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Floyd T. Ricketts Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Floyd T. Ricketts

Private in Battery D, 129th Field Artillery Regiment in World War I, under the command of Capt. Harry S. Truman.

Rancho Santa Fe, California
March 24, 1970
by James 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. [45]) 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 January 1978
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri


[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


Oral History Interview with
Floyd T. Ricketts


Rancho Santa Fe, California
March 24, 1970
by James R. Fuchs


FUCHS: Mr. Ricketts, would you begin by giving a brief sketch of your background, when and where you were born, and maybe something about your education and jobs you held up until the time you entered the service?

RICKETTS: Well, I was born June 1, 1896 in Clay County near Kansas City, Missouri but spent most of my life in Kansas City up until the time I came to California in 1919. I went to the public schools in Kansas City and did some work in the City; worked for a


printing company. With the advent of the war in 1917 I, along with a number of the other neighborhood boys with whom I was raised and grew up with as little children, joined Battery D. We were from the vicinity of 22nd and Prospect.

After the war ended, because of sickness of my brother, we moved to California, Los Angeles in 1919, and I've been living in California ever since. I worked for the Santa Fe Railroad in the personnel branch of the service and for one of the railroad unions for 45 years. I've been retired ten years and my wife and I built this home here in Rancho Santa Fe thirteen years ago and we're enjoying our retirement years here very much.

FUCHS: Did you belong to the National Guard before the war?


RICKETTS: No. It was just that one of the boys in the neighborhood joined the Battery and then he persuaded the rest of his schoolboy friends to join with him; and there was, in my neighborhood, about fifteen that joined Battery D. We started our training there at the old Convention Hall in Kansas City, until we left for Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, where we had preliminary training, artillery school, and so forth before we left for France.

FUCHS: There were a lot of Irish boys in that outfit, I understand.

RICKETTS: About 60 percent were Irish boys. There was the O'Hares and the Schmidts and the Murphys. Tommy [Thomas E.] Murphy, I guess someone had told you, was the amateur light-weight champion of the U.S.A. in 1917; most of the young fellows were athletes of some kind. I was a semi-pro ballplayer around


Kansas City, and there were fighters, and football players, and basketball players; and so, the Battery was pretty much all made up of athletes of one sort or another.

FUCHS: Who enlisted you in the Battery?

RICKETTS: I think Bill [William A.] O'Hare, an old buddy that I went to school with and grew up with and played baseball with.

FUCHS: What was his rank?

RICKETTS: I think he was a corporal when we were at the Convention Hall.

FUCHS: Do you have any recollections of Camp Doniphan or Mr. Truman?

RICKETTS: Well, now my only recollection of Camp Doniphan was that when we got down there -- in November I think it was -- it turned cold and it was the coldest winter they ever


experienced in the Midwest. We were in what were actually tents, and we had what they called, Sibley stoves. We kept that thing going red hot all night long. March came along, then the dust and the winds began to have their day and my recollections of Ft. Sill was pretty rough training.

FUCHS: Did you see Captain Truman there? He was then a lieutenant, of course.

RICKETTS: He was then a lieutenant, and he and Lieutenant [Edward] Jacobson had charge of the regimental canteen; and we would see them around the canteen of course. But I didn't get acquainted with Truman until he was made captain of the Battery in France.

FUCHS: What were your impressions of the canteen?

RICKETTS: The canteen was well-run and it was a


godsend for us to go and get something different than the usual mess hall meals. We could at least get snacks and candies and so forth.

FUCHS: Did you go over with the advanced detail as Mr. Truman did?

RICKETTS: No, I didn't go with the advanced detail. I was a cannoneer. The advanced detail left about six, eight weeks before we did. Their purpose, I guess, was to get things lined up for equipping the Battery with horses and artillery pieces when we got there.

FUCHS: Battery D had a succession of captains. Who were they, and what do you recall of them? Perhaps you could say something of why they didn't stay with Battery D?

RICKETTS: Well, Battery D, as I say, was made up of a group of young fellows that had a lot of vim and vigor and had to be on the move


and doing things at all times; and I might say that they were a little bit unruly. The succession of three or four captains we had, for some reason or other, couldn't get along, or do the job with the Battery. When we arrived in France -- and I think we were at Camp Coetquidan at the time -- Truman was appointed to take over the Battery.

Our first impression of Truman was when he appeared before the Battery; he gave the impression of a professor more than he did an artillery officer. He had those thick glasses and the first words that I think he spoke to the Battery were, "Now men," and then he went on to tell us just what he expected of us, and what he would try to do for us. I would say that when he took over the Battery the first thing I recall, was that we had better mess. We found also that he was much interested personally in each individual


and any of their problems; and he would talk to them.

On the other hand, we found, too, that he was a pretty strict disciplinarian. If we got out of line too far he would take what steps were necessary to put you back in line. But he, we think, was a great artillery officer, and it was demonstrated at the front later on when we got into actual action that he was a good artillery officer and very proficient in directing the fire of the Battery. He did, we think, a marvelous job.

I remember one instance while we were at the front. We were in position in an old orchard and we had set our guns and fired a few salvos into the German lines. Then we were set to protect the infantry against a counterattack that evening. Then a German airplane came over, flying at low altitude; and the pilot sprayed the Battery position


with his machine gun, but fortunately, no one was hit. After he was out of sight, Truman ordered the Battery to abandon that position and move back about a quarter of a mile near a crossroads. I remember it was between the little village of Cheppy and Varennes; and we went into position there and set up our guns.

And that night, about midnight, the orchard which we had formerly occupied was heavily shelled. I think that Truman realized that that airplane had probably notified the German artillery of our position. They, of course, knew the locale and so forth, and they just gave that location the business. I think that act on the part of Truman in moving our location probably saved a lot of lives.

FUCHS: What about the Battle of Who Run?

RICKETTS: Well, the Battle of Who Run was a rather


comical experience. It was our first taste of war. We were in position up in the Vosges Mountains near Kruth. I think it was more or less a training exercise for the infantry, going over the top and into the German lines and perhaps taking a few prisoners. After we fired our barrages, Truman ordered the Battery to leave that spot and return to our echelon at Kruth. Half of the Battery had moved out and was on the road ready to move. I was with the first section on the road when the Germans opened up with counterfire on the position we had just left.

There was a gas alarm and little Johnny [John J.] Higginbotham -- he was my little number three boy on the gun squad -- and myself were supposed to put the gas masks on the horses. He was only about four feet eight inches tall and I was over six feet; we got out the gas masks and did our best to get


these masks on the horses. I think we got them on a couple of them and then we gave up. Our gun section then moved out; we weren't down where the action was, so to speak -- where the shells were falling at that time -- and for some reason we couldn't move the two remaining guns.

FUCHS: The horses came out all right?

RICKETTS: Oh, yes, no one got hurt. But it was our first experience at being under fire and I don't know whether anyone really ran or not. I didn't see anyone running. But that was the name they gave the battle, "the Battle of Who Ran." It was quite a joke in the Battery afterwards.

FUCHS: Mr. Truman relates an incident where he was on a road and a battery of French fired over his head from where they were up above


this road? Do you recall this? Was that something that was related just to him or to the entire Battery?

RICKETTS: I think that was on the way back from the Battle of Who Ran. It was dark and we had gone about a mile and a half and all at once to our left a French battery of 75s opened up. We didn't know they were there or anywhere near, and we didn't know what had happened. That was quite a show, those guns going off almost right in your f