Mrs. John Eugene Ware was my maternal grandmother. After WWI she took up a task most of us would have not considered. She was widow, raising her children, and selling corsets (in today’s terminology, girdles) to make a little money. She had taken her deceased husband’s life insurance money and built a two story duplex home on some lots she got cheap in the Hollywood Hills (this was long before it was fashionable to live there). The rental of the other side of the house provided the balance of her income. But after WWI everyday, she would ride the street car for an hour to get to the Sawtelle Veterans Hospital, near Beverly Hills to look after “her boys.” She was given a key, so she could come and go as she pleased; sometimes sitting all night by the beside of a dying soldier, giving love and comfort, as only a mother can.
The following is taken from her own story:
“Many, many times I have been asked just when I first started to work for the soldier boys. It was the very night, in 1917, when my own boy came into my room and put his arm around me and said, ‘Mother, I enlisted to-day.’ Two days later he was gone, and in a few months he had gone ‘across.’
After the Armistice was signed, word came thru to me, that my boy was alive and well. Then I earnestly and actively began to work for those other Sons, who were less fortunate than mine. Those lads, who came back from overseas to languish and suffer in hospitals.
Newspapers told of the first train of thirteen coaches which came through Los Angeles en route to the San Diego hospital. We read that every window framed the head of a boy waiting, looking and expecting great crowds to great them. But they looked in vain. The war was over, and the homecoming fell short of the excitement which had been displayed during the days of their departure. I read this story, and I felt a great need for prompt action. The next day, I joined the Mothers of Sons in Service, an organization of women with big hearts. After paying the dues, which was one dollar. I asked if I might speak. My mind was filled with plans, which I explained, and I was assured of co-operation.
My many inquiries revealed the fact that another trainload of boys would arrive the following Thursday. I was also told that the citizens were not allowed to meet these train. The Mayor’s Committee, which was composed of four men granted me an audience, and they informed personally that I could not meet these troop trains. But when I asked, which one of them would stop me, no one spoke. So with the help of the Patriotic Mothers of Sons in Service, stories were put in two local newspapers, asking every mother, wife or sister who had a boy on this train to meet us at the Santa Fe depot. They came, and I can safely say there were two thousand people, who were loaded down with all the good things they could carry. The officers in charge were persuaded to open the trains, so that all could pass thru. It was a great day, and even though eyes were dimmed in tears, they were tears of gladness.
The work grew from then on, as a good cause will. There were letters and phone calls from people who wanted to help. School children, churches and organizations joined us, and entertainers offered their services. Not only were trains met, but parties and benefits were arranged, and given in different parts of the city.
One of the first celebrations given to welcome the soldiers and sailors, was held during the evening of May 2, 1919. The entire block on Cahuenga Avenue between Hollywood Boulevard and Selma Avenue, was roped off, and here the festivities, which included street dancing and vaudeville entertainment, were held….
The Government placed about fifty Tubercular patients at the Glendale Hospital, where we found much grief, and encountered many difficulties. We spent hours trying to keep these patients happy, ans as more friends became interested, and wanted to help us, we found work for all….
One delightful party given for thirty-five patients at Barlow Sanitarium was a progressive dinner, and was a surprise from start to finish. Seven large automobiles, furnished by our friends, were taken to Barlow’s where the boys were picked up and brought to my home. The doors stood open when they arrived, and there was music and laughter to greet them….
In 1920 our second Christmas tree and party was given at Thornycroft, in Glendale. The Los Angeles American Legion, the Red Cross and others remembered, and were there too.
Christmas Eve many willing hands worked at my house until after midnight to make this party a big success. After every box had been beautifully wrapped, and the names put on from out latest revised list, I had one present, a beautiful tie, left over. I knew this tie was meant for someone, and after I had retired, something prompted me to get up and fill another box. There was no name to put on this box, and it was placed on top of the others, as they were packed in the car the following day…. we arrived at Thornycroft at ten o’clock in morning. The Doctor gave us a hearty welcome, be he hastened, in a most distress manner to tell of a new patient, who had arrived that morning….’Oh, don’t worry, Doctor. I have provided for him, too. We have an extra box right here. The card is tied on and ready for his name.’ The doctor forgot his cares , as he hastily wrote the boy’s name. The he asked me to go to his bed and deliver the package personally….
In 1921 the Tuberculosis Hospital was completed at the National Soldiers Home at Sawtelle, and was opened under the capable charge of Doctor Clyde Leeper of New York. All the tuberculosis patients from the small outlying hospital were moved into their new home. Our work started there on the 30 of April, 1921….”
“Just as long as there is someone needing a helping hand, a word of encouragement, and an understanding heart, I hope to be able to carry on until…. ‘It’s finished.’ ”
My grandmother continued this work for over the next ten years. Her “book” is filled with the details of parties, dances, and excursions. The last three pages list the names of all who helped her make “her boys” happy and comfortable. She called it her work, but it was her joy to “mother ” them.
By the time WWII was over, dementia had taken it’s toll on this little slip of a woman. She died about a year after I was born, not really knowing me and I never getting the chance to know her. Thankfully she preserved the memories of her service in a small volume of a hundred hand-typed pages and another books of newspaper clippings.