Pershing Wasn’t the Only Missourian

Depending on your country, yesterday was either Veterans Day, Armistice Day, or Remembrance Day.  These holidays originated as ways to honor the memory of those who died during World War I.  November 11 was chosen because that was the day the war’s armistice was signed (in the fifth hour) and the hostilities ended (in the eleventh hour).  In honor of these veterans, today’s post will look at a small segment of those who served.

In high school history, every student learns that John J. “Black Jack” Pershing led the American Expeditionary Force in World War I.  Pershing was born near Laclede, Missouri the year before the Civil War began (1860).  In 1882, he left Missouri to study at West Point. He would go on to serve our country in the Indian Wars and the Spanish-American War before leading the Mexican Expedition against Pancho Villa.  In 1917, Pershing would train and lead nearly two million young Americans into European battlefields.  An unknown number of these young men were fellow Missourians.

General John J. Pershing

General John J. Pershing; from the Library of Congress

One of these young Missourians was Frank Buckles, originally of Bethany, Missouri.  Buckles became famous for his role later in life.   The former Great War ambulance driver, who was stationed in France, passed away in 2011 at the age of 110.  Until his death, he was the only World War I survivor in the United States and one of two left worldwide (the last, Florence Green of Britain, passed away earlier this year).  Another young Missourian was the future president and then field artillery captain Harry S. Truman.

However, Pershing, Buckles, and Truman were not the majority.  Many Missouri soldiers never laid claim to fame, then or later.  They were common men struggling to survive in combat or serving in supportive roles.  For too long, these men have been forgotten to all but to their families and some dedicated researchers.  That is changing.  Several institutions, including the Missouri History Museum, The State Historical Society of Missouri, and The National World War I Museum, are beginning a digitization project that will document the lives of these men.

One individual to be documented is Royal Bauer of St. Louis, Missouri.  He served as a naval yeoman.  While he never saw combat, his diary tells the story of his training, the naval operations off the French coast, and the war’s aftermath, including the Spanish Flu epidemic.  In all, the diary covers nearly twenty-nine months; its last entry was from October, 1919.

Another is Ward Schrantz.  The native of Carthage, Missouri first served with Pershing during the campaign against Pancho Villa.  During World War I, Schrantz captained a machine gun battalion originally known as the Carthage Light Guard.  Schrantz and his unit served in the St. Mihiel offensive, saw service in the Muese-Argonne region, and concluded their service at Verdun.  In the interwar years, he worked at a journalist in Carthage.  He would again see service in World War II as a colonel in charge of troop transports.

Additionally, there were those who served in supportive roles.  George Creel, a muckraker, served as the chairman of the Committee on Public Information.  During his committee’s twenty-eight month lifespan, he worked to create and censor media, including posters, to educate Americans about the Great War.  Creel was born in Layffette County, Missouri in 1876 and wrote for two Kansas City newspapers during his career.

The stories of these men and others will soon be added to the Over There: Missouri and the Great War digitization project through their documents, photographs, and other media.  While the project’s digital library is not yet available, the plan is to have the material ready for the war’s centennial anniversary in 2014.  In the meantime, you can follow the project’s blog, Missouri Over There:  Exploring Missouri’s Role in WWI, or like their Facebook page to read the complete stories of the men I mentioned, learn interesting facts, and keep up-to-date with the project’s progress.  Additionally, if any member of the general public has photos or documents you would like added to the project , you can contact the project staff.  They just need to borrow and scan the items.

To conclude, I was delighted to be asked by a fellow former SHS intern to highlight this project.  I wish the staff much luck in completing the project and I look forward to perusing the finished project.

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