“I Thought I’d be Souvenir Enough”

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

On November 11, 1918 the Great War was over. To remember Armistice Day, one hundred years later, this post will let the voices of those involved speak. All were involved in the final push to return Germany to the 1914 battlefields. The German army “could fight no more.”.

Below are excerpts from letters from Harvey County soldiers.  Portions of the letters sent to family were sometimes published in the newspaper. After the Armistice the censorship rules were relaxed and for the first time the soldiers could give details about their location and the battles they fought.   For many these were the first letters received after then end of the war.

Evening Kansan Republican, 27 December 1918, p. 4.

“I Thought I’d be Souvenir Enough”

 Walter DeschnerCo. K 139th Infantry, letter home published in Evening Kansan Republican 27 December 1918.

The armistice being signed kept us out of the fourth drive just sixteen hours, so you can see how glad we were when all the firing stopped at 11 o’clock, 11th day of the 11th month in the year of our Lord 1918.

Well, censorship has been lifted to a certain extend I will write you something about our last and dreadful drive . . . on the Argonne front. We started on September 26 and were relieved October 1. It was six days of what one can call h—.

The first day was not so hot, but after that we had some hard fighting.  It was the second day my school chum was killed.

We slept in the rain and mud and water and night, and was glad for such a place . . . artillery fire all the time . . ..Many a time shells hit so close to practically cover me with dirt.

When on the fifth day we saw the relief  coming over the hill, it was a grand and glorious feeling . . . we had not washed or shaved or had our shoes off for six days and nights, and dug many a hole for protection against the machine gun fire.

I got some gas . . . but soon got over it.  It affects ones eyes and lungs mostly.  I did not get any German souvenirs, for I did not have time; I thought I’d be souvenir enough.

Note: Deschner does not list the name of the chum, but it is likely that he is referring to  Loren Finnell. In a letter published on October 21, Deschner wrote”Arthur Whitesell and Loren Finnell were both killed with 15 yards of him.” 

“Now . . I will tell what I’ve done”

Fred W. Wolters, with Co. K. 139th Inf  noted in a letter dated November 21, 1918.

“Censorship rules have always been so strict that about all we could say was that we were well and still in the game.  Now . . I will tell what I’ve done. . .

We were at “Verdun in a section of the Argonne forest.  On September 25, we went up to the lines ready to go ‘over the top’ to take a hill that the Germans had held for four years. . . . On the third day we took the hill. . . .

The Germans were not expecting us to come up on top of the hill. We had been going for several days and nights and were all in, but we were not ready to give up.  In taking this hill we felt like new men and kept on going for two more days.  On the fifth day were were simply all in.  No sleep, rain most of the time and only very little food or water, and plenty of gas, shells and machine gun bullets.

On the 2nd of October we were back out of the lines and the sight of men was terrible.  Their clothes were nearly all torn off of them; they had a week’s growth of beard on the their faces and were mud from head to foot.  Out of 197 of our company that went up there were 83 wounded, about 19 killed and about 40 missing. 

The only boys from Newton killed were Lauren Finnell and Arthur Whitesell . . . both in the same class in high school that I was.”

“I will never bid her au revoir again.”

Harley N. Timmons wrote a letter to his mother and stepfather, Mr. & Mrs. DeWalt on November 24, 1918.

“Believe me when I clamp eyes on that Statue of Liberty this time I will never bid her au revoir again.”

Frank P. Timmons, Harley’s brother,  also involved in the last battle, reported that Harley had been wounded “the first day of our five days’ the battle in the Argonne. . . . I don’t know just how he is getting along . . . he was not wounded seriously.”

“Due to Luck, or God, I don’t Know Just Which”

Ben F. Ficken,  Co. B. 110 Eng US Base Hospital No 1, wrote to his father in Burrton on November 24, 1918 describing the last battle. He reported arriving at the front  and resting until . . .

“I woke up under the most terrific barrage that I have ever heard. It was the American guns sending their message to Fritz, and the roar was so intense that it seemed that the whole world ought to rock to and fro. . . . screaming their death songs over our heads  . . .it seemed that a thousand giants with gigantic whips in their hands were lashing the heavens with diabolical fury and intensity. . . .

Evening Kansan Republican, 28 December 1918

When the fog lifted and we were spotted by the German artillery.  Oh, Lord! how they did give it to us.  The shells rained around us like hail and how we ever came out of that was simply due to luck, or God, I don’t know just which.

About 10:30 or 11 a.m. I ran into a gas shell that had just exploded and got my frame full of phosgene gas, and I don’t remember much about what happened except that I was pretty sick and in until I got to the hospital  . . .”

“We Saw Our First Horrors of War” 

Leo L. Burgener Co. K 139th US Infantry

“We started at 7 p.m. on Sept 25 arriving at the heavy artillery about 4 a. m. on the 26th. . . .  The 138th Inf went over at 6:35 a.m. and we followed them up.   It was so smoky that you could not see 50 feet in front of you before the sun came up and perfect h—- of noise.  About 8 we crossed what early that morning had been the German trenches . . .  About 4:45 we crossed , or started to cross a big open field and here’s where we saw our first horrors of war . . . “

“The Grave of Your Loved One is No. 34”

Evening Kansan Republican, 26 December 1918.

Not all the letters came from soldiers. John P. Jockinsen, chaplain 613 Trains and Military Police wrote to Mrs. L. Phares, “concerning the death and funeral of  James E. Taylor, who met death while serving with the colors overseas.”  The letter was dated October 12, 1918.

“From somewhere in France . . .  to the Nearest Relatives and Friends of James Taylor . . . as chaplain who had charge of the funeral service of the one whom you love and now mourn, and who saw him shortly before his death, it is possible that a letter from will be of some comfort to you. . . The doctors and nurses did everything in their power to save his life, but the disease that gripped him was too strong . .. We held the little funeral service from the field hospital today. . . .The grave of your loved on is No. 34. It is carefully marked with a cross at the head, on which we have painted his name, rank, organization, date of his death and serial number which is No. 3298374. . .”

James Taylor was one of five Harvey County men that died from complications related to the Influenza overseas.

Below is a link to the sound of the end of WW 1

A recording of when the guns stopped on November 11, 1918 at 11 o’clock.


  • Evening Kansan Republican: 26 December 1918, 27 December 1918, 28 December 1918.
  • https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/10-significant-battles-of-the-first-world-war


Mud of the Trenches: the 4th Liberty Bond Train

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

Throughout the fall of 1918, Harvey County was focused on the war effort in France.  The purchase of Liberty Bonds was one way to show support for war efforts at home.

Liberty Bond Booth, Fall 1918. Intersection of 6th & Main, Newton, Ks. (Kansas State Bank in the background)

“Crowds Expected to Gather”

To kick off the 4th Liberty Loan Bond drive, a train with a war exhibit stopped in Newton on Saturday morning, September 28, 1918. Across the nation, kick-off events were held to encourage the purchase of Liberty Bonds. As part of the promotion, twenty-four trains traveled from town to town reaching four towns each day.  On board, were “speakers and salesmen”  who received “subscriptions . . . as they moved place to place.”

In the days prior to the trains arrival,  the newspaper editor assured the public that there would “be ample space for the crowds expected to gather.”

“Mud of the Trenches”

On Saturday morning, the train under the guard of  three squads from Co F National Guard arrived and parked at east 6th. The train consisted of two flat cars, one box car and a Pullman.  Items on display were “all newly captured” at the front including German howitzers and siege guns. Together the objects “show . . . what our men are going through over at the front.” Many of the objects were captured during a battle at Hoboken on September 12, 1918 and arrived in Newton “with mud of the trenches adhering to their wheels.”

Wounded soldiers recently returned from the trenches in France also accompanied the train.



Evening Kansan Republican, 28 September 1918, p. 3.

The occasion was also marked with a parade of the Newton drum corps under that direction of Paul Hubner.

After completing the tour, “the war material, guns, bombs, were returned to France “to be used in the war on the Hun.” 

The editor of the Evening Kansan Republican noted:

“Perhaps no one thing could be picked out as of special interest, but it was all a display that brought the people into a feeling of closer proximity to the actual fighting.”

List of objects in the War Exhibit

Evening Kansan Republican, 28 September 1918.

4th Liberty Loan Drive

The week following was devoted to “education, publicity, and preparation.” Sunday, October 6 was declared “Liberty Loan Sunday” and subscriptions to the loan would take place October 7 through October 12. The quota for Harvey County was $688,000,000.

Newton Journal, 27 September 1918

The following week, October 14-19, was “devoted to cleaning up unfinished work and looking after slackers.”

A new button was created.  Earlier buttons had a metal base with a celluloid cover with a lithograph design.  Buttons for the 4th Liberty Loan did not have the celluloid due to expense and “the fact that it is needed for making explosives.” The design was lithographed on the metal at nearly half the cost. More than 30,000,000 buttons were ordered.

4th Liberty Loan Pin, 09/1918 HCHM # 91.19.53

“Over the Top”

The Saturday, October 19 Evening Kansan Republican reported that “Harvey County is nicely over the top in the Fourth Liberty Loan drive.”

Evening Kansan Republican, 19 October 1918.


Click the link below to watch President Wilson leading the 4th Liberty Loan Parade in September 27, 1918 at Pennsylvania Railroad Station, New York.



  • Evening Kansan Republican, 26 September 1918, 28 September 1918, 19 October 1918.
  • Newton Journal 27 September 1918.

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.


 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.

***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.
  • 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