War and Romance

1918

Indiana

There is a dramatic story of the wedding between Ruth Wilson, daughter of Elisha Wilson and Nannie Gough, and Thomas Clint Mullins, son of William Madison Mullins and Sophia Freyschlag.

The marriage occurred just before Clint deployed to Europe in World War I. Clint enlisted in the Army in June 1918, and was made Captain in the Corps of Engineers because of his extensive engineering education and experience. Initially Clint and Ruth decided to wait until after the war to marry. Clint was sent to Camp Lee, Virginia for what was to be 3 months of training, but after 3 weeks was told that his deployment was imminent. He was briefly sent to Fort Harrison outside Indianapolis, about 200 miles from Boonville where Ruth lived. On the first Friday there, he and Ruth spoke by phone and decided to marry the next day.

On Saturday Clint quietly left the base AWOL to travel to Boonville, while a friendly lieutenant covered for him. Clint arrived by train at 8 P.M. Saturday evening. The courthouse was closed, of course, but Ruth's brother Bob Wilson managed to find the clerk to open the office and issue a license. The family's minister was on vacation. Aunt Ida, Bob Wilson's wife, went to the home of the Methodist minister in town. The minister's wife said that he was already in bed, but was willing to get up and perform the ceremony. He told Ida it would take a bit longer because he needed to put his wooden leg back on!

The ceremony proceeded successfully. Immediately after, Ruth's Uncle Bob Gough drove the couple in a Stanley Steamer at break neck speed to Evansville so they could catch the 11 P.M. train back to Indianapolis. There the couple had 2 weeks of a honeymoon as best Clint could manage with occasional leaves from the base. Grandma spent some time with close friends, the Ashby family, but mainly remembers sitting in a hotel room waiting for a knock at the door.

Then Clint's orders arrived: he was put on a troop train to Ft. Upton on Long Island to embark for Europe. Grandma traveled by regular train to Center Moriches, a small village on Long Island near Ft. Upton. There she stayed in a small inn with several officers' wives. She tried to stay in contact with Clint, but as the time for shipping out approached, security was tight and there were severe restrictions on communications. She and Clint had a code: when the day came that he was to sail out, he called her and asked if she planned to go into New York City that day to see his brother George Mullins and family (George was a Mathematics Professor at Columbia). Grandma gave the planned answer, "Yes, I think I will". She laments that this was to be her farewell to her husband.

In fact she did go into the city: George Mullins's home had a full view of the troop ships lined up in the Hudson. The ships, Ruth said, "…looked like huge jig-saw puzzles or gargoyles, in all colors and sizes and shapes instead of troop ships." At night the ships closed heavy curtains over every window, and the entire Hudson was pitch black. No cigarettes or lights were allowed on deck. There were U-boats patrolling our coast, and the threat to U.S. ships was ever present.

Gradually the ships moved out, as rapidly as they safely could. Ruth knew Clint was on one of the hulking vessels, but had no idea which. She said, "…it was a case of so near and yet so far. Nothing we could do about it."

Clint, as it turned out, was on an Australian troop ship, which he said later was fine except the men got sick of mutton for dinner! The ship took a long, northerly route to Europe, to try to avoid the menacing German submarines. Clint was appointed commander of the submarine guard. He recalls shooting at anything and everything suspicious, even icebergs and flocks of birds.

Clint arrived safely in France, less than 4 months before the end of the war on November 11, 1918. He remained in France for another year, with the task of selling war equipment to the French government. He returned home to Boonville in October 1919 to continue his engineering career, and start a family.