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McKinley Wooden Oral History Interview, February 12, 1986

Oral History Interview with
McKinley Wooden

Mechanic in Battery D, 129th Field Artillery; served under Captain Harry S. Truman in France. Cattle buyer in years after World War I.

Lee's Summit, Missouri
February 12, 1986
by Niel M. Johnson

See Also August 31, 1988 interview.

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

 


Notice
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.

RESTRICTIONS
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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 May, 1987
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

 

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

 



Oral History Interview with
McKinley Wooden

 

Lee's Summit, Missouri
February 12, 1986
by Niel M. Johnson

[1]

JOHNSON: I am here at the home of Mr. McKinley Wooden, who was in Battery D with Mr. Truman back in World War I. I'm going to start out, Mr. Wooden, by asking you to give us the place of your birth and the date of your birth, and then perhaps your parents' names.

WOODEN: Well, I was born in Harrison County, Missouri, March 2, 1895. My father's name was Charles Wooden; my mother's name was Elizabeth. When I was three years old, I got off of the train in Walker; Missouri, about 8 miles from Nevada. We moved onto a farm. We shipped from north Missouri five horses, three of whom died the first summer. We moved into Walker the next year.

[2]

My father bought a grist mill there. That was in 1899. He gave a mortgage on this mill: a team, wagon and harness, and lost them all.

We moved out south of Walker, about two miles, in 1900. My father fired an engine in a sawmill, for $1 a day. Then we moved down by Dedrick, a little town. I never started to school until I was pretty nearly eight years old. It was a frame schoolhouse called Flycreek. The teacher drawed $30 a month. That fall, we bought a farm down on Clear Creek, with a log house and 53 acres of land, all on payments. We finally paid $50 down on it, and when we sold it we had $90 to the good.

I'd never had a suit of clothes; I was eleven years old at that time. We went into Nevada and we splurged. We bought all us kids a suit of clothes, three brothers and myself. You could buy a suit of clothes for a kid then for $2.50 or $2.75, knee britches and a coat. And we had our picture taken. Then we went to a cafe for lunch. At the end of the lunch, the waitress set a dish of ice cream around at each plate. Us kids didn't know what it was.

Then we moved out by Milo. We lived out there

[3]

for two years. I attended a Christian Church Sunday School for a year; finally got a Testament that I kept until I joined the Army. I forget what I ever did do with it. From there on we moved down to Montevallo, and I went to another country school down there. The teacher drawed $35 a month. At one time it was county seat of Vernon County. They're making a historical site out of it now. There was a battle fought there in the Civil War. There's some old soldiers buried there.

Right there is where I finished my education. I wound up the eighth grade, as far as I ever got. At the commencement that night, I had a suit of clothes that cost $3.50, a hat that cost a dollar, and a pair of [high?] kid shoes, that were scuffed up pretty bad. But it rained and I walked out on the grass and got them wet, and they looked better when I got them wet. All the rest of the kids got nice presents. I got one. There was a doctor's daughter there, older than I was. She was pretty friendly to me and she admired me and said I was pretty good with my books, which I could have been.

But anyway, when I graduated from the eighth

[4]

grade, 231 in Vernon County took the examination. I headed the list with a perfect score in arithmetic. The county superintendent gave me quite a bouquet that night at the commencement.

JOHNSON: Was that Montevello town school, or was this a country school, that you graduated from?

WOODEN: It was a country school that I graduated.

JOHNSON: What was the name of that school?

WOODEN: Diamond Grove.

JOHNSON: Now your father was still a farmer at this time?

WOODEN: Yes.

JOHNSON: He was still farming?

WOODEN: Yes, he wasn't getting along. I had a bad life.

JOHNSON: What year was that that you graduated from the eighth grade?

WOODEN: 1910. We moved out close to Walker and I worked around there for the farmers all the way from 50 cents a day to $20 a month. In 1916, I took an immigrant car

[5]

to Idaho, for a man I was working for. It was a week on the road. I had two mules, two horses, a cow and a couple of chickens.

Well, I got out there to Idaho and unloaded them. He was there with his family in Idaho Falls, and his brother. I called him up; he came down the next morning, and we started unloading everything. I went out that morning to take care of my stock in the stockyards. The chickens were couped up in the car yet. I got up there, and the Plymouth Rock rooster had rung his head up through the slats and hung himself. I said, "Well, he's the smartest one of all of us."

Well, we got into Idaho Falls one night. It was dark, but it was the most lit up town you ever saw, beautiful. He was staying with his brother and his family, and this man had four kids too. So I got out and I stayed at a cheap rooming house, 75 cents a night. I didn't have too much money with me. I had about $200 in the bank out at Walker, and I saw that I was soon going to run out of money. Well, I commenced looking for a job. I went out to a sugar factory; they weren't employing anybody. It snowed about two days that time; it was bad. I think it was a Monday morning when

[6]

I saw an old farmer drive up with a bobsled to a feed store. He bought some salt, and some coal and some other stuff. I went to talking to him, and told him who I was and where I was from. He said, "Well, my wife and two boys are staying here in town. If you want to, you can go out there and stay with me and my oldest boy on the ranch. All we're doing is taking care of the livestock." It was either the first of April or the first of May. He said, "I'll give you $40 a month." Well, of course, I went out there.

Well, we got in his sleigh, and we started out. Just as we got to the edge of town, he said, "See that mountain yonder?" I said, "Yes." He said, "My ranch is right at the foot of it." I thought it was off three or four miles. Well, the horses never stopped, and it was getting sundown and we were just going into the foothills. He said, "Well, we're halfway there now."

Well, I worked pretty near all that summer. He had gotten rich down in the valley and then he lost all of his money in speculation. Then he took this government claim up there; he had his own irrigation system, you know, and he was a stone mason. He made the prettiest barn you ever saw, three stories high.

[7]

At one time he represented the Russell Threshing Machine Co. in Idaho Falls. He had a threshing machine outfit and we threshed around up there. So that fall, about every morning when I'd get up -- it must have been October -- the snow would be down a little further on Mount Taylor. I said, "This is no place for me." I said, "I'm leaving." So he paid me up. I went out to Idaho Falls with him. I got on a train. I thought I'd go to Twin Falls; I knew some people out there. I got to Pocotello, and the train I got off of was going to Salt Lake.

Well, I had to wait two hours to get a train into Twin Falls. I said, "Hell, I'd just leave be in Salt Lake." So, I just bought a ticket and I went on down to Salt Lake [City]. I got down there, and I got a job working with the Utah Fire Clay Company. I boarded with an old Mormon lady; her address was 857 South Second West. Now that seems complicated, but it's easy. The second from the Temple, you know, at 857 South. Four or five guys stayed there.

Well, I worked there; I don't know just how long. They had an engine there in the power plant, and the engineer didn't know much about it. Of course, I'd

[8]

tinkered with engines all my life and guns. By God, he was having trouble starting it Monday morning. We shut down at noon on Saturday. So I told him that I'd get some stuff that would make 'er go. I went downtown and I got some ether and stuff. I took it down there, and the next morning I poured the mixer full, and we turned that engine over a time or two. It backfired and the damn thing caught on fire and they called the fire department. There went my job.

JOHNSON: What kind of engine was this?

WOODEN: I don't know the name of the engine. It was some kind of an oil engine, I don't know. I couldn't tell you, but I know it was pretty good size.

Then, by golly, I got back to Walker on Presidential election day, 1916. I went to work for an old boy that I'd worked for in 1914. So it went on that winter and I bought me a nice saddle horse, and a new saddle. I always kept the finest saddle horse in the country, and always a new saddle. About the time they got thinking about war I commenced to get nervous. The night of the fifth day of April, 1917, we were in war.

[9]

In this little town of about 300 population, they were talking war, war, war. I didn't sleep very good. I got up the next morning, and I said, "Jim, I'm going to leave. I'm going to the Army." He said, "Well, I guess I can't stop you." He said, "I'll do the best I can."

So, I rode my horse to Nevada, sold him, sold my saddle, and went back to Walker. I put the money in the bank, got a few clothes, got on the train, and came to Kansas City.

I arrived in Kansas City the morning of April 7, 1917. I knew nothing about the Army. I knew there was an infantry, artillery, and engineers. I could have joined the Regular Army but I wanted to get in a new outfit. While waiting to decide what branch of service to join, I took a six weeks course in the Rahe Auto and Tractor School at Eleventh and Locust; that was one of the best things I ever did. So come along to the 11th day of June, I walked down to the convention hotel, that's where the auditorium is now, and enlisted in Battery D, the Second Missouri Field Artillery.

JOHNSON: But you hadn't had any military experience prior to this at all, you hadn't been...

[10]

WOODEN: Oh, no.

JOHNSON: ...in the National Guard, or the Missouri Guard?

WOODEN: No. But then on the 4th day of August, 1917, we were mustered into the Regular Army, see. It was known as Battery D, 129th Field Artillery, 60th Field Artillery Brigade, 35th Division. All right, then in September we entrained for Ft. Sill, Oklahoma.

JOHNSON: All right. Just to back up a little bit. He was Lieutenant Truman at this time, and he was in Battery F, I believe it was. Had you gotten acquainted yet with Truman? You hadn't met Truman yet, when you went to Oklahoma?

WOODEN: I'll come to that in a little bit. Well, we went down there to Ft. Sill, and we put in the winter down there. The dust would blow from the south one day and from the north the next day, and all. And along about April we entrained for New York.

JOHNSON: Now can I get you back to Ft. Sill? Do you remember some incidents there at Ft. Sill that stand out in your memory?

WOODEN: Yes, I do a couple.

[11]

JOHNSON: Yes.

WOODEN: Well the first thing we did down there -- of course, I was just an ordinary mechanic at that time. They had a wind that was so bad. They had a bulletin board in front of the first sergeant's office and they'd tack the bulletins on that you know -- battery orders, regimental orders and so forth. Well, the wind would blow them off.

Well, I went down to the supply house and I got some window sash. I put it on hinges, put a latch there, and put it on there. Well, the old colonel came along and saw it and he issued a regimental order that every battery in the regiment should copy that. Well, that helped me out, see.

JOHNSON: You were a mechanic?

WOODEN: Yes.

JOHNSON: What was your rating?

WOODEN: I was just a mechanic, see.

JOHNSON: Is that what you had asked for. You'd asked to be a mechanic?

[12]

WOODEN: Well, they just gave me that when I went into the Army, you see.

JOHNSON: Because you had some background with engines?

WOODEN: Yes, that's right.

JOHNSON: You said there was a second incident too. There were a couple of things that you remembered.

WOODEN: They watered their horses in those galvanized tanks, you know, and sometimes they'd freeze some ice on it. Those rookies would go out and cut that ice and they'd accidentally cut a hole through the tank, see, and it would leak. Well, I studied out how to fix that. So, I'd take a file and I'd file that hole out bigger. Then I'd take some lead, rivet it, and put some of this "stickem" good on the outside, you know. It might drip a little, but it saved the tanks.

Well, I was getting along pretty good down there then by that time. Well, like I say, then we got into New York.

JOHNSON: Do you remember that canteen, the Battery D canteen there?

[13]

WOODEN: I've been there.

JOHNSON: The 129th Field Artillery canteen? Now you're looking at a photograph we've got marked 58 366; the fifth man from the right, this man right here, do you think that is Harry Truman?

WOODEN: I don't think so. I don't think so.

JOHNSON: The one with the strap under his chin?

WOODEN: We had chin straps.

JOHNSON: Now you have that in that book you showed me too, you know, in this book here, this picture.

WOODEN: Yes.

JOHNSON: Does that look like Harry Truman to you? Or would you be able to tell?

WOODEN: I wouldn't say so, mister, no.

JOHNSON: Well, does he show up anywhere else in that picture?

WOODEN: Well, I wouldn't think so. But he and Eddie Jacobsen ran this canteen.

[14]

JOHNSON: Did you buy stuff from that canteen? Do you remember that?

WOODEN: Oh, I bought some candy bars and stuff like that, you know.

JOHNSON: Do you remember them when they ran that canteen?

WOODEN: Well, I didn't know at that time who was running it.

JOHNSON: I see.

WOODEN: No, I just went down there because it was a canteen.

JOHNSON: And it was well-run; that was the reputation, that it was well-run.

WOODEN: Well, yes, I guess it was, it made money.