World War I gave the world the “Uncle Sam Wants You” poster, the American Legion, Veterans Day and the poem about the poppies in Flanders Field
It also coincided with the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic and became known as the most terrible war the world had ever known, taking the lives of 16.5 million worldwide.
The Pacific history committee presented a special program Thursday, Nov. 29, at the Tri-County Senior Center which illustrated the war’s reach into the Pacific community.
Nine speakers described the war through the lives of Pacific men who served during the conflict, and the Pacific institutions that came as a result of that war.
Pauline Masson wrote and narrated the program.
Jeannie Bandermann, who provided some of the research for the presentation, paid tribute to her mother, the late Hilda Bandermann, who helped her establish a local veterans archive with the goal of documenting the service of all area veterans in all wars.
Bandermann introduced her latest veterans project, which is to help veterans and their families secure medals that were awarded to them but never delivered.
Linda Wells recalled the service of her grandfather George Wells, a World War I sailor. George’s daughters, Martha Wells Grah and Shirley Wells Bruns, accompanied their niece to the event. They brought along items that their father brought back from Europe, including a perfume bottle that once held French perfume, lace handkerchiefs and authentic wooden shoes from Holland.
The still pristine shoes with an intricate handtooled design were the work of one craftsman. Bruns said her father did not want the mass-produced wooden shoes that could be bought in the city so he drove out into the country to find a craftsman.
Society President Jeff Titter shared 10 letters that William Henry “Willie” Roemer wrote home from training camp and from Europe. Roemer was the first Pacific man drafted by lottery. Titter described Roemer as a patriot, whose letters were filled with love of country and his community.
Roemer was the only veteran in the presentation who did not have photographs. It turned out that two of Roemer’s nieces, Betty Roemer Amelotti and Carol Roemer Baker, brought pictures to the event.
Amelotti donated to the history committee a panoramic photo of Willie and his unit, Company C at Fort Riley, Kan.
Jesse Shoemaker talked about the 400,000 Missouri mules that helped Allied Forces move arms and equipment from battlefield to battlefield. Using research of his grandfather, mule expert Walter Schlemper, Shoemaker explained why mules were preferred over horses and trucks in the mud and rough terrain of battlefields.
Nellie Mueller and Mayor Steve Myers discussed the Close family that sent two men to the battlefield. Both Dr. John Pletcher and John Close survived the war and returned to play prominent roles in the community.
Pletcher was married to Blanch Close, John Close’s sister. The couple’s son, Kenneth, became a doctor and was later U.S. Air Force Surgeon General. John spent an entire career following World War I working for the Cotton Belt Railroad.
Angie Gross presented a firsthand look at fighting on the Western Front in the words of Capt. Joe Brennan, her husband’s cousin. Brennan, the uncle of the late Neal Brennan, described the horrors of war in a series of letters home.
Sorting through Neal Brennan’s papers, Gross found the letters, tied in a neat bundle, each one with a return address that said, “Somewhere in France.”
Neal’s father, Pearl Brennan, narrowly escaped being sent to join his brother in Europe. He was drafted and due to report for duty Thursday, Nov. 14, 1918. The armistice ending the war was signed Nov. 11, 1918.
On Tuesday, Nov. 12, Pearl Brennan received a postcard that read, “Call for Thursday is canceled.”
Bill McLaren said both of his grandfathers, Albert Howe and James P. McLaren, served in the war. Howe was in the Navy and McLaren was able to track his ship through its heyday to its final years as a floating repository for ammunition.
McLaren was a medic assigned to the Western Front, who was still tending to wounded men for months after the armistice was signed.
In the years following the war, when there weren’t enough jobs for all the returning veterans, James McLaren enlisted in the CCC. Although the CCC was primarily a single men’s organization, family men who had served in World War I were accepted, which is how the McLaren family came to Pacific.
James served in the family CCC Camp in Montauk and brought his family to Pacific when that camp was closed and the men moved here.
Masson noted that in the last salute to the Great War, as 13 military units escorted the caskets of World War I Supreme Commander, Gen. John Pershing, from the Capitol Rotunda to Arlington National Cemetery, among the marchers in the nation’s honor guard was her husband Bob Masson, a member of the 504th Airborne Infantry Regiment, which was designated the Nation’s Guard of Honor.
Michelle Bruns recounted the origin and life of the Veterans Monument at Second and Union streets, which the American Legion Auxiliary built in 1948 as an honor roll for the World War I and World War II military men and women.
The Auxiliary has maintained it since that time, including updates as more veterans who lost their lives in service to the country were added.
Bruns also brought the American reply to the famous World War I poem “In Flanders Field,” which is the origin of the World War I poppies that now apply to all veterans. She noted that auxiliary members recite both the original poem and the American reply every year on Veterans Day.
Local historian Sue Reed gave an overview of the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic that coincided with the last year of World War I and killed many more worldwide people than the war.
Pacific men were stationed at Ft. Riley Kansas in February and March 1918, which has been identified as the source of the great epidemic. Pacific men wrote home of colds and quarantines in camp, but all were healthy enough to be shipped to Europe a few months later.
Any veterans or family members interested in searching for medals or other awards that were not received can contact Bandermann at 314-960-4694 or email@example.com.