Oral History Interview with
Walter B. Menefee
Sergeant in World War I in Battery D (129th Field Artillery Regiment) commanded by Capt. Harry S. Truman, 1918 19. Later served as postmaster of Clinton, Missouri.
May 28, 1970
by J. R. Fuchs
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened March, 1972
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
Oral History Interview with
Walter B. Menefee
May 28, 1970
by J. R. Fuchs
FUCHS: Mr. Menefee, I thought we might start by just asking you a little bit about your background, when and where you were born, and where you went to school, and your jobs up to the time that you went in the service and met Mr. Truman.
MENEFEE: I was born in Urich, about fifteen miles west of here, in 1893, May 13.
FUCHS: Good duck country.
MENEFEE: I went to school at Maple Grove, never went any further than the eighth grade. I lived on the farm and moved to Clinton in 1924, January 27, 1924. I've been in Clinton ever since, except for a short period when I was in Springfield.
FUCHS: What did you do when you first came to Clinton?
MENEFEE: I came down here to take care of some National Guard horses for the Battery, old Battery D, 129th Field Artillery.
FUCHS: This was in '24?
FUCHS: This was after the war, then?
FUCHS: How did you happen to join up in World War I?
MENEFEE: Why, I was at the Urich reunion on August 23, 1917. They were having a reunion and I just took a notion to enlist and enlisted in the old Battery.
FUCHS: Do you recall who enlisted you?
MENEFEE: Yes, J. E. Moore was the recruiting officer. He was another Urich boy. He had enlisted, and they had sent him back down there to enlist what he could. The day I enlisted there was eight from Urich that enlisted.
FUCHS: What is your first recollection of Mr. Truman? When did you first come in touch with him?
MENEFEE: If I remember right it was on Monday that I reported in Kansas City, and Mr. Truman Lieutenant Truman at that time he was with F Battery in the 129th Field Artillery.
FUCHS: This was what was known as Camp Sweeney?
MENEFEE: Yes, Camp Sweeney.
FUCHS: Where did they get that name?
MENEFEE: It was the old I don't know where they did get the name oh, say, it was the Sweeney Building down
across from the post office. Do you know where that is?
MENEFEE: By the depot, across from the depot.
FUCHS: The main depot?
FUCHS: And they named it after the building, called it Camp Sweeney. I'd seen that name.
MENEFEE: Yes, but we stayed up there in the auditorium.
FUCHS: What do you recall of Lieutenant Truman that day?
MENEFEE: Oh, I just knew him as an officer. We was billeted there and that's about all. I'd see him on the drill field, and that's about all I knew of him then until we went to Fort Sill. We went to Fort Sill, I believe it was in the latter part of September in '17. Still he was with if I remember right he was with F Battery. Then we stayed in Fort Sill until May '18, and I understand he had been sent across on overseas detail ahead of us. Then when we went across, why, he had taken over our Battery.
FUCHS: Do you recall him around the regimental canteen at Camp Doniphan?
MENEFEE: Yes, he was the canteen officer. He bought the supplies for the canteen and worked there, helped.
FUCHS: You've heard the stories that it was very successful. Do you recall that?
MENEFEE: Oh, yes.
FUCHS: Then you became a noncom in Battery D. How did that come about?
MENEFEE: That was at Fort Sill under Captain Thacher, old Uncle John Thacher. My wife was seriously ill at home and at the same time I was a private and he was going to send me to Kansas City after some prisoners that went AWOL. I got my orders and started out and somebody from the first sergeant's tent hollered at me that I had a telegram, and I went back for the telegram that my wife was seriously ill, to "Come home if possible." I asked Captain Thacher if I could take a few days and come on down home, I was within eighty miles of home, and he said, "You can't do that."
I said, "I don't see why. I've got traveling time.”
He said, "You can't do that."
I said, "The only way you're going to keep me from doing it is arrest me before I get out of here, because I'm gone. Goodbye."
I started to leave and I got a little ways and Captain Thacher hollered at me, "Menefee, you wouldn't do that."
I said, "Yes, I will."
He said, "Well, come back here. I'll give you a furlough," and I think I was the first man in the 35th Division to get a pass.
FUCHS: Is that right.
MENEFEE: I stayed my fifteen days, and I wired him for an extension, and he granted it, and I came in and I reported to him and he said, "How's your wife?"
I said, "She isn't expected to live."
He said, "Well, why didn't you wire me? I'd have granted you another extension."
But we got along very well. Captain Thacher is the man that took us across.
FUCHS: He made you a sergeant before you went over.
MENEFEE: He made me a corporal over there. Well, we was on the line of march from the Vosges Sector up the line to St. Mihiel. I was a corporal in the 6th section. It was against orders to break the line of column for anything, you know. Well, here I had seen the General coming by, coming up the line, and I halted my column and give him a big salute and let him through, and the next morning I was a sergeant. I don't know why unless that was it.
FUCHS: That would have been Captain Truman who did that.
MENEFEE: Well, somebody done it, I don't know who.
FUCHS: What do you recall of the assumption of command of Battery D by Captain Truman?
MENEFEE: Oh, the best in the world.
FUCHS: But the first time he came into the Battery. Do you have any recollection of that?
MENEFEE: Well, we thought he was kind of a tenderfoot or something, but we found out later that he wasn't.
When the war was over and our Colonel, Colonel [Karl D.] Klemm, came home, and Captain Truman lined us up one night for retreat and said we was going to have an inspection by our new Colonel, Colonel [Emery T.] Smith, at 9 o'clock the next morning.
Well, the next morning at 9 o'clock they lined us all up for inspection and the new Colonel caught every man in the line: "You have a button off;" "You need shaving;" "Your shirt's dirty," and there was something wrong with everybody.
Well, Captain Truman stepped out and dismissed him and let him get off the field and he called us to attention and said, "Now, you nasty things. We'll have another inspection at 11 o'clock. If it isn't satisfactory, we'll have one at 1 o'clock; and if it isn't satisfactory, we'll have one every two hours until it
is satisfactory." And at 11 o'clock we come out and there wasn't a man who had even washed his face, and we had the best inspection you ever seen.
FUCHS: They hadn't done anything really?
MENEFEE: No, but he give us a good recommendation.
FUCHS: The Colonel didn't come back for inspection?
MENEFEE: Oh, no.
FUCHS: Just Captain Truman.
Well, there's a story that when Truman first took over the Battery that there was a little ruckus, and then that evening he called in the noncommissioned officers, and told them they were going to have to shape things up. Do you recall that incident?
MENEFEE: No, I don't recall much about it. I was on detail service. I wasn't with the Battery at that time. I was on detail around picking up horses for the Regiment.
FUCHS: Do you have any vivid recollections of Captain Truman overseas, you know, in battle, any incidents or anecdotes that stand out in your memory?
MENEFEE: Well, there's one thing he wouldn't do. He wouldn't ask you to do anything that he wouldn't do himself. Our first front we went on was in Vosges Sector. We went up and established gun positions
up a mountain, it took about eight hours to go up there; and we established gun positions, and then we was to go in and get our guns and pull them up to a forward position and do our firing and then go in and get them and come back to the regular positions, which we did. And when we pulled up to the forward position, and then were firing we fired 4500 rounds of gas why, they started shelling us; and of course, our first sergeant said "Dismount and get under cover." I hit the ground; I led the parade. When I went into a dugout it was pretty near full. Captain Truman and Dummy [Earl] Leeman, and I forget, another one or two, was about the only ones that didn't run. This first sergeant got so scared that he ran back eight miles to the echelon and I've never seen him to this day. The next day the Captain stripped his stripes and transferred him, and I don't know what ever become of him.
FUCHS: What was his name?
MENEFEE: [Glen F.] Wooldridge.
FUCHS: Who became first sergeant then?
MENEFEE: I don't believe we had any. Didn't nobody want it. We all acted; all the sergeants acted a week at a time, you know. We'd take it in rotation. Then
before we came home we picked up Paul Sieben, who was a corporal, and made him first sergeant, because none of the rest of us wanted it.
FUCHS: Well, now the roster of Battery D published in Lee's book, The Artilleryman, shows Wooldridge and Sieben, and it also shows Frederick Bowman, Verne Chaney, and Giles L. Eggleston.
MENEFEE: Yeah, they were all acting.
FUCHS: They were all acting first sergeants from time to time.
MENEFEE: If I remember right they were. Now, listen, about Eggleston, it seems to me that he was, but Eggleston died overseas.
FUCHS: I see. But Chaney and Bowman were just acting at various times?
MENEFEE: I believe that's right. I'm not sure now.
FUCHS: Well, now, this was the "Battle of Who Run," that you were speaking about?
MENEFEE: That was the "Battle of Who Run." We all run.
FUCHS: Do you have any other recollections of particular actions over there with Mr. Truman?
MENEFEE: No, on the morning of the Armistice, about 9 o'clock in the morning, we were right out of
Verdun, I guess it was the Verdun Conflans. Anyway, I was with the Captain and we were going around the road through a hill, and we met a major of the Wildcat Division, 81st Division, and Truman asked him, "What's the matter?"
He said, "I had a battalion of men once but I can't find them."
He said, "What happened?"
He said, "They're scattered and I can't find them." That was the morning of the Armistice.
FUCHS: What did you do then when you came back from overseas? You came back to Urich?
MENEFEE: Yeah, I came back there. I guess I went in the stock business. I went to work carrying Jones Brothers' checkbook up here at Warrensburg, buying mules.
FUCHS: Did you see Mr. Truman at reunions?
MENEFEE: Oh, I've seen him off and on ever since until the last couple of years. I haven't been up there in the last couple of years.
FUCHS: Did you attend the Battery reunions in Kansas City?
MENEFEE: I did up until the last two years. I've gotten so I don't like to drive up there of a night.
FUCHS: What about those early reunions? Do you have any
recollections of them?
MENEFEE: Oh, yes, we had some awful reunions. Awful times!
FUCHS: Do you recall anything about Mr. Truman that might be of interest to historians?
MENEFEE: Oh, no, I wouldn't want to tell them all.
FUCHS: Well, you can close them for a while, until he's gone.
MENEFEE: I was surprised to hear that when he was President, you know, it was reported one time that he was drinking
a little. Well, I never would believe it. I never would believe that.
FUCHS: You never saw him . . .
MENEFEE: I've seen him take a highball, but that's all.
FUCHS: Take it and hold it most of the time.
MENEFEE: Yes. Oh, he'd drink it, sure one but I never would believe that.
FUCHS: You mean you didn't think he drank very much.
MENEFEE: No, no.
FUCHS: What about the haberdashery, did you ever get in there?
MENEFEE: Yes, sir, I've been there, and also out at what was his buddy's name?
FUCHS: Eddie Jacobson.
MENEFEE: Eddie Jacobson. I've been in his place out on South Main.
FUCHS: Yes, he sold one and he went to the Landing, you know. It used to be South Main, 39th and Main, then they moved to the Landing, then he died . . .
MENEFEE: Well, I haven't been there.
FUCHS: What about when Mr. Truman got married in 1919 when he came back. Did you go to the wedding?
FUCHS: You didn't.
FUCHS: One of the other officers in the Regiment was Spencer Salisbury. Do you have any recollections of him?
MENEFEE: He was from Independence. They always called Salisbury and his Battery, "The Forty Thieves."
FUCHS: Why was that?
MENEFEE: Well, I don't know.
FUCHS: Or you don't care to say.
Did you have any relations politically with Mr. Truman after he got into his campaigns, were you involved in any way directly?
MENEFEE: Well, I done everything I could do right here in
the county. He never run for office that we didn't carry this county for him. I was the only man in the county that was acquainted with him when he started.
FUCHS: Do you have any recollections of any of his early trips down here when he was running for Senator?
MENEFEE: He would come down here and we'd have our gatherings and meetings, and we just got the right bunch back of him and supported him.
FUCHS: Were you in the stock business then right up until the time you became postmaster?
MENEFEE: No, no. Oh, I've done a little trading all my life, even after I was in the post office, but I wa