Home Sweet Home

In the daytime, as they rolled through the sweltering prairie heat, they ran out of water. The toilets wouldn't flush. At night, they curled up against green-plush, straight-backed seats, fitfully brushing at insects and soot that kept pouring in the windows.

Soon they learned to take the backs off the seats, improvise hot and prickly beds from two seats with the chairbacks in between. Another man would sleep on the other chairbacks—in the aisle. Some dozed on their luggage.

For six days and five nights they traveled in this fashion from Boston to California—500 veterans of the European war, now on...