Reading corner inside a Y.M.C.A. hut at Camp Funston, 1914-1919. Courtesy of the Kansas State Historical Society, http://www.kansasmemory.org. Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply.

The Y.M.C.A. ran what they called “rest and recreational” programs in fifteen buildings at Camp Funston. This is one of the smaller structures, called a “hut.” Soldiers wrote letters at desks running along the walls, played board games, or caught up on the news. The “war articles” received special prominence, ingeniously held by clothespins, tied onto what looks like a pipe, and hung from the ceiling.

The welcome banner includes the Y.M.C.A. logo used during World War 1. The inverted red triangle, which originally carried the words spirit, body and mind on the three sides, was adopted in 1897 and used continuously by the Y.M.C.A. until 1967.

4-24-18 letter YMCA

Letter to Grandma, April 24, 1918. Grandpa rarely wrote on both sides of the paper, as encouraged, because the ink bled through the thin paper.

Soldiers received stationery, free of charge, at the Y.M.C.A. They could take the paper and envelopes back to the barracks, or write at one of the desks, as Grandpa apparently did that night, in the minutes before the hut was closed.

The Y.M.C.A. built larger structures at camp for concerts and lectures. The camp’s newspaper, Trench and Camp, often reported on Y.M.C.A. activities and attendance. Here’s the tally for February 1918, printed in the March 16 issue.

  • Estimated attendance at the 15 Y.M.C.A. buildings: 404,999
  • 60 lectures held: 30,888
  • 425 educational classes: 13,575
  • Books circulated: 10,225
  • Athletic events, participants: 20,242; spectators: 18,765
  • 173 religious meetings: 29,154
  • 117 entertainments held: 48,815
  • 109 motion pictures: 73,250
  • 358,795 letters written at Y huts

During wartime, it was no small task to book speakers, or to find and fund the supplies and equipment needed to keep the soldiers entertained. For example: dominos became scarce, as did checkers and checkerboards.

dominos cropped rev.

Trench and Camp, March 30, 1918. Courtesy Kansas State Historical Society.

This story struck close to home. I have a checkerboard my grandfather made, although I’m not sure when. He painted the grid on the back side of glass, and then glued a pad to form a base. I see it everyday, as it sits under my laptop.

Grandpa's checkerboard

I’ll end this post about the good work of the Y.M.C.A. with a nod to baseball, one of the athletic activities much loved at Camp Funston. This cartoon ran in Trench and Camp, in a group of cartoons titled “A Practical Little Game Called ‘Swat the Kaiser.'” Yes, that’s a Kaiser baseball. . . .

Baseball Kaiser cropped

Trench and Camp, May 18, 1918. Courtesy of the Kansas State Historical Society.


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



Murder! Bank Robbery! Suicide!


From the camp newspaper, Trench and Camp. Kansas State Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply.

A sensational crime on January 11, 1918, shattered the regular order at Camp Funston. I’ll let Grandpa start the story.

letter bank robbery 1-12-18

Grandpa’s letter to Grandma, January 12, 1918

bank letter, page 2

letter, page 2

The crime was reported in newspapers across the country. Most included these details. Captain Lewis R. Whisler, hoping to find a shipment of nearly half a million dollars, entered the bank that evening in January. He found five men inside, whom he initially tied up. After discovering the shipment had been delayed, he took what was there–around $65,000–and then attacked the men with an ax, killing four and injuring the fifth. Apparently, and many details remain sketchy, Whisler quietly resumed his regular duties. Soon after the crime, he overheard people saying the injured man had spoken with police and described the bank robber as someone “dressed as a captain.” When Whisler heard that, he took his own life, using his regulation army service rifle. He had pinned a suicide note to an unnamed woman, “I have been thinking of committing suicide for a long time,” the newspapers reported, “but have never had a good reason. Yesterday I went out and made myself a reason.” Whisler had divorced the year before the crime, leaving behind the ex-wife and a 14-year-old son.


Do Your Bit! Women on the Home Front



W. T. Benda, “You can help–American Red Cross,” 1918. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, WWI Posters, LC-USZC4-9645

The King City Chronicle announced in its September 14, 1917, issue that the national Red Cross had granted King City permission to form a local branch. The first meeting, to be held a week later, would show ways to “be better enabled to ‘Do Your Bit’ to aid in the great cause . . . for the rights of humanity and of nations.” Businesses were asked to close during the time of the meeting, between 2 and 3 pm.

King City wasn’t alone in setting up a Red Cross chapter. After President Wilson established the War Council for the American Red Cross in May 1917, the relief organization mounted an impressive campaign to win public support in raising money, volunteering, and producing items “for the benefit of soldiers.”

The campaign succeeded. Between 1914 and 1918, Red Cross chapters grew in number from 107 to 3,864, and membership swelled from 16,000 to over 20 million adults, plus an additional 11 million children in the Junior Red Cross.*

Within weeks of that September meeting in King City, residents had formed committees and started to work. The Military Relief Committee oversaw the kind of work my family did–knitting, making hospital supplies, comfort kits, and–here’s a surprise–“snipping.”  (My mind swerved over to “snippy” as I wondered why there was need to organize that activity.)  The Chronicle ran a special explanation.


King City Chronicle, October 19, 1917.

My family certainly “did their bit.” Grandma, her younger sister Mary, and their mother made over 200 garments, most of them sewn, for the Red Cross and other agencies, according to an account of my great-grandmother. Many of these pieces were bandages needed in hospitals, here and abroad, for injured soldiers. Just as my great-grandmother kept track of what they’d made, so did Red Cross chapters. On November 23, 1917, the Chronicle ran a first-page story, noting “King City Chapter has turned out more knitted garments than any other chapter in the County.”

Grandma parlor?

I imagine settings like this, in a farmhouse parlor, where women gathered to work on wartime projects. From our family collection of photographs, undated and women unidentified.

Down the road about nine miles, residents in Union Star (population 400, then and now) had also been busy knitting, sending articles to Camp Funston. Grandpa reported he didn’t receive any, as the captain thought him “rich.”

Union Start Red Cross rec

Letter to Grandma, January 4, 1918

In tiny Amity, Missouri, where Grandpa was born and about 100 people lived at the time of the war, residents sent fruit. On November 17, 1917, Grandpa wrote, “we Dekalb co boys got a barrel of pears from Amity.” The next day, while his group was under quarantine for illnesses, he reported they had made preserves with the pears, adding “the Livingston co boys got a barrel of canned fruit and we served it for dinner, was fine, several kinds of fruit.” Other delicacies from home included homemade candies and cakes.

The generosity of the folks back home often exceeded the needs of the soldiers. Trench and Camp, the weekly newspaper at Camp Funston, ran a column before Christmas, 1917, asking “thoughtful ones at home” not to send food in holiday boxes. “Men receiving foodstuffs nibble between meals; stomachs get upset, and where the sender of foodstuffs started out to be kind and thoughtful, they may be the cause of sending a loved one on ‘sick report.'” In short, the U.S. Army was serving enough food.

And those knitted articles being made at home? By the end of 1917, Trench and Camp reported that Camp Funston had distributed “35,999 sweaters, 25,737 pairs of socks, besides many helmets and wristlets.” And, by the end of March 1918, the growing supply of knitted articles, mostly from the Red Cross, led–as reported in Trench and Camp–to an order that required an inventory, a system of equitable distribution in accordance “with actual needs,” and a monitoring plan “to see to it that they are not sold or otherwise indiscriminately disposed of by enlisted men.” (As a knitter, I laughed and sighed at what I know is true: men don’t always like sweaters knitted with love. So, knitted hats off to the Army to control this behavior!)

Even as friends and families “did their bit” to keep up the spirits of their soldier boys, the hardships of training and war found their way home. There were personal costs. One showed up in letters Grandpa wrote his “dear girl” in early 1918.


*The Red Cross includes these statistics in their history of the Red Cross in World War One, at www.redcross.org/about-us/history.