For most recruits, their time is Naval Station Great Lakes is their first time away from home. They take on new experiences and carry the memories of the loved ones they’ve left. For some, it’s a wonderful time of adventure. For others, it’s a difficult transition. This has been the case since recruits began arriving in 1911. Before the days of texting and social media, Sailors shared their thoughts and experiences on postcards and in letters.
Many of the postcards in the Great Lakes Naval Museum’s collection are quite simple. They were sent home to let family members know that they arrived safely and that everything was fine.
A few postcards, though, are remarkable in the amount of emotion the writer was able to convey in a few short sentences. Take this postcard from October 1915 in which a recruit beams that, “This is the life.” He offers his cousin a short but telling insight into all the fun he’s having.
His experiences at Naval Station Great Lakes were probably very similar to those of another recruit who wrote home three years later. But this recruit is anything but joyful. He is, “getting along fine, only a little lonesome.” He hasn’t received a letter from Bertha and is beginning to think she has forgotten him.
This dichotomy of these two postcards shows the range of emotion young men and women grapple with after enlisting. While the means of communication have changed drastically, Sailors today experience the same highs and lows as their predecessors a century ago.
It’s easy to see these old postcards and letters as artifacts worth preserving. But what about text messages and emails? Erasing them can be akin to recycling a letter. Do you have any meaningful emails or texts from Navy recruits? Maybe you have sent some yourself. Share them with us by commenting or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.