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The Life and Letters of World War I Aerial Observer Lt. Mortimer M. Lawrence

Mortimer Portrait

Lt. Mortimer Lawrence was from Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. He enlisted in the Army Air Service shortly after the United States declared war on Germany in 1917, and was sent to aerial observer school to be trained to fly planes to photograph German positions. Mortimer wanted the chance to prove himself as both an aerial observer and a warrior. Little did he know that on November 10, 1918 he would earn his place in the footnotes of military history when he shot down the last German plane of World War I. 


"We were just looking things over, and were not on any particular offensive mission when we saw a flock of Boche planes coming for us. I found teh star performer of the enemy just above me. He drifted just where I wanted him to go and then I let him have the best my machine gun could deliver. He went spiraling down, a hopeless wreck."
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              - Lieutenant Mortimer M. Lawrence, 104th Aero Squadron, Army Air Corps


 In this article, you will be able to check back to see what Mortimer wrote in his journal on that particular day. New entries will appear at the top of the page, with previous entries below in the order they were posted. There is at least one per week, so make sure that you stay tuned to see what Mortimer was up to on that day in history!!

August 30, 1917

No doubt the night letter reached you this morning telling you that I had been to the Hotel Hastings. It is rather a nice little place as far as I could see, and reasonable. They said a room for two and bath would be $2.50 per day. While I didn't reserve any special room they promised to save one on the 5th floor and made note of everything in my name. 

When you get into Minneapolis Saturday morning take a car from the depot to Hennepin Ave. and transfer South on any Hennepin car to 12th St. Get off at 12th and go down 12th to your right (West) one block and you will be there. The Fort Snelling line starts and ends at Hennepin and 11th, just two blocks away.

I will be down Saturday afternoon shortly after two, maybe a little before but I can't be sure. I will ahve dinner here before I start so don't wait for me. 

I do hope the weather will be nice so we can make a trip out to the Fort so that you can look around.

Minneapolis is a rather nice place much ahead of Milwaukee I think.

If you ahve room you might bring along my '09 - Culver jersey, there is nothing else I know of. Yes there is too. In the left hand top drawer of my chiffonier you will find about three books of cigarette papers, there is no use letting them lay around idle, so put them in too. 

The weather has been decidedly cold here nights and early in the morning but fine during the day and evening. Some of the men complain of teh cold but it hasn't botehred me any.

By the way, when you transfer on hennepin if you happen to get a Bryn Mawr car it will take you right to the hotel door. 

Hope you are all well.

Love to all,

August 20, 1917

Dear Folks:-

Well I am leaving the hospital this noon. The doctor discharged me when he made his rounds this A.M.

I expect that any mail you sent yesterday will be here by today as usual and I am going to wire you in a little while so as to head you off from sending any more here.

The foot is fine. I discarded my crutches yesterday morning and got around O.K.

Hope you are all well at home. I will write you soon but don't be worried if it isn't for a couple of days as I will ahve lots to do to get things straightened out when I get back to my Company.

Love to all,

August 10, 1917

Dear Folks:-

Don't be alarmed by the heading of this letter (Port Hospital, Fort Snelling, MN) as there isn't anything seriously the matter with me. I have a badly swillen right foot and ankle and have been sent to the hospital so as to keep off my feet. I don't know what is wrong with my foot unless it is insect bites of some kind, but I can't get a shoe on. It will be O.K. in a few days.

I  came here yesterday, a fine way to celebrate, I think. Fortunately I am not on a diet that eats rather better than I have been getting so I should be annoyed at having a rest. I was to have joined the company this afternoon, but will have to wait a few days now.

You may not hear from me every day but I will do the best I can. Don't worry if I miss a day becasue there is nothing serious the matter with me.

Love to all,

August 2, 1917

Dear Folks:-

Received your letters yesterday afternoon received by parcel post a bundle of Saturday Evening Posts from April 7th to July 28th inclusive. They were all labeled B.K. Mills and had a Western Malleables tag so I judged they came from Mill and have written them thanking them for the package. 

Everything is about the same here. We are not out of quarantine and will not be before Sunday.

This morning I was ordered to report to the Captain's Office. He asked me about the camp at Fort Sheridan and how 8 2 17long I was there. Then he appointed me acting non-commissioned officer in charge of my squad in place of the man we had at first. Now I am on the same plane as the rest of the drillmasters here as they are only privates acting as non commissioned officers. Capt. Pierson also asked to what company I had been assigned. Guess taht means a recommend to the Company Commander.

You wrote me about the kit the Red Cross was going tosend. That will be fine.

Of course you can send me a cake for my birthday but don't send it unless I let you know in advance positively where to send it because I may or may not be with my company. The cake can come any time. I don't know of anything else I want or need.

Had a letter from Ruth today inviting me to dinner Sunday but I am afraid I cant make it.

Will you please have Will look up and see if he can get me a pocket edition Gillette, one of the new styles that comes in a flat metal case. The one I have is rather bulky to carry around as it won't roll up in anything small. If Will can get what I want have him send for it and I will see that he gets the money in a few weeks.

Must stop now. Love to all,

July 28, 1917

My Dear Lawrence - 

I must offer apologies to you for not having written you sooner, but tho't I had. However, I have just found out that I did not. Was very glad to hear you had enlisted. I knew you would and if you get a change to go up for a commission take it. Had you been able to stay I feel sure you would have been one of those selected as officers. Your work was very satisfactory in the Batter and I disliked very much seeing you go. I feel sure you have the qualifications of an officer and your education and intelligence are quite in line with what is desirable in an officer. I should not hesitate to recommend you for examination for commission or for commission in either the Infantry or Artillery. 

I feel sure that hereafter the system of officering the Armies to be raised after these contemplated at present be by promotion and commission from the ranks. I have heard taht you are a non-commissioned officer, if it is true, congratulations. Keep your eye on and work for commissioned grade - Study and work hard, be anxious to absorb knowledge from any one who has it and if you have the wide awake interest and knowledge you exhibited here you will make it alright. If it is a recommendation you want let me know, you can make your own way. Keep your eyes and ears open, use your common sense and keep your mouth closed unless asked about something is the rule for all soldiers who succeed. Let me hear from you again. I shall take great interest in hearing of your advance.

Very truly yours,
James P. Marley
Capt. U.S.A.

July 25, 1917

10 25 17 newspaper article

July 10, 1917

Dear Folks:-

As I wired you this morning I have been discharged on account of being underweight. Thought I'd like to have a few days vacation so I am going to stop in Chicago and elsewhere but will be home soon. Don't worry about me because I am O.K. and am not going to do anything foolish.

Am enclosing two express orders. The one for Sis includes the T.P.A., hose, pictures, and the $5.00 I borrowed Sunday.

Love to all,

July 3, 1917

Dear Folks:-

Well tomorrow is a holiday and I think we will all appreciate it. Some of the men are going to march in the parade at Highland Park but I didn't volunteer so I am not going. If this letter gets home before my laundry goes please look up my drawing triangles and the steel ruler I bought just a couple of months ago and enclose them with the laundry. They are probably in the left hand drawer of my chiffonier where I put them when I brought them home from the office. The ruler may be inside the case with my drawing instruments.

This morning i went before the Board of Reviews. Of course I don't know definitely how I came out but I received the impression that I would be allowed to stay. I was only in with the board a short time, much shorter than the rest of the men and they seemed satisfied with my answers to their questions which were along the line of general health, normal weight, education, and previous military training. I think my instructors all gave me a good boost.

Well here's hoping I come out O.K. I will probably know by the end of the week.

Must go to the Post Office so this goes out tonight.

Lots of love, 

June 26, 1917

Dear Folks:-

Received your letter today with the pictures also the Citizens. Thank you.

We are still getting busier everyday till I don't know where it all will end. 

This morning the Captain called several of us into the office and told us that we would probably have to appear before a board on account of not quite meeting physical requirements. He had received no official notification so could give us no particulars, only a little advance tip. I know that the only thing wrong with me is lack of weight. Hope I won't have any trouble. But I am not worrying, for I'll find out when the time comes.

This artillery work is very interesting and becomes more so every day. So far we haven't had any mounted drill and only an hour's gun drill every day. You see at present there is only the equipment for one battery here and not enough horses for that and as there are six batteries in the two training regiments we have to take turns. The rest of the day is taken up with dismounted drill, physical drill, signalling with flag and buzzer and at least two conferences or lectures, most generally three. Our lectures cover everything from training and care of horses (including shoeing, accidents, diseases) to care and use of guns. Besides we have lectures on gunnery involving a good many mathematical calculations and formula. 

Some of the men expected to find this very easy because we were told we didn't require any special knowledge of mathematics. We really don't as the formulas do not go beyond geometry and algebra, but we do need a clear insight and understanding of those branches and I find my knowledge of math and physics is helping a lot in grasping the principles, also my surveying comes in fine. The latter will help also when we get to military topography.We had a quiz yesterday covering our work so far. The mark ran from around 20 up. My work of 91 was the highest in the battery, the next highest being 80. Not so bad for a man out of school six years when some of the fellows are fresh from engineering schools.

We were paid last week for which I was thankful as it enabled me to buy another pair of shoes and have my first soled. The Quartermaster didn't have my size so I had to pay Marshall Field $7.50, but I think I have a good pair of shoes. I have been going to buy some additional books but now will hold off til I see the examining board and find out where I stand. 

I must stop now and get ready for bed. Am feeling fine.

Love to all,

Vaccination has disappeared entirely. No go.

Reserve Officer Training Camp
3rd Btv. - 10th Prov. Reg't
Fort Sheridan, Ill. 

Moritmer 6 26 17

June 15, 1917

6 15 17 telegram mortimer

June 7, 1917

Dear Folks:-

We have been so busy all the week that I simply haven't had a chance to even drop you a card. This sure has been a humdinger as far as work is concerned and the weather has been very bad. It has been cold and raw since Sunday with frequent showers but not enough rain to interrupt our drills. 

the registration board returned my certificates of registration today. I was #5 in our precinct in Beaver Dam. All of us sent our cards in from here last week. Tuesday we took a hike to Lake Forest, total trip of about nine miles, made with heavy packs of 45 pounds. We made the nine miles in three hours including halts and that is going some for the usual rate of marching is 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 miles an hour including halts. Of course the populace and society turned out to see us.

Hope I will be able to get away to come home Saturday. Don't worry about my having to get back before "Ta's" because I can get special permission to get in later. I won't have to leave til the 5:20 CM&StP.

I enjoyed the letters very much and am returning them before they are lost. Love to all,


June 3, 1917

Dear Folks: -

Another week gone by. Soon it will be time to split up into the different branches and have to work harder than ever. Before I forget, I want to broach a subject which may make you very angry, and if it does let me know and I'll say no more about it. Do you think you could stand it to have me come home on the  5:12 PM C. & N.W. on Saturday June 16th and stay until 5:30 Sunday PM? I think I can get away Saturday at noon and not have to report until Sunday night, but don't plan too much on it for it may fall through. Before I make any plans, I just wanted to know how you feel about it. In case Ruth's sister is coming and they are planning on going to Fox Lake why can't the whole family go up to the lake too. I think I'd rather like to go up if the weather is good. If you decide you'd like to have me come home don't let Ruth know about it.

We had some good news Friday. Our pay of $100 per month goes through and besides we have an allowance of 75 cents per day for mess and 3 1/2 cents per mile for transportation down here. I don't get anything back on my trip to Milwaukee though. We have signed the payroll for the first half-month and expect to be paid in the course of ten days. This has been a busy week even if we d id have a holiday on Wednesday. it rained most of the day and was generally rotten. In the morning a few of us walked over to Highland Park in the rain just for exercise. I stayed around the barracks all the afternoon on account of the weather. In the evening three of us went to the movies at Lake Forest. We saw Douglass Fairbanks in "Manhattan Madness" and it was the best film I have seen in a long time.

Thursday was rainy off and on but we managed to get in most of our drills. Friday wasn't so bad though it was pretty muddy.

Saturday morning we had our usual inspection and also a drill in pitching shelter tents of which each man carries 1/2 in his pack. It rained right up to the time of inspection then stopped long enough for inspection and then started again as soon as we got back indoors. It stopped again at eleven and, so we had general permission to go off limits as long as we reported back by Taps, I decided to go to Chicago. I went to the Palace to see the N.Y. Winter Garden production the Show of Wonders. It certainly was fine. After the show I went to see a couple of fellows, then had a big dinner at the North American with some fo the fellows from here and then came back.

Today has been such a nice day that I haven't done anything special but just bummed around all day. Saw Mr. Coleman of Lincoln Park. He and his wife were out here looking around and I talked with them for a while.

Received the box O.K. Thank you for sending it. I may send my laundry home this week and if I do, have it in Beaver Dam Friday in time For next Monday.

Love to all,

How is everything at the Lake? Has the victrola gone up yet? Those were some pictures. I am returning them as I am afraid I'd lose them here.

I am enclosing some films taken here. Please have Huebner finish one set and keep them for me. I will pay you when I get home. 

May 31, 1917

Dear Folks: - 

Yesterday was a holiday so naturally it rained all day and most of today too. It sure is sloppy and muddy around the camp. Tomorrow we go on another hike, so I hope the weather is good. Hope you are all O.K. 

Love to all,

5 31 17 letter

May 29, 1917

Dear Folks: - 

Received your letter of the 25th yesterday morning, also the paper.s Your letter of the 27th came this morning and the socks came this afternoon. Was very glad to get all of them, thank you. The socks are fine and just what I want. If Will has a half dozen pairs please send them and have him charge them to me. The wool socks are much more comfortable for marching than cotton. I was very much surprised to see the letter in the paper as it was written to Art Volkman and not for publication, still it didn't sound so very bad. We had our third inoculation today and now have nothing before us except smallpox vaccination. I suppose I will have to take that as I haven't been vaccinated since 1906, and not successfully since the first one. What year was that vaccination 1894 or 1893? The second inoculation didn't make me sick but it made my arm awfully sore for a couple of days. I hope this won't be as bad for tomorrow is a holiday. I don't think I'll send any laundry home unless it needs mending. A Chicago laundry has an agency right on the grounds and the prices aren't very high I am trying them on account of the convenience.

Has Will found his housekeeper? I guess that "ad" must have set lots of people to wondering. I am glad the family is getting notorious. We ought to do something for our country news papers once-in-a-while. How are you all feeling? I am glad house cleaning is all over so you won't have that to look forward to. How did the folks find things at Fox Lake? It is too bad the boat house was damaged. Tell Harold Schemmel he needn't look for my picture in the Tribune, all they report is news of the Illinois regiment. 

Have had two promotions lately. Yesterday five of us were picked to act as instructors at signal drill from now on, and I was one of the five. Today I was made leader of a squad at drill which gives me a little more chance to exhibit my proficiency than just being a private. Of course these promotions have no special significance except that the Commander sees that I am working hard and making some progress.

Must close now and get to work.

Love to all,

5 29 17 letter

May 27, 1917

Well today is another cold, raw, disagreeable day and I sure am glad we don't have any drilling to do. I suppose it is a good thing to have some cold weather now and get us toughened up a bit for I imagine it will be pretty cold when we go over to France next January. We have our third and last typhoid inoculation Tuesday. All will be glad when it is over but then we have small pox and scarlet fever vaccination. Everyone has to take the typhoid inoculation unless they can prove they have had it within the last two years. It is only good for five years. I suppose Paul and Fred are with you today. Wish I could come in for a few hours. How are all of you feeling? Hope you are as well as I am. Am returning the T.P.A. letter which I think is a fine one. Please keep it for me. Jack Millspaugh has been transferred back to Co. N. and is in the same barracks. There doesn't seem to be much else to write just now. Will write again in a few days. The last letter I received was dated May 23rd. Hope you are not sick and that everything is O.K.

Love to all,

May 26, 1917

Dear Folks: - 

Well here we are at the end of another week and it doesn't seem as though I had been gone three days. Things certainly have been rushing along in  fine style. We are getting busier every day, and while we are on the subject, I might say that no one hesitates about soaking it to us as far a work is concerned. So far we have had to learn two signal systems and codes, have finished one textbook complete, and have been issued two more, making seven in all and have covered everything in squad and company drill including aiming and sighting drills but no range practice. We have had and completed a course of instruction in bayonet instruction but are going to take it all over again. One of the boys from the famous Canadian "Princess Pat" regiment is in camp and has given the officers pointers on how it is done in France and their method over there is so different that it necessitates our unlearning what we have had and learning the principles all over again. Yesterday we took a practice march with what is called a light pack. Including the gun we carried were were toting about 25 pounds. We were out two hours and as we took it easy5 26 17 letter we only went about seven miles. It was easy, no trouble at all. This morning at inspection were were out with a full march kit of forty pounds which with the gun made close to fifty pounds. We did some drilling after the inspection and altogether were out and hour and 3/4 but I noticed the full pack even less than I did the light pack.This week we have a practice march with the full kit. It ought to be easy after this morning. Our inspection this morning was complete in every way and was really a double one being a company inspection on the parade ground and then a barracks inspection later. Both were on the line of our Culver inspections. As this last week has been rather rainy and muddy our barracks floors were rather in poor condition so yesterday afternoon after drill we all got busy and moved out everything except the stoves and scrubbed the floors. We had a fine looking place when we finished I can tell you. I was orderly in charge of the barracks from yesterday noon til this noon so you can imagine I was rather busy this morning, for besides shaving and cleaning my gun and getting my pack ready I had to see that the while of the barracks was dolled up. Of course everybody has to clean up around his own bunk so there wasn't much actual work to be done. This afternoon I went over to the Highland Park and did a little sight seeing. It is rather a nice little place and I was able to get a few little things I wanted. Tonight the I.M.C.A. had a house-warming at their new building (temporary like our barracks). The band from t he U.S. Naval Training Station at Lack Bluff furnished the music and Col. Nicholson, the Camp Commandant spoke. Everybody had a good time for a couple of hours. The weather this week has been rather changeable. Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday were cold, rainy, and distinctly disagreeable. Wednesday was cold but sunshiny, Thursday warmer, and Friday was fine. Tonight it rained again but the sun showed up about seven o'clock so we hope for a good day tomorrow even if  today was cold and raw.

Well it is getting along toward Taps so I guess I'll finish this tomorrow.

May 22, 1917

Dear Folks: - 

Your letter received also the jersey for which I thank you. the latter comes in especially handy. The papers came also. I passed them on to Emil Prellwitz after I read them. Since Sunday it has done nothing but rain. We have had no outdoor drill at all except an hours hike this morning for exercise during a short let up. We stuck to the paved roads and all felt much better when we had finished than when we started. Today we received our second inoculation of Typhoid Prophylactic and everyone seems to be complaining of sore arms. Hope mine wont get too sore, because I must eat even if I don't work. Hope Katinka is having better weather in Madison (WI) than we are here. She no doubt will enjoy her trip. I suppose you are reading the Fort Sheridan news in the Tribune every day. Don't believe too much of it for it is a lot of bunk and written mostly for the effect on the men who are to be drafted to serve under us after we are commissioned. Don't think from that this training is any joke. Far be it from such. It is work of the hardest kind of everyone who finishes the course ought to receive some recognition from the Government. Some of us may not, but time alone will tell that. 

Can Will get me 1/2 dozen pairs of light weight natural color wool socks size 10? I could buy them here but Marshall Field & Co's store here wants 50 cents per pair and that is too much.

It is time for bed now so I will close.

Love to all,

May 20, 1917

Ft. Sheridan
May 20th 

5 30 17 letter

Dear Folks: -

I don't know how long a letter this will be because it isn't any too warm around camp this morning. It was very hot all day yesterday and last evening it rained and turned cold. This morning it is decidedly chilly.

When I reached here Tuesday morning the first thing I had to do was register and be assigned to a company. After registering everybody went to the hospital for the first inoculation of Typhoid Prophylaxis. Then we reported at company headquarters were we were given barracks assignment and issued a cot, a mattress, a mattress cover, two blankets, a pillow, and a pillow slip. We are to receive four sheets and another pillow case tomorrow. After setting up our cots in the barracks we reported at the office, were issued five textbooks and went to the mess hall for a conference on a lesson assigned in one. Since then we have followed a regular schedule which I will give you later. 

The first eleven companies of the Wisconsin-Michigan regiment are quartered in the old stone in the post, the other four companies, (M, N, O, & P), also the entire Illinois regiment, are quartered across the ravine in the new pine barracks.

We are very comfortable. On one side of the regimental street is the mess hall with the kitchen in the rear. Now that they have installed modern ranges they no longer use the field kitchens described in the Tribune. Each mess Hall has two long tables with stationary benches like a picnic table. 

Across the street from the mess hall is the first barracks. The front of this is the company commander's office. The barracks proper starts back of that. Back of t his building is the second barracks. Each of these buildings holds 7 to 80 men. Companies have been reduced to 150 to 155 men. Back of the second barracks is the lavatory with showers and everything complete. 

Our Company Commander is 1st Lt. Morrow of the Field Artillery and he certainly is a dandy. He is strict without being unreasonable and I sure hope that when we are split up into Field Artillery etc that I draw Morrow for a C.C.

We have a mighty fine bunch of fellows in Co N, all very congenial and anxious to learn. Emil Prellwitz is in N – but no one else from Beaver Dam. Jack Millspaugh of Milwaukee was my next door neighbor for a few days but was transferred to Co. E.

We are very busy every minute of the time. Our daily schedule is something like this:-

Reveille at 5:15 A.M. – assembly at 5:30. After assembly we police the Company Street and the barracks. Mess is at 6:20. At 6:55 is First Call for Drill with assembly at 7:00 From then till noon we have drills of various kinds such as Physical, Signalling, Rifle Sighting and generally a conference of an hour or hour and a half on the text books or on proper use of our equipment. Noon mess is at 12:00 and from then till 1:00 we have nothing to do. From 1:00 till 3:00 we have more miscellaneous drill and some Company drill and from 3:00 to 4:00 and most of the time a little after we take hikes across country. After drill we are allowed to loaf till mess at 5:30 and after mess until 7:15 when we are called to quarters for study from 7:30 to 9:30. Taps is at 10:00.

We have five textbooks – Infantry Drill Regulations, Manual Interior Guard Duty, Signal Book, Field Service Regulations and U.S. Army Regulations. And they are not a bit particular about how long lessons they assign.

Saturday we have inspection in the morning and other odd drills but are free for the afternoon. There is always plenty to do.

Sunday we don’t have Reveille till 6:30, mess at 7:15.

Since I started this letter we have set up a stove in the barracks and are comfortable now.

The meals here are good but nothing luxurious.

Altogether we are in good shape here. Our rifles and other equipment were issued Friday so now we have everything complete except uniforms. I did not stop in Chicago long enough to get anything so was measured for uniform when I got here. They were expected Saturday but have not come yet. Hope they get here soon, for my clothes are in hard shape.

Please send my raincoat when you have a chance.

Love to all,

May 18, 1917

Co. N - R.O.T.C.
Ft. Sheridan,

Dear folks - 

Received the towels, etc. this afternoon. Thank you for sending them so promptly. Thank you also for the papers and the chocolate. 

Everything is fine here. So far it has been more like a vacation - not that we don't have to work and work hard all the time, but it is such a change that I can't realize until I think back just how much work we have done.

There are several things I would like to have you send me when you have the chance, among them are my shaving mirror which I think is in my old Culver trunk, my best canvas puttees, which were on the shelf in my closet, my two suits of pajamas, my tennis slippers, bathing suit and support from Fox Lake and my '09 Culver jersey. If you can find my blue celluloid soap box send that along. 

I intend to send all my civilian clothes home in a few days.

I think you will find in my drawing box (on my closet shelf) a bicycle oil can, which please enclose also one of those samples of Marble's gun oil of which we had so many last year.

Will write a regular letter Sunday.

Love to all,

Please don't send any cookies, etc as I intend to stick to straight Army rations for a while at least.

5 18 17 letter

May 15, 1917

 Dear Folks - 

Reached here this A.M. and went right to work. We are almost settled now, in the new barracks. Please send me some Bath Towels and some face towels - old ones preferably and when you send my laundry - don't send any pajamas.

Address me- 
M.M. Lawrence 
Co. N - R.O.T.C.
Ft. Sheridan, Ill.

Love to all,

Ft Sheridan BarracksMortimer took a photo of his barracks at Ft. Sheridan


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