What is Behind the Name? Finnell & Whitesell VFW Post #971

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

In Flanders Fields” poem by Lt Col John McCrae.

Today, with all of the ways to communicate across the globe, it is hard to remember a time when news of a loved one overseas came weeks later and was often incomplete.

Sad News in Soldier Letters

The news first came in letters.

“Sunday was ‘soldier mail’day and there were many smiling faces that were soon overshadowed as the word was noised about that three of the Newton boys, Roy Barker, Arthur Whitesell and Loren Finnell had fallen.” -Waive Kline to Glenn Wacker, October 18, 1918.

Evening Kansan Republican, October 1918. Clipping in letter to Glenn Wacker dated 18 October 1918

Roy Barker was not among the fatalities.

In a letter dated October 1918, Walter Deschner, who was involved in the big battle of Meuse-Argonne, wrote:

 “I am 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 me.” 

Page from Walter Deschner’s Soldier’s Memory Book, 1918, noting the deaths of Whitesell & Finnell. HCHM Archives.

He also remembered the two men in his Soldier’s Memory Book after his return to Harvey County.

Eventually, official word came to Harvey County.

“A Gloom Spread Over the Entire Community.”

“When the truth of the sad news was forced upon the neighborhood that Lauren Finnell had made the supreme sacrifice, a gloom spread of the entire community.”

“In Flanders Field”

The Battle of Meuse-Argonne, which began 26 September 1918claimed two Harvey County men who were members of Newton’s Company K, 139th Infantry.

On  September 27, 1918, the second day of the battle of the Argonne Forest, Lauren J. Finnell was seriously wounded by a high explosive shell.  His friend,  Arthur P. Whitesell , on duty with the intelligence department, remained to assist him to the dressing station.  A second high explosive shell came ending the lives of both Newton men.

Lauren J. Finnell graduated from Newton High School in 1916 and described as a “general favorite among both old and young.”.  He also completed one year at Bethel College, North Newton, and was employed with the Santa Fe Railroad. He enlisted in Co. K, 3rd Kansas National Guards on May 21, 1917.

Loren J. Finnell, 1918.

Arthur P. Whitesell, was born in 1898 in Iowa.  His family came to Newton in 1909 and he graduated from Newton High School in 1916.  He worked in the civil engineering department of the Santa Fe Railroad until he was mustered into the army on August 5, 1917.

Arthur P. Whitesell, 1918.

“He sleeps where the poppies bloom near Charpentry, France”

Both men were given a military burial near Charpentry, France by the army chaplain. A number of years later, their bodies were shipped back to Kansas arriving on September 18, 1921. The newspaper editor noted that “both boys were returned to Kansas soil almost three years after being killed in France.” The two friends in life share a final resting site in Greenwood Cemetery, Newton, Kansas.

Photo by Jullian Wall, Greenwood Cemetery Newton, Harvey County, Kansas, USA
PLOT Add. 2, Bk. 7, Lt 16.

In 1922, VFW Post #971 was named  Whitesell & Finnell Post VFW for the two men that died “in Flanders fields.”

Evening Kansan Republican, 22 August 1922.

Sources:

  • “My Soldier” Scrapbook Walter H. Deschner Collection, HCHM Archives 98.1.9.
  • Kline, Waive to Glenn Wacker, October 1918.  Waive and Glenn Wacker Collection, HCHM Archives.
  • Evening Kansan Republican: 20 July 1918, 12 October 1918, 8 November 1918, 10 December 1918, 24 August 1921, 12 September 1921, 16 September 1921, 22 August 1922.

“With Deepest Sympathy:” Lt. Loy A. Hege

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

During the Great War, chemical weapons were used on both sides. The French were the first to use gas grenades of xylyl bromide against the Germans in August 1914. In October 1914, Germans used a gas that caused violent sneezing fits, but it was not fatal. Chlorine, a poisonous gas, was introduced to the war in April 1915 during the Second Battle of Ypres by the Germans.  Mustard gas was developed by the Germans and in use by September 1917.  This gas was a nearly colorless, odorless gas that caused internal and external blisters.  Soldiers in the trenches were always on the look out  for an attack and the army provided them with gas masks for protection.

The wearer of the mask breathed entirely through his mouth, his nose pinched shut by a clamp attached to the mask.  The wearer had to hold their breath 6 seconds while the mask was adjusted.  With only four breathes a soldier could inhale enough poison gas to kill.

The bag containing the gas mask and respirator was a constant companion of the soldier and there are several in the collection at HCHM.  In a letter home dated October 4, 1918, Lt Harold M. Glover wrote: “It is my opinion that the gas is the most horrible part of the whole business.”

 

 

Loy A. Hege, a Harvey County native, died as a result of inhaling gas during battle  in France in August 1918. Hege was born near Halstead, Ks.October 2, 1893 to Mr. & Mrs. G.A. Hege.   As a young man, he  moved to Emporia and graduated from Emporia High School in 1912. He continued his education at Emporia College and received his B.S. Degree from the Kansas State Normal in 1916. He then taught at Abilene High School, Abilene, Ks.  He met  Jane J. Lewis and they were married at her home on 506 Market in Emporia.  Hege completed officer’s training in August 1917 and was a  2nd Lt, Co. A, 355 Infantry.

A Letter Returned

His family in Harvey County kept in contact with him during the war. Sadly, one letter was returned to his Aunt Kate, after his death in France.

Envelope of letter returned to family of Loy A. Hege.

 

Letter from Kate, Halstead, Ks to Lt. Loy A. Hege, 25 August 1918, copy of original.

“With Deepest Sympathy”

Lt. John Richards  had the difficult task of writing to Hege’s relatives in Kansas.

“It is with deepest sympathy that I write you of the death of Loy Hege, a noble and ever-inspiring officer, a true friend and a pal to all.”

Richards goes on to describe what happened to cause Hege’s death.

“The position occupied by our Company was opened on with shrapnel and gas shells the night of August 7th and he was severely gassed.  He was taken to the hospital about 6:30 am where nurses and doctors did all in their power for him, but to no avail.  He died on the afternoon of August 15th.  He realized the day before his death that he was to go and his last thoughts were of home and home folks.”

Lt Hege was buried in the military cemetery north of Toul, France, grave number 191.

Twenty-six days later his wife gave birth to his daughter.

His body was returned to Emporia, Ks on July 22, 1921. A funeral was held at the home of his widow at 5th and Market in Emporia on July 25, 1921. He was buried at Maplewood Cemetery, Emporia, Ks.

Sources:

  • Letter from Kate, Halstead, Ks to Lt. Loy A. Hege, 25 August 1918, copy of original. Original in possession of Hege Family.
  • Evening Kansan Republican: 10 September 1918.
  • Hodge, Robert, Find A Grave, Lieut Loy A. Hege,#42193268

 

 

 

“The 4th Gold Star:” William Savage

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

“This makes the fourth gold star to be placed on the high school service flag, and we all hope the last.” (Evening Kansan Republican, 4 December 1918, p. 5)

The United States entered the Great War on April 6, 1917, by the summer of 1918 young men from Harvey County were drafted into the army.  As a first step, they went to training camps before being sent to France. With communication slow, letters from soldiers were often shared in the newspaper by their families.

The Savage family had two sons far from home. Mrs. M.S. Savage shared the news from her two sons, Melvin and William, in the Evening Kansan Republican  in the fall of 1918. Thirty year old, Melvin was stationed at a Camp in Texas for training.  In his letter dated November 15, 1918, he spoke “highly of the canteen service which was appreciated by the soldiers . . . without which the boys would often go unfed.”

On November 25, 1918 Mrs. M.S. Savage received word from her son Will. He reported he had completed training at the Great Lakes Training School and  “that he will have an opportunity to go overseas and will likely be on transport duty.” Sadly, he did not make the journey overseas.

“Very Sad News”

A neighbor to the Savage family, Waive Kline wrote to her fiance, Glenn Wacker in France of the sad news in December.

“Savages rec’d some very sad news Monday. Will was drowned on Monday. He was at Norfolk, Va and seems as if they were getting ready to sail. Some of the boys had been scuffling on deck and had broken the railing . . . Will came along and not knowing this he leaned against the railing and it gave way with him and he fell in . . . .They have never found the body.
-Waive to Glenn, Dec.5, 1918

“His Prospects Were Bright”

Born in Downs, Ill, 31 December 1895, William Savage came to Harvey County, Kansas with his family in 1906. They purchased a farm in Macon Township. Three years later,  his father died. At that time, William and his older brother Melvin formed a partnership and farmed together. A 1913 graduate of Newton High, William enlisted as a second class seaman in May 1918.

William Savage, 1913.

“Loses Life in Service”

William was an instructor at the rifle range at Camp Logan near the Great Lakes naval training station.  In November 1918, he was sent to Norfolk navy yards.  While aboard the United States steamer Clio, several other men got into a tussle and a bar at the gateway loosened.  Later, when Savage leaned against the bar, it gave way and he fell overboard.  Efforts to rescue him failed. His body was never found and“the sands of the ocean form his resting place.”  An investigation revealed that his death was caused by “the unsafe condition of the vessel.” 

Evening Kansan Republican, 3 December 1918.

The Mt Pleasant News for Dec. 6, 1918 reported;

In every home where the Savage family is known, sadness and gloom have been present since it became known that Will, the youngest son of the family, had met his death at Norfolk, Va., by drowning. Particulars of the accident are very meager. His brother, Thomas, left for that place Tuesday with the hope that the body may have been recovered. . . .The mother and brothers have the sympathy of all at this time of awful sorrow.”
Newton Evening Kansan Republican, Dec. 6, 1918

News of his death was particularly hard to bear as it came less than a month after peace had been declared on November 11, 1918.

“His death in so tragic a manner, coming as it has at a time when hearts have been gladdened by the joyous anticipations of the return of their loved ones in government service is particularly sad.”

Since William was a 1913 graduate of Newton High, a fourth star was placed on the school service flag. The editor of the  Evening Kansan Rwepublican noted: “This makes the fourth gold star to be placed on the high school service flag, and we all hope the last.” (Evening Kansan Republican, 4 December 1918, p. 5)

Pneumonia claimed Melvin J. Savage” 

The Savage family endured additional sorrow  several weeks later when a second son died.  The Newton Evening Kansan Republican  reported on Dec. 16, 1918  that “a series of tragic events combine to make this a peculiarly sad death.”  Thirty year old Private Melvin J. Savage was training with the 681st aerial squadron at Kelly Field, Texas, when he received the news of the death of his  brother Will.  On the trip home “to comfort his mother who was griefstricken,”  Melvin contracted a severe cold that developed into pneumonia.  He passed away at Axtell Hospital, in Newton on Dec 15, 1918. He was buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery.

Parade, 1919, World War 1 Soldiers, Main, Newton, Ks

In a ceremony in 1919, the Savage brothers, along with other soldiers from Harvey County, were remembered. In addition to a brief biographical sketch  of those that lost their lives, the complete roster of all Harvey County soldiers  was included in the May 19, 1919 issue of the  Evening Kansan Republican.

For more information 1918 Flu Pandemic.

Sources

  • Evening Kansan Republican: 15 November 1918, 25 November 1918, 3 December 1918, 4 December 1918, 7 December 1918, 11 December 1918, 12 December 1918, 14 December 1918, 16 December 1918, 17 December 1918, 18 December 1918, 19 December 1918, 17 January 1919, 19 May 1919.
  • Waive Kline, Harvey County, Ks,  to Glenn Wacker, France, 5 December 1918.  Glenn & Waive Kline Wacker Collection, HCHM Archives, Newton, Ks.