June 1 is National Donut Day!

donuts croppedIf you love donuts, and love free donuts, look for specials in your town this Friday, June 1 (2018). And remember my grandfather, who made donuts for the troops in World War 1–both at Camp Funston and in France. Remember the Salvation Army women, too, who bravely served along the front lines in France, serving up donuts and coffee to American soldiers who were exhausted and homesick for something familiar–like a donut.

Donut Girl cropped

Poster designed by J. Allen St. John, 1918(?). Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, WW1 Posters, [LC-USZC4-3172].

While you’re at it, remembering what deserves remembering, think about the Chicago chapter of the Salvation Army. In 1938, during the dark days of the Depression, when many Americans needed comfort and a helping hand, they started National Donut Day to raise money for their social programs. Here’s a link to their site, should you want to dig into the history of Donut Day as you dig into your free donut: https://centralusa.salvationarmy.org/metro/donutdayhistory

And for more reading, I really recommend this book, which refers to the donut story (and much more): Diane Winston, Red-Hot and Righteous: The Urban Religion of the Salvation Army.



Trainloads of Troops

The Army didn’t announce when the 89th Division would leave Camp Funston. But Grandpa understood the clues that signaled their transfer. No more passes home. No leaving the barracks during the day “or more than an hour at night,” to be ready to go at any time. And then there was the demand to cut hair, “the order is to cut it to an inch on top.”

Transfer, haircuts cropped

May 21, 1918 letter to Grandma.

The arrival of trains was perhaps the most obvious sign of the upcoming transfer. From his barracks, which lay in the center of camp, Grandpa must have heard the sound of the approaching trains—their horns blaring ever louder as they pulled into the station, clattering to a noisy stop. Maybe he walked over to watch what he called “most all the heavy stuff” being loaded. Maybe that’s when he took note of the empty passenger cars, the ones that would take the troops to New York, where they boarded ships for England, and later to France.

“There is at least one hundred fifty passenger cars on the switch down by the Depot,” he wrote on May 21.

I can picture my grandfather counting the cars. That’s what he and Grandma taught us to do when we were kids visiting them in Effingham, Kansas. The train tracks for the Missouri Pacific lay on an elevated bed just a block from their home. When we heard the distinctive sound of the train’s horn, low and melodious to my childhood ear, we would rush to the porch to count the number of cars on the long trains that, during the summer months, carried grain from western Kansas to mills in Kansas City. “Twenty, twenty-one,” we’d announce, then fifty-four and fifty-five, until, on a good day, we could shriek in delight, “One hundred cars, we saw one hundred cars!” I doubt our counting was that accurate, only that we knew that one hundred was a big number and the mark of a very long train.

Did Grandpa really have the leisure to count train cars that day in May 1918? I doubt it. But I’m sure he knew a big number meant a long train that would carry thousands of troops. In fact, in the same letter describing the clues of his departure, he answered a question Grandma had asked about the number of men at Funston.

Number in Division

Letter, May 21, 1918.


My California tribute.

Over this Memorial Day weekend, I’ll think of my grandfather setting off for war a hundred years ago. But I’ll also remember, as is the custom in my family, all the members of our family who have died. We decorate graves as a way of honoring them. I can picture my mother picking peonies from our garden, putting them in empty coffee cans filled with water, and handing them (complete with ants) to my brother, sister and me to hold on the long car ride to King City, where we set them out on the graves of my grandparents’ families. Grandma and Grandpa joined them, years later, in this peaceful place, and so has my father.

King City flags 2 cropped

Cemetery in King City, Missouri, photo taken last year by my brother.

No Way to Say Goodbye

“I received one of the biggest disappointments tonight that has occurred since I have been here,” Grandpa wrote Friday night, May 17. That’s when he learned there would be no more passes issued, no more trips home, no way to say goodbye to Grandma before he was sent overseas.

5-17-18, no passes, 1

Letter to Grandma, May 17, 1918, the first of four pages.

He ended with a reference to a letter from Grandma. “I sure got a good one from you, saying you were longing for the time when we could be together all the time. I sure am the same way and worse, as I think more about it every day.” He then rehashed the misunderstanding from his last trip home, and wrote about his regrets. “Nevertheless if it was to be done over I would . . . ”

5-17-18, no passes, 4 cropped

Letter, last page, May 17, 1918.

He continued to express this “maby never” fear in his next letter, writing on Saturday, May 18, “I want you to do just as you feel. I know you are for me and true as can be . . . but I don’t want you to stay too close. Go when you can and enjoy your self. And say to your self (I have a man someplace somewhere that is thinking about me) that is doing his duty.”

Reading these sentiments, a hundred years later, I’m saddened at the burden my grandfather carried, as he prepared for the uncertainties of battle. He could imagine never seeing Grandma again. He wanted to encourage her to enjoy herself, make the best of a situation neither of them had wanted, neither could control. Of course, he wasn’t alone in his dark musings.

One of his friends, a man named Wayne, “is sure worrying his head off about his wife and parents,” Grandpa wrote on Tuesday, May 21.

5-21-18 edited cropped

Letter May 21, 1918.

What was coming next was the transport of nearly 50,000 men from Camp Funston. Grandpa was one of them, “in that same box.”

Next post: Trainloads of Troops


Mother’s Day 1918

“Today was Mother’s day,” Grandpa wrote on May 12, 1918, “and we got the word that Gen. Pershing said for every boy in American army to write to his mother. I told the boys that I didn’t need much of such a suggestion as I hardly ever miss, and you as well.”

It’s true. Every day, almost without fail, Grandpa wrote to his mother and his “dear girl.”

Grandma Alderson

Grandpa’s mother, a woman we knew as Grandma Bean. This undated family photo was taken along a country road near King City or Stanberry, Missouri, probably around 1950.

I don’t have any memories of Grandpa’s mother, only that she had the name “Grandma Bean.” We tend to call all relatives who achieve grandparent status—regardless of the generations of separation—as Grandparent + last name. Bean was the name of her second husband.

Her given name was Viola Filer. She married her first husband, William Alderson, in 1888. She was 19, and he 41. They had three children–Ethel, Grandpa, and Marshall. She was widowed in 1930, and, in 1940, married Charley Bean, a farmer.

Recently, I asked my mother about Grandma Bean. She remembered that Grandpa helped build a small house for her on the north side of the park in King City.  “And I think she did laundry for others to make money to live on.  She often befriended Mary Jean if she needed something during her high school years, or so I understood.” Mary Jean was my father’s cousin.

I asked my sister, four years older, if she remembered Grandma Bean. No, not really, or perhaps: did she live in Stanberry? Mother answered that question. “We did visit her and Charley Bean at their small trailer home on a farm north of King City, and I think at a care home in Stanberry,” a little town nearby.

Grandpa’s family lived simply on farms in northwest Missouri. They were active in the Christian Church. Like many families in their communities, they willingly sent their sons to fight in World War 1. But they did so at a cost, losing young men who tended the fields and cared for the animals, which brought in critical family income. On Mother’s Day, the Army encouraged everyone to honor the sacrifice of the mothers, for whom this war was being fought, or so they argued . . .

Mother's Day T:C cropped

Trench and Camp, May 4, 1918, with permission of the Kansas State Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply.

When Grandma Bean died in 1958, I was only five. My mother recalled the funeral. “That may have been the first funeral that you attended.  It upset you to see your grandfather grieving.  But you were too young to understand.”

The obituary for Mrs. Viola Alderson Bean ran in the local paper, Tri-County News. They described her as a “devoted wife and mother and person of great industry, always busy when her health permitted.”

Worth remembering, on Mother’s Day in 1918, and today.

After We Are Gone

1-6 envelope, cropped 2

Letter to Grandma, January 6, 1918.

This letter, from January, captures the pervasive fear that settled over Camp Funston during the winter and spring months of 1918. Just when would the troops be sent overseas? And, what would happen–to Grandpa, his family and his dear girl, “after we are gone?”

The specifics of deployment were kept under wraps, understandably. But the unknowns of time and destination and assignments fueled rumors and contradictory information.

January 14, 1918

A French officer said in his speech at the Auditorium a few nights the war would last not longer than four more months.

Only a few days earlier, Grandpa had been asked if was ready to go.

January 11, 1918

The captain ask me today if I wanted to go to France. I told him I wanted to when Co. C went, but did not want to be transferred from this co.

What wasn’t said was clearly seen. In February, he described the departure of a large group, ending with a common refrain, “they say” . . .

Feb 26, carloads

Letter to Grandma, February 26, 1918.

Over the months, troops left, new recruits arrived, speakers filled auditoriums as they offered upbeat reports, or grim predictions about a war that might drag on for years. Training continued. But so did another part of camp life: leisure activities. In January, Camp Funston opened what they called an amusement zone, soon known as the “Zone.”

Zone T:C cropped

Trench and Camp, March 2, 1918, with permission of the Kansas State Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply.

Grandpa could walk a few blocks from his barracks to the Zone, which stretched nearly a quarter of a mile and offered a theater, movie house, pool hall, cafes, stores, banks, and wide sidewalks to amble along.

Trench and Camp reported that the architecture followed the “usual World’s fair style” and mimicked Broadway’s “Great White Way,” so named for the street lights that cast a white light in the evening. It was privately funded and, according to Trench and Camp, the Zone was “the only city ever built within an army camp.” (January 26 and March 30, 1918, issues)


There were other activities at camp, presumably to keep up morale and distract the soldiers from their mounting anxiety of what would happen “after we are gone.” Grandpa reported on a well-attended musical performance by the Shriners from Kansas City’s Ararat Temple on May 5. Their 50-piece band and 50-member chorus belted out patriotic and popular songs, concluding with George M. Cohan’s Over There, “Send the word, send the word over there, that the Yanks are coming,”

That was the goal, sending American soldiers over to win the war. But many of the soldiers Grandpa knew, dreaded the assignment.

February 10, 1918

Some of the boys, in fact most every one here, says they would take a discharge on anything. I tell them I don’t want to quit until it is over because I am no slacker. But every one knows that, don’t they, and I also tell the boys and the world when I come home I want to come home with honor.

slacker, cropped

Among his contemporaries, “slacker” referred to a man unwilling to serve. Where is the slacker? Look for a lonely man on his front porch. That’s not the man Grandpa wanted to be. From Trench and Camp, September 28, 1918, with permission of the Kansas State Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply.

Rumors of war and deployment and abstract notions of service and courage roared through camp like a dust storm across the Kansas prairie, exhausting the thousands of soldiers training at Funston. I think about this and how unsettling it must have been. But soon it would become real, the battles of war. And Grandpa admitted to Grandma that he was afraid. “I drempt that I was in a battle on the western front,” he wrote on April 23, “I was a little scared when I woke up.”

He was worried about his mother, too.

5-21-18, rosey

May 21, 1918.

Croquet and Chemical Warfare

Fearful and homesick, Grandpa wrote this letter a few weeks before his overseas deployment. I’m posting the entire letter, followed by a transcription.

Gas House 1Gas House 2, 3Gas House, 4

I’ve added punctuation in the transcription below. Grandpa often wrote without commas, periods, or capitalization. I’ve also corrected spelling and added a few notes.

April 30, 1918

My Dear, now Tuesday night. I have been out playing catch since supper. The evenings are awfully long when I have nothing to do. Would like to play croquet with you. We were out and tried the gas[s] this afternoon. We have been practicing with them [i.e. the masks] for three weeks so this afternoon they gave us the test. The gas house holds about a hundred at once and we went through three times. The second time we were fastened in with the doors shut five minutes and they say one minute would kill any man. So you know we were awfully careful that they [masks] didn’t come off. They also threw some gas bombs into the trenches to show us how it acted. The smoke and gas hold right to the bottom of the trench.

We are going to move in the next three weeks for France. 355 [an infantry, Grandpa’s group was the 356th] is fixing to go now and they say we will go soon and the Captain told the first Sergeant there would be no more passes issued, and the first Sergeant said we would go inside of ten days and I think so too. But I don’t want you to tell it for I am not going to tell the folks until after we are started and of course they will have to know it. I saw Clyde Black tonight. He was down after his mail. He is in the bunch that was sent to the detention camp [where new recruits were housed]. I sent some of our boys mail up to them by him.

Mother didn’t tell me about writing to you. What was it about. They sent me an affidavit for a farming furlough. I got it today, but the Captain said there wouldn’t be any issued at all so several of the boys were somewhat disappointed as they were looking for a furlough. But the late news has spoil it all. I got a letter from Marie Sawyer today. She was awfully funny. Poor girl, too bad she hasn’t got a beau. Well my Dear, I will quit for tonight.

Love & Kisses



The Last Trip Home


Train postcard

A postcard Grandpa sent earlier in the spring.

Grandpa’s last trip home ended badly, in a misunderstanding with Grandma. When he boarded the train to go back to camp, he knew he’d have some explaining to do.

This trip home, from April 6-14, had been organized by the Army. They sent nearly 30 soldiers to their homes in northwest Missouri to drum up support for the war. As the King City Chronicle noted, April 12, the “soldier boys” came with “their guns, tents and all camp equipment.” Big crowds gathered to marvel at “bayonet charges” and the speedy way the soldiers set up their tents.

The soldiers went, like a traveling show (seems to me), from one little town to the next, staging their exhibitions first at Maysville, then Osborn, Cameron, Union Star, and finally, on Saturday, in King City. At each location, patriotic speeches were offered, bands played familiar all-American tunes, and townspeople bought Liberty Bonds.

Bond ads

These ads ran in the April 12 King City Chronicle, the same issue that described the military drills. Both ads capture the point of view of this newspaper–that the war in Europe was fought to protect freedoms at home.

That Saturday in King City, on the 13th, the last day of the tour, Grandpa sat down at a dinner. I don’t know if Grandma attended, only that Grandpa was finishing up when his buddies told him to hurry up and join them. He looked for Grandma but couldn’t find her to say goodbye. First thing he did, back at Camp Funston, was start apologizing.

First apology, 2 cropped

April 14 letter, written at 9:30pm, after a long trip back to camp. As he often did when he was anxious or in a hurry, Grandpa used a pencil and messy, loopy handwriting.

The “lot of things to tell you” was explored in an unusually long letter he wrote the next day, across five pages. He opened with a note on guard duty, followed by an update on the weather, and then moved right into a reference to his sister Ethel . . .

4-15-18 apology, 1 cropped

April 15 letter

Maybe he’d done the wrong thing?? Who was this “lady?”

In the letters that followed, Grandpa never named her. He tried to explain that she needed a ride home to Clarksdale (south of King City), and that he (along with his buddies?) obliged. He also made it clear that she had taken a train from there to St. Joe, and he traveled the other direction, to Maysville, to catch the train back to camp.

The last time he mentions the episode was in a letter dated May 9.

Apology, 5-9-18, cropped rev.

May 19 letter

Grandpa was ready to move on, put this behind them. He argued, in an earlier letter, April 28, “I sometimes think that was a good thing in some ways. My people sure did hate it, but given things will happen in love or war and this was in both, so I guess that was the reason there was the trouble.”

How did Grandma feel? I wish I knew. I can only imagine the strain the war put on her, keeping up with a boyfriend who could, at any time, be sent to a war that might claim him. How did her family feel about the “lady” episode? There’s only one clue, and that’s the appearance of  Stanley Brown in their correspondence. He had been introduced to Grandma by her paternal aunt, Susie Dykes Frank, who lived east of them, in Madison, Missouri. Grandma wrote Grandpa that her “friend” Stanley Brown had been inducted and was training at Camp Funston. “I will try my best to entertain him,” Grandpa wrote back, “as I know he is nice fellow or you would [not] have had anything to do with him, course saying nothing about me, HaHa.” Their first meeting came, not in Kansas, but months later in a hospital in France, where both men were recuperating after the war. That’s when they shook hands and both pulled out pictures of Grandma.


An undated family picture of Grandma, about the time of the war.

Troubles in love or war. Grandpa got that part right.



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