Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened December, 1970
Oral History Interview with
March 4, 1970
by J. R. Fuchs
FUCHS: Mr. Leigh, I wonder if you would mind beginning by giving us a little of your background, when and where you were born and maybe your education up to the time that you went into the military.
LEIGH: Well, I was born in Corning, Iowa in December of 1896 and we moved to Kansas City in 1905, and I went to the Lathrop School and I graduated from that in 1910 and that was the end of my education, formal education. During that time
I carried newspapers and sold newspapers and finally got a job, when I got out of school, and in 1917 I joined the old D Battery of the Second Missouri Field Artillery.
FUCHS: What kind of work had you been doing just prior to your going into the Battery?
LEIGH: I had worked for a food broker.
FUCHS: I see. So, you joined the Battery then at the time of the war.
LEIGH: Right after the war started. I think that most of us joined along in May. I think that war was declared in April, if I remember right. We drilled on the streets of Kansas City. I think they were building the old BMA Building across from the Union Station and it seems to me that we wound up with that as our headquarters
before we went to Fort Sill. We were sworn into the Regular Army in August, I believe, and if I remember right, we went down to Sill in September.
FUCHS: Do you recall who mustered you into D Battery? You went right into -- D Battery was already formed.
LEIGH: It was already formed. Charlie [Charles B.] Allen was the Captain and he was Captain because those that were in the Battery already had elected him Captain.
FUCHS: Would he have been the one that swore you into the service? The National Guard?
LEIGH: No, he wasn't. This is funny. The way I happened to go into D Battery was -- and this is the truth: Harry Whitney, who is now a
Judge in Kansas City, and another boy named Emmet LaMaster and myself were walking down Grand Avenue in Kansas City one day; and in front of the Kansas City Gas Company was a sign saying "Join the Artillery and Ride" and this appealed to us. We didn't care too much about marching all over France, so we all went in and signed up with Corporal [Frank G.] Hoffman. And I suppose that's what you mean by who took us into the Battery. I dont remember whether we took any oaths or anything but we became members of D Battery.
FUCHS: Yes, that's what I was just wondering if you recalled who...
LEIGH: Yes. And we used to go out to the Paseo and drill, 15th and Paseo. That was early, that was right after we went in. If I remember right,
I still worked and drilled with them at the same time. I think we all did that until we were sworn into the Federal Army in August. I don't believe that we put in day and night with the Battery as long as it was a National Guard outfit.
FUCHS: This was when it was designated with the 129th Field Artillery then.
LEIGH: Well, when we joined it was the Second Missouri Field Artillery of the National Guard.
LEIGH: And then we were sworn into the Federal Army, it became the 129th Field Artillery and D Battery was in the Second Battalion.
FUCHS: Have you any recollection of Mr. Truman in
Kansas City while you were drilling?
LEIGH: Never heard of him. Never heard of him. In fact, you knew -- just by being in a regiment, you knew some of the officers in the other outfits in that regiment, and if I remember right, President Truman was a lieutenant in F Battery; and how he ever became assigned to D Battery in France, I don't know, if I ever knew I've forgotten it. I never thought that much about it. We'd have officers go through our outfit and this was just one more as far as the Battery was concerned, but it didn't turn out that way.
FUCHS: What happened with Captain Allen? There are two Captain Allens, the one who was...
LEIGH: I don't know, they had -- you know after we
got down to Sill the officers, a lot of them were pretty green and like Allen, he -- I don't know if he had had any military experience in the National Guard or not. Chances are he hadn't. He was a very likeable guy and easy come, easy go, and I think that we all ran over him. And they had to go to officers school down there, and I think Truman made a record for himself in that and I think Charlie Allen may not have made the grade at all. But I don't remember for sure, and some of the other fellows in the Battery can probably remember our different captains and so on, but I -- they were just passing in the night as far as I was concerned. There would be another one tomorrow. It was a pretty wild bunch. Pretty wild.
FUCHS: Do you have any recollections of Mr. Truman, or Lieutenant Truman, at Camp Doniphan or
LEIGH: No, I say I knew that there was somebody named Truman down there in F Battery, but that was the end of it. It didn't mean anything anymore than Joe Jones, you know.
FUCHS: Were you conscious of the...
LEIGH: Very, very seldom.
FUCHS: No -- of the fact that he and Eddie Jacobson were running the regimental canteen?
LEIGH: Yeah, now you brought that back, I remember that now, yeah, that's right. I'd forgotten that. Was that the supply company?
FUCHS: No. He was just put in charge, as I know the story, of organizing with Eddie Jacobson, and running the regimental canteen?
LEIGH: I think others had been running it and I think our canteen was in bad shape, and they put him in there to straighten it out. I believe that is the way the thing was, but I'd forgotten that.
FUCHS: Do you have any memories of the canteen?
LEIGH: Very, very little, very little, they didn't have much to offer. We had to go outside for -- the only thing that D Battery was really interested in was alcohol, and vinrouge over in France, and they didn't sell that at the canteen. I don't want to give you the wrong idea, they were young, but they were pretty good consumers.
FUCHS: What is your first recollection of Mr. Truman ?
LEIGH: The night he took the Battery over. He stood there, and I don't even remember [John H.] Thacher saying anything, but the chances are he did and the chances are he cried a little bit because he was an emotional type guy, Captain Thacher. But Truman wasn't, and he stood there and he was kind of a rather short fellow, compact, serious face, wearing glasses; and we'd had all kinds of officers and this was just another one you know. And he announced to the Battery that he was going to be in charge and when he gave orders he wanted them carried out. He made it pretty plain; and then he turned the Battery over to the First Sergeant and the First Sergeant told us to fall out, and then we gave Captain Truman the Bronx cheer, that's a fact.
FUCHS: Is that right?
LEIGH: Yeah, it's a fact.
FUCHS: That's interesting.
LEIGH: I'll tell you later what the Bronx cheer was.
FUCHS: Was this while he was in hearing?
LEIGH: Was he? He was walking away you know. And the next morning, on the bulletin board, about half of the noncoms and most of the first class privates were busted. And then we knew that we had a different "cat" to do business with than we had up to that time. He didn't hesitate at all. The very next morning this was on the board . He must have sat up all night, you know. I think the First Sergeant was at the head of the list. I'm not sure.
FUCHS: Who was this?
LEIGH: A fellow named [Glen F.] Wooldridge, but I don't know whether he canned him right then or whether it was a little later, but he canned him. And it kind of gave you an idea, you know, that maybe this guy wasn't to be trifled with, you see. And he wasn't either. Then we were at a school of fire, at a place called Coetquidan. It was one of Napoleon's old training grounds you know, little country villages around us. And that's where we took over the 75s; we had been using a three inch piece, it was a copy of a German gun, and it wasn't anything like the 75; and the officers had to get used to it, too. But it was a great piece of artillery, and we loved the gun; it would do tricks. They used to say, you could knock a sparrow off a telephone wire at eight or nine thousand yards with the 75. The
Battery really, I think, became pretty proficient at firing those guns. Mr. Truman saw to it that we did, that we worked at it. Anyhow these were wild kids but they weren't dummies by a whole lot, they could learn.
We enjoyed our stay at Coetquidan. They had what they called la gare, which in French you know means the station. This was a railroad station down at the foot of a long hill, and this long hill had bars galore all the way down, and any time that you wanted to round up D Battery in the evening that's where you went and got them. He had that to contend with, too, but he contended with it alright.
FUCHS: Do you know if he ever went down there personally or did he always dispatch his...
LEIGH: No. I don't know.
LEIGH: No. He could read the riot act in few words. He didn't mess around you know, it was -- he was pretty stern.
FUCHS: Do you recall any specific examples where someone did something and he read the riot act?
LEIGH: Well, I'm thinking of something that happened. We were on our way to the Argonne, the whole regiment, and we'd march at night -- not march, you'd have these horses pulling material -- and we pulled into some woods this night, and you slept on the ground and the ground was wet. This was in the fall of 1918 and they had a lot of rain in northern France and it wasn't very pleasant. There's always a "wireless" operating in every military outfit, you know that as well as I do. Troops weren't supposed
to know where you were going to the next stop. You didn't make a lot of mileage. You didn't make a lot of mileage, you might cover fifteen, eighteen miles, I guess twenty maybe a night but -- no not that much -- but anyhow we knew where the Battery was going to stop the next night, see; and that night -- I was on a gun so I didn't get to ride a horse -- three or four others -- I don't remember who was with me. I think this kind of shows the kind of disciplinarian that he was. We weren't going to desert the Army. We knew where the Battery was going to stop the next night and rather than poke along -- those horses don't walk very fast you know. We were young and we could go. We got out ahead of the Battery, and followed the road and then went right to this town where we were going to be billeted that next night.
FUCHS: You don't remember the name of the town?
LEIGH: I don't remember the name of that town but Truman would remember it. So, I remember we hid behind an old building there and smoked cigarettes, Bull Durham cigarettes, and time went by and it seemed like the Battery would never come. But finally here they came poking down the road, and when they did we fell in behind. All we had done, was just got out ahead of them and waited for them and then joined them again. So this is what we did, and this is the kind of a Battery it was, guys did things like that, so now we fell in behind. Now, we felt good about the whole thing, because here we were back home again. And a man rode up and said to another fellow on a horse, "Sergeant, take these men's names." And that was the
lieutenant colonel of the regiment and we were supposed to be stragglers. This is a court martial offense, and I mean they could make it kind of nasty for you; and our names were turned over to Captain Truman. The next morning we were all ready to be summoned up there and court martialed, but nothing happened Not long after that, I don't remember whether we all went up together or if I went by myself, but I remember I had to go up in front of Truman. He said, "Now, don't ever do that anymore." He said, "I understand what you were doing. I don't condone it, the Battery has got to be cohesive, you know, got to stay together. If everybody started wandering all over France, I won't have any Battery anymore. Don't do it anymore. That's all. Goodbye."
You see, this lieutenant colonel wanted
to have us court martialed, and he certainly had the authority over Harry Truman; but you know Harry Truman, and [Colonel Karl D.] Klemm was a little rough himself, but Harry Truman must have fought for us. He must have said, "I know these boys, they were straggling out in front of us, but they weren't straggling trying to get away or anything like that." I'm telling you this long-winded story just to illustrate.
FUCHS: No, it's good.
LEIGH: But I think that was just -- that was understanding, and I know that everyone of us tried a little harder after that, you see, because that's one way to make believers out of kid soldiers.
FUCHS: Yes. After Captain Truman took over did you have any other doubts about his capacity
to lead or command at any particular time?
LEIGH: Well, we didn't really know him, and all we knew was that if we started yelling when he told us to fall out -- we'd done that four months before, you know, we had been doing just as we damned pleased almost -- and we found that this guy brought us up short.