When word was out that the Carroll Mansion Museum planned a special WWI exhibit centered around those who served from Leavenworth County, several members of the Historical Society offered their contributions for the display. The exhibit, which opened in August and runs through December 20, highlights more than 100 photographs of soldiers from Leavenworth County as well as an array of war relics, including those on loan from local collectors, John Reichley and Jason Claire. Aside from presentation flags, medals, uniforms, discharge papers, war posters, and scrapbooks it is somehow the personal letters exchanged during those years that strike a chord.
Contained within the current exhibit are a few letters written by soldiers to their families back home. Alex Sughrue addressed fancy postcards picked up in France to send short notes to his sister, Mrs. Mary Wahler, at 1218 Kiowa street. On December 2, 1918, he wrote:
“Dear Sister, I thought I would drop you a little Xmas card to remind you of the day and also that I am thinking of it too and I wished that I could be there to enjoy it with you. But there is a better time coming and it is not very far off. I am well at present and feel pretty good. Well good by from your ever thoughtful brother Alex.”
A collection of these postcards, donated by Sughrue’s daughter and LCHS volunteer, Joan Cooper, can be viewed in the exhibit.
On loan from Ed Wettig are newspapers with haunting war images carrying headlines such as, “American troops lacked training in World War, but not heroism” and “From all walks of life flower of American youth went into battle.” Ed’s father, Edward F. Wettig, was a self-employed book binder prior to his enlistment in 1917. He served in France after training at Camp Funston in Kansas. In a note to his mother he wrote, “Just a few lines to let (you) known we have just arrived safe and now I am somewhere in England. I am feeling fine and now we are about to go to the training camp. I can’t say much on account of the censor. Didn’t get sick once while on the ocean. Will write more later on. Write me soon. I remain your loving son, Edward”
While letters to and from the folks back home were certainly eagerly anticipated, an unusual and probably unexpected letter from the war times is that written by King George to the U.S. soldier upon debarkation in England. Every soldier was given an envelope with these words, “A Message to You from His Majesty King George.” Inside the envelope was a sheet of paper with the royal arms engraved on it. A facsimile of the hand-written message was, “Soldiers of the United States, the people of the British Isles welcome you on your way to take your stand beside the Armies of many Nations now fighting in the Old World the great battle for human freedom. The Allies will gain new heart and spirit in your company. I wish that I could shake the hand of each one of you and bid you God speed in your mission.” For those who have World War I memorabilia, these letters have become treasured as one of the most valuable souvenirs of the war.