Francis L. Wilt diary

Collection 4005

(0.05 Linear feet ; 1 volume)

Summary Information

Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Wilt, Francis L.
Francis L. Wilt diary
Date [inclusive]
0.05 Linear feet ; 1 volume
Finding aid prepared by Weckea D. Lilly.
Text [Folder]
Francis L. Wilt of Altoona, Pennsylvania, served in the medical detachment of the 360th Infantry during and after World War I. The diary provides a detailed account of Wilt's experiences in the Army, including his induction, basic training in Georgia, service in France just before and after the Armistice, and return home.

Preferred citation

[Indicate cited item or series here], Francis L. Wilt diary (Collection 4005), Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

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Background note

Francis L. Wilt was born to Martin and Anna (Weyandt) Wilt on March 21, 1897, in Altoona, Blair County, Pennsylvania. Tucked away in the terrains of Altoona, he enjoyed an ordinary life with his two brothers, two brothers, Walter (born 1889) and Earl (born 1892), and two sisters, Myrtle (born 1884) and Ida (born 1886). Some lines of Wilt family were quite influential and wealthy, making their money in farming and related industries. The men, they served meritoriously in nearly every military battle since the American Revolution; and, like them, Francis would inherit the call of duty during World War I and place his name on the rolls, after an enlistment rally event is held in the county. In the first waves, many men in the county are choosen and sent off to a near by camp, Cresswell, in 1917. While Francis wouldn't be among this group he no less waited out his turn, after registering for conscription. He served from 1918 to 1919 with the medical detachment of the 360th Infantry of the U. S. Army, and he spent most of his time in France.

After returning from abroad he re-settled in Blair County and married Edna McMullen. The couple lived not far from Wilt's hometown of Altoona, in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. Wilt worked a lengthy post-war career as a sheetmetal worker for the Pennsylvania Railroad, a leading employer in the region at that time. He retired in 1941 and died in 1967. Wilt was buried in Hollidaysburg's German Lutheran church's cemetery.

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Scope and content note

Francis L. Wilt, in this single diary dated 1918 to 1919, recorded his yearlong sojourn to the French countryside while serving during the First World War. Of the time spent there, he recorded nearly every single day of interesting details of the places he visited or passed through, the people encountered, the sickness he experienced, and the work he completed. While the entries in the diary are composed with a strict hand of brevity, it does not fail to offer its reader a deeply affective experience of longing for home in the face of ill treatment and poor living standards of the rough military life. As the recordings are incredibly place-centric - encountering more that 32 camps, provinces, and stations in Germany and France - it is also possible to track every movement of the company he served from Altoona, Pennsylvania, to Erden, France, and back.

Along the way -- leaving Altoona on September 5, 1918 -- the reader is allowed to witness some aspect of Camp Greenleaf in Georgia, the three day train from there to Camp Merritt in New York, to the Rochambeau (a French ship) and departure from the NY harbor. On leaving he wrote, "This was the hardest thing to do to see the Statue of Liberty fade away." They arrived at Bordeaux, France on November 4, 1918.

In France they slept in barns, abandoned buildings and houses, and made beds and cots out of anything they could find. From Wilt's perspective, France was not very hospitable, as he might have thought. Initially, he didn't quite seem to realize that this was life in a war torn country, but he would eventually come to bore as much as he possibly could, suffer some, and succumb to the rest. So much so that his bathing would be a major subject of celebration in the events of the diary: he recorded every one that he was allowed (although few), and the first since arriving in France came on January 8, 1919. He mourns the death of Theodore Roosevelt, records his encounters with illness and “cooties," perceptions of the people living among the rubble in spite of the war - those who treat him well and otherwise, the mourning of his two friends who were transferred to other units, scavenging for war relics, the food he appreciated and hated, the Germans, the girls, noting the letters he wrote home including the one he wrotes to his mother to "make an appeal to Washington, D.C. for discharge", and the varied work assignments he had including serving as the orderly for a Lt. Johnson.

The compositions at the rear of the book are recorded with what seems to be a bit of frantic, as the handwriting becomes more difficult to read, appearing as though it was rushed or written with an unsteady, anxious hand. But he was happy to leave France. They set sail aboard the U.S.S. Mongolia on Wednesday, May 28, 1919. As they set out about 2AM that morning he wrote, "This morning things are going fine. This ship is nice, American boys are running it." Coming back to America, they docked at Boston on June 7, 1919. From there he noted train stops in Conneticutt, New York City, Long Island, Camp Dix in New Jersey, and Philadelphia. Making his way from there to Altoona, arriving on June 14th, he was finally greeted with the embraces of his mother, aunt, and Walter and Earl - one of whom did not seem to appreciate that Francis made it back home. They partook in a breakfast at the Logan House before retiring for much needed rest. The volume closes with an entry on June 31, 1919, stating, "I went back to work again. Because I had no money."

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

 Historical Society of Pennsylvania , July 2016.

1300 Locust Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19107


This collection is available for research.

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Related Materials

Related materials

At the Historical Society of Pennsylvania:

Edward James Baker Letters (Collection 3665)

F. Furman Betts Papers (Collection 3655)

William Leopold Papers (Collection 3914)

George V. Z. Long Papers (Collection 1528)

Stanley Woodburn Diaries (Am .69972)

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Controlled Access Headings

Geographic Name(s)

  • Camp Greenleaf (Ga.)


  • Medical Officers' Training Camp (Ga.)
  • War diaries.
  • World War I--France--Personal Narratives

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Shenk, Lucile,, and Tarring S. Davis. A History of Blair County, Pennsylvania. Harrisburg: National historical association, inc., 1931.

Burchfield, Judy. Altoona, PA, City Hall Birth Records. Altoona, PA: Judy Burchfield, 1993.

Blair County Genealogical Society (Altoona, Pa.). Marriage Application Records, Blair County, PA.: Vol I, Oct. L885-1890. Altoona, Pa.: The Society, 1986.

Soldiers of Blair County, Pa.

Sell, Jesse C. Twentieth Century History of Altoona and Blair County, Pennsylvania, and Representative Citizens. Chicago: Richmond-Arnold Pub., 1911.

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