Column: Local guardsmen have answered the call before
Editor’s note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and regional history. The following column first appeared May 27, 2006.
WORTHINGTON — From that time when filling stations gave road maps free, I was at St. Joseph, Mo. — home of the pony express, home of Jesse James — studying a map of Missouri one summer morning. I was on a sightseeing drive in the Middle West, which is a thing I always have enjoyed. I have had more fun poking around historic sites, farmers markets, fairs and restaurants at Omaha or Bismarck than I have had at Tokyo or Seoul or even Honolulu.
I noticed I was near Laclede, Mo., which was marked as a state historic site: boyhood home of Gen. John J. Pershing. I drove to Laclede. I was thinking of an uncle who told me he once stood at attention at a review for Gen. Pershing. (You kids may not know this: John J. Pershing — Black Jack — was commander of the American army in France in the first World War.)
Laclede is a rewarding visit. The old Pershing house is there, filled with furnishings that have become wonderful antiques, along with all manner of the General’s memorabilia. Pershing once was a country school teacher. His old school, fashioned into a museum, is also at Laclede.
I was a little uncomfortable — the only tourist at a tourist attraction. A woman, a volunteer guide at the Pershing home, took me on a personal tour. She showed me a group picture of Gen. Pershing’s family. I had a shock. Aug. 27, 1915 — John Pershing’s wife and his three daughters all perished in a night fire at their home. Only the son, Warren, survived that horrendous blaze.
There is a reason why I am going on about Gen. Pershing on this Memorial Day weekend. The good woman who was leading me on my tour dug in a file. She said, “You’re from Worthington, Minnesota?” I said, “Yes.” She said, “Look here.” There, in a list of military units, was, “Company F, Minnesota National Guard, Worthington.”
It is said history repeats itself, repeats itself. One big headline this month is, “President (Bush) orders 6,000 National Guardsmen to Mexican Border.” Worthington’s name is on that list at Laclede because — 1917 — “President (Wilson) orders 6,000 National Guardsmen to Mexican Border.” Exactly the same. Worthington’s young soldiers were under Gen. Pershing’s command.
Those men all are gone now. This was more than half-a-dozen U.S. wars gone by. It is fitting this weekend to recall their memory.
Company F of the Minnesota National Guard trained in their armory that today is the Worthington YMCA. When they were called to duty to patrol the Mexican border (Willard Bixby told me this), everyone smiled a bit through the first day or so. The men were ordered to set up camp in Chautauqua Park, which was larger at that time. Chautauqua Park was Worthington’s picnic ground, and the Guardsmen had a sense of going on a picnic.
Everyone soon was aware of sad reality. The soldiers were on active duty. Even though none was more than 10 minutes from his family dinner table, he could as well have been at Chicago.
Local doctors gave every soldier a shot for typhoid fever. The men set up 20 tents that belonged to Worthington’s Chautauqua Association — 10 tents on one side of a company street, 10 tents on the opposite side. The old Chautauqua pavilion became the troops’ kitchen and mess hall. First Call was at 5:30 a.m. Calisthenics at 5:50. Breakfast at 6:15.
It still was a time for bugles. Worthington residents could hear bugle calls from the park. They could smell smoke from the cooking fires. If they weren’t too far off, they could hear sergeants shouting commands for close-order drill. “Com-pany Halt!”
The Worthington men marched to the depot and boarded a train that took them to New Mexico. Gen. Pershing by then had led one contingent more than 300 miles into Mexico. They were looking for Pancho Villa. It was akin to looking for Osama bin Laden.
Worthington’s young soldiers?
Well — a funny thing happened.
By this time, there was this other war. In France. Worthington’s boys were assigned the 135th Infantry Regiment. They (and Gen. Pershing) set off for New York to board troop ships and to join in a fight against the Kaiser and the Germans.