by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Compared to the Civil War and World War II, the First World War, in which the United States played a decisive role in ending the conflict when it joined, in spring 1917, in the fight against Germany, is generally far less remembered. While at the time, America’s part in bringing the brutal four-year war to a close was a matter of immense patriotism at home and tremendous gratitude in Europe, particularly France, there were several factors that muted the future recognition of it in our history books and public observances.
One major one was that President Woodrow Wilson declared that it was to be “the war to end all wars” and aggressively promoted his League of Nations concept as a way to mediate disputes and prevent the onset of another world conflict. While the organization was established, it was without American membership, a shattering blow to Wilson who suffered a debilitating stroke during that time and was essentially rendered incapable of leading the executive branch during the remainder of his term. The League of Nations, lacking a very powerful nation to help propagate its goals and carry out its projects, was a fundamentally ineffective organization and the United Nations was formed after the Second World War.
Another key reason for the limited recognition of the war was the terrible influenza pandemic that ravaged the world in 1918 and 1919, killing tens of millions of people, including hundreds of thousands of Americans. The suffering of those who contracted the horrible virus had a major psychological and social effect, so that most people seemed more than eager to put the pandemic and the war behind them as they rushed headlong into the excitement of what is generally known as the Roaring Twenties.
In the immediate aftermath of the conflict, though, there were many ways for Americans to express their patriotism, in particular their gratitude to those who served their country and especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice in giving their lives. On this Memorial Day, this post features, from the Museum’s holdings, a 1919 publication from the Covina Argus newspaper, “The Upper San Gabriel Valley In The War,” which emphasized the efforts made in a half-dozen communities during the conflict.
We’ll save most of the discussion for Veterans Day in November, because that day was originally Armistice Day, to commemorate the conclusion of the war, and most of the contents of the pamphlet concern the “Historical War Record” compiled by those in Azusa, Baldwin Park, Charter Oak, Covina, Glendora and Puente at home and abroad. There were discussions of the call for troops, including selective service and enlistment; the quintet of highly successful Liberty Bond drives that paid for much of the immense costs for sending the American Expeditionary Force to France and other aspects of the war effort; food drives; the work of women in such entities as the American Red Cross; Christmas holiday packages for soldiers; the contributions of high school students and Boy Scouts; and others.
Sparse mention was made of the pandemic, though in the Puente section, there was a brief section subtitled “Fighting the ‘Flu’,” but it was more important to emphasize the positive efforts of the six communities, as noted above, but also including a platoon from Azusa, Covina, Glendora and Puente that was part of the 24th Company of the Coast Artillery; and the Vosburg family of Azusa and their contributions (not incidentally, Homestead owner Walter P. Temple’s brother, John, had several sons who were enlisted in the military during the war—an impressive record of great credit to that family.) In a few instances, individual soldiers from Covina were given special attention, as was a woman teacher who took a leave of absence to serve of a Y.M.C.A. “hut mother.”
At the rear of the publication is an “In Memoriam” section featuring seven local men who died in the course of duty during the conflict and this brief post focuses on them for the observance of this Memorial Day, a holiday which began in 1868 as Decoration Day so that those who died in service during the Civil War could be publicly remembered by the adornment of their final resting places. There were, however, local examples of this practice two years prior in towns in Georgia, Illinois, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Virginia, though, in 1966, it was officially declared that Waterloo, New York was the home of the first Memorial Day observance. Five years later, it was given official national holiday status.
While Memorial Day tends, for many people, to be a weekend of celebration with family and friends, as well as the unofficial start of summer with many schools completing the academic year by then, it should also be recalled that it was established as a day of remembrance and thanksgiving to soldiers who sacrificed their lives in the service of their country. Even though the eastern San Gabriel Valley, as a predominantly rural area of farms and orchards, was sparsely populated, the seven men who were featured in the publication were appropriately recognized for their sacrifice.
Lieutenant Carl Kohlmeier died in an accident while he was providing training to aviators in France on Independence Day 1918. His family were formerly owners of the Mountainview Ranch in Covina, though his parents moved to Los Angeles and resided just west of downtown, while a brother remained in Covina. It was noted that he enlisted in the ambulance corps of the A.E.F. and was trained at Allentown, Pennsylvania, but was able to secure a transfer to the aviation corps. He went through training at Princeton, New Jersey and it was noted that he “was breveted (promotion to a higher rank without a pay increase) on his splendid record. In fall 1917, he went to Europe and served a year, a month and two days before his death.
Milton Kanode, a native of Topeka, Kansas and a resident of Covina, was in Company F of the 361st Regiment of the 91st Division when he fell, on 5 October 1918, in the field of the battle during the terrible battle of the Argonne Forest (during the latter stages of this offensive, Joseph Kauffman, a long-time El Monte resident and brother of Walter P. Temple’s business manager, Milton Kauffman, died in action). It was stated that “the young soldier who so cheerfully gave his life for the betterment of mankind and for his country was well known and well-liked in Covina,” where he worked before enlisting and it was noted that he was engaged to Edith Hull of that city.
Frank J. Gard, a native of Fremont, Ohio, was a resident of Glendora and a graduate of Citrus Union High School, serving that town and Azusa. It was noted that he was a prominent athlete and continued this at Stanford University where “he was also one of the dominant figures on the field and track.” When America entered the war, he went to the Presidio at San Francisco and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. After training at Camp Lewis in Washington, where he was recognized for hitting ten straight bull’s-eyes with a rifle at a target 500 yards away, he shipped out to France and was “leading a platoon in the Battle of the Argonne [Forest]” when he was killed on 30 September 1918. The popular young soldier was lionized for his qualities and it was added,
His death on the battlefield both thrilled and saddened the people of the valley at the time, for it as felt that the whole community shared in this Supreme Sacrifice.
Theodore T. Kirk hailed from Owensboro, Kentucky and was raised on a farm and attended the state university, following this by a three-year stint teaching in the American-occupied Philippines. At the same time, he worked in the government engineering department as a draftsperson before returning home after eight months of travel through Asia and Europe. Landing at Washington, D.C., he enrolled at George Washington University and was also placed in the civil service.
In 1916, Kirk married Emma Hull, the sister of the aforementioned Edith, at the Hull family house in Covina, though the couple lived in Los Angeles. Retaining an interest in the military, Kirk and a friend founded an engineering company in the Angel City under a new federal militia law. He established a second military company of engineers in May 1917, this mobilized for the war at the armory at Exposition Park (now the Wallis Annenberg Building used by the California Science Center.)
After training at a camp near Arcadia where a balloon school operated and a short stint at Camp Fremont near Palo Alto and Stanford University, Kirk went to Camp Mills on Long Island in New York, where he was assigned to Company F of the 117th Regiment of Engineers in the 42nd Division. He arrived in Europe on 1 November 1917 and, because of his fluency in France was sent ahead to arrange for the billeting (lodging in non-military quarters) for his regiment. He went to the front in March 1918 and it was reported that he “was the first officer to accompany a raiding party into the German trenches.
After he was transferred to a new area of battle, Kirk wrote his wife on 8 July that “we are the shock troops of the American army.” About three weeks later, however, he was killed in action near Chateau Thierry, as he was on horseback reviewing the construction of roads for the camp. He thought he was camouflaged, but a high-capacity mortal shell hit under his horse and a piece of steel hit Kirk on the head, killing him, though no one else in his company was even injured. Sadly, he was to return home on the date of his death with a captain’s commission waiting for him for his work in training camps.
Harry M. Lockwood, who was the son of a couple residing in what became West Covina near the Baldwin Park border, enlisted in the A.E.F. in June 1917, serving in the 20th Company, 5th Regiment, 3rd Battalion of the Marines and was in one of the earliest American landings at France in March of the following year. On 27 July, he was reported as missing action following the battles of Belleau Wood and Chateau Thierry and it was unclear if he’d been captured by the Germans and made a prisoner of war. The Department of War eventually determined that he was killed in action and it was noted “it is probably that he is among the unknown dead that are buried on the great battlefields of France.”
Roy Brown, who worked in Covina, where he lived with an uncle there as well with family in Pomona, and other valley towns and whose parents resided in Kansas, was in some of the earliest fighting by American forces in France and “was mortally wounded in one of the first engagements, and died while being carried to the hospital.” This took place in July 1918 and those in Covina received the dreadful news on the 25th of the 22-year old soldier’s death. Also briefly reported was that Anna Taylor, who moved to Covina from England several years prior to the war, had two sons killed and one badly wounded while fighting for Great Britain, via England, Rhodesia, Canada. It was observed that she “twice underwent the supreme sacrifice” under the heading of “On Liberty’s Altar.”
As noted above, we will return to this publication on Veteran’s Day in November, so look for that post on the historical record of “The Upper San Gabriel Valley In The War.”