Friday, February 28, 2014

Sutton's Surviving World War I Vets in 1988

by Jerry Johnson and the Sutton Historical Society

The Clay County News recognized the county’s surviving veterans of World War I in the issue of November 10, 1988. Sixteen of the fellows remained, five from Sutton, Jack Helzer, Harry Hunnell, Albert Krause, Carl “Jack” Nolde and William Peter.

World War I began on July 28, 1914 and lasted until November 11, 1918. It was not called by that name at the time – it was the “war to end all wars” as President Wilson called it though H. G. Wells invented the term. “The World War” was the common term, after all, it was supposed to be the only one, a numeric designation wouldn’t have made sense.

This monument in the Sutton Cemetery is in honor of World War I veterans and was donated by Carl H. (Jack) Nolde
The first use of “world war” was in German as early as 1904 in an anti-British novel, “Der WeltKrieg,” meaning “world war.”  The point was that a large enough conflict involving multiple nations over a large territory, possibly multiple continents deserved special recognition.

So our Clay County veterans of 1917-1918 were a part of something new, big and different and they should be remembered for that.

The war was triggered in July, 1914 with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A network of treaties and agreements were invoked and soon every European nation was either mad at, or aligned with everyone else. It’s a good, if complicated story and instructive in human nature.

Americans were not at all interested in playing a role and worked hard to stay neutral. But German submarine attacks on shipping and the discovery of the Zimmerman telegram which exposed a German plot to bring Mexico into the war with promises of the return of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona (another cool story) led Congress to declare war on April 6, 1917.

The U.S. had a small military capability and needed to fix that quickly. The Selective Service Act passed in May and on June 5, 1917 the first WWI draft registration was held, all on one day to find all men between the ages of 21 and 31.

A second registration was held on June 5 and August 24, 1918 to pick up new 21 year olds. The third registration on September 18, 1918 caught everyone from 18 to 45.

Twenty-four million men, about 25% of the total population were recorded in those records which are now on the “must-have” checklist for genealogists. Height, build, color of eyes and hair, residence and other information appear on those cards. It is often the only place a guy owned-up to his middle name.

Jack Helzer
John “Jack” Helzer (Aug 7, 1900-Feb. 24, 1992) was a young soldier having lied about his age being just 16 when he enlisted in Omaha. His father retrieved him three weeks later and he enlisted again when he became of age. He “got stuck in the Hawaiian Islands” and served two years and 11 months. He later became one of the youngest WWI vets to go to the Veterans Hospital for surgery. He was also the youngest of these vets in the article at age 90 in 1988.

Harry Hunnell
Harry Hunnell was homesteading near Sheridan, Wyoming when he was called up and spent 13 months in Europe attaining the rank of sergeant. Part of his duty was in the Army of Occupation. Hunnell lived in Sutton several years and was living in Henderson at the time of the article.

Albert Krause
Albert Krause enlisted in 1917 and was one of nearly 50,000 recruits to train at Camp Funston on Fort Riley near Manhattan, Kansas. He was in France from May to July in 1918 and in Germany on Armistice Day in November. He served in the Army of Occupation and was discharged in July, 1919. Albert Krause was the oldest of these 16 Clay County vets in 1988 at the age of 98 ½.

Jack Nolde
Carl H. “Jack” Nolde typed his way through the war. He was in the first group of 10 to be drafted in Sutton, took the train Lincoln, to Junction City, Kansas and then to Camp Funston. On the second day at Funston he was assigned to duty as a typist and never participated in drills. He also did typewriter repair and served for 29 months, much of it at Plattsburg Barracks in New York.

William Peter
William Peter was a Corporal in the 163rd Depot Brigade at Camp Dodge, Iowa. He was discharged December 8, 1918 and was living at the Sutton Home in 1988.

An early donation to the Sutton Historical Society was booklet titled the “Complete List of Clay County Men Registered for Military Draft listing the 1,237 from that first registration of June 5, 1917. Names are sequenced by “Order No.” identified as the order the names came in a drawing suggesting this was the order called for duty.

Number One in Clay County was Frank M. Korgan of Inland. He was followed by Lawrence E. Nelson of Verona, Geo. H. Harms of Glenville (sic), Cecil Jackson of Edgar, etc. Arthur Hornbacker, No. 11, John Wolf, No. 13, Phillip Roemmich, No. 16 and Arthur Schwarz, No. 17 led the Sutton registrants.

The booklet states that the First Draft had 306 men “examined” with 113 drafted meeting the criteria for service. If I’m interpreting the information properly, Reinhold Heinz of Sutton was Order No. 306 just making the list for the first draft.

By the time U.S. forces were significantly engaged in WWI there was just over one year left of hostilities. A relatively small percentage saw combat as is true in most conflicts but especially true in this one. One of our family folklore stories is of an uncle called to active duty who was with a bunch of recruits on the train platform in Edgar on November 18, 1918 as word came of the armistice. After a period of confusion, someone, the story goes, probably without actual authority to do so told the recruits to go back home and wait for further instructions. It was a good call as their orders were later cancelled.

The other Clay County WWI veterans and their home towns in the  1988 article were: Jack Stratton, Fairfield; Ward Haylett, Clay Center; Earl Buchtel, Clay Center; Emil Skalka, Spring Ranch; Merle Shafer, Edgar; Rolland Kreutz, Harvard; Robert Smith, rural Lone Tree; George Harms, Fairfield; Charlie Hazelton, Clay Center; Louis Goldenstein, Glenvil and Ervin Spencer, Clay Center.

Our WWI veterans enjoyed continued camaraderie as members of the Clay County World War I Barracks engaging in civic activities, holding business meetings and gathering for dinner monthly. Jack Stratton was the last Quartermaster of the Barracks who in April, 1984 distributed a letter to all members stating the obvious that they were all slowing down, eye sights were failing and enjoyment was becoming a chore. A few responded agreeing to disband and the final treasury of $21.73 was donated to the Care Campaign for Africa.

There are two special memorials in the Sutton Cemetery commemorating World War vets. Pearl J. (Cassell) Bender, wife of Major John R. Bender dedicated the cemetery flag pole to The Unknown Soldier in 1933 in memory of Major Bender. He is likely better known for athletic endeavors (star halfback at the University of Nebraska) and coaching success at St. Louis University, Kansas State, Tennessee, Houston and Washington State.

Jack Nolde purchased a special monument for the cemetery in 1940 to remember the comrades. That monument stands next to the Benders’ flagpole.

These gentlemen had lost a long list of comrades in the years preceding 1988. The Sutton Historical Society has a continuing, intermittent project to remember and document the stories of local veterans of each of the nation’s wars. Any help in researching, writing or organizing such information is always appreciated. Contact Jerry Johnson at 773-0222 to join us if you think this is worthwhile.

This article first appeared in the December, 2013 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. Contact Jarod Griess for more information about the publication at 402-984-4203 or

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