One of the things often repeated by the National World War I Museum and Memorial and others is that World War I is the war that changed everything. As a result, it is important to consider what happened after the war that came about as a consequence of it.
In the summer of 1919 the Army wanted in part to show off the machinery that helped win the war to the public. A cross-country tour could accomplish this, and in addition it would demonstrate the need for better roads. With this goal, they had no idea how bad some roads would be. The convoy could also be used for recruitment purposes.
The convoy did not touch Kansas. However, as many may well know, one of the officers was a Lt. Colonel who had been frustrated by not getting orders to go to Europe, but had to remain here and train personnel. This was Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Because there is ample material available, I want to post a couple of links to tell the story:
What I want people to get out of this is that this is a splendid example of how one event may trigger or influence another. The War inspired the army to mount the convoy. By having Lt. Colonel Eisenhower along, he got to experience first hand the problems with roads in America, and the frustrations there would be in moving army materiel by road. When Lt. Colonel Eisenhower became General Eisenhower, he would see how the German army in World War II would utilize the Autobahns. And when General Eisenhower became President Eisenhower, he pushed and received the establishment of our Interstate Highway Program, which today is called the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. In his book, At Ease: Stories I Tell My Friends, Eisenhower confirms that his desire to see an interstate highway system was influenced by his memories of the convoy and the German Autobahns.
For those of you considering exhibits for the centennial, please remember that it is also important to remember how things may have changed in your community thanks to the progression of events that may have started with the Great War.
I’m going to get double duty out of the 1919 convoy.
One other thing that organizations may wish to pursue for the centennial is to record family stories relating to the Great War. Clearly, those who participated are gone. But there are still those who may have heard the stories, and even though these would be considered secondary sources, rather than primary sources, they may still have value within the family, and with others.
There is also the problem of being able to confirm the accuracy of the stories.
The story I want to relate may not be the most scintillating, but I think it does point out the problems of family stories and being able to discover if there is truth in them.
In Western Pennsylvania, when the convoy was still starting out, my Grandfather and possibly other family members went to see it. It was well publicized–which is what the Army wanted–and a matter of curiosity for many.
But there is one point that is tantalizing. What was really the only point in telling anything about the convoy was that Grandfather was supposed to have talked to an officer who always went unnamed in the telling. But this officer was always described in the same way–he had a long German name. The implication was that Grandfather had talked to Eisenhower well before anyone knew who Eisenhower was.
Well, how do you prove this?
I never met Grandfather, as he passed from the scene nearly a quarter of a century before I arrived. He didn’t even live to see Eisenhower become as household name.
Grandmother passed well before I was interested in stories such as this. This leaves the children, including my father, who would have been 4 when the convoy was moving. They are all gone as well, but they told the story the same way consistently.
If nothing else, it is a reminder to get these stories down now, before they evaporate completely into the mists of history. Even if they are now second-hand stories.
As for me, if you see a convoy picture in Western Pennsylvania of a balding officer and a balding civilian speaking to each other, please let me know.
With my luck, they’re wearing hats and one can’t see their faces . . .