Sepia Saturday – Our Soldier Laddie

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs.

This saluting boy had me thinking “military” as a response and I was reminded of a photograph of my great uncle in uniform. Although obviously much older than the boy in the prompt photo, Uncle Norman has such a boyish appearance in the photograph.

John Norman “Norman” Webber circa 1918

John Norman Webber, who went by his middle name, was the eldest of nine children born to M. D. and Dorinda Strange Webber. He registered with the Jefferson County draft board in Fairfield, Iowa on September 12, 1918. Norman was 19, just a couple of weeks shy of his 20th birthday.

A report of the Adjutant General of Iowa provides scant information about Norman’s service in the Iowa National Guard.
1. He enlisted a few weeks after registering for the draft – on October 7, 1918.

2. Norman was first assigned to the Machine Gun Company, 4th Infantry.

3. He was transferred to Headquarters Company January 23, 1919.

I guess Headquarters Company was organized before it was “federally recognized.”

4. And one little bit of information regarding an inspection of Headquarters Co. in 1920.

Norman was not among the 20 married men. That first notation regarding Norman’s service states that he was promoted on May 25, 1920. That’s all I know about Uncle Norman in the National Guard during WWI.

Although Norman did not see combat and did not even leave his hometown (from what I can determine), his younger sister Hattie, who would have been about fourteen when Norman began his service, wrote a poem that expressed her thoughts about seeing Norman in uniform.


Late in the fall, when the apples
             Are turning a beautiful red,
And the leaves of all sizes and colors
             Are drifting down from o’er head,
When a boy in overalls and shirt
             Stood looking down the street,
He heard the sound of music,
             And the tramp of soldiers feet;
He waited for the company,
             And bravely stepped in line;
His face was bright as the morning,
             His eyes were blue as the sky,
His cheeks were like spring roses,
             He was a catch for any eye.
So, late in the fall, when the apples
             Are turning a beautiful red,
Our laddie is marching away to war,
             With the stars and Stripes  o’erhead.

                        By Hattie Webber

Hattie sent a copy of her poem to her grandmother with the following note on the back:

“Grandma, I wrote this when Norman enlisted and do not know whether I sent it to you or not.   Papa say it is’ent much but I like it anyway it is what I thought at the time.

I am getting along nicely in school I think.  Abbie is better now and expects to go to work tomorrow.

Well, I will close write to me some time     Lots of love to both        Hattie

Although I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with Great Uncle Norman, he always impressed me as a gentle man, concerned with the “simple” things in life. He did not seem driven by want of material possessions nor by ambition. He and his wife might be called “minimalists” in today’s jargon, although not really, because that term implies having some wealth but choosing to downsize – or furnishing one’s home with a sleek and spare design aesthetic. Of course, these assumptions are based on the memories of a child who did not know the innermost motivations of her great uncle.

In learning this little bit about Uncle Norman’s service in the Iowa National Guard, I was thankful that domestic service during a time of war was an option for him, for I wonder how he would have fared if he had seen combat.

Uncle Norman sometimes wrote down his thoughts or a little detail about his life. I’ll close with something he wrote dated October 22, 1947.

This is where I usually ask you to visit the other participants in Sepia Saturday and follow the links to what they have prepared in response to the prompt photo. Unfortunately, the links are not there today, but you can access several from the sidebar on the blog or in the comments. Hopefully all will be back to normal by next week.

  • World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, Registration State: Iowa; Registration County: Jefferson; Roll: 1643119, obtained at
  • U.S., Adjutant General Military Records, 1631-1976 obtained at



Military Monday: The Big Picture

Sometimes you do an internet search and find something completely unexpected and better than what you were looking for in the first place.

That’s what happened the other day when I typed in “1950 map Ottumwa” – or something along those lines – and one of the returns was a link to the National Archives and Records Administration page titled The Big Picture: Ottumwa, U.S.A.

Hmmm…. a segment of a television series produced by the United States Army…. featuring my hometown.

As explained on the website of the Army Pictorial Center:

At the start of World War II, the U. S. Army acquired a defunct motion picture studio at 35th Avenue and 35th Street in Astoria, Long Island City, Queens, New York, taking over  in February 1942.  The studio became the Signal Corps Photographic Center, later Army Pictorial Center, home to filmmakers and still photographers who covered the war and who produced countless training films.

“The Big Picture” was the Army’s ground-breaking television series. The half-hour weekly program featured famous or before-they-were-famous actors and actresses in top quality productions, filmed on the Astoria stages…… The series covered a wide range of subjects, telling the Army’s story in history and in current events.

“The Big Picture” ran on ABC-TV from 1951-1964 and continued in syndication into the 1970s on local television stations. The series even won a couple of Oscars.

I’ll do a separate post on The Big Picture: Ottumwa, U.S.A. In the meantime, here are a couple of episodes that have a different focus than most of the series.

First up (since we are in the midst of the 2012 Olympics) is an episode titled Big Picture: Olympics, which highlights members of the military participating in the 1952 Olympics.

Next is another non-military military film – The Big Picture: Army Talent Show. If you ever watched The Andy Griffith Show, Mayberry RFD, The Carol Burnett Show, or F Troop you’ll recognize one of the performers.

The National Archives and Records Administration has made individual episodes of The Big Picture available via Amazon and the Internet Archive, where they can be viewed or downloaded for free. Type “the big picture” in the search box and you will get results for available films. In addition, a catalog listing is available. You can find many of the films on Each episode is just under 30 minutes long.

I don’t remember The Big Picture. Do you?