Ned Henschel and Motor Transport Corps officers (1919) by James E. HenschelNational WWI Museum and Memorial
Although the United States witnessed less than a year of combat in World War I, the war still made its presence known in communities across the nation, including Kansas City, home to the National WWI Museum and Memorial.
Kansas Citians who answered the call to serve participated in the war in many ways: as soldiers, volunteers and medical staff. This included the first American officer killed in the war, William T. Fitzsimons, and Wayne Miner, an African American soldier who was one of the last soldiers to die in action on the day of the Armistice, Nov. 11, 1918.
Captain F. Earl Fowler was born in Gilliam, Missouri in 1892. He graduated from college in 1915 and enlisted in the army in 1917. He attended Officer’s Candidate School at Camp Doniphan, Okla., with classmate and fellow Missourian Harry S. Truman. When he went “Over There” with Company B, 110th Ammunition Train, 35th Division, Fowler was a second lieutenant.
By the end of the war, he had been promoted to captain. After returning home, he worked for Jenkins Music Company until his retirement. Captain Fowler died in 1974.
Vernon C. Coffey
Sergeant Vernon C. Coffey was from Kansas City, Kan. Like most African American soldiers, he could only serve in a segregated unit. But his letters reveal that he was proud of the 806th Pioneer Infantry, for which he held the rank of color sergeant. The unit's service was recognized by General John J. Pershing, who awarded it a silver band and battle ribbon for its regimental colors.
Sergeant Coffey returned to Kansas City, Kan. after the war, becoming an attorney and, later, an associate minister for the First A.M.E. Church.
Major Mark Hanna, 356th Infantry, 89th Division, was born in Ohio in 1884. He grew up in Iowa and studied law there, but later moved to Kansas City where he worked in real estate and insurance. He served on the Mexican border before the United States entered the war, then enlisted and trained at Camp Funston, Kan.
A Letter from Major Hanna to his Wife:
"My Angel Wife - Rcv'd 2 dandy little card letters from you last night & again that little worry about me forgetting my Girl. No little sweetheart mine - if anything happens in the future to prevent me writing my baby girl - God knows, little one, its not because I don’t think of you."
On the night of Nov. 10, 1918, Major Hanna was in command of the second battalion of the 356th Infantry, under shelling waiting to cross the Meuse River. Major Hanna was killed the night before the armistice, as he spent the evening going up and down the line, encouraging the men under his command. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
Florence Edith Hemphill was born in 1887 in Kansas, the sixth of nine children. She completed her nurse’s training in Topeka. Although women served as nurses before 1917, the U.S. entry into WWI increased demand and calls went out, particularly to American Red Cross nurses who could be assigned to active duty with the Army Nurse Corps.
Nurse Hemphill was part of a group assigned to British hospitals near Rouen, arriving in France in February 1918. After the war, Hemphill returned to the Kansas City area and worked as a private nurse.
William T. Fitzsimons
Doctor William T. Fitzsimons was born in 1889 and graduated from the University of Kansas in 1912. With the start of the war in 1914, he went to England as a Red Cross volunteer and served 15 months at a hospital in South Devon. He returned to Kansas City to private practice, but was commissioned a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Medical Corps in 1917 and left for France in June.
William T. Fitzsimons' personal possessions (1917) by William T. FitzsimonsNational WWI Museum and Memorial
Lieutenant Fitzsimons was killed Sept. 4, 1917, in the bombing of U.S. Army Base Hospital No. 5. He was the first U.S. Army officer to die in the war.
James Edward “Ned” Henschel was born in St. Paul, Minn., but moved with his family to Kansas City in 1907. He went to Westport High School and the University of Missouri. Ned Henschel was in the Fourth Missouri Infantry, Missouri National Guard, in 1916 and when it was federalized for the war, he joined the American Ambulance Field Service.
Ned Henschel in front of Motor Transport Corps trucks (1918) by James E. HenschelNational WWI Museum and Memorial
Henschel volunteered to drive ambulances, but he learned when he arrived in France that they needed camion (truck) drivers.
He wrote home: “Our work will consist of driving transports, big 5-ton Pierce Arrow trucks. It will be either more or less dangerous than the Ambulance Service; that does not matter. The important thing is that France needs right now munitions transport drivers more than she does ambulance drivers, and that is why we came, or why I came at any rate - to do the most possible good wherever I am most wanted. I think that is the spirit of all.”
After the war he lived in New York and headed the Henschel Trading Corporation. He died of a heart attack at age 59.
Kansas City War Dead - Bronze TabletsNational WWI Museum and Memorial
Ultimately of the many who served, 441 Kansas Citians are known to have lost their lives in World War I. Their names are enshrined in Memory Hall at the National WWI Museum and Memorial.
Curator of Education: Lora Vogt
Digital Content Manager: Liesl Christman
Special Projects Historian: Dr. Jennifer Zoebelein
Senior Curator: Doran Cart
Registrar: Stacie Petersen
Director, Archives and Edward Jones Research Center: Jonathan Casey
Made possible in part by the generous support of the William T. Kemper Foundation, the Regnier Family Foundation and the David T. Beals, III Charitable Trust.