Born in 1928, Andrew Boehmer of Rich Fountain was little more than a year old when his mother unexpectedly passed away, leaving their father with six children to raise. Difficult years would follow as the Stock Market Crash of 1929 brought about a lean time known as the Great Depression and farmers in Osage County joined scores of their counterparts nationwide struggling to extract a living from their land.
The youngest of six children, Boehmer grew up to witness his three older brothers depart for military service because of World War II—one of whom, Stephen, died in 1944 after drowning off the coast of Italy while serving with the U.S. Army.
“As I understand it, my father was basically raised on the farm by his older sister, Catherine,” said Gene, the oldest of Boehmer’s children.
His son further explained that little information exists regarding his father’s early years and his subsequent military service because of a fire decades ago that destroyed many of the family records and mementos. Like his siblings, Boehmer attended Freeburg High School. The young farmhand also followed in the footsteps of his older brothers when he traveled to the courthouse in Linn, Missouri, on March 15, 1946—his eighteenth birthday—to register with his local draft board as required by the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940.
He returned briefly to his work in “self employed farming,” as noted on his draft registration card, while his older brother Sylvester remained in the Navy until April 1946 followed by his brother Louis, who did not receive his discharge from the Army until October 1946. The call to service that had come for his three older brothers arrived for the youngest Boehmer on July 5, 1946, when he was drafted into the U.S. Army at Scott Field, Illinois—a U.S. Army Air Corps training site that became Scott Air Force Base on January 13, 1948.
“By the onset of World War II, Scott Field was well on its way to earning the title of Communications University of the Army Air Forces and adopted the slogan, ‘The best damn radio operators in the world,’” according to a fact sheet available on the official website of Scott Air Force Base.
An article appearing in the September 19, 2018 edition of the Belleville News-Democrat (Belleville, Illinois), reported that by the close of World War II, “Scott Field Radio School had produced an astonishing 77,370 radio operators/mechanics for the war effort, including Allied nations, such as France, China, the Netherlands, and several Latin American nations.”
For several weeks, Boehmer remained at Scott Field to complete communications training and went on to earn the designation as a “Message Center Clerk.” In early October 1946, after only three months in the U.S. Army, he was sent to the West Coast to board a troop ship bound for service overseas. Arriving in Japan on November 4, 1946, he was assigned to the 25th Signal Company under the 25th Infantry Division. Following the example of his older brother Louis, who had served as a military policeman in Japan months earlier, Boehmer became a soldier in the Army of Occupation.
The 25th Infantry Division had participated in a number of bloody battles of World War II including campaigns in the Central Pacific, Northern Solomons, Guadalcanal and the Philippine island of Luzon. The division was sent to Japan in October 1945, a year prior to Boehmer’s arrival. At the time of Boehmer’s arrival, the 25th Signal Company was located in the Japanese city of Osaka—an area that “had suffered several bombing damages, but a number of large, modern buildings remained,” which were secured for use by the occupational forces, noted the book The 25th Division and World War 2.
Throughout the next several months, Boehmer and the soldiers of the 25th Signal Company provided communication support to the military organizations under the command of the 25th Infantry Division scattered across Japan. In early October 1947, after spending a year overseas, a 19-year-old Boehmer received orders to return to the United States. Receiving his discharge as a technician fifth grade (tech corporal) at Fort Lawton, Washington, on October 29, 1947, he returned to Rich Fountain, married and became father to six children.
“He lived in Freeburg for awhile and had a shop where he did mechanic and body work,” said Boehmer’s oldest son, Gene. “We later moved to Jefferson City and he worked a number of years for McKay Buick.”
As Gene recalled, his father was later employed as part of a crew that traveled throughout the United States painting bridges but in the early 1960s, he moved to the state of California to perform bodywork at a Buick dealership. He eventually settled in Iowa, where he passed on August 31, 1977, when only 49 years old. His body was returned to Missouri and interred in the Sacred Heart Cemetery in Rich Fountain.
In the years since his passing, his son has come to realize that the fire that consumed many important records was a contributing factor to little information remaining of his father’s military experience.
“I don’t know anything about what he did while he was in the service and my siblings don’t know either,” Gene Boehmer said. “He never talked about his Army service while we were growing up, and because of the fire and his death at such a young age, he was never able to give us any insight about what he experienced. It’s a relief to know that we can learn a little bit about him through other sources,” he added.
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
‘He never talked about it’ - Osage County veteran served with occupational forces in Japan after WWII
Louis Boehmer was not yet three years old when his mother passed away in 1929. Years later, he joined his three brothers and two sisters in helping their father work the family farm near Rich Fountain, watching as one of his older brothers, Stephen, was drafted into the U.S. Army, later deploying overseas and writing home about his experiences in Italy.
On January 17, 1944, an 18-year-old Boehmer traveled to the courthouse in Linn, Missouri, to register for the draft. Nine days later, his older brother drowned off the coast of Italy after the military vessel he was aboard hit a mine. The family had little time to mourn his loss since Sylvester—Louis’ other older brother—received his draft notice in December 1944 and went on to serve in Guam with the U.S. Navy.
“In papers that I have,” said Betty Dickneite, one of Louis Boehmer’s daughters, “it indicates that our father was scheduled to report for his pre-induction military physical at the Linn County Courthouse on January 4, 1945.”
While his older brother continued to serve in the U.S. Navy, Louis Boehmer was inducted into the U.S. Army at Jefferson Barracks on April 19, 1945, leaving only one of the four Boehmer brothers, Andrew, back home.
Betty Dickneite went on to explain, “My father was first sent to Camp Livingston in Louisiana, where he completed his basic infantry training followed by the instruction to become a military policeman with Company A, 140th Battalion of the 35th Regiment.”
Named in honor of Chancellor Robert R. Livingston, the individual who negotiated the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Camp Livingston became an infantry replacement training center during World War II and was the site of training for more than 500,000 troops on its sprawling 47,000 acres.
Spending a little more than five months at the Louisiana post, World War II ended approximately a month before Boehmer received orders to deploy to Japan to serve as a military policeman with the occupational forces. Shortly after his arrival overseas in late October 1945, he was assigned to the 237th Military Police Battalion.
As an article from the National World War II Museum explained, “The military occupation of Japan by the Allied Powers lasted from 1945-1952. Supposedly a joint occupation by international powers, it was primarily carried out by U.S. forces under the command of General Douglas MacArthur.”
During this transitional and uncertain post-war period, a strong military presence was maintained while trials were conducted for Japanese leaders of the war followed by the demolition of factories that had produced weapons and munitions for the war effort.
“Documents in my father’s military records show that he served for six months in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater,” said Bonnie Higdon, another of the veteran’s daughters. “They also note that part of his duties were patrolling roads and assisting in enforcing military rules and regulations governing traffic and military personnel.”
His daughter went on to explain that their father was also responsible for performing a host of additional law enforcement activities including assisting the civilian police in maintaining order, apprehending law breakers and receiving and escorting prisoners to their places of confinement.
While in Japan, Boehmer’s father fell ill and the soldier was unable to return home prior to his passing from colon cancer on February 5, 1946. However, he was eventually transferred back to the United States in mid-March 1946 but had to remain in the Army until receiving his discharge at Ft. Riley, Kansas, on October 23, 1946. By the time he received his discharge from the Army, Boehmer’s older brother, Sylvester, was already out of the Navy but their youngest brother, Andrew, had received his draft notice and was inducted into the U.S. Army in July 1946.
“He and my mother, Marie Elizabeth Haller, were married in February 1948,” said Betty Dickneite, when speaking about her father. “I’m sure they knew one another before the war because they didn’t grow up too far apart.”
In the years following his overseas service, Boehmer and his wife settled in Freeburg and went on to raise three daughters. He was later employed by Quaker Windows & Doors, becoming a foreman for the company. Sadly, the 50-year-old veteran died from a massive heart attack on August 11, 1976 and was laid to rest in Holy Family Cemetery in Freeburg.
Betty Dickneite explained that although her father was hesitant to share many details about the time he spent with the U.S. Army in post-war Japan, he remained proud of his military police service and, like many veterans, maintained a collection of mementos to remind him of those experiences.
“He was a member of the American Legion and my mom was a member of the auxiliary,” said Dickneite. “Although he never talked about it—it just wasn’t something he discussed around the house—he had pictures from his Army days hanging on the front wall of the living room.” She added, “We didn’t fully realize how important it was to him until years later when we decided to do a little redecorating and took the pictures off the wall and put them in the box in the shed.” With somber pause, she concluded, “Although he never said anything to us about it, we could sense how much that collection of military items meant to him.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
The years prior to World War II extracted a heavy price on the Boehmer family as they toiled to maintain a farm near the community of Rich Fountain. Sylvester Boehmer, one of six children, mourned the loss of his mother who passed when he was only ten years old and was later only able to finish the fifth grade since he was needed to help his father work their farm.
Tragedy again struck in January 1944 when Sylvester’s younger brother, Stephen, drowned after the vessel he was aboard struck a mine and sunk off the coast of Italy while he was serving with the U.S. Army. This loss remained fresh in the family’s thoughts when Sylvester received his draft notice months later and was assigned to the military branch whose primary mission was on the seas that had taken his brother’s life.
“My father entered active service with the U.S. Navy on December 6, 1944,” explained Mary Kay Hager, one of Sylvester Boehmer’s two children. “He entered the service from St. Louis,” she added.
The 25-year-old recruit was sent to the U.S. Naval Training Center at Great Lakes, Illinois, spending the next several weeks undergoing the basic training requirements to earn the revered title of “sailor.” He was then sent to Camp Peary, Virginia, which at the time was surging with recruits who would serve in naval construction battalions known as “Seabees.” Shortly after his arrival on the East Coast, documents maintained by Boehmer’s family indicate his temporary transfer to the West Coast and subsequent orders that would lead to an overseas deployment.
“We know some of what was going on from letters my father wrote home during the war,” Mary Kay Hager said. “He wasn’t engaged to my mother, Alvina Pope, at the time, but he would write to her and also to his father and sisters.”
In a written summary, Sylvester’s son, Stephen (named in honor of his uncle who died at sea in WWII), noted that on April 2, 1945, his father wrote from San Bruno, California and “talk(ed) about being a guard for a WAVES barracks, bank and post office.” He added, “In his May 22, 1945 letter, he says he is ‘somewhere in the Pacific.’”
Correspondence received by family the following month established that Boehmer was assigned to Naval Supply Depot 926 on the island of Guam. According to an article on the Naval History and Heritage Command website, Guam had to be “captured from the enemy and cleared of debris before construction could begin.”
In his book Guam 1941 & 1944: Loss and Reconquest, Gordon L. Rottman explains, “The seizure of Guam in December 1941 was one of the Imperial Japanese armed forces’ first victories in the Pacific War…. The July 1944 battle followed on the heels of the American assault on Saipan and the Battle of the Philippines Sea, which advanced the U.S. forces into the heart of Japan’s pre-war territories.”
As the book related, Guam was considered a critical military objective and the subsequent supply depot built there became one of fifteen scattered throughout the Pacific during the war. Additionally, it was “capable of supporting one-third of the Pacific fleet” and possessed “the replenishment storage necessary to restock every type of vessel with fuel, ammunition, and consumable supplies...”
“We remember (Sylvester) telling us that he served in Guam on a small shuttle boat that helped transfer supplies from the larger ships in the harbor to the unloading facilities located on shore,” recalled his daughter, Mary Kay Hager.
Boehmer wrote to his family on September 15, 1945, approximately two weeks following the surrender of Japan aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. He said that he had what his fellow sailors referred to as “the best job on the island of Guam,” learning to operate small boats under the guidance of the “Cox” (coxswain)—the sailor in charge of the craft. He would again write in January 3, 1946, advising he was still stationed on the island but looked forward to returning home. Less than a month later, his sister wrote a letter to the War Department pleading for Boehmer to be released from service since their father, Frank, was very ill and hospitalized.
Although there were four brothers in the family, Stephen had died in the service in early 1944 and Louis was stationed in Japan with the U.S. Army, which left only their youngest brother, Andrew, to assist with the farm responsibilities.
Sadly, their father passed away from colon cancer on February 5, 1946 and Sylvester did not receive his discharge until April 23, 1946. Less than three months after Sylvester’s return home, Andrew was drafted into the service and Louis did not receive his discharge from the Army until October 1946.
“The letters my father wrote back to my mother have been lost,” Mary Kay Hager sadly noted. “But it wasn’t long after he was discharged that they were married … on June 15, 1946.”
In addition to becoming the father to two children, Boehmer eventually moved his family to Jefferson City. He later became a mechanic and worked a number of years at the former McKay Buick, from which he retired. An active member of the American Legion and VFW, he passed away July 20, 2000 and was laid to rest in Resurrection Cemetery.
“My father and his siblings had a rough upbringing in losing their mother, the death of a brother in the service and then their father, but I know that he was quite proud of his service,” said Mary Kay Hager. “I can remember he saved his uniform and had a display made for his medals.” She added, “And even though he never spoke about his service much to me, I think it is an interesting story of four brothers who had to serve and a family that was greatly impacted by war.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
The 1960s were a tumultuous period for U.S. naval forces embroiled in intelligence-gathering operations during the Cold War. Dangers abounded for Navy personnel that included tragedies such as the USS Thresher—a nuclear-powered attack submarine lost on a sea trial because of an electrical system malfunction, claiming the lives of 129 sailors and civilians. Such catastrophes did not appear to influence the decision of one aspiring Missouri sailor, who, despite any perceived hazards in pursuing such a calling, forged ahead to become an officer and entered the submarine forces.
Growing up in Jefferson City in the 1950s, Laughton Smith assumed the reflection of many young children of the era. He attended a local Presbyterian church and actively participated in the Boy Scouts, helping conduct classes in boating during summer camps.
“‘Laughton,’" being a rather high-sounding name for such a natural guy, gave way to ‘Smeed’ early in Smeed's grade school years,” noted a brief bio for Smith in the 1965 edition of The Lucky Bag—the yearbook for the United States Naval Academy. The yearbook went on to explain, “Laughton has always had a winning personality, with a bright smile and heartwarming enthusiasm.”
Graduating Jefferson City High School in 1960, Smith hoped to attend the U.S. Naval Academy; however, fellow classmate Jim Ayers—the principal nominee—was selected. In the interim, Smith attended classes at the University of Missouri-Columbia, until early summer of 1961, when he received his own appointment to the academy.
“There were several of us from Jefferson City who graduated around 1960 and ended up going to a military academy,” said Ayers, childhood friend of Smith. “Laughton and I went to the Naval Academy while a classmate of ours, Robert Davenport, went to the Air Force Academy and was lost in Vietnam” He added, “Joe Hemmel from Helias also went to the Air Force Academy a year ahead of us and was lost in 1967.”
Additionally, William Hentges, a 1959 graduate of Helias High School, went on to receive his commission and graduate from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1963.
In 1965, Smith graduated from the Naval Academy and went on serve as a lieutenant junior grade at Groton, Connecticut. On April 8, 1967, the young sailor embarked upon yet another great adventure of his life when marrying the former Jane Victoria Graham at the Immanuel Episcopal Church in Wilmington, Delaware, the bride’s hometown.
“We were only a grade apart at the academy so I saw him often,” said Ayers. “We both ended up assigned to nuclear submarines during our naval careers.”
The April 9, 1967, edition of the Sunday News and Tribune reported that Smith “will report in late April to the nuclear submarine ‘Scorpion’ which is home ported in Norfolk, Va.” The article also explained that following their honeymoon in Vermont, the couple would reside in Norfolk.
The USS Scorpion was a 3,500-ton nuclear attack submarine and although “the Navy had always portrayed the 252-foot-long sub as a gleaming showpiece,” it was long overdue for an overhaul, as noted in the book “Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage.” The authors also wrote, “(T)he crew had taken to calling her the ‘USS Scrap Iron’” because of mechanical issues such as “oil leaks in the hydraulic systems and seawater seeping in through the propeller shaft seals.”
During the early months of 1968, the “Scorpion was one of only four of the Atlantic Fleet’s submarines that was still waiting to be refitted with … safety features” that were identified following the loss of another nuclear submarine, the USS Thresher, nearly five years earlier. Despite not having these safety upgrades completed, the U.S. Navy continued to have the submarine perform Cold War missions.
On May 27, 1968, the U.S. Navy conveyed that the USS Scorpion was missing and that they had last radioed their position six days earlier. The June 6, 1968, edition of the Charlotte News (Charlotte, North Carolina) reported, “At that time … the sub was 365 miles south-southwest of the Azores, approaching the pinnacles and gulfs of an underwater mountain range.”
The May 29, 1968 edition of the Jefferson City Post-Tribune reported that Laughton Smith, who was serving as the submarine’s communications officer, had written his sister weeks earlier that their “craft was having trouble with its communications equipment” and that he had been busy “getting the equipment back in shape.”
Speculation abounded as to the cause of the mysterious disappearance of the submarine with a complement of 99 crew members. It was the height of the Cold War and an initial suspicion was that it had been torpedoed by a Soviet submarine or surface vessel, while others believed it might have struck an underwater mountain or ridge. Following a five-month search, the wreckage of the vessel was eventually located in more than 10,000 feet of water 400 miles southwest of the Azores (in the mid-Atlantic); where more than eight dozen sailors remain in their watery grave. Although the Navy prepared a report in 1968 detailing its findings regarding the submarine’s loss, it was withheld from the public for a quarter-century.
“This week, the Navy released a report saying the Scorpion may have been destroyed by its own torpedo,” reported the Springfield News-Leader on October 29, 1993. “The report concluded of the accident, ‘The torpedo was released from the tube, became fully armed and sought its nearest target, Scorpion.’”
James Ayers sorrowfully explained, “Of the four of us from the Class of 1960 in Jefferson City who went on to our respective military academies, I was the only one who survived my period of service.” He added, “Laughton’s loss truly struck a chord within me because he was my best friend in high school and our families had been so close. He was only 26 when he disappeared, and it is easy for the community to forget that. I want to make sure that the community is aware of his service to the nation and remembers his sacrifice in addition to all others who died during their service as well.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
The fourth of six children, Stephen Boehmer grew up with an intimate understanding of both hardship and hard work. His mother passed away when he was only five years old and, when not attending the local one-room Reichel School near the Osage County community of Rich Fountain, he joined his siblings in assisting their father in completing various chores around the family’s farm.
As the years passed, Boehmer graduated from Freeburg High School in 1941 and, several weeks later, registered for the military draft with his local draft board in Linn. Returning to his employment at Uncle Willie’s Café in Rich Fountain, he became the first of the four Boehmer sons to enter the service when drafted into the U.S. Army at Jefferson Barracks on February 18, 1943.
“His family was very close, I think because of the passing of their mother,” said Diane Rackers, one of Boehmer’s nieces. “He also wrote home and spoke about having enjoyed attending dances in the Rich Fountain area,” she added.
The 19-year-old draftee was sent to Camp Sibert, Alabama, to complete several weeks of basic training. Dedicated on Christmas Day 1942, Camp Sibert became the primary training camp for chemical warfare soldiers during World War II and closed shortly after the end of the war in 1945.
“In June 1943, after three months of basic training, he was sent overseas, headed to North Africa after passing through England,” said Diane Rackers.
Following his arrival in North Africa, Boehmer eventually received assignment to Company D, 83rd Chemical Mortar Battalion, who had been in the country since May 11, 1943. A brief period of invasion training ensued and the young soldier soon entered combat as part of the Allied invasion of Sicily, supporting numerous attacks and counterattacks using such weapons as the 4.2-inch mortar.
Diane Rackers explained, “In a letter that was later sent to Stephen’s father by Lt. Alfred H. Crenshaw, he wrote, ‘Stephen saw many grueling days of combat. Throughout all of this he acquitted himself in a manner that is a credit to both you and his country.’”
Remaining stalwart in the face of heavy resistance, Allied forces pushed northward into the Italian mainland and were able to secure the port of Naples in addition to vital airfields as part of a nearly three-month campaign named “Operation Avalanche.” In a letter dated November 17, 1943, Boehmer indicated he was “sleeping in foxholes in wet clothes and blankets” with bullets “whistling” above his head. Ten days later, he wrote of another “enemy” the men of the battalion faced—the weather, with rain falling regularly and creating “an awfully lot of mud.”
In his book, Bastard Battalion: A History of the 83rd Chemical Mortar Battalion in World War II, Terry Lowry notes that Daniel Shields, one of Boehmer’s fellow Company D soldiers, “said it rained so much he could not stay in his foxhole and eventually sought shelter in a church.”
During Christmas of 1943, Boehmer wrote home that he received a welcome respite from combat operations and was able to attend midnight mass while on a five-day pass, during which he had the opportunity to sleep in a bed and watch some films. The following month, on January 25, 1944, he was one of more than 600 men to board LST 422—one vessel in a convoy of thirteen ships that departed Naples for the Battle of Anzio. Early the next morning, LST 422 encountered inclement weather and high winds, which blew the ship into a known minefield; the resulting explosion caused the ship to break in two and sink off the Italian coast.
“Stephen (Boehmer) was reported missing in action in Italy,” said Diane Rackers. “In a letter sent by Lt. Alfred Crenshaw, he explained that Stephen ‘was aboard a ship that was destroyed about three miles off the enemy coastline and had to be abandoned.’” Somberly, Rackers added, “The letter went on to state that the water was very rough and after a ‘hard fought contest,’ he finally ‘succumbed to the overwhelming might of the sea.’”
One of several hundred casualties, Boehmer’s body was recovered and was initially interred in the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Nettuno, Italy. His remains were returned to the United States in 1949 and re-interred at the Sacred Heart Cemetery in Rich Fountain, the veteran’s home parish. Following his death, Boehmer’s three brothers were all drafted into the military because of World War II, surviving their service and returning home to marry and raise children.
Decades have since passed since Boehmer lost his life in a violent storm off the Italian coastline; however, his nieces and nephews have found ways to honor the memory of an uncle they never met.
“Stephen was in the military for only 11 months when he gave his life for ours—a deed we must all remember in thought and prayer,” said Betty Dickneite, one of Boehmer’s nieces. “That is why we held a special ceremony at his gravesite on November 3, 2018—74 years after his death—to present his Purple Heart, Missouri WWII awards and a memorial notebook to his brother’s son, Stephen, who was named in his honor.”
Stephen’s sister, Mary Kay Hager, added, “We know that he will cherish these items and it is our family’s hope that they are passed on to his heirs as a remembrance of Stephen Boehmer’s sacrifice for the United States of America.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America
The Missouri National Guard has before struggled with unique political concerns due a blending of both state and federal authorities. This organization has labored to maintain its distinction as the state militia, which has led to some curious situations such as one characterized by a conflict between a former state governor and the late Colonel Edwin Batdorf during the Spanish-American War.
Born near Dayton, Ohio, on October 4, 1853, Batdorf moved to Kansas in 1871, where his father operated a hotel. Years later, the July 28, 1898 edition of the Newton Daily Republican (Newton, Kansas) reported, the young Batdorf moved to St. Louis to clerk in a hotel and “afterward engaged in the commission business …”
In addition to working full-time, Batdorf became a private with the First Regiment—a former Missouri National Guard regiment located in St. Louis—and quickly rose through the ranks to become an officer. The budding officer soon discovered, however, that military organizations were subject to funding uncertainties originating from the state capitol in Jefferson City.
“On May 23, 1887, the First Regiment was disbanded owing to the fact that the State Legislature failed to provide for its support,” notes the 1934 book History of the Missouri National Guard. The book adds, “In the late summer of 1887, through the efforts of Lieutenant Edwin Batdorf, a battalion was organized, which was later expanded into a regiment and became the First Regiment, National Guard of Missouri.”
After becoming colonel on June 21, 1893, Batdorf did not enjoy a peaceful tenure in uniform and his reputation was scarred by altercations with the state leadership over his vocalized concerns, the most notable relating to the formation of the Missouri National Guard Association. During the meeting that formed the association in January 1897, Adjutant General of the Missouri National Guard, Brigadier General Joseph Wickham, became the organization’s chairman. As noted in the January 3, 1897 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, it was proposed that the colonels of the state’s (then) four regiments and the captains of the two artillery batteries serve as vice-presidents.
Col. Batdorf “at once took violent objection to it on the grounds that Battery A, which had only seventy members, was awarded as great a representation as the First Regiment, with its membership of 700,” the newspaper explained. Following this incident, Batdorf and many officers of the First Regiment chose to boycott the newly formed association.
The expression of Batdorf’s concerns certainly did not endear him to state authorities but the arrival of a major mobilization of troops the following year would provide him yet another opportunity to distance himself from any favor with both the adjutant general and governor. As noted in the 1939 edition of the National Guard Historical Annual, State of Missouri, during the Spanish-American War, Missouri was given the allotment of 5,000 volunteers as part of the president’s call for 125,000 volunteers on April 22, 1898, one day following Congress’ resolution of war with Spain.
The First Regiment became one of six Missouri regiments and a light battery of artillery mobilized during the conflict. Col. Batdorf and the men of the First mustered into federal service at Jefferson Barracks on May 13, 1898 and then left their St. Louis assembly site on May 19, 1898, bound for Camp George H. Thomas at Chickamauga Park, Georgia. Despite the rather lackluster circumstances the regiment experienced while at camp in Georgia, any privations they were forced to endure were overshadowed in the newspapers by altercations between Batdorf and Missouri Governor Lon Stephens.
Appointed as an acting brigadier general during the greatest part of his Spanish-American War service, Batdorf and several officers of First Regiment quickly drew the ire of the Missouri’s governor when they refused to accept officer commissions issued from the governor. Gov. Stephens received more unwanted news when Secretary of War Russell Alger submitted a ruling essentially nullifying the state commissions and affirming “the regiments were to remain as mustered in from the Stated Guards…,” reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on June 16, 1898.
Months later, the First Regiment returned to St. Louis, never having left the United States during the brief war. It was at this time Gov. Stephens gained somewhat of a victory over Batdorf when he reorganized the regiment and excluded Batdorf from the new command structure. However, Batdorf again set the newspapers abuzz when he filed suit against the governor, seeking $50,000 in damages because of a “number of interviews with Gov. Stephens printed in various newspapers of St. Louis reflecting (unfavorably) upon Col. Batdorf as an officer and a gentleman,” wrote the St. Post-Dispatch on September 21, 1899.
The lawsuit was later dismissed and the colonel faded from public light until 1903, at which time Adjutant General W. T. Dameron, following the expiration of Gov. Stephens’ term, added Batdorf’s name to the honorary roll of retired officers of the Missouri National Guard.
In the years after his release from the National Guard, Batdorf’s life gained some semblance of normalcy as the married father of one son served as treasurer for the former Forest City Building Company in St. Louis.
The retired colonel received further recognition in 1920, seven years prior to his death, when Adjutant General Harvey Clark issued him a special medal authorized by the Missouri Legislative Assembly for the state’s veterans of the Spanish-American War.
Col. Batdorf passed away on January 14, 1927, when 73 years old, at Westgate Hotel in St. Louis and was laid to rest in his native state of Ohio. Though much of his embattled service with the National Guard has been forgotten, the words of another Missouri governor 20 years following Batdorf’s death stressed the importance of preserving the state’s military legacy, however controversial.
In a letter to the 49th Annual National Encampment of the United Spanish War Veterans in 1947, Gov. Phil Donnelly stated, “We revere the memory of the men who volunteered in Missouri Regiments in the Spanish-American War …,” adding, “(and) I am sure the pages of history will record your services, and the campaigns in which you engaged …”
Jeremy P. Ämick is a military historian and author of the recent Arcadia Publishing release “Missouri in World War I.”
His hair may have grayed and his “ol’ knees have tightened up a little,” but 97-year-old James Shipley of Tipton clearly recalls many of the details of his service with an all-black fighter squadron in World War II, an experience that bestowed he and his military colleagues with coveted titles of “Tuskegee Airmen” and “Redtails.” The role he played during World War II have made him a sought after speaker, affording him opportunites to describe the lecacy of his service with the famed flight group that fought overseas for some of the very freedoms they were denied back home.
“Other than the time I was in the service, I have lived in Tipton my entire life,” said the veteran. “When I was a kid, I attended Harrison School, which was for the black students in the area since the school system was segregated back then.” He continued, “We never had any race problems growing up … that I can remember. We’d go over to the homes of the white kids to play marbles and they’d come over to our homes to play. Once in awhile, one of the kids might call us a name and you’d throw rocks at them, but the next day you were playing together like nothing happened.”
Throughout the last several years, as the impressive wartime record of the Tuskegee Airman rose to prominence through books and films, Shipley has traveled far and wide to regale audiences with his country-born wisdom, revealing the contributions that he and his fellow African American airmen made during the war with generations of individuals who never lived through the days of segregation.
“While I was growing up, some of my older relatives took the time to show me how to work on engines,” he said. Pointing to a tree near his house, he added, “They’d hang motors from that ol’ tree right over there and that’s where I first learned how to become a mechanic and tear those engines apart.”
During World War II, he enlisted with an “all black air force” after meeting a military recruiter at the post office in Tipton. He later served in Italy as a crew chief and mechanic with the Tuskegee Airmen, maintaining historic aircraft such as the P-51 Mustangs that later became celebrated for their successful escorts of American bombers on bombing missions. After receiving his discharge in 1946, the veteran mirthfully recalls meeting a lovely young woman from Boonville named Mildred, when accompanying his father to a track meet in the late 1940s. He and Mildred were married in 1949 and raised two sons and a daughter.
Grinning, he explained, “I can remember when Millie and I got married because it was the year after I bought a 1948 Chevy.”
Like many young men returning from war, Shipley set his sights on endeavors that would afford him opportunities to supplement the meager income he earned as a mechanic. One such memorable account involves a rather elderly horse and seven dollars.
“Shortly after the war, I decided I was going to buy a horse to plow up some ground to plant roasting ears (of corn) to sell,” he explained. “I found this old horse in Syracuse (Missouri) and paid seven dollars for it.”
The horse, he recalled, was so old that it had lost all of its teeth. After making the purchase, he then rode the horse the five miles back to Tipton.
“It turns out that I was severely allergic to the horse,” his face lit up in recollection. “Not long after I got back, I swelled up really bad and had to go to the doctor to be treated.”
At the time, the local physician was “a really old Army doctor” who reached into his bag, removed a syringe and administered an injection to the suffering Shipley. Applying what Shipley called “Civil War medicine,” the doctor then charged the young, aspiring farmer seven dollars for the treatment he was given.
“Well, I didn’t really know what I was doing and fed the horse whole corn,” he said. “Since he had no teeth, he couldn’t chew it up and he ended up dying. Then,” he concluded, “I sold the horse to a local fertilizer plant for seven dollars … and that’s my story of the seven-dollar horse.”
Following his marriage, he and Mildred purchased a two-bedroom house in Tipton for $200 that is located next to the Harrison School he attended as a youth. In the years that followed, their family grew and they built additions onto their home, where they continue to reside to this day. Eventually, he was hired as a mechanic with Co-Mo Electric in Tipton, retiring after 29 years of employment with the company. His background and legacy have led to his becoming a celebrity in the Tipton area and, early this year, he graduated with the Tipton High School class of 2020 since he was unable to finish school decades ago because of his WWII service.
Recalling some advice he gave one of his nieces several years ago, a young lady who went on to excel academically and has since become an attorney, Shipley’s frank and sage words continue to resonate as powerfully for all citizens just as they applied to his own postwar endeavors.
“If you work hard, you can make it in life,” I told my niece. “Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it.”
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
An animated bearing, humorous reflections and wide grin seem to define the demeanor of Larry Siedenburg. His effusive personality, however, belies many of the hardships and losses he experienced as a combat soldier during the Vietnam War—service that earned him promotion to sergeant and the award of two Bronze Stars for valor in addition to an Air Medal.
“I grew up in the small community of Lone Elm and attended a Lutheran School there through the eighth grade,” Siedenburg recalled. “I eventually graduated from Bunceton High School in 1967 and decided to continue my education at Capitol Business College in Jefferson City,” he added.
Earning his degree in business administration and accounting in the spring of 1970, he was employed as a management trainee with J.C. Penney in Kansas City, Kansas. A few months later, he received his draft notice and was inducted into the U.S. Army in June 1970.
“I entered the Army in Kansas City and then they put a group of us on a bus and sent us to basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood,” he explained. “My training company did quite well and we actually set records with the number of soldiers that qualified as experts on the rifle range and also in several aspects of our physical training.”
Siedenburg also noted that when his basic training was finished, the Army made the decision that he should serve as an infantryman, sending him to Ft. Polk, Louisiana, to begin advanced infantry training. Throughout the next several weeks, he and his fellow soldiers trained with rifles, grenades, and mortars in addition to performing combat patrols while learning map reading land navigation.
“I was a squad leader during the training and it was fun,” he said. “Overall, everyone there wanted to learn everything possible because we all figured that we were headed to Vietnam as soon as the training was finished.”
His suspicions were proven correct after completing his advanced training in October 1970, at which time he received orders to report to Fort Ord, California, in preparation for deployment to Vietnam. For the next “week or so,” he performed guard duty and other seemingly mundane tasks while waiting to board the commercial aircraft for his overseas flight. Upon arrival in Vietnam in November 1970, he was assigned to Company C, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry under the 196th Infantry Brigade, operating out of a U.S. Army base at Chu Lai. Shortly after his arrival, Siedenburg explained, he transferred to a nearby site named “Hawk Hill.”
“Hawk Hill was a fire base and we made our patrols from that location,” he said. “We were a ‘swing battalion,’ so wherever there was a hotspot with regard to enemy activity, that’s where they sent us.”
The veteran explained that he participated in a number of combat assaults and was often inserted into these hotspots by helicopters.
“When the helicopter flew in to deliver us to an assault area, we had three seconds to get off the aircraft or else you were taking a big jump because they had to get out of there quickly or risk being shot down,” he said.
There were many missions, he affirmed, where it appeared they were needlessly expending both time and lives of soldiers when taking certain objectives.
“On occasion, we were sent in to take a certain area by pushing out the enemy in that area,” he said. “Then we would pull back and the enemy would come back in and take the area over again, which was followed by us going back in and pushing them back out,” he shrugged in disbelief.
On another mission, he recalls being a member of a team of approximately two dozen infantrymen sent into an area swarming with enemy forces in an effort to retrieve a pilot and an intelligence officer whose helicopter had been shot down.
“We located the helicopter but the two guys were not there,” he said. “After the mission, I learned from a friend that we weren’t expected to make it back because they had already prepared letters to send home to our parents informing them of our deaths … but we surprised them!”
Several months into his assignment, Siedenburg began to suffer from multiple and persistent boils that developed from infected mosquito bites. This medical complication resulted in his reassignment to the brigade’s ammunition depot, eventually becoming the non-commissioned officer in charge.
“While I was in Vietnam, I extended to stay in country for one month and seven days because that would give me less than 180 days left on my commitment when I returned to the states,” he said. “If you had less than 180 days when you got back to the U.S., they gave you an early discharge.”
Leaving the U.S. Army in December 1971, he established his own construction company, which he operated for several years. In 1981, he married Helen and the couple raised four daughters. In later years, he was hired by the Missouri Department of Conversation and retired with 31 years of service. In recent years, Siedenburg has remained committed to his faith and has served in many capacities with Immanuel Lutheran Church at Honey Creek. He acknowledges that although many of his fellow veterans who returned from the war experienced issues related to post-traumatic stress, he believes his faith has granted him peace in spite of the trauma he witnessed.
“I lost a close friend, Keith Haney, over in Vietnam,” he bluntly remarked. “There were a lot of good guys killed over there and you didn’t try to make any new friends because you didn’t know how long those people would be around. I believe that being a God-fearing person—knowing that He protected me during so many dangerous situations—factored into me coming home without too many problems. It was through God’s will that I made it back safely.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
Much of Van Williamson’s life has been that of travel since past employment has moved him to and from several locations throughout the U.S. But as the California, Missouri, resident related, the pace of such movement is something to which he grew accustomed while storming across Europe with the 20th Armored Division in World War II.
Born and raised in the Kansas City (Missouri) area, Williamson began repairing motor boats at a local marina while still in high school; however, after graduating in 1942, he received a piece of paper notorious for its potential consequences.
“I turned 18 and got my draft notice two weeks later,” said the veteran. “That’s how they did me … they didn’t even give me a chance to enlist,” he chuckled, when describing the beginnings of a three-year military journey.
In March 1943, Williamson donned an Army uniform and traveled to Camp Campbell (now Fort Campbell), Kentucky, to complete his basic training. He went on to attend a gunnery school at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, learning the mechanics and operation of lighter weapons, such as pistols and rifles, in addition to the heavier artillery and anti-tank guns. Later in his training cycle, Williamson explained, the Army recognized the potential value of his previous marina experience and sent him to a military boat repair and maintenance course in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
“The Army obviously recognized what I had done in working with boats in Kansas City and knew that I was the person to do that for the Army, too,” he said.
According to Williamson, he received notice that his division would travel to Europe to relieve the men who had been fighting it the Battle of the Bulge since the middle of December 1944. Boarding a troopship in early February 1945, Williamson arrived in Le Havre, France days later, missing the “Bulge” by only a couple of weeks; however, the young soldier did not realize he was only weeks away from participating in another lethal engagement.
“When we got to Laon, France, they began to break us up into whatever we’d be doing—whether you were going to be a tank driver, a mechanic, halftrack operator …,” he said.
Attached to the 220th Armored Engineer Battalion under the 20th Armored Division, Williamson began the move across France and into Belgium as U.S. forces fought toward Germany. Though he recalls several skirmishes along the way, Williamson affirmed that one of the most ingrained of his wartime experiences was the crossing of the Rhine River in April 1945.
“I was on a boat helping push the bridge pieces together so that tanks and other equipment could cross into Germany,” he said. “We got the bridge up—mostly—before the fighting started … but when it did, that was a fight!”
Though his service in a combat environment was punctuated with stressful moments, Williamson noted that there were instances of unanticipated respite from the action, specifically, when they liberated the German army of some precious provisions.
“Sometime after the Rhine, we captured a German train that was carrying beer,” the former soldier grinned. “We took all that we wanted of the beer and drank it while traveling to the next place,” adding, “but I didn’t care much for that stuff … it was a lot different than what I was used to.”
As the division pressed on, they crossed the Danube River on April 28, 1945, and, the following day, became one of three U.S. Army divisions to liberate Dachau concentration camp. According to an article on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website, as American forces approached the camp, they discovered 30 railroad cars filled with corpses of former captives.
“There were a lot of guys that looked half-dead,” Williamson somberly recalled, “… and of course, there were many more that never made it.”
With their liberation duties behind them, the division continued to Salzburg, Germany, and remained in Europe until late July 1945, returning via troopship to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. Following a brief period of leave, Williamson continued in his service with the Army, believing he would soon deploy to the Pacific; but when Japan surrendered in September 1945, he married his fiancée, Betty, since he knew his time in uniform was close to an end. He received his discharge on February 12, 1946 and in later years went to work for the Caterpillar Corporation, which carried him to several locations throughout the United Sates. In 1979, he moved to Mid-Missouri, and now lives in the small community of California.
When asked why memories from his participation in a war now seven decades past appear undiminished by the passage of time, Williamson responded with the insight of a man who has witnessed more than his share of unpleasant situations.
“A lot of people have tried not to remember their service because they want to forget about it,” he paused, “people died … and they don’t want to remember that, but many of us World War II veterans are still here and we have a story to share.” He added: “We did what we were sent to do, to put it simply, and it was an important moment in my life.”
The 96-year-old Williamson passed away on July 26, 2020.
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
The War Manpower Commission was established by Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt during the early period of World War II. It called for the “elimination of wasteful labor turnover in essential activities … the direction of the flow of scarce labor where most needed in the war program … (and for) the maximum utilization of manpower resources,” explained an article in the October 29, 1943 edition of the St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times.
Early in the war it was revealed that many industrial centers in the United States were struggling to provide necessary war materials and products because of a labor pool greatly diminished when thousands of former employees were drafted to serve in the United States military.
“Our country saw fit to locate at Kansas City, the Heart of the Nation, the production of large quantities of the most important munitions of war,” wrote John B. Gage, mayor of Kansas City, in a proclamation dated May 6, 1944. He added, “At the very time when the greatest battles of this war are to be fought—when planes, engines, explosives, landing craft and other vital material of war produced here are most needed, a shortage of workers fully to man the war plants has developed.”
Under the auspices of the War Manpower Commission, Mayor Gage sought to address these labor shortfalls by forming the Citizens War Manpower Committee to aid in supplying an additional 30,0000 workers for local war plants. The mayor called upon Elmer C. Rhoden, president of Fox Midwest Amusement Corporation, to serve as chairman for the local committee.
On May 15, 1944, only a week after the formation of the committee, an “advertising approach” was approved that was designed to “appeal to older men who may fear they are not adequate to the jobs that are open.” The committee also noted, “We must appeal to both men and women who are in non-essential or less-essential jobs and convince them it is their duty to surrender their present security and take up work on the production line in the manufacture of the implements of war.”
The special committee for advertising was headed by W.J. Krebs, of Potts-Turnbull Advertising Company, and comprised of volunteers employed in various Kansas City-area advertising specialties. The committee developed a multifaceted approach that included advertising on Kansas City streetcars and buses, a billboard campaign, notices on water and gas bills of 100,000 residents and brief clips played prior to the showing of films in area theaters.
“The services of the War Housing Centers are available to assist employees of essential industries in finding suitable quarters,” explained the booklet titled “War Workers Guide: Greater Kansas City. “Anyone who has a vacancy can make a real contribution by listing their vacancy with the War Housing Centers ….”
With scores of local men away from home to fight the war, the committee sought to address the concerns of women who might otherwise be willing to fulfill an essential war job but were disinclined from doing so because they had young children for whom to provide care.
“Mothers who feel impelled to take a war job can rest assured their children will be well cared for,” the above-cited booklet explained. “There are 32 child care centers operated by the public school system, which can be expanded to meet future needs.”
A War Jobs Headquarters was opened at 1120 Grand Avenue in Kansas City, where applicants were received, assessed and potentially referred to essential war industries by U.S. Employment Service employees and area war plant representatives. Several recognized companies—such as Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, Hercules Powder Company and North American Aviation—opened employment storefronts to receive potential applicants.
In his final report to Mayor John B. Gage on July 31, 1944, Committee Chairman Elmer Rhoden related, “During the period of the Citizens Committee campaign, 90,000 persons responded to the appeal, 60,000 of these were referred to employers, and 30,000 were placed in jobs.”
Rhoden affirmed the committee’s success would not have been possible without assistance from a myriad of partner agencies, noting the majority of the new workers resided in Kansas City thus “proving the claim that the labor supply was available … and the effectiveness of the committee’s campaign.”
Pratt & Whitney Aircraft also acknowledged the assistance provided through a local campaign in helping them maintain production of their Wasp family of aircraft engines, which were used in a number of military aircraft of World War II.
L.C. Mallett, assistant general manager Pratt & Whitney’s local offices, wrote Chairman Rhoden on July 13, 1944, “(T)he members of the (committee) are to be congratulated on their performance. There is no question in our minds that their efforts assisted all war industries in this community and that the results could not have been attained without their assistance.”
Further acknowledging the contributions of others and spotlighting the profound achievements of the committee in supporting the war effort, Chairman Rhoden, in the aforementioned letter to the mayor, calmly stepped away from his voluntary wartime endeavor to return to his employment in the private industry.
“Now that the Citizens War Manpower Committee has completed its task, your chairman feels he can resign his responsibilities with sincere and profound thanks to all those who served with him, and with renewed faith in the belief that the citizens of Kansas City can accomplish anything they set out to do.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
Jeremy P. Amick is a military historian and author dedicated to preserving our nation's military legacies.