Living in the years between the wars

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My mother, Ruth Reese Hicks, came to the Vancouver Barracks as an infant in 1922, from Camp Lewis, WA, where she was born. My grandfather, Walter C. Reese was a Sergeant in the Army and had been transferred to Vancouver at the end of 1921. This was his last duty station, retiring in 1927, from the Vancouver Barracks as a First Sergeant in Company I, 7th Infantry.

During his time at the Vancouver Barracks, the family lived on the post, across the street from the Red Cross Hostess House building, approximately where the NCO housing, built in 1939, is today. Before the present NCO housing was erected, the NCO quarters were wooden and set back further from the now existing curb. They were two story buildings with a family on each level and were nicknamed the “Beehive.” There was only one bedroom, a kitchen and living room, dining area and a bathroom. My mother slept on a fold up army cot in the dining area. There was even an icebox on the back porch of each unit, and an iceman delivered ice every few days.

My mother started school at Central School, located on the Westside of town in the location where the Court House is today. She and the other children were transported to the school by a “covered wagon” similar to the Conestoga wagons of the pioneers, pulled by a team of mules. She said there were long boards, similar to bleacher seats, running parallel to the sides of the wagon for the children to sit on. The wagon and mules returned to the school in the afternoon to return the students back to the Barracks. The wagon was driven by soldiers, who also made sure all children were present and accounted for at the end of the school day before leaving for the Post. About the time she went into the fourth grade at Franklin School, also located on the Westside of town, she said the wagons were replaced by trucks, the backs covered with canvas, and once again there were long boards on which to sit.

She remembers going to the dentist on the Post and having her adenoids out at the Post hospital. The building that is now called the auditorium was the gymnasium and was used for dances on Saturday night. There was also a building behind the Hostess House for church services and where she attended Sunday School. An outdoor swimming pool was built behind Officer’s Row and it remained uncovered for a period of time, until a building was built over the pool and it became what was known for years as Memory Pool.

The Post also had a library on an upper floor of a large building that still exists today, located across the street from Officer’s Row. The Red Cross building was commonly just called the Hostess House, where small gatherings were held. The building that is the O.O. Howard House or perhaps one that located in that vicinity was the residence of the bandleader of the 7th Infantry Band, Warrant Officer Arthur S. Haynes and his family. Mr. Haynes remained active in Vancouver after his retirement and I remember him being at band rehearsals and concerts at Hudson’s Bay, and even providing music from his Army library for us to play.

The parade ground area was also the site of a nine hole golf course, frequented by then Post Commander Paul Wolf, who on occasion would loose his golf balls during practice or play. He made a habit of stamping his name on his golf balls and posted a sign that a reward would be given to any child finding and returning one of his lost golf balls. He or his wife would give any child who found one of his golf balls a few cents when they would bring them to his residence. It was on this golf course that my mother learned to play golf, her instructor, a soldier stationed at the Barracks.

The size of the Barracks was far bigger than it is today. The area behind Officer’s Row was called the North Woods and there were many more company buildings on the grounds. Most of these company buildings were torn down after World War II.

After my grandfather’s retirement, they moved out of the Barracks into Vancouver for a period of time. By 1930, or just before, they returned to live on the Post, when they agreed to run the Post restaurant. The building that was the restaurant is still there, but was modified for the family; it needed to have a bathroom installed in order to make it habitable. Soldiers built the bathroom in the former coal bin, which was located through the backdoor of the building and through a doorway to the right. It took several weeks, as the area had to be cleared, cleaned and the floor raised. The finished room had a water closet, basin and roll top tub, plus storage cabinets. Besides running the restaurant, they would travel on the troop marches to Camp Bonneville and to Camp Lewis and provide food service for the troops. By the time my mother was attending Shumway Junior High, they had closed the restaurant and the family moved once again to Vancouver.

The restaurant was located close to the Post Exchange and each evening a sentry would walk the area of the Post Exchange and restaurant. My mother said she would lie in bed and listen as the guard walked the grounds until she fell asleep. She said it was very comforting, the sound of those feet passing her bedroom window in the stillness of the evening.

My mother has fond and precious memories of growing up on the Post. It is a great pleasure for me to drive her through the Barracks, hear her stories and the history of the buildings that still exist today. I love to hear her heartfelt memories of life at the Vancouver Barracks with its great sense of community and the closeness that was pervasive amongst the soldiers and their families in those gentler years between World War I and World War II.