The following is an article first written by Josephine Grammer Munson in 1988.
For those of us who can remember back some three-quarters of a century to World War I, a variety of thoughts come back. As small children, our memories are of excitement, activity, and a great sense of patriotist. Bob LaShelle remembered that the fire whistle was blown at Noon each day to call all to pray for the boys “over there.”
There were many popular songs which showed the spirit of the time, and flags were flown proudly. One of the songs which the children liked to sing was, “Kaiser Bill went up the hill to take a look at France.
“Kaiser Bill came down the hill with bullets in his pants.”
Junction City, a town of about 6,000 to 7,000 people in 1917, was suddenly bursting at the seams. Almost all homes took in roomers and buildings were going up like mushrooms Jobs became available for every able man and woman, and business in Junction City was booming.
On May 8, 1917, R.B. Fegan, founder of the Junction City Telephone Co., was given the contract to put up the telephone lines necessary for Camp Funston, and on May 14, the Roy Dalton Construction CO., another local firm, was hired to build the first twelve barracks at the new cantonment.
The decision to build a new bridge at the end of Grant Avenue was made on May 22, and the road was to be rocked from the bridge to the Fort Riley Pumping Station. Roy Carver could remember crossing the Republican River on a pontoon bridge during the construction of the new bridge. Grant Avenue was also paved with brick in 1918.
Congress called on all farmers to increase food production. As all men from 21-30 years old were subject to call-up, farm labor was difficult to find, and many times the farmers went to town and hired men who had “ridden the rails” to help with the harvest.
The Red Cross was busy from the early days. A special musicale and a dance were held on April 10 to raise money for sheets, pillow cases, bandage and gauze. The admission fee was 25 cents for the dance. First aid classes were started in May, and many women and girls were busy knitting mufflers, wristlets, socks and other garments to keep the boys warm. Geary County had a quota of $15,000 to raise, and the response was very good.
War Bond drives were important, and school children were encouraged to buy War Savings stamps, which were pasted into a booklet until they had enough to buy a bond. Since many people of German descent were living in the area, they found it difficult to have this country at war against their native land. If they were outspoken, or refused to buy bonds, their homes were sometimes marked with yellow paint. Some of the area churches used the German language in their services, but this was largely discontinued during the war.
Having been in Europe to help with relief work, Herbert Hoover was called back to the United States by President Wilson to become Federal Food Administrator in charge of rationing.
In a letter written in 1918, Lucy Pottorf of Riley said that they had signed the “Hoover Pledge” observing meatless days and using more cornmeal and graham flour. She said, “Andrew got an extra patriotic streak and made some biscuits out of shorts. They were good, too.” She remarked that they felt better with less meat. Mrs. William Cutter, who made her home with her daughters’ family, the G.W. Schmidts, said that they had chicken two or three times a week, and they had kraut and lots of potatoes and cabbage – no apples. Honey and molasses were used in place of sugar. Mrs. Pottorf wrote, “Country people can get along all right, but how in the world do the poor people in the cities live?”
Up until World War I, airplanes had not been put to much practical use, but all of this changed overnight. Fighter airplanes and bombers were built, and fliers trained as rapidly as possible. As children, we remember running outside to look whenever we heard a plane flying over. Some were frightened, thinking the Germans were coming. Grandma Cutter wrote, “Have I told you about the airplanes at Fort Riley and Funston? They fly over our house and barn every day – over Junction City to Salina all over. I believe I would rather be on the ground.”
With all the movement of people across the country, health care became very important. Many of the local doctors and dentists were classed into service, leaving a heavy load on the ones remaining. Dr. Crumbine of the State Board of Health set up rules for sanitation around Camp Funston and made inspections of milk, and drinking and soda fountains essential. All facilities had to be connected to proper sewers. Dr. Northrop was appointed to be the first County Health Officer.
Spinal meningitis became a serious problem in the fall of 1917, and Camp Funston was under quarantine with 60 cases. Earl Gormley, one of the first volunteers of Company C of Junction City, stationed at Fort Sill, Okla., became a victim of this disease and died December 19, 1917. He was the first man from Geary County to lose his life in service during World War I, and the local American Legion post was named in his honor.
A major epidemic of Spanish Influenza developed in 1918 and many soldiers and civilians died. Ed C. Sawtell, a local mortician, once said that there were so many deaths at Funston the bodies were stacked up like wood outside. Harold Deever has told that his uncle, who was at Funston, was thought to be dead and was placed outside in the rain. Apparently this lowered his temperature and he survived and lived to be over 80 years old.
Gaylord Munson remembers that Dr. L.R. King, who gave shots for flu – much ahead of his time – lined up everyone outside their home late one night and gave them flu shots. Apparently they helped, as none of them got the flu at that time.
Grandma Cutter wrote on November 7, 1918, “We have lots of influenza at Junction City – 23 cases. Monday I think they lifted the quarantine. I think it is almost too soon.”
A group of businessmen, who believed that a community house where soldiers could be entertained was essential, met at the Elk’s Club on the morning of June 14, 1917. Within five minutes, $3,200 was raised, and soon the amount was up to $8,000. The Elk’s Club owned lots across from the park, and they offered the use of those lots for the building. By June 21, plans were prepared by C.C. Turnbull, architect, for a frame building 50 feet wide and 140 feed deep to be used as a town hall, as well as for the soldiers. It was to be a large open room with toilets, wash stand, and lounging rooms with “every comfort for those who spend time there.” By June 25 the contract for construction of the building was awarded to Carl Stevenson. Just two weeks later, a committee was appointed to arrange for the opening program to be held on July 13, with everyone in the city, post an camp invited. It was reported in the Junction City Union that the 2,500 attended the opening program, and at least 5,000 were there during the weekend. This building became a great social center with dances, programs, and parties being held there regularly. School children in Junction City remember singing and taking part in these affairs.
Churches were active in arranging for food and entertainment for the soldiers to give them home-cooked meals as well as some social contacts. It was decided that one church in Junction City would have a meal each Thursday night, and a church in Manhattan would do likewise on each Saturday.
Since all men 21-30 years old were subject to the draft and had to register in May 1917, a local draft board was set up consisting of Dr. W.S. Yates, Roger Moon, and Sheriff Peter Koerner. All aliens were required to register on June 6.
When news of the signing of the Armistice ending World War I arrived in Junction City early in the morning of November 11, 1918, the first whistles blew, church bells rang, and there was much laughing, singing and cheering in the streets. The long awaited day had come. For many years, on Armistice Day, there was a parade down Washington Street in Junction City. All the school children could ride in big army trucks, which was an exciting experience for them. It was indeed a joyous time when “the boys came home again.”
KATIE GOERL is the Executive Director of the Geary County Historical Society in Junction City.