New at HCHM: A Soldier’s Trunk

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

Recently a gray-green metal metal trunk was donated to HCHM by the Hoffer family.

Soldier’s Trunk, ca, 1940. Belonged to Leonard Hoffer, 1941-1945. HCHM# 2017.9.1

On the top, in yellow paint the owner of the trunk was identified.

Leonard was born 31 March 1920.  Inducted into the U.S. Army in December 1941, only days before the Pearl Harbor attack.

“Notice of Selection” 7 November 1941. Document Courtesy Leonard Hoffer Family.

He went to basic training in Louisiana and received further training in the Mojave Desert in California. The trunk stored everything he needed while in the army.

Leonard Hoffer, ca. 1941. Photo Courtesy Leonard Hoffer Family

For a time he was a cook for the 143rd Signal Company.  His unit shipped overseas to southern England in preparation for the invasion of Normandy.  However, they did not land in France until about ten days after D-Day.

His unit was involved in various battles in France. He was part of the first American outfit to cross the border into Germany. Pushed back into Belgium, the unit was involved in the “Battle of the Bulge” in December 1944.  Leonard’s unit continued to be involved in various battles in Europe until the end of the war.

He was discharged from the Army in September 1945.

Leonard Hoffer, ca. 1941 Photo Courtesy Leonard Hoffer Family.

He died  20 March 1997.

Sources:

  • Document describing Leonard Hoffer’s time in the army provided by Gary Hoffer and Carol Hoffer, HCHM Artifact Files.

A Piece of History: ‘Dog Tags’ from the Great War

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

One of the smallest objects in the museum’s collection  consists of two small  aluminum discs on a cotton string. The object may be small, but  tell a big story.

Not used officially in the U.S. until December 1906, the Identification Tag, or ‘dog-tag’ was a small aluminum disc worn around a soldier’s neck and included name rank and “USA.” Initially, only one disc was worn, but in July 1916, a second disc was added. The purpose of the tags were to aid in identifying the dead after battle.

These small discs are very personal objects that soldiers wore at all times –  relaxing with friends or in the heat of battle.  The Identification Tags might also be the last connection a family would have with their loved one.

We have several ‘dog-tags’ from Harvey County men who were in France during the Great War.  Walter H. Deschner was one man.

Walter H. Deschner tags

Dog Tag with serial number.

Walter “Dash” H. Deschner was born January 9, 1895, the son of Charles and Orpha Fenter Deschner. He graduated from Newton High School May 21, 1916.  Deschner was working as a clerk when he enlisted on May 9, 1917 and went to Doniphan, Fort Sill, OK where he was with Co K 139th U.S. Infantry.

Before he left, his mother, Orpha, wrote on the front fly leaf of his Bible; “mother’s prayers will be often and many for you.

Walter H. Deschner, 1918

April 24, 1918  he left the US  on the Adriatic and roughly 40 days later arrived at Mellville, France. August 5, was his “first under fire”  experience in “No-Man’s Land in Vosgues Mountains.” On October 26 he was involved in the Argonne Drive.

Sad News

Evening Kansan Republican often reprinted “soldier mail” and in the October 21 issue the editor noted “there were many smiling faces that were soon overshadowed as word was noised about that three of the Newton boys . . . had fallen.

Frank Sheets wrote that he had been involved in the “big battle which had been raging for five days, and seeing Roy Barker *** lying dead beside the road.” 

Sheets went on to describe the conditions he experienced, noting “he was five days and nights without time to change his clothing and said that a cold rain fell much of the time.”

A Soldier’s Memories

These pages are from a Memory Book that Walter Deschner filled out highlighting his experiences while a part of the US Infantry.

Activities

 Friends and Places

On the Front

The same issue of the Evening Kansan Republican that had a letter from Sheets included one from Deschner.  He wrote that “he was back from the front safe and sound. . . . Leo Burgener was injured, but not seriously, but  Arthur Whitesell and Loren Finnell were both killed within 15 yards of him.” ***

Other battles he was involved in included Meuse-Argonne, and Verdun. He also noted the deathes of Whitesell and Finnell.

 

Return to Harvey County

Deschner returned home to Harvey County  May 8,  1919 and resumed his work as a clerk for the Santa Fe Railroad.  He worked for the Santa Fe for more than 25 years.

 He married twice. On December 24, 1920, he married Erma Marie Ragsdale.  Sadly, she died due to complications in child birth on  March 23, 1939. The infant girl also died. He remarried March 5, 1945 to Emma Billau. Deschner died August 28, 1948 survived by wife, Emma, brother, George, and a niece.

Notes:
***The report of Roy Barker’s death  turned out to be false, however both Arthur Whitesell and Loren Finnell were killed during the Meuse-Argonne drive. Both were from Harvey County.
Sources:
  • Walter H. Deschner Collection, HCHM Archives 98.1
    • “My Soldier” Scrapbook Walter H. Deschner Collection, HCHM Archives 98.1.9.
    • The Jayhawker in France: the Unofficial Organ of the 137th Infantry Sampigny, France  5 February 1919, Vol. 1 No.2.
    • “Pictorial Supplement Overseas Edition Camp Dodger” Published by 88th Division.
  • Evening Kansan Republican: 25 July 1917, 9 August 1917, 17 July 1918, 24 September 1918, 21 October 1918, 26 October 1918, 20 September 1920, 24 October 1921, 23 March 1939, 28 August 1948, 1 September 1948.
  • Greenwood Cemetery, “Deschner” at http://newton.harvey.ks.govern.com/cmquery.php?a=query&m=p&s2108479621=mlkflrefebslm1rt1iecken4v7
  • “Identifying the Dead:  a Short Study of the Identification Tags of 1914-1918” at  http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/the-great-war/great-war-on-land/weapons-equipment-uniform/1033-identifying-dead-short-study-identification-tags-1914-1918.html#sthash.bl6XUO0P.dpbs