When our boys went to war: 90 years ago
BY ANDY TAYLOR
Montgomery County Chronicle
Ninety years ago, a group of about 600 men from Montgomery County were thrust into the world of modern global warfare.
And, seeing those men — grown-up boys, really — board the steam ships in Long Island, New York, and head off to battle in Europe would have been an incredible picture.
After all, many of those men had never stepped foot outside the state of Kansas, let alone their own hometowns.
They were adult boys, some having just taken their first shave.
And, all of those men who began boarding troop ships on April 24, 1918, did not have any clue just 12 months earlier that they would be joining Uncle Sam’s call to protect western Europe from a belligerent Germany army.
In April 1917, the teenage boys and young men of Montgomery County were busy preparing for wheat harvests and summer Chautauqua meetings. Although newspaper headlines talked about a war in Europe, the battlefields of France could have well been on the landscape of the moon. The war-torn Rhine River valley was an entire galaxy away from the peaceful havens of the Verdigris, Elk and Caney river valleys of Montgomery County.
But, that all changed when Uncle Sam tapped America on the shoulder and said, “I want you.”
So, about 600 Montgomery County men left the chores in their hayfields, parked their Model T Fords in their garages, and began the task of creating military companies from absolute nothing — other than the will to fight.
Ninety years ago last month, those men climbed onto steam ships and embarked on an oceanic journey to a land that had been nothing more than a place on a map in a high school geography class.
And, once they arrived in Europe, the men of Montgomery County were shoved into the hellishness of battle.
Welcome to war, boys of Montgomery County.
* * * *
A map of Europe in 1914 would resemble a broken stained glass window.
Dozens of tiny countries and provinces were separated only by a few miles but splintered by cultural and political divisions that dated back to early centuries.
So, when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was shot and killed in June 1914, the event triggered a chain reaction of political changes and age-old animosities across the European continent.
From the outset of the European war, the United States distanced itself with a policy of isolationism That would change in 1915 when Germany began a wholesale assault on western Europe, specifically France and Belgium, and used its Navy to block – and in some cases sink — merchant ships sailing from America to England. The British passenger ship Lusitania, with 128 Americans aboard, was dropped to the bottom of the Atlantic by a German U-boat.
So, America gradually found itself defending its allies . . . and itself. Germany pleaded with Mexico to join its cause in the global fight, and President Woodrow Wilson, who won re-election in 1916 by touting to keep America out of the war, was unable to keep America quiet any longer.
In April 1917, America entered the Great War, as it was called then.
And, Wilson summoned the help of America’s National Guard units to fight the German kaiser.
That’s when the call went out — via the Kansas National Guard headquarters in Topeka — to muster local troops into military service. In Montgomery County, five companies were created:
• Company A, 2nd Regiment, Kansas Infantry in Coffeyville,
• Company D, 3rd Regiment, Kansas Infantry in Caney,
• Company K, 2nd Regiment, Kansas Infantry in Independence,
• Kansas Engineer Train Company in Independence, and
• Troop D, 1st Squadron, Kansas Cavalry in Coffeyville.
And, local newspapers used their ink to foster patriotism as military companies sought to recruit local men for military service.
To quote the Caney Chronicle on May 4, 1917, “When an enemy loosens the dogs of war on a helpless people, when the sea runs red with the blood of innocent women and children as in the murder on the high seas of the Lusitania victims, when our own factories are blown up, when treaties of centuries are broken as scraps of paper, when ruthless warfare is waged and a hateful maniac on a Hun throne trods under foot all rights of humanity, then we are for war, not a war of aggression but a war of defense. We owe it to ourselves and to humanity and to posterity. Let us then be up and doing with a heart for any fate. Let it be written in history when the President issued his calls to arms, the youth and flower of Caney responded as the order came, ‘at once’ to the nation in its hour of peril.”
And, so the young men from Caney, Independence, Coffeyville, Cherryvale, Liberty, Niotaze, Havana, Elk City, Sedan, Dearing and Tyro took up arms to protect America’s borders.
However, they had little arms in which to defend themselves.
Because the five military companies were created from scratch, they had little to work with. When Company D began military training on an old baseball field west of the Santa Fe Railroad tracks west of Caney, many of the men used broom handles to simulate rifles. Company K in Independence trained at Riverside Park . . . but were minus uniforms or any training gear. They simply trained with the clothes they had on their backs the day they joined the Kansas National Guard.
But, little by little, the equipment and uniforms would arrive on the training grounds of Montgomery County — all while military officers made the rounds to promote the Kansas National Guard. Among the key players in the recruitment drive was a Caney lawyer, Capt. George H. Wark, who had been a member of the Kansas National Guard since 1909 and was an organizer of Caney’s Company D. Newspaper articles from the 1917 era show Wark traveling across Montgomery County to shore support from America’s involvement in the war. He appeared at community events in Sedan and Elk City, spoke to the old Civil War veterans at the Old Soldiers Reunion at Cherryvale’s Logan Park, and even presented status reports to his colleagues in the Kansas Senate, to which he was elected in 1916.
When the National Guard units in Kansas were federalized in August 1917, the local companies knew that war was imminent. After three months of training in Montgomery County, they boarded trains bound for Camp Doniphan (now called Fort Sill) in Oklahoma for further training.
But they didn’t leave without a grand parade in their honor.
On Aug. 26, 1917, the five National Guard companies in Montgomery County were treated to a huge parade and banquet in their honor in Independence. By some newspaper accounts, about 25,000 people gathered in Riverside Park to bid farewell to their soldier boys as they headed for advanced training.
“Sunday, August 26, 1917, will always stand out in the history of this county,” said a news account in the Independence Daily Reporter the next day. “It was a day consecrated by the people of this county to valor, patriotism and duty. There were no formal religious services, but it was intensely religious because it appeared to the purest purposes, the noblest of action, and the highest of ideals.”
The five companies marched from the Santa Fe Depot in Independence and through the downtown business district before arriving to a grand banquet at Riverside Park. Ironically, in the procession was a band comprised of German Lutherans from Montgomery County who played patriotic fanfare despite some of their ancestral families in Germany fighting on behalf of the Kaiser.
“It was a splendid thing for them to do, and it showed to the people that whatever may have been the sentiments of our German citizens when the contest was between the Fatherland and other European nations, at a time the war had no definite purpose, there was no doubt where they stood when the United States was drawn into the world contest,” the Reporter said in its report of the German Lutheran band.
The soldiers were treated to all of the luxuries of the day — boxes of fruit, soda pop, cigarettes and chewing gum — all of which were in short supply because of the nation’s sacrifice for the war. In fact, the Caney Bottling Works was on a rationed output as the federal government reduced the supply of sugar.
“A summer in Caney without the fizzling, fuzzling, guzzling pop will be like spending a summer vacation on the Sahara Desert,” the Caney Chronicle reported on June 21, 1917.
* * * *
Prior to the five companies departing for advanced training in early September, controversy arose concerning comments made by a school superintendent about the quality of soldiers. Caney school superintendent P.B. Humphrey was caught up in a scandal when he allegedly made derogatory comments about the Company D soldiers as they trained on a school ball field. Wark, the Caney lawyer-turned-military officer, sought permission from Humphrey to use the ball arena as a training ground. And, Humphrey replied, “We won’t entertain that bunch of roughnecks.”
When news of Humphrey’s comments spread through the Caney company and community, animosity rose against the school chief.
So, prior to their departure to Camp Doniphan, Humphrey was brought to the middle of the ball arena, where he had to face the eyes of more than 100 soldiers — the men whom he dubbed “roughnecks” — in a show of contrition.
Humphrey told the company, “Some remarks or words I was quoted as saying were not what I meant and have been grossly exaggerated. If I did make any undue remarks, they were made in the stress of excitement and did not reflect my true sentiments and I wish to express my regret and apologize.”
Local companies then boarded the trains bound for Camp Doniphan, Oklahoma, where the local men would be tested and tempered for warfare.
That ideal of a cohesive unit would be shot down upon their arrival in Oklahoma.
It was the intention of the Kansas National Guard to keep local companies together as much as possible, not only in training but also in battle.
However, when the five companies arrived in Camp Doniphan, the U.S. Army divided and merged the companies with other units from Missouri.
Company D lost its identity, and many of its members, when it was merged with a unit from Trenton, Mo. It became the 139th Infantry of the Missouri National Guard. Company K of Independence was merged with a unit from Garnett, Kan., and Company A from Coffeyville was melded into the 137th Infantry with units from Missouri.
The Kansas National Guard and Missouri National Guard collectively were part of the 35th Division, and the division’s insignia, the Santa Fe cross, would be sewn on the shoulders of each soldier from the two states as they trained in Oklahoma and prepared for war in Europe.
But, the division of the local companies left a sour taste in the mouths of soldiers. George H. Wark of Company D was reduced to the office of junior lieutenant before being transferred to the 129th Machine Gun Battalion based in Joplin, Mo., where he continued to serve as captain.
“Company D has been shot to pieces without a single bullet having been fired,” the Caney Chronicle reported in late September 1917 concerning the slicing and dicing of the local companies.
And, even though Uncle Sam would have his way with the preparation of the soldiers, news of the training would be slow to return back to Montgomery County.
Only one story appeared in each of the local newspapers in April 1918 concerning the troops’ departure from Oklahoma to New York. Under military censorship, details of the troops’ departure were limited. “Company D Boys On the War Over There,” said a headline in the Caney Chronicle on April 12, 1918, and the Independence Daily Reporter and Coffeyville Journal refused to divulge any of the details of the troop movements, fearing that the news would arouse citizens with German connections in Europe.
After about 11 months of training, the five local companies under new names and new command, arrived in Long Island, to board troop ships bound for Europe. It would be a long process of departure. It would take about two weeks for members of the 35th Division to assemble its equipment and troops before embarking on the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.
Sadly, many of the local troops who trained a Camp Doniphan arrived in New York sick to their stomachs. A cold, dreary spring in Oklahoma left many troops with influenza and severe colds. The crowded conditions at Camp Doniphan forced the soldiers to stay in tents rather than in barracks. And, Mother Nature’s wrath left an imprint on the physical conditions of many soldiers as they climbed the ladders and crammed themselves into the tiny compartments of troop ships.
And, once they pulled anchor and left the port in New York, the troops — some who had just been given their first set of khaki uniforms in Oklahoma and some had trained only with broom sticks and pappy sacks — would be separated only by an ocean, where a war-torn land would greet them once they reached the other shore.
Scrapbook, Verdun rock kept safe in Cherryvale home
CHERRYVALE — Bill Carinder doesn’t have to go far from the recliner in his Cherryvale home to find a piece of World War I.
Tucked away in a cabinet in his living room is a rock — small enough to fit in the palm of Bill’s hand — that was chiseled away from the ancient fortifications in Verdun, France, on Nov. 18, 1918 — one week after armistice was declared in the Great War.
That rock found its way from France to Montgomery County by Bill’s father, the late Joe Carinder, who was one of about 500 Montgomery County men who joined the Kansas National Guard and left for war in Europe 90 years ago this month.
Bill Carinder said his father rarely talked about his involvement in the war, only to say that the small piece of Verdun’s wall was a war souvenir that the elder Carinder and many other American “doughboys” brought home.
“It’s something that I’ve held on to for all these years,” said Bill Carinder about his father’s war souvenir.
Also kept in safe condition is a photo scrapbook that Joe Carinder kept during his military training in Caney (and later at Camp Doniphan in Oklahoma) and his tour of duty in Europe. The pictures — many of them no bigger than the width and length of an adult thumb — open up the realities confronting local troops. Among the pictures in the scrapbook are photographs of troops patienting awaiting their departure from Caney, the large crowd of well wishers who tearfully said goodbye to the troops as a train chugged away from the Santa Fe Depot, a picture of the steam ship that carried the troops from New York to England, and many photographs of French towns leveld by the force of modern warfare.
Also included is a photograph that shows a unique, behind-the-scenes look of military training. A young Army private is photographed giving Capt. George H. Wark, the Caney lawyer who organized Company D, an impromptu haircut in between training exercises.
“My dad maintained a close friendship with George Wark even until their elder years,” said Bill Carinder. “When my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, Mr. Wark came to Cherryvale to celebrate the event with them. Mr. Wark was quite a man whom my dad greatly respected.”
The opening page of the scrapbook is a picture of the young Josiah Granville Carinder when he was mustered into military service in 1917. The back of the photograph has a handwritten message, indicating that Joe Carinder trained with Company D in Caney but was later transferred to another company once the troops arrived for advanced training in Oklahoma.
However, the elder Carinder maintained his loyalty to the Caney-based company, as indicated by the Victory Medal he received from Caney citizens. Those medals were given to each member of Company D. The back of the medal reads, “You Offered Your Lives That We Might Live: Presented by Caney, Kansas, friends in grateful recognition of those volunteers who enlisted under Capt. George H. Wark. World War 1917-18.”
And, that medal, along with the yellowing photographs and a small chunk of rock from a French town, are priceless mementoes to a Cherryvale man whose father witnessed the war first hand.
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