ways out west.” There is a place here in the city for Sailors called the Shore Leave Club, where we can get a nice light, clean room for .50¢ or two can get a room together with two beds in it for .35¢ each.

Feb. 1

No need to worry about my health. I am always the last one to leave the table. Went to see Bunker Hill monument the other day. I see the old ship Constitution nearly every day. It is at the Navy yard. It was built in 1797.

Feb. 6

Still cold. 11 below zero. The boat we go to work on got stuck this morning and could not get out until a large boat came and broke up the ice. Saw an English sub in here today. Have not been on liberty for a long time as there is not much pleasure in going out in such cold weather.

Feb. 13

I sure do not like the climate here now. Have had a very little sunshine since coming here. The Saxonia that was in dry dock at Bremerton nearly all summer, came in here today. She is now called the Sevana [sic]. It used to be a German ship.

Mch. 19

Had quite a fall a few nights ago. One of the beams which has the hooks in that we swing our hammocks to, broke about midnight. I and three or four others came down with it. We fell about 5 1/2 or 6 feet onto the hard cement floor. Most of them had the foot of their hammock to the beam that broke, and came down feet first. I had my head that way, and landed on my back and shoulders. Was quite sore and lame for several days. Lots of foreigners around Boston. Jews and Italians.

April 5

Have been transfered [sic] to the Torpedo boat destroyer Little, and will go aboard tomorrow. Think I will like it alright [sic]. It is an oil burner.

April 10

Well Ralph and I and several others have been transfered [sic] off the Little, and back to the Pier again. Do not know how long I will be here. After being in the Navy this long I am not surprised much at anything. You can not plan ahead much, as you are never quite sure one day where you will be the next. Someone got into my sea bag and stole my shaveing [sic] outfit, and my two fountain pens.

April 16

Had a 48 hour liberty last Sat. and Sunday. Had a fine time. I was at the Navy Service Club, and five or six men who live here in town brought their cars and took about 25 of us out for a ride. The one I went in was a new Ford limousine. We were gone about 3 _ hrs. and went about 35 or 40 miles. We went out in the country, passing through 5 or 6 little towns and went to the town of Lexington. Saw the place where the battle of Lexington was fought, saw the statue of Captain Parker and a marble slab with the words, “Do not fire until fired upon, but if there is going to be a war, let it start here,” which is supposed to be what he told his men. Also saw the old house where the Soldiers or minute men as they were called, were quartered, and the house where Longfellow, the poet, used to live, and a number of other historical places. We came back a different way, coming in through the city of Cambridge, which is almost a part of Boston. The country around here is quite hilly, but the hills are quite low, and partly covered with scrubby looking timer. Did not see any good looking farming land, as the soil is very stony and gravely. I sure enjoyed the trip if the old Ford did run on three cylinders all the way.

April 18

I have been transfered [sic] to the U. S. S. Kearsarge. It is a training ship. There are about 140 2nd class firemen going aboard her from here.

April 22

Well, I am back home again on the Pier. Ralph is here too. We were only on the Kearsarge three days. There was a mistake somewhere sending us, as they did not want 2nd class men at all, but wanted men who had never been aboard a training ship. Almost all of the 140 men were sent back here. I have been detailed to the U. S. S. Shawmut a mine layer.

April 25

Was only on the Shawmut detail one day. Ralph and I are both expecting to leave for New York this afternoon.

May 10

Aboard the U. S. S. Von Steuben, Ralph and I are both aboard this ship. We left Boston the afternoon of April 25. Took the train about 1:30 that afternoon, passed through the towns of Providence, New London, New Haven and Bridgeport, and arrived at the Grand Central Station in N. Y. about 8 o’clock. The C. P. O. (chief petty officer) in charge of the party ordered supper for all of us at a restaurant near the station. We had scrambled egg [sic], bacon, hot cakes, coffee and pie. After supper we took the subway to Brooklyn, and went to the Navy yard and stayed aboard the receiving ship all night. The next day about 50 of the Boston bunch were transfered [sic] to the U. S. S. Von Steuben. The Von Steuben was lying at Hoboken, N. J. New York City is between two rivers. Brooklyn is just across the river on one side, and Hoboken just across the other river on the other side. We went on a tug boat from the receiving ship down one river to where they flow together then back up the other one to Hoboken, so got a good view of the city from the harbor. We passed under the Brooklyn bridge [sic], and saw the large statue of liberty that stands out in the harbor. The Von Steuben is a very large transport. It is the former German ship Crown Prince Wilhelm. We went aboard the ship at 4 o’clock. She was all loaded with soldiers, and we started for France at 6 o’clock. At 8 o’clock Ralph and I went on watch in the fireroom. We arrived at Brest, France 8 days later. The Northern Pacific went with us. There is a crew of 1200 and a band of 28 pieces. There are 8 firerooms, and 28 boilers. She is 663 ft. in length and 66 ft. beam. Have a moving picture machine, a goat called Bill, and a dog called Tomatoes.

May 19

Woolworth Building New York
Rising nearly 800 feet, the 1913 Woolworth Building in New York City was the tallest building in the world when Planalp saw it in 1918. (Image, Kirkland Community College, Iowa)
Went to the top of the Woolworth building this afternoon. Had a fine view of the city, also Brooklyn, Hoboken and Jersey City. The building is 792 ft., 1 in., and 60 stories high. The tallest and most beautiful office building in the world.

June 21

Arrived back in the States again yesterday. There were 10 transports and 1 destroyer, with us this trip. Some of the ships were slow so it took us 13 days going over. We always have it quite warm for 1 or 2 days while we are in the Gulf stream. The Gulf stream is much bluer than any where else. It is a very dark blue and looks pretty when it is just rough enough to show a few white caps. We are some times in the Gulf stream as long as 4 days. Saw the wooden dummy battle ship which is used for a recruiting ship here in New York City.

June 25

Was out to Coney Island which is sure a big amusement park. Also went to Central Park. There are 879 acres in the park and it is certainly a beautiful place. Have also been through Battery Park.

June 28

Think we will leave Sunday evening. We always leave at night about 6 o’clock, and it is dark by the time we get out to sea. When we were going over the last trip we had target practice on [sic] day. One of the other ships towed a target for us, then we towed one for them. The Von Steuben has the most guns and is the best armed of any of the transports. When we are in the war zone we always have to wear our life preservers when we go on the upper deck, but do not have to wear them below deck.

July 21

Back in Hoboken again. We left here the 30th of June. We started with a bunch of other ships, 15 transports, 4 destroyers and one cruiser in all. On the second day out it was discovered one of the other transports, the Henderson was on fire. The fire started about 1:30 in the afternoon, down in the forward hold. By 8 o’clock that evening, it had got so bad they decided to transfer the troops, so the Henderson, the Von Steuben and two destroyers stopped, the rest of the ships going on. They transfered [sic] all of the troops about 1400 or 1500 of them, over onto the Von Steuben. We were there all night, getting started on again at about 5 o’clock the next morning, the Henderson going back to the States. We were sure awfully crowded. After leaving the Henderson we put on full speed, and went through to Brest, with out joining the other ships.


The Von Steuben can make 21 or 22 knots per hr. at full speed. A knot is 1 1/8 miles. We do not have very much fruit or vegetables. Once in a while we get 1 orange or 1 apple for breakfast. The oranges are mostly from Florida and not nearly as good as the Calif. orange, in fact I have not tasted a really good orange, apple or potatoe [sic] since coming east.

July 31

Was off on a 48 hour leave Saturday and Sunday. I went over to New York on the subway which goes under the Hudson river [sic], then walked across the Brooklyn bridge [sic] to Brooklyn, and spent the afternoon there. In the evening I went back to New York and took one of the sight seeing busses around the downtown part of the city. There was a man with the buss [sic] to explain things and point out the places of interest. We went around the main business part of the city, along the Bowery and through the Hebrew part of town, or Grotto. He told us that 45 per-cent [sic] of the population of the city were foreigners. He said there was a saying that New York was owned by the Jews, run by the Irish and what few Americans there were, paid the bills. We also went through the Chinatown. Chinatown only covers two or three blocks. He told us how many Chinese there were, I have forgotten just how many, but it is less than 100 so you see it does not amount to much compared to the Chinatowns in some of the western cities. In the Hebrew district the streets are so crowded with people you can hardly get through. The people are certainly crowded in the thickest of any place I ever saw. He told us in some places there are as many as 9000 inhabitants to the mile. We went through the Italian part or little Italy. While we were at the Navy yard I saw the two big battleships Pensylvania [sic] and New Mexico. The New Mexico is the very latest and most modern battleship.

Aug. 7

Have been out to Palisade Park. It is an amusement park, not as large as Coney Island, but much prettier. It is on the New Jersey side, on a high rocky bluff, above the Hudson river [sic]. Am getting around quite a bit, and getting pretty well acquainted with the city. Begin to feel quite at home here. Am seeing a good many shows. As watermellon [sic] for dinner today, good and cold, right off the ice. Only a small piece for each man, but good what there was of it.
USS Von Steuben's side painted with swaths of diagonal black designed to camouflage.
The USS Von Steuben in New York City in 1918. The paint scheme was designed to camouflage the ship. (Photo #45269, www.history.navy.mil)

Sept. 7

Expect to get into Hoboken tonight. Had fine weather going over, but coming back has been a little rough nearly all the way, and yesterday we got into an awful bad storm. Navy men said it was one of the worst storms ever witnessed on the Atlantic seaboard. The wind blowing was estimated to be more than 125 miles per-hour, and the waves ran over 100 ft. high. The navigator was forced to change his course to keep the ship’s head with the storm, for if she had of gotten her head into the trough of the sea, it would of meant “good-bye Von Steuben.” Three of our men seamen [sic], were washed overboard and lost. Four or five others were quite badly hurt. It was so rough they could not cook anything or set any tables. They stretched ropes around the mess hall, and we hung on with one hand, and ate a sandwich with the other. When it was the roughest they spray came down through the ventilators and through the grating into the fireroom and the firemen were soaking wet. We had a few wounded soldiers aboard and I was talking to him, and he said he was “scared to death.” He said the trenches had nothing on this. Said when he got to New York if anyone would offer him $1,000 to cross the ocean again he would not go. I did not mind it, as I was not a bit sick, and I never was afraid of the water. Have been working to day [sic] cleaning out the boilers. Day or night is just about the same with us, Sunday or any other day, as of course when under way the work has to go on at night the same as day and when in port they work day and night loading and coaling getting ready for another trip. We get most of our liberty at night. A full nights sleep is rather an uncommon thing, and beans are considered one of the best feeds [sic] we get, but most of the boys, so they have a saying in the Navy “All night in and beans for breakfast.”

Sept. 10

Took an excursion boat this morning and went up the Hudson river [sic] 45 miles to a place called Bear Mountain. It is a national park. No town, but people go there from the city and camp out. It is a very pretty place. It is in the mountains, and is rocky and rough, and covered with timber, but not as nice timber or as large mountains as we have in the west. There is a lake there with rowboats and an Inn where one can gets [sic] meals “if you have the price.” There are many beautiful residences up along the Hudson and several small towns. It makes a very nice trip, but does not begin to compare with a trip up the Columbia highway.

Oct. 3

Well we get liberty in Brest this time for the first time. Had six hours liberty so got to see quite a bit of the town. I saw the street named after President Wilson. You see quite a few people wearing wooden shoes. There are very few wooden buildings, they are mostly built of stone. I had some money changed for French money. We brought over a load of Marines this time. Some of them were sick when they came aboard, and a day or so later a lot of them were sick. They had the “Spanish Influenza.” Before we got to Brest 33 of them died. There were two other ships with us, and about the same number died aboard one of them. We are bringing the bodies back with us. We saw a large ice berg [sic] on our way over. We burn on an average 7,000 tons of coal on a round trip. Have about 500 firemen on the Von Steuben.
1918 postcard Washington US Capitol
1918 postcard shows the view Planalp saw from the top of the Washington Monument looking east. The U.S. Capitol is in the distance. (Image, Smithsonian Institution)

Nov. 15

I am on a 10 day furlough and am at Washington, D. C. Stopped off at “Philly.” Took in the city pretty well. Was out to Fairmont Park a very large park. Also saw the Betsy Ross house where the first American flag was made. Left Philadelphia and came through Wilmington, Delaware, and Baltimore, Maryland, to Washington, D. C. I have now been in 27 different states. Have seen the Capitol building [sic] and the White house [sic] and been all though the grounds. Could not go to the top of the Capitol as it has been closed to visitors ever since the war started. Went through the National Musieum [sic] and the Smithsonian Institution. Went to the top of the Washington Monument. The elevator was out of order so had to walk up. It is 550 ft. and was some climb, but had a fine view of the city from the top. Heard Secretary of the Navy Daniels speek [sic]. Washington is a very pretty place, the nicest city I have seen in the east. Saw Warren Hunter in New York a short time ago. He is on a sister ship to the one Gildon is on, and was built in Portland. He said “Whetstone was in New York City somewhere.” Well it seems to [sic] good to be true, but I guess it was is all over. Last Monday morning about 5 o’clock I was awakened by all the whistles and bells in New York. The whistle on the ship blew and the band played. There was sure a great celebration in New York all day Monday and Monday night. The streets were so crowded you could hardly get around, and so much paper and confetti in the street it looked like a snow storm [sic] had struck the city.

Nov. 17

Am on board the steamer Commonwealth to-night [sic] on my way to Boston. The steamer goes to Fall River and you take the train from there to Boston.

Nov. 25

Wet out to Commonwealth Pier while at Boston. Everything looks just about the same there. Saw two or three sailors who I used to know there. There are more men there now, than when we left there. They are sure doing a lot of repair work on our ship now, and I think we will be in for a long time.
Color drawing of train station in Bourges, France.
Postcard of the train station at Bourges, France. Planalp saw liberty in France during his travels. (OSA, Oregon Defense Council Records, World War I Photographs) View French scenic postcards.

Dec. 8

We have been chipping the painting the coal bunkers [sic] and chipping the inside of the boilers. Was on board ship Thanksgiving day. Had a fine dinner. I think the best meal I have had in the Navy.

Dec. 21

Will get three days off at Christmas. Will spend my time around New York City.

Dec. 27

Spent Christmas in New York City. Ate dinner at the Cardinal Farley soldiers and sailors club. It is maintained by the Catholic people. We sure had a fine dinner, and all free.


Feb. 9

Was out to the Bronx Park this afternoon. There is a large zoo at the park. Saw Hunter this evening. He just got back from France.

Feb. 17

Attended the Automobile show here in New York City. It was sure quite some show.

Mch. 23

Back from France again. Have been sick with the grip for the last 4 days, and have been staying at the sick bay, but am alright now and am going to work again.

April 18

Back in Hoboken again. Had 7 hours liberty in France this trip.

May 12

Back to the good old U. S. A. once again. They are rushing the troops home as fast as possible. It sure makes hard work for the firemen. We are only supposed to stay in port 3 days on the other side, and 5 on this. Have been on the Von Steuben a little over a year now, and have made 9 trips over and back, or crossed the Atlantic 18 times.


(Oregon State Defense Council Records, State Historian's Correspondence, Box 1, Folder 40)