“The war that will end war.”

That’s what they called the Great War in its early days before anyone knew there would be an even bigger, even bloodier sequel barely a quarter century later. It is a quote that was credited to Woodrow Wilson, who was president of the United States for the entire duration of World War I, but the phrase actually came from the title of a 1914 book of essays from H. G. Wells.

By the end of April 1917, after the United States entered the war, more than 3,700 volunteers from Missouri had answered the call. By the war’s end, more than 48,000 Missourians had enlisted; another 108,000 were drafted by the Selected Service Act, which Congress passed on May 18, 1917.

A total of 116,515 American service members died in the war to end the war, according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Of these, 11,172 were Missourians.

The following stories commemorate the contributions of Missourians to the Great War, providing but a small glimpse into the sacrifices they made.

World War I Memorial Kansas City
Nine thousand artificial poppies have been placed under the Paul Sunderland Glass Bridge at the National World War I Museum and Memorial. Each poppy represents one thousand deaths to honor the nine million soldiers and civilians who perished as a result of the war.

The First and Last

Ironically, the first American officer and the last American soldier to die in World War I both had Missouri ties.

Lieutenant William T. Fitzsimons was born in Burlington, Kansas, in 1889 and graduated from the Kansas University School of Medicine in 1912. He spent a year in residence at St. Mary’s Hospital in Kansas City. From September 1914 until late in 1915, William treated the casualties of the early stages of the war in England and Belgium. He had accepted surgical and teaching positions back home when the United States declared war on Germany. The young doctor returned to Europe, serving with a medical group in France. On September 7, 1917, less than two weeks into his service, Dr. Fitzsimons died in a German air attack on his field hospital

He was the United States’ first recorded casualty of World War I.

The final casualty of the war is more difficult to ascertain. A cease-fire was ordered on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. But brutal fighting went on right up to the last minute. Lieutenant William H. Clark received a dispatch that a machine gun outpost attempting to recapture the French village of Bouxieres needed ammunition. Lieutenant Clark needed a volunteer.

Wayne Miner, a twenty-four-year-old soldier from Kansas City stepped up to the task. Wayne was a member of the Army’s 92nd Division, which consisted mostly of black American draftees. The son of former slaves, Wayne Miner was killed in action approximately three hours before the official end of the war.

Lieutenant William T. Fitzsimons
Lieutenant William T. Fitzsimons
Wayne Miner was possibly the last person killed in the conflict. Private Miner was killed in action approximately three hours before the cease-fire on November 11, 1918.

The Caissons Go Rolling Along

Missouri provided the primary source of transportation for ammunition and equipment in World War I. Melvin Bradley, in his book, The Missouri Mule: His Origins and Times, Volume 1 (the University of Missouri Extension, 1993), wrote that Germany had only four million horses and mules in 1914. England and France together were able to accumulate about six million. But the United States had twenty-five million animals to offer to the war effort.

More than 14,000 horses and mules with an estimated value of $2.5 million were sent from Springfield to Europe in 1916.

Members of the Signal Corps put a gas mask on a mule at Camp de Galbert, near Amphersbach, Alsace, Germany on August 31, 1918.
Caisson Song
Soldiers load a mule-drawn wagon with supplies. The use of mule-drawn caissons would make the 1908 Caisson Song a popular marching tune in World War I. In 1956, the lyric was officially changed to, “The Army goes rolling along…”

Courage Under Fire

Kansas City native John Lewis Barkley was one of five Missouri soldiers who received the Congressional Medal of Honor—the nation’s highest military award—for his heroic actions in World War I.

The official citation from the US War Department reads as follows:

“The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Private First Class John Lewis Barkley (ASN: 2214317), United States Army, for extraordinary heroism on 7 October 1918, while serving with Company K, 4th Infantry, 3d Division, in action at Cunel, France. Private First Class Barkley, who was stationed in an observation post half a kilometer from the German line, on his own initiative, repaired a captured enemy machine gun and mounted it in a disabled French tank near his post. Shortly afterward, when the enemy launched a counterattack against our forces, Private First Class Barkley got into the tank, waited under the hostile barrage until the enemy line was abreast of him, and then opened fire, completely breaking up the counterattack and killing and wounding a large number of the enemy. Five minutes later an enemy 77-millimeter gun opened fire on the tank point-blank. One shell struck the drive wheel of the tank, but this soldier nevertheless remained in the tank and after the barrage ceased broke up a second enemy counterattack, thereby enabling our forces to gain and hold Hill 25.”

Barkley described the action in a letter on display in the National World War I Museum:

“I fired my last round of ammunition from the machine gun but kept my automatic pistol for hand-to-hand fighting [and] plunged out of the tank with a sudden dash. I had three bullet marks on my clothes and a burnt legging string.”

Barkley survived the attack and became the state’s most decorated soldier of the conflict. In addition to the Medal of Honor, he received the British Distinguished Service Cross; the French Medaille Militaire; the French Croix de Guerre; the Belgian War Cross; the Italian War cross; and the Medal de Brauere of Montenegro. His memoir, No Hard Feelings, was originally published in 1930. It was republished in 2014 by the University Press of Kansas as Scarlet Fields: The Combat Memoir of a World War I Medal of Honor Hero.

John Lewis Barkley
This photo of John Lewis Barkley in uniform was taken at the Congressional Medal of Honor ceremony.
Barkley, here in a photo possibly from the 1920s, wrote a memoir of his experience, which was published in 1930.

Angel of Mercy

Excerpted from a letter written by Private Jack Horner to E. L. Hendricks, president of Normal School No. 2 in Warrensburg (now the University of Central Missouri):

“During the last drive, an Angel came out of Heaven as it were, and took care of the wounded. She was a Salvation Army woman coming out unto the very battlefields to administer to the Heroes of the Front. Never tiring, never fearing the dangers, never thinking of comforts, only for others, and almost never sleeping, she worked. To each man, she did the little things which only a mother would think of doing. She was a mother to all. For each man, there was a cheery story and a sweet smile. I know that she gave more than one man a better, more firm grip on life. Not with any medical aid but with that indefinite something that accomplishes more than any surgeon. One boy was heard to remark after the ‘Angel of Mercy’ had turned her back, ‘Gee! But her voice sounds like music.’ Music, indeed, is the sound of a real American woman’s voice. Then to hear it when you are wounded, well there has never been a composer that has reproduced anything similar to that  wonderful composition of God—a woman’s voice.”

A female Salvation Army volunteer provides comfort to an injured prisoner. Before the end of the war, nearly five hundred “Sallies” would be called into overseas service.
The sinking of the RMS Lusitania would serve as a catalyst for the United States’ entry into World War I.

Love Lost at Sea

In the early days of the conflict, Americans tried to avoid war in Europe—President Woodrow Wilson successfully campaigned for re-election in 1916 with the slogan, “He kept us out of war”—but a single event would so anger the country that the United States’ involvement would become inevitable.

On May 7, 1915, a German U-boat torpedoed the passenger ship RMS Lusitania with no warning, breaching international rules of warfare. Of the 1,962 passengers and crew on board, 128 were Americans.

Kansas Citians Theodore “Ted” Naish and his wife, Belle, were taking a belated honeymoon cruise on the Lusitania. When tragedy struck, Ted and Belle remained on the deck of the ship, assisting other passengers in the use of lifejackets as the ship sank beneath them. The rising waters swept the couple apart. Belle would survive. Ted’s body was never recovered.

Belle donated land in Edwardsville, Kansas, to the Boy Scouts. Camp Theodore Naish Boy Scout Reservation is still operated by the Heart of America Council, Boy Scouts of America as a recreational destination for Scouts in eastern Kansas and western Missouri.

Belle Naish meets with members of the Boy Scout Council Camping Committee at Camp Naish in the 1930s. The totem pole behind them was completed in 1932.
This is the only known photo of Theodore “Ted” Naish.

Missouri’s WWI General

John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing was commander of the American Expeditionary Force on the Western Front, insisting against opposition from the French and English that American troops would operate under American command. He was born on September 13, 1860, in Laclede.

Pershing’s home in Laclede has been preserved and visitors are invited to tour the nine-room Gothic-style house at Gen. John J. Pershing Boyhood Home State Historic Site. For more information, go to MoStateParks.com and choose Gen. John J. Pershing Boyhood Home State Historic Site.

General John Pershing
General John Pershing (left in photo) pins a medal on an unidentified officer.
The World War I Museum and Memorial is the nation’s only major memorial and museum dedicated to the Great War.

Step Back in Time

The National World War I Museum and Memorial are located in downtown Kansas City, overlooking Union Station and the KC skyline. Visitors can view exhibits of artifacts from the Great War, including the recently opened “Posters as Munitions, 1917” exhibition that displays how individual countries used artwork and slogans to convey messages about World War I. The museum is open from 10 AM to 5 PM Tuesday through Sunday, and daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Call 816-888-8100 or go to TheWorldWar.org for more information.