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Interview on experiences in World War I

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Creator: Christensen, Ellis G.

Date: November 9, 1977

Level of Description: Item

Material Type: Manuscripts

Call Number: World War II Oral Histories Project

Unit ID: 216351

Biographical sketch: Ellis Christensen was born in Ramona, Kansas and graduated from high school there. After receiving his teaching certificate from the Institute in Marion County he taught at a country school, then later returned to summer school before becoming a principal at the Lost Springs grade school. When it looked like war was going to be declared, he resigned and went to Emporia in April, 1917 and enlisted in Company L of the U. S. Army. His brother was also a member of that same Company. Life was a little different he said, because you got "a regular diet, regular hours, and good exercise." They drilled for several months and camped out until August 5th when they were called into the Federal Service. Many people in Emporia would invite them to Sunday dinner and came out to Camp Heritage to watch them drill. Mr. Christensen said that "everyone was excited about the war." He became acquainted with William Allen White and his daughter, Mary, because his fraternity was close to their house. After a couple of months his whole company was sent to Camp Doniphan at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Life there was "more rugged" than it had been at Camp Heritage. They had bayonet drills and marched much farther in the wind and sand; "it made you tougher than a boot," he said. He eventually became one of the so-called "tough drill sergeants" but he said that he and Lt. Ericsson and Private Riegle went through the war and came back without anybody being mad at them. From Fort Sill they embarked from New York and landed at Liverpool, England in May of 1918. Here they received English weapons and their rations, which were much different than they were used to. When the soldiers were in the trenches they were issued a ration of rum, and he said that after you had a pot of black coffee and threw in some rum, "you were ready to whip a buzz saw." They were brigaded with the British for some time before crossing the English Channel and landing at Le Havre. They got their old weapons back and were again under the command of American troops headed by General Pershing. Eventually they ended up in the Vosges Mountains with the French and drove the Germans back, but there were still the trenches from which sometimes the Germans would pull a surprise attack on you. Barbed wired was placed on those runways with tin cans attached so you could hear the Germans coming because they liked to attack at daybreak. There were so many rats in the trenches that a lot of times the soldiers would mistake the rattling of the cans for Germans and would start firing. Mr. Christensen admired the French soldiers and commented that they lost so many of their men in World War I that "by the time World War II came along they didn't have any wise old soldiers." His unit went to Saint Mihiel where they marched in the rain all the time and then on up through the Argonne offensive which he describes as "the big one." There were guns side by side for miles and on the morning of the 26th they all started booming. He said the whole earth shook, and that was when they began to lose men. Lieutenant Ericsson and he were in a tough spot and seeing "men hit right and left that we knew." Lieutenant Ericsson said to him, "Well, Christie, if we live through this and get back to Emporia we'll have a lot to talk about, won't we?" But they never did talk about it. After about five days they were relieved and went to a few other places on the front. They were marching toward Metz for the last big battle when they got word of the Armistice coming and were stopped. At Commercy they paraded for the Duke of Windsor and all the generals of the Allies, marching fifteen miles in the rain, both ways, to get there. It had been a year and a couple of months since they had left the States and they were mustered out at Fort Riley. Christensen brought back the remaining soldiers that were left in Company L and the town gave them a banquet. He and Lt. Ericsson formed another company that would represent Emporia in World War II. At the end of this interview Mr. Christensen related how when he was in France, Mr. William Allen White brought him a box from a family that he used to eat Sunday dinner with and delivered it to him personally. They were good friends, he said. He went again to the Second World War and to the Korean War, but said he was "too old to go in the next one."

Summary: Ellis Christensen enlisted in the United States Army in 1917 and served in Company L. Interviewed by Steven Hanschu on November 9, 1977, Christensen talked about military experiences in World War I. Christensen also served in World War II and the Korean War. The 2005 Kansas Legislature passed a bill funding the WWII Veterans Oral History grant program. This transcript is from one of the community institutions receiving grants who also used the grant funds to digitize and transcribe previously recorded interviews from World War I. The transcript of the interview is presented here; the original audio copy of the interview is available through the Emporia State University (Flint Hills) and through the Kansas State Historical Society.

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Title (Main title): Interview on experiences in World War I

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