Easter Sunday

Church was a big part of my grandparents’ lives. They often attended two services on Sunday, morning and evening, as well as other meetings and social events during the week held at church. Grandma played the piano and for more years than we can remember–maybe 60 or 70? Certainly a long time, since the first time she played at her church in King City was one Sunday in 1910.

I’m sure Grandpa enjoyed attending the Easter program at Funston as much as Grandma enjoyed hearing about it. Here’s what he described.

March 31, 1918

My Dear–I have just came from the big Easter program over at the north side of the Camp. It was some doings. There were several thousand out, and lots of people from nearby towns. There were eight bands. The big cross at the top of the hill and a large artillery gun on each side and at the sides there were eight flags carried on horses, also several large flags down from the Cross carried by foot. The main event was the speech by Lincoln McConnell which was real good. I suppose you remember of him being at the King City Chautauqua. He was introduced by General Winn.

The camp’s newspaper, Trench and Camp, provided additional details. The eight regimental bands included 300 members. The large cross was draped with the flag of Belgium, “typifying the sacrifice that country has made in the cause of democracy.” Dr. Lincoln McConnell of Atlanta, Georgia, was described as a “noted orator and has been making a tour of the training camps delivering his celebrated lecture.” Buglers called worship to order at 9am.

Grandpa enclosed a program in his letter to Grandma.

Easter program coverEaster program 1Easter program 2Easter program 3

It’s Time for Baseball!

Today, March 29, 2018, major league baseball opens its season. For the first time since 1968, all teams will open on the same day.*

A hundred years ago tomorrow, March 30, 1918, Grandpa attended the first of two MLB exhibition games at Camp Funston. The St. Louis Cardinals met the 89th Division’s team.

Funston Baseball Team

Among the talented members of Funston’s team was future hall-of-famer, Cubs pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander (standing right of the commander), 1918. Courtesy of the Kansas State Historical Society, kansasmemory.org. Copy and reuse restrictions apply.

March 30, 1918

There is a big ball game this afternoon and tomorrow afternoon. The 89th Division team plays the St. Louis Cardinals. I want to go, wish you were here to go with me. 

March 31, 1918

We have to go on guard at 4:30 this afternoon. I wanted to go to the ball game but I guess I will have to call it off. The game was real good yesterday, won by the 89th but I look for the Cardinals to take the game today.

He was right. The 89th Division took the first game, beating St. Louis, 9-8, in ten innings. The Cards won the second game, 13-10.

I love baseball and I love the picture of MLB teams playing at army camps during World War 1. Why did the MLB get involved in the war effort? Well, that story will unfold in upcoming posts. First, I want to share why I was so thrilled to find these mentions of baseball in my grandfather’s letters.

Grandpa showed me how to love baseball. I can see him in his living room in Effingham, Kansas. He’d sit near the south window and turn on the big wooden radio, which stood on a nearby end table. Once the radio clicked on, the announcer of the Kansas City Athletics began calling the game. That’s when Grandpa reminded me of the house rule: don’t say a word. If I wanted to listen to the game with him, I had to sit quietly and listen. And so I sat on the floor and did just that. Well, what I really did was look at him and study the interest on his face as he transformed the words of the announcer into a picture of the game. The crack of the bat sent his mind’s eye traveling with the gaze of the cheering fans, as they followed the ball over a distant fence. I fell in love with baseball at my grandfather’s knee.

Effingham living room

My grandparents in their living room in Effingham, Kansas. The radio I remember would have been on a table near the couch on the right. Family photo, 1960s.

Loving baseball comes with a price. It comes bundled up with hopes and disappointments. A big one came for my grandfather in October of 1967. That’s when Charlie Finley, who owned the K.C. Athletics, received permission to move the team to Oakland, California. The move broke my grandfather’s heart. Literally. Grandpa died a month later of heart disease. I was 15 when he died, too young to understand what had happened. But I’ve long believed that Charlie Finley’s decision to move the A’s killed my grandfather. I know there’s no reason to believe my own account of his death. But today, on opening day, on a day to remember all things baseball, I’m sticking to my story.

And those Oakland A’s, that team torn away from Kansas City? There’s a rule in my house: no watching, no talking about, no cheering on that team. Out of respect to my grandfather. Out of respect to the game he loved.


*For more on the two times MLB teams have all opened on same day: https://www.mlb.com/news/opening-day-2018-shares-distinction-with-1968/c-269707548

Crash Course in Combat Training

After being relieved of his cooking responsibilities, Grandpa started combat training. That meant marching, sometimes for miles, to a shooting range or mock battlefield in the Flint Hills near Camp Funston.

Soldiers Marching

Troops training at Camp Funston, 1917. From the collection of the Kansas State Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply.

March 1, 1918

This regiment had a sham battle this afternoon. I was among the dead. Sure some fun. I was glad they named me dead as I was out of wind.

His light-hearted account—some fun and being out of breath—surprised me. He was training for war, after all. But then, he couldn’t know what lay ahead, how real battle would change his life. And he wasn’t alone. The U.S. Army struggled to understand their role in raising and training an army to fight a type of war they’d never seen.

In 1920, shortly after the war, George English, a member of the 89th Division (Grandpa’s division) and later its historian, described the situation. “It was realized that the Great War had introduced new methods with which no one in America was familiar except by report. On the Western Front of Europe the Warfare and Position had superseded the open warfare to which our Army had been trained.” (George English, History of the 89th Division, 31-32)

By “position” he meant trench, and by “open” he meant a field where enemy combatants met, weapons drawn. Here’s why this distinction arose, according to English. “The war of position or trench warfare developed as a result of the improvement in fire power through the use of rapid-fire weapons, particularly the machine gun,” which, he said, had more than fifty times the fire power of the rifle—the weapon known to the U.S. Army. (English, 32)

Trench warfare, as practiced in the early years of the war, had led to a defensive stalemate, with both sides literally entrenched. It was General Pershing who argued for training American soldiers to be competent in both “position” and “open” warfare. He pictured Americans driving the enemy into defeat. Infantry soldiers like my grandfather largely proved him correct.*

At Camp Funston, Carpenter Hill (north of Fort Riley) was one of the practice fields provided for training. It covered an area, according to George English, “about a thousand yards square and comprised three lines of trenches with communicating trenches, dugouts, wire entanglements and machine gun emplacements.” (English, 35)

March 1, 1918 (continued)

We had crawled for quite a while, then had the order to make a rush so the run almost got my wind. So I got to rest quite a while then until the battle was over. 

It’s not clear from Grandpa’s letter, which practice battlefield his group used that day, and whether it included trenches. (Later letters specify trenches.) The order Grandpa described in this letter, “to make a rush,” was a skill similar to “going over the top,” the term used in France when soldiers rushed out of the trenches and faced the Germans in open warfare.

To build confidence for such a confrontation, shooting ranges were set up at Funston and instructors were brought in from Britain and France to demonstrate the weapons being used on the front, including machine guns, bayonets and grenades. One of the British instructors, Major G.W. Hall, caught the attention of the camp newspaper, Trench and Camp, March 30, 1918, which reported on his instruction. “The loud bark of machine guns pouring their deadly streams of lead into the hillside targets can be heard above the other sounds of activity about Camp Funston these days.” Grandpa noticed the same, “Sure some noise when about two hundred gets to shooting.”

Grandpa’s combat training only lasted ten weeks before he was sent overseas. The army had hoped for a six-month period of training, but didn’t have that luxury. The war wouldn’t wait. Before Grandpa left, he had yet another important training to complete: surviving a gas attack. More on that in April.

Marching camp funston 3-27-18

In March 1918, Grandpa began using stationery with scenes of army life.


* I found an interesting discussion of the pros and cons of trench versus open warfare in World War 1, and General Pershing’s opinion of them, in a master’s thesis by Roger Spickelmier for a degree from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 1987. It’s available to read online: http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a185226.pdf

To see pictures of the trenches, check out the Kansas Memory section of Kansas State Historical Society’s website. Search with keyword “Funston.” Here’s an example showing the Red Cross training with the troops: http://www.kansasmemory.org/item/308242/page/1



Changes at Camp

Late February, 1918, Grandpa wrote Grandma that he had quit the cooking job. He’d been one of four cooks for his Company “C” since mid-October. This job assignment as a cook had surprised me, when I first saw it in his letters. I’d never seen my grandfather in the kitchen, never known him to have any interest in cooking.

Grandma in the Kitchen

Grandma ruled the kitchen in Effingham, even with an injured wrist.

So, why was he chosen to be an Army cook? I haven’t found an answer. Maybe it was as simple as what Grandpa wrote the week after arriving at camp, “I and every one else is just like a horse, we will go just where they say.”

What happened, then, four months into the job, that led to his quitting?

Tuesday night, February 19*

I have quit the cooking job as the captain wanted me to take the barber job for all the time and I ask him quite a while ago to let me drill a while.

Seems the “quitting” was really a way of saying he was changing jobs. But which jobs? Cook and barber? For months, he had occasionally cut hair in the barracks. There were barber shops in nearby Army City, Manhattan and Junction City, but convenience and probably lower cost must have made Grandpa’s services attractive. When his captain, Captain Harris, sat down for haircuts, and a lieutenant, too, I’m guessing Grandpa had earned the kind of respect from his superiors that allowed him to freely discuss his job assignment.

Captain Harris wanted him to become the official Company “C” barber. Grandpa didn’t want that. Instead he wanted to drill, to prepare himself for combat in France.

The captain cut him a deal. He would keep Grandpa listed as Company cook, but would let him take a break from those duties to drill. He also shelved the idea of making him the official barber.

Tuesday night, February 19*

I will drill for a couple of months and go back to the kitchen, so I will have it all, Barber Cook and a Soldier.

I’ll describe the nature of those drills in coming posts. But here, I want to share what I’ve found in the letters that helps me picture my grandfather’s desire for combat training. It started when he watched the troops leave Camp Funston for overseas duty.

February 26, 1918

Feb 26 letter

The war had become real. Grandpa saw the trains leaving the Union Pacific depot, “all night and all day.” (The location of the depot appears in the panoramic map of the camp, linked in the February 23 post.) He ended the letter, musing on feeling lonesome.

Lonesome in war times

For weeks, Grandpa had seen troops disappear into the trains at camp. He would hear rumors on who would be going next, and where they were headed. He attended lectures with speakers who sometimes announced the war would end by summer, and others who painted a more ominous picture of the war lasting years. He found the same differing opinions in newspapers, the gist of which he shared in letters to Grandma. I sense his resolve to go, to fight, to be with his buddies hardened over the spring months. This may be why he wanted to drill.

All the while, Captain Harris checked in with my grandfather. In January he asked if he want to leave early and start his cooking assignment in France. No, Grandpa wanted to stay with his company. When Captain Harris told him that he’d keep him listed as the Company cook, Grandpa knew what this meant: a couple of months until he boarded one of those trains at the depot, a couple of months to learn how to be a combat-ready soldier.


*Sometimes Grandpa only wrote “Tuesday night” on a letter, without giving a date. I go by postmarks on envelopes to assign the date.



500 Doughnuts


donuts cropped

A plate of doughnuts today, distant cousins of what Grandpa made at camp.

On February 14, 1918, Grandpa was up at 3am, a typical start for an army cook. The temperature was below freezing, and chances are—it’s Kansas, after all—the winds were howling. On the schedule that day was battle training in the hills near camp. After he and his fellow cooks served breakfast in the mess hall, the men in Company C (around 150) set out on foot to drill. The cooks traveled with them, some walking the seven miles to the field, others riding in the wagon with the food and equipment. Grandpa’s job, that cold February day, was to provide dinner, the name used for the mid-day meal.

On the menu? Doughnuts. Five hundred doughnuts the cooks had made the day before.

Of all the details I found in my grandfather’s letters, this one about the doughnuts really caught my attention. Maybe because I grew up with doughnuts as a special treat, often on a Saturday morning with my father, I couldn’t imagine these sweet treats as soldier’s grub. I did a quick internet search to investigate doughnuts in World War 1. What I found was both fascinating and upsetting. Turns out, the story of the doughnuts stars Salvation Army women—young, smiling volunteers called Sallies (or Lassies)—serving the treats, along with a cup of coffee, to soldiers in France. (More on that when we land in France.)

What about Grandpa and those hundreds of doughnuts he and his fellow cooks made? And not just on that cold February day, but other times at Funston and on the battlefields of France? The only mention I found of army cooks and doughnuts was in the 1916 Manual for Army Cooks, which is available online (https://archive.org/details/manualforarmycoo1917unit). The Manual includes a recipe for crullers (synonymous with doughnuts in this manual). I’ve copied it below.

So, the army cooks knew about doughnuts long before the Salvation Army “Sallies” started making them in France. And, a bit unfairly I think, it is the Sallies who are remembered every year on National Donut Day, typically the first Friday in June. The Salvation Army established the event in 1938 to honor the service of these women during World War 1 (and to raise funds for Chicago’s poor). This year on National Donut Day, I’ll be remembering my grandfather’s service, too, as I enjoy a donut and a cup of coffee. Grandpa loved coffee.

What else did Grandpa and the Company C cooks serve for dinner that February day in the field? I’ll let him describe that “mess,” which starts at the bottom of the first page, “going to Smoky flat to drill.” For those of you still learning my grandfather’s handwriting, I’ve transcribed part of the letter below.


pages 1, 2

FEB 14-Doughnuts 2

pages 3, 4


pages 5, 6

From the middle section: “All of the boys, they are still going to Smoky flat to drill. They are taking special training. They sure do work them hard. Key Ring and I went out to get dinner and it was so awfully windy and dusty we had some time. Every time we opened any of the vesels [sic] it would almost blow full of dirt and we tried to make a wind break out of our shelter halves and it would blow down about as fast as we could put it up. The fire burned good but we didn’t get the beef on in time, so it didn’t hardly get done, but we served it. We had plates and everything to serve in style also a great dinner, but the plates blew full of dirt and just handed them out a sandwich, cup of coffee and we ran off about five hundred doughnuts yesterday so that was the lunch as we brought all the rest back. I came in on the wagon sure was a rough and dirty ride. We loaded the wagon up, then we thought we would ride the street car as far as Riley, and then was a car off the track about half way up so we had to get off and catch a wagon the rest of the way after all. The company came in about three o’clock . . . . They left the field just after we did. They are sure training [?] them also the cooks. . . . I will turn in early tonight, as I have some headache and my eyes hurt me.”

And here’s the recipe for the doughnuts from the 1916 Manual for Army Cooks, 236-7.

Item 549. Crullers, 1-pound mixture. Makes about 19 crullers.

Ingredients used:

2 ounces butter.

4 ounces sugar.

2 eggs.

1/16 ounce extract.

1 pound flour.

1/2 ounce baking powder.

1/4 pint water (good measure).

“Cream butter and sugar together and add the extract. Beat the eggs well and add them to the mixture. Thoroughly mix the baking powder with the flour and sift on top of mixture; then add the water and stir until smooth. Roll out the dough to a thickness of half an inch and cut with doughnut cutter. Fry to a golden brown in deep grease. Immediately upon their removal from the fat, place the crullers in a colander to drain, after which they may be rolled in granulated sugar or placed on a plate and dusted with powered sugar.

“The same rule applies to this as to other baking powder mixtures: to obtain good results handle as little as possible. The quantity of the liquid used depends upon the strength of the flour. Baking powder may be increased or decreased in this mixture according to its strength as determined by experience.”