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McKinley Wooden Oral History Interview, August 31, 1988

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
August 31, 1988
by Andrew Dunar and Robert Ferrell

See Also February 12, 1986 interview.

[|Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcrip | 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 July, 1990
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

 

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

 



Oral History Interview with
McKinley Wooden

 

Lee's Summit, Missouri
August 31, 1988
by Andrew Dunar and Robert Ferrell

Summary Description:

Topics discussed include the following: three-inch guns in World War I; Battery D in Kansas City and at Fort Sill; transport of Battery D to Europe; commanders of Battery D; Battery D in combat in World War I; procedures of firing French-designed 75-mm artillery weapons; McKinley Wooden's relationship to Harry S. Truman after World War I, and Truman's campaigning in Nevada, Missouri in 1934.

Names mentioned include Jerry McGowan, Ralph Thacker, Mike Flynn, Charles B. Allen, Orrie Goosey, Morris Riley, Karl Klemm, Arthur J. Elliott, Lawrence F. Becker, John H. Thacker, Rollin Ritter, Harry S. Truman, James T. McNamara, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Edward L. Stauffer, Albert Ridge, L. G. Berry, Emery T. Smith, Robert M. Danford, Peter Traub, Edward Meisburger, and Vic H. Housholder.

[1]

WOODEN: The only other boy alive is in the hospital. He's right there next to my picture, standing there with a suit on. There's two of us; that was our last dinner over here, celebrating Truman's birthday, a year ago. He wasn't able to go to this last one, and I had it all to myself.

DUNAR: This picture here.

WOODEN: Yes.

DUNAR: Who was the other man? Is that Jerry McGowan?

WOODEN: Yes, that's Jerry McGowan. He's in a rest home somewhere; the last count I had of him. Now Ralph Thacker, they buried him a week ago Friday. He was the best friend I had in the battery. He was sergeant of number four gun; he fired the first shot in the war, that is of D Battery's participation in it. That's him up there on the top, in the

[2]

middle. He's been in bad shape three or four years, and the last two or three dinners he couldn't eat nothing. He'd lost a lot of weight. So it just leaves me and McGowan left out of 220. [Editor’s Note: Two other veterans of Battery D still living in 1989 have been identified subsequent to this interview. They are Lorain H. Cunningham and Floyd T. Ricketts.]

DUNAR: I'm going to try not to repeat the things that you were asked before. But I am a little curious about some of the training, because I know you had some background as a mechanic. How did you learn about firing -- I guess at first it was six-inch guns -- at Ft. Sill?

FERRELL: First was three-inch.

DUNAR: I'm sorry; three inch guns at Ft. Sill. Can you tell us a little about the training at Ft. Sill for learning how to operate the guns?

WOODEN: Well, we were down at Ft. Sill; we got down there, oh, I'd say in September. I don't know just the damn date, but we had those American three-inch guns, and they weren't worth a goddamn.

FERRELL: Were those what were called the "crime of 1916?" Or were those the 1903 guns?

WOODEN: I couldn't tell you, mister. All I know is they were three-inch guns; they were a good looking gun, but they were

[3]

no good. The recoil mechanism was handled with three spiral springs, and we'd go out there on the range and fire the damn things a few times, and I'd have to work on them a day or two to get them back in shape. They were just simply no good. And if we had went to France with them, we would have never won the war.

DUNAR: They got out of alignment, is that what happened?

WOODEN: Sure.

DUNAR: They wouldn't fire, or they got out of alignment, or what happened?

WOODEN: Oh, they'd fire all right, but you couldn't depend on them.

DUNAR: For accuracy?

WOODEN: That's right. That's right. Well, they were a joke now, no ifs nor ands about it. Before we left there they got in some 4.7s but I never had any experience with them because we left right away; but they were the good looking gun.

Now, briefly I have tinkered with guns all my life, I expect I've owned a hundred; my first one cost a dollar. Me and my brother raised popcorn with a hoe, and had about three or four bushel and we couldn't sell it, nobody'd buy

[4]

it. Finally an old man gave us a dollar for it and we bought a little Hamilton rifle. It loaded underneath the barrel, about half way up; and a box of shells cost 15 cents. Now where we got that 15 cents to buy that I don't now. We got a box of shells somewhere; we might have stole them.

We took turns about shooting it, you know, and since then I've owned all kinds of guns. I used to do a lot of hunting, and then I got to trap shooting. I was a pretty good shot when we were hunting quails and ducks, pretty hard to beat, but then I got to shooting trap and I couldn't afford it, so I quit. I didn't hunt nor shoot anymore for thirty years. And then I got back in again and I made it pretty good. I understood the boys; they knew I was there. But when I had a heart attack about 15 years ago, or 16, I had five trap guns. I had a Winchester 1200, a Winchester 1400 -- that's automatic -- the 1200 was a pump, a Remington 870 pump, a Remington 1100 --that's an automatic -- and an Ithica. I didn't think I could ever shoot again. I sold them all one Sunday, laying in bed; lost $400 on them. If I had kept them now they would have made $1,000. That's a fact. The gun then that I bought just to hunt with, a cheap 870 Remington, is as good a gun as was ever made. It cost $120 -- now it's $279, the same gun -- that's how things have changed.

[5]

I'd give anything today if I was able and could go out here and trap shoot and shoot a box of shells; can't do her. Afraid I'd let a gun go off and hurt somebody or something. Ain't no business doing it. Well, just ain't able to do it, that's all, but I've had a lot of fun with it. It's been my life and that's one thing that helped me in the Army.

To top it all off, the night of the fifth day of April, 1917, I was working on a farm, twenty bucks a month. Me and the boss went into town that night, and they was talking war, you know. Nobody had heard anything about war then, or the Army or nothing; it wasn't like it is now. So I didn't sleep very good that night, and the next morning I told the boss; I said, "Jim, I'm going to leave, I'm going to join the Army." "Well," he says, "that's your business." He said, "I'll try and get along." Had the best saddle horse in the country and a new saddle; rode him into Nevada. I sold him and sold my saddle, went back to Walker and put the money in the bank. I got a suitcase and some more stuff, and came to Kansas City to join the Army.

Well, I got up here and I looked around, and I knew there was an infantry, and I knew there was an artillery and I knew there was engineers. I could have joined the Regular Army, but I thought now I ought to get into something where they're all starting so I've got an even break. See, if I joined the Regular Army, I'd just been another boy in there

[6]

you know and all the rest of them soldiers you see would have had it on me.

Well, I started around that night; there was an automobile school there at 11th and Locust and I said, "I'm just going to take that and I can quit any time when I get ready to join the Army." So I bought a scholarship in that; cost me $75. I've got the diploma right here. And so that helped me out too you know. It was all right. it was one of the best things I ever done, see, so far as that's concerned.

So then, in June, the eleventh day of June (now that there says I joined the Army the sixth day of June, but that's a mistake, that's when I left down there; of course, they got that balled up), but it was the eleventh day of June when I joined the Army. That man sitting right up there on the bottom picture in the middle there, Mike Flynn, who was a lieutenant, set at the table the day I joined the Army. They buried him two years ago; he got rich in the stockyards. He sat there at the table the same day. All the boys who sat at the table the day I joined the Army, they are dead and gone. One of them was president of the Farm and Home [Savings and Loan]; you've heard of it, biggest savings and loan I guess in the State of Missouri, or right at it anyway. So, after I joined the Army, why they quartered us at Convention Hall; that's where the

[7]

Auditorium is now you know.

FERRELL: What did that place look like? That was built in 1900, wasn't it?

WOODEN: That was built for….

FERRELL: For Bryan.

WOODEN: It was built for a Republican Convention, I think, or something, Convention Hall was. I can't say just when it was built.

FERRELL: A great big barn-like place.

WOODEN: Yes. Yes. That's where we used to stay. All of us boys that didn't live in Kansas City, we stayed there at night, and the boys that did, they let them go home at night. But they had to be back at 8 o'clock the next morning, you know.

DUNAR: Did you drill in the Convention hall?

WOODEN: Sir, we were out on the streets.

DUNAR: In the park right out here?