In His Own Words: One Man's Diary, 1917

13 women rivet heaters take a break and sit along a metal girder
Women rivet heaters take a break at the Puget Sound Navy Yard in 1919. (Image, National Archives, Women's Bureau Records, 86-G-11F-7)
Russell Sage Planalp of Albany enlisted in the Navy as fireman 3rd class at the Portland Recruiting Center on June 6, 1917. The 23-year-old was immediately sent to the Puget Sound Navy Yard at Bremerton, Washington. Over the course of nearly two years, he recorded observations about training, camp life, traveling across the country, visits to Boston, New York City, and other cities, as well as life aboard several ships during 18 crossings of the Atlantic Ocean. The next two pages are in his own words: 


June 9th at the Navy yard, Bremerton, Wash.:

Have not got my uniform yet, but think I will Monday. There are between 1400 and 1500 men here, and more coming every day. Bremerton is about 18 miles from Seattle. You can take at [sic] boat at Seattle and cross Puget Sound to get to Bremerton. We work very little so far. Weather here not very good, cloudy and rains a little nearly every afternoon. This is Sunday evening. Just got back from supper, menu, baked beans, belonia, [sic] beet pickles, bread, butter and cocoa. For dinner we had beef steak, mashed potatoes, gravy and coffee. The grub is all dished out on your plate when you go in, but you can have the second and third helping if you wish. There are two places in the yard where one can buy tobacco, candy and other things. There are also wash and bath houses, bowling alley, and club rooms, with a piano and reading room. There are men here from Utah, Colorado, Texas and all over. A man named Bracken came with us from Portland. He is enlisting for the second time. Seems to be a very nice fellow, and told me quite a few things about how to do. He is a gunner’s mate. There was [sic] eight of us came from Portland. We were vaccinated the day we arrived here, but do not think it is going to take on me. This is Monday evening. Got my uniform today, and am now at Bremerton. There is quite a little town here outside the Navy Yard. We are not allowed to go outside the Navy yard until we get our uniform, then we can got out at 6 in the evening and stay until 8 the next morning. On Saturday we can be out from 6 o’clock until 8 Monday morning. There are rules posted up in one of the Navy yard buildings telling what you cannot write about. Some more posted up again today. Seem to be getting pretty strict. We are only allowed to sign our given or first name. Are not allowed to tell where we are, or ship we may be in, our rank or duties, the no. or movement of men, ships or supplies, when or where we think we are going to be sent, the progress of repairs to a ship, or anything of a military nature. As we do not have any news of any other kind, there is very little we can write about.

June 15

It had been rather hot here, but is cooler and quite windy to-day [sic]. I have been vaccinated twice, but did not take either time. I am well and feel fine, except being a little sunburned.

June 20

Got shore leave this afternoon at 4:30. Do not have to be back until eight tomorrow morning. Had my picture taken, and will send them to you as soon as I get them. Saw R. Walworth in the restaurant where I ate supper. I have been vaccinated the third time. Do not know if it is going to take or not. They told me I would not be vaccinated again if this did not take, as three times is all they ever vaccinate anyone, but I will have to have a “shot” in the arm for typhoid. Have been moved to another camp up on the hill. There are three or four camps here beside the receiving ship, about 2400 men. One camp are [sic] apprentice seamen. Almost all of them are from Chicago. This is pay day, and it took nearly all day to pay them. We now belong to the 7th Co. We drill about 2 hrs. in the forenoon. Half or more of the people one meets here in Bremerton has on uniforms.

June 29

Have not seen Gildon yet. There is a Mr. Kirk here from Brownsville, who remembers seeing me at Irvins, but I did not remember him, altho [sic] he knew quite a lot of people that I am acquainted with.

Soldiers stand in a long line in front of hospital building during WWI
Soldiers receive hospital orders at Camp Custer in Michigan. Planalp spent time in the Navy yard hospital in Bremerton with measles. He spent time in quarantine and endured a series of vaccinations. (Image,

July 10

Am in quarentine [sic] with a breaking out on my face. There is a small building up back of the camp called the sick bay. Two or three hospital apprentices stay there all the time. The Dr. is there an hour or two every morning. Anyone wishing to see him can go there. There are four or five tents just back of the sick bay, and I am staying in one of them. I have a whole tent to myself. I am out on the point of the hill where I can see around over the Navy yard and part of the town, so it is a pretty good place to say. I am allowed to eat at the same place, but am expected to keep away from people as much as possible. I see Ralph nearly every day, and can send mail out by him.

July 14

Still in quarantine, but face almost well. Have nothing to do but lay around in the shade. Weather fine here now. Have washed up all my dirty clothes. I can go to the movies in the evening. One boy here has a violin, another a guitar, and they sometimes play for the pictures. They can play fine, too. My tent is close to the kitchen and mess hall. There is a little kitten stays around here. It caught a mouse this morning. Have had one shot in the arm. Will have to have two more. They give them about ten days apart. We are going to have raspberries for supper. Had muskmellon [sic] for breakfast one morning.

July 31

Am at the hospital now. Just getting over the measles. My face got well, and I got out of quarantine on Saturday, and on Monday evening I began to break out with the measles. Everything here at the hospital is fixed up fine. Good beds with springs and pillows. The Dr. comes to see us 3 times a day. He is a very pleasant Dr. Was not very sick, but they made us all go to bed and stay four or five days. The grub here is fine. Sunday for dinner we had mashed potatoes, bread, butter, fried chicken, cauliflower and ice cream. I am going out on the porch now to hear the band play. There is a marine in the bed next to mine. He is a German about 25 yrs. old who ran away from an army training camp and came to this country in 1910, and joined the marines in 1913. He has been all over the world and seems to be very well educated. He says the drill they get here is just play beside what they get in the German army. His brother and relatives are all in the German army now.

Aug. 7

We have one or two dogs in camp and a monkey for mascots. Have been out of the hospital three days and am breaking out with the other kind of measles, so will have to go to the hospital again. Ralph is in the hospital now, with the measles. The first meal we are at the hospital, they just you a glass of milk, the next 8 meals, two fried eggs, two pieces of bread and butter and a glass of milk. After that we can have as much as we want.
Soldiers wash dishes in a long line around barrels outside.
Soldiers wash dishes at training camp. Planalp enjoyed his stint of cooking and dish washing at the Bremerton Navy yard. (Image,

Sept. 16

I am mess cooking now, a very good job. Had a good dinner today. Roast pork, apple sauce and sweet potatoes. We do not help the cooks, do not go in the galley (kitchen) at all. The cooks dish up the grub in large dishes, and hand it out to us. We have to set the table, wait on the table, and wash the dishes. The dishes are left on the tables. Twenty men eat at each table. There are two mess cooks to a table. We have to scrub the floor twice a week. We have moving pictures at the Y. M. C. A. tent now, instead of out of doors. The Great Northern and Northern Pacific are both here now. They look just alike, and are sure fine boats.

Oct. 5

Saw them take the Prinz Waldemar out of the dry dock to-day [sic]. Was moved to-day [sic] to a different tent. This makes eight different tents I have lived in.

Oct. 17

I am now in the yard power plant. Will be here for one week. The men of 4th Co. put in together and bought a watch fob for our new Commissary Steward. He is a member of the Elks lodge, and the fob is a gold chain with an elks tooth.


Ralph and I both start for the east coast tomorrow. There are about 500 firemen being sent. Do not know just where we will be sent to, but we are both assigned to the U. S. S. Illinois. It is getting pretty cold here sleeping in a tent with only two blankets, but I have kept fairly warm by putting papers between my blankets.

Oct. 29

I am in Montana today, and it is snowing. Left Seattle Sunday evening.

Oct. 30

We just passed through McIntosh, South Dakota. It is quite cold and a little snow on the ground. Am having a good trip. We are at Mobridge now. West Virginia. Came through Chicago yesterday. Was in Cincinnati last night. Will get to Norfork [sic] tomorrow. Am having a fine trip.

Nov. 15

Aboard the U. S. S. Illinois. Have been coaling ship today. We have two ant eaters [sic] aboard ship. They are a funny looking animal, with a long pointed nose and bushy tail.

Nov. 25

The country and people here in the east are sure quite different from the west coast. We get no liberty while we are on this ship. Will train for six weeks, then will probably be transfered [sic] to some other ship. Was out at sea five days last week. It was quite rough part of the time. We have moving pictures on board ship, also a band. A hammock is not a bad place to sleep, when you get used to it. I have not fallen out of mine yet.

Boats on the water in Boston Harbor in 1918
After a long trip across the country and travels on the east coast, Planalp reached Boston Harbor, shown here in circa 1918. He found Boston to be a "hard place to find your way around in." (Photo #45269,

Dec. 25 at Boston

Am on liberty tonight, the first liberty I have had since leaving Bremerton. Ralph and I both made 2nd class while on the Ill. When the Ill. was not at sea, she was at a little place called Yorktown, at the mouth of the York river, about a half days run from Norfork [sic]. We were at Hampton Rhodes [sic] three times and coaled ship. These places are on the Chesapeake Bay, which is a very large bay. We made two, five day trips out to sea. We went south off the coast of Florida, somewhere, but were not in sight of land. The weather was quite warm. Had a rain storm, and it got pretty rough, the water going all over the upper deck, also came in on the gun deck under our hammocks, where we slept. A lot of the boys had cloths [sic] stolen while on the Ill. I washed my dress blues and hung them up to try [dry], and someone stole the trowsers [sic]. We wear the flat hats here on this coast when on liberty. Here in Boston we are at a place called Commonwealth Pier. It is a very large warehouse taken over by the government and fixed up for a place to keep the men. It is a nice place to stay. We are on the second floor. It is nice and warm and light. There are places fixed to swing our hammocks, and we sleep in them. There is a Y. M. C. A. in the back part, with a library, writing tables and a player piano, and a place for moving pictures. We go in a tug boat [sic] over to the Navy yard nearly every day and work. We came from Norfork [sic] to Boston on the passenger steamship Ontario. Was two days and two nights coming. Boston is not as nice a town as I expected to see. The streets run a little way and then fork. They are narrow, crooked and very poor lights. It is certainly a hard place to find your way around in. We had a fine Christmas dinner today - Turkey, dressing, potatoes, peas, fruit salad, cranberries, cocoa, nuts, cake and ice cream.
Cover of Constitution and by-laws of the Girls' National Honor Guard Inc. of Oregon
Planalp received a Christmas card from the Albany chapter of the Girls' National Honor Guard. They aimed to create "a spirit of patriotism and duty" through acts such as sending cards to servicemen. (OSA, Oregon Defense Council Records, Publications and Ephemera, Box 8, Folder 1) View the guard's plan and purpose. (PDF)

Dec. 31

Went over to the Navy yard this morning to work but I guess they thought it was to [sic] cold, and they sent us all back. It was 14 below zero yesterday morning. The Bay is frozen over clear across, but not so thick but what the boats can manage to run. Received a Christmas card a few days ago from the Albany, Oreg. Chapter of the Girl’s National Honor Guard. Will tell you a little more about our life aboard the ill. When we were our at sea, we were not allowed any lights on the upper decks, where it would show, so had to get around in the dark. We ate supper at 4 o’clock before it got dark. All of the fresh water used on ship is evaporated from the sea water [sic]. On our first trip out to sea, the drinking water got very warm and quite salty. The night it was the roughest the spray and water came down the ventilator funnels into the fireroom. One of the big search lights blew down and hit a seaman, but did not hurt him much. Every time we were at Hampton Rhodes [sic], the aroplanes [sic] were flying around over the Bay, thick. There is a station or school there. There was [sic] also ships of all kinds, and from all different countries. Hampton Rhodes [sic] is the largest coaling station in the U. S. I would much rather be a fireman than a seaman. I like the work quite well, but would like to try an oil burner, as I think they would be much cleaner and easier. The heat in the fireroom got to 145 once while we were aboard the Ill. They told us that last summer during the hot weather it got to 180 in the fireroom. The Georgia came in here at Boston harbor today, and went into dry dock. The waves had been going over the upper decks and the water had frozen. She was covered with ice from one end to the other, with chunks of ice as big as a man hanging on the end of the guns. The seamen were out with axes chopping it off.


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