Frank Kaiser and Ernest Bassett in WWI

Frank Kaiser
Frank Kaiser

Frank Nicholas Kaiser was born November 28, 1889 at his parent’s farm house located in Juniata Township, northwest of Assumption.  He was the sixth child and second surviving son of Nicholas and Susanna (Theisen) Kaiser.  The family was of northeastern France and Luxembourg descent and spoke German in their home.  On the 1940 census he listed his education as Elementary, seventh grade.  In 1917 Frank was almost 28 years-old and an unmarried, self employed farmer.

Bassett, Ernest Jule 001Ernest Jule Bassett, known as Ernie, was born February 17, 1895 at his parent’s farm house on what is now 12th Street east of Hastings.  He was the first and only surviving son of Jule S. and Josephine (Bergeron) Bassett.  His parents were of French and French Canadian descent and spoke French in their home.  On the 1940 census he listed his education as being high school, two years.  In 1917 Ernie was 22 years-old, single and employed on his father’s farm.   Ernie’s oldest sister, Mary Fischer, lived at Fairbury.  This photo must have been taken while he was on furlough visiting her.

The United States entered World War I on April 6th, and began the draft on June 5, 1917. Both Ernest Bassett and Frank Kaiser’s draft registration cards are dated June 5th. According to the Kenesaw Sunbeam of September 13th, Frank Kaiser had applied for a draft exemption based on his occupation as a farmer.  It was denied.   My father felt most exemption requests of German-Americans were denied because of extreme anti German sentiment of the WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) population which controlled the draft boards.

In a 1992 interview my father, Bert Trausch, who was 11 years-old in 1917, talked about his memories of WWI.  “Mom had a party for Uncle Frank before he left, he wasn’t married then yet. Al and Hank Theisen came. I remember we were setting out on the front porch drinking beer. About four of them got in the swing, there were screws up into the porch ceiling, and bingo, the swing came down.” While Uncle Frank was in Europe he wrote letters to his sister, Catherine Kaiser Trausch.  Bert remembered his mother reading them to the family.  Frank said “France was so dirty and the people didn’t give a damn whether they worked or not.” Unfortunately, those letters have not survived.

In another 1992 interview I asked my uncle Ed Trausch how his grandparents, being German speakers and identifying as German, felt about the war.  His reply: “They were for America. In fact Grandpa [Trausch] left Luxembourg to stay out of the German army. They never mentioned being concerned about fighting their relatives in Europe. My uncles on both sides went to World War I, both Trausch and Kaiser.”  [Uncle Joseph Trausch was drafted in 1917, went to Camp Funston, Kansas, may have been part of Company C, 314th Motor Supply Train, but did not go to France with them.]

The following information was taken from The Three Hundred and Fourteenth Motor Supply Train In The World War   by Milton E Bernet, 1919

The 314th Motor Supply Train was organized in October 1917 at Camp Funston, Kansas, when the first two hundred men of the new National Army were assigned to it.  It was a part of the 89th Division, the Middle West Division that came to be known as the “Fighting Farmers.”  Of the 551 men assigned to the 314th, 297 were Nebraskans. My two great uncles, Frank Kaiser and Ernest Bassett were both assigned to Company E.

During the first weeks at Camp Funston the men if the 314th were drilled as infantrymen.  In mid December instruction in mechanics, driving, running in convoy, and minor repairs was begun.  At this time the only motor vehicle in the company was the touring car assigned to the Lieutenant Colonel.  Soon trucks were obtained and classes of about 30 men each received two weeks instruction in more advanced mechanics.  Eventually each man was given instruction in the driving and mechanics of trucks, touring cars and motorcycles.  Yes, the men needed instruction in driving.  In 1917 automobiles were still a luxury which few families owned.

In addition to their motor training, the men hiked to the firing range to learn proficiency with a rifle, and took their turns as military guards.

The Army had not been prepared for the thousands of recruits and in midwinter the members of the 314th were still wearing the blue denim overalls they had been issued upon arrival.  During the severest winter weather, some men did not have overcoats and if men wore out their shoes there were no replacements.

On a bitter winter morning a portion of Company E was scheduled to go on trucks.  During the night the damp clothes and wet shoes of some drivers had frozen.  At 7:00 a.m. the First Sergeant asked the drivers if they wished to go on trucks that morning.  As they were given a choice, they answered “No.”  A report was sent to Headquarters that Company E had refused to go on trucks.  The entire company was placed under arrest in quarters and the First Sergeant was reduced.  After that incident, no man ever objected to any detail no matter how difficult.

Ernest Bassett was designated a “dispatcher” in Company E.  A dispatcher rode a motorcycle carrying messages from Headquarters to the front lines and back.  The Germans were “hot to kill” the dispachers as my mother said, to keep the orders from getting through.  Ernie was one of the lucky dispachers; he survived.  Frank Kaiser was a “chauffeur,” someone who drove a motor vehicle.

On February 1, 1918 the first practice drive in convoy was held.  May 15th a convoy of ten Liberty trucks rolled into Camp Funston, the first to arrive there.  The Liberty Truck was the US Army vehicle used in World War I.  It had a 52-hp engine and a four-speed transmission, with a top speed of about 15 miles per hour.

During early March Frank Kaiser came home on furlough.  The Hastings Daily Tribune of March 7, 1918 reported: “Frank Kaiser has returned to Camp Funston having been home on a few days furlough.  Frank says Funston is alright.  He is a truck driver at that place.”

The men of the 314th lined up in squads and marched to the Union Pacific Depot on the morning of June 4, 1918.  They were bound for Camp Mills, Long Island, New York and ultimately France.  The men spent 20 days in tents at Camp Mills, New York.  They were given occasional night time passes and for the vast majority it was their first chance to see a major city.

On June 27th the men went by train to Pier 65 and checked onto the Belgian passenger liner Lapland.  The ship was camouflaged because of the German submarine warfare which was attempting to halt the stream of American soldiers flowing to Europe.  The Lapland, with 2200 military forces, sailed in a convoy of fourteen passenger ships and their naval escort.  The second day out found many of the men ill with seasickness.  Nevertheless, they were expected at boat-drill twice a day.  As the ships approached England, the danger of attack increased, and the naval convoy was augmented by destroyers.   On July 9th the Lapland docked at Liverpool, England.  The Americans were greeted by a band playing The Star Spangled Banner and by cheering crowds.  The 314th Supply Train was now part of the American Expeditionary Forces.  They soon boarded a train which took them across England to Southampton where they boarded a ship for a night crossing of the channel to the French port of le Harve.

At le Harve the 314th was split with Companies A through D going by train to Bordeaux and Companies E and F by train to Marseilles.  The men traveled in box cars that would soon become known by the sign on their side “40 hommes – 8 Chevaux” 40 men or 8 horses.  About 32 men with their gear were loaded in each car, which was about half the size of American box cars.  Obtaining drinking water was a problem on the trip.  Occasionally at a train station a Red Cross canteen would be selling coffee and snacks.  Companies E and F had some excitement while passing around Paris when they saw a German air raid on the French capitol.

Soon Companies E and F were ordered to Rimaucourt, in north-east France; traveling there by passenger train, and arriving on August 2nd.  There the 314th was reunited and began serving the 89th Division.  The 314th Headquarters were established in an old chateau said to have been one of Napoleon’s summer palaces. Gas masks and helmets were soon issued to the men, and 150 trucks of various makes to the Supply Train, which was given the task of moving the 89th division to the front line trenches.  30,000 men and all their equipment had to be moved 50 miles using an assortment of trucks.  An immediate problem was the shortage of gasoline.  On August 3rd the first convoy of 100 trucks headed to the front, surrounded by machine-gun trucks and ambulances.  The following day the convoy returned carrying men of the 82nd American Division which the 89th was relieving.

314th Motor Train trucks under shell fire in France.
314th Motor Train trucks under shell fire in France.

For most of the men of the 314th it was their first time under shell fire, the first time they heard the rumbling of artillery a few miles away, the first time they saw observation balloons above, the first time they saw star-shells and flares at night, and heard the ominous purring of the bomb laden German planes as they circled above.  On August 7th the supply train established its headquarters at Menil-la-Tour, France.  It was the first sleep many of the drivers had had in four days.

Now the work of supplying the 89th Division began: ferrying barbed wire to the front, rock to the Engineers for repairing roads hit by shell-fire, rations to company kitchens and the hot food to the doughboys in the trenches, and ammunition up to the batteries.

314 Motor TrainOn the eve of September 11th the supply train carried troops to the front all night.  A steady downpour all afternoon and night made travel over the roads difficult, but also hid the troop movement from the Germans.  At 1:00 a.m. on September 12th the St. Mihiel Drive began with a barrage of artillery that lasted all night.  Many doughboys and Germans lost their lives that day, but the Americans successfully reached the Hindenbourg Line and dug in.

During the drive, Corporal Anton Pavelka of Bladen had an unusual experience.  He had been given an order to take a truck load of medical supplies into Xammes.  As he drove through Thiaucourt, he was warned not to go further.  But he had received an order and was determined to comply.  Continuing on, the machine-gun fire became heavy as he drove into Xammes.  When he got into town, he realized the line of doughboys he had seen at the edge of town was the front line and he was in German territory.  Possibly because they feared a rouse, the Germans did not fire on him.  He calmly turned the truck around and got the hell out of town.

In the days that followed, the men literally lived in their trucks, carrying their rations with them and sleeping in the bottom of the trucks when given the opportunity.  During heavy shelling they got out of the trucks and lay in ditches.  By mid October the Supply Train was in the Argonne forest, and at the month’s end Company E was sent to Eclisfontaine.

On October 31st the doughboys “went over the top” in the second phase of the Meuse-Argonne offensive and the supply train followed.  As they advanced the road sides were strewn with dead men and horses.  The 89th Division progressed rapidly against the exhausted and discouraged Germans.  Company E was sent on special duty with the Sanitary Train.  On November 8th the troops heard rumors that the Kaiser had advocated and fled to Holland.

About 11 o’clock on November 11th the guns fell silent.  Several hours later the men were informed an armistice had been signed putting an end to the fighting.  After the armistice, all companies of the Supply Train gathered at Remonville, and on November 22 they learned they were to be part of the Army of Occupation and would be moving into Germany.  The Supply Train moved to Montmedy, a French railway town near the Belgium border, and on the 26th they moved into Belgium.

When the Americans crossed into Belgium the population welcomed them as saviors of the country.  As the convoy of trucks rolled through towns, men, women and children waved, saluted, and threw flowers.  Thanksgiving Day was spent in Chatillon in southeast Belgium near the Luxembourg border.  On Nov 30 the convoy arrived in Arlon, Belgium and took over a barracks that had been recently evacuated by the Germans.  On December 5th the convoy moved into Luxembourg, and established temporary headquarters at Echternach on the Sauer River, which forms the border with Germany.   Late on December 7th the Supply Train of the Army of Occupation crossed into Germany.  They made their way to Bitburg where they were billeted with the inhabitants of the town.  Frank Kaiser, being fluent in German, would have been able to converse with the townspeople.  During this time convoys of trucks transported supplies from railheads to occupation troops.

During the months in Germany the soldiers were given leave to tour France, Luxembourg, Belgium and to Trier in Germany.  It is known that Frank Kaiser took the opportunity to visit the area in northeast France, very near the border of Luxembourg, where his Kaiser grandparents had lived prior to 1847.  Where Ernest Bassett, who was conversant in French, traveled on leave is unknown.

In February 1919 the announcement came that the 89th division would sail for home in June.  The first weeks of May the Supply Train was busy moving the battalion to their entraining points at the German towns of Prum, Erdorf, and Trier.  On May 13th supply train personnel boarded a troop train at Erdorf.  They arrived at Brest, a port city in northwest France, on the 18th and boarded the ship Rotterdam on the 19th.  They stopped at Plymouth, England where several hundred American civilians boarded the ship which sailed into New York Harbor on May 30th.  The mayor sent a special delegation, including a jazz band, on a launch to welcome the soldiers home.  The 314th went to Camp Upton, New York from which each detachment was sent to its home base for discharge.

An appendix to the history of the 314th lists the members who were killed and wounded.  Frank Kaiser is not listed.  However, his 1941 obituary stated he was “injured while in service in France and never fully recovered.”  I called Frank’s granddaughter, Mary Gerloff, and she told me that her understanding is that “a vehicle was backing up to hook onto a trailer.  Frank was in between, probably to guide the tongue onto the hitch.  He was pinned between the truck and trailer injuring his hip and leg.” When he returned from the war Frank went back to farming.  In 1923 he married Margaret Trausch in the Assumption church.  They farmed northwest of Roseland until Frank’s November 1941 death from colon cancer at age 51.  His pall bearers were all men with whom he had served in the 314th Motor Supply Train.

After the war Ernie Bassett never returned to farming.  His father had been forced to quit farming and move to Hastings after Ernie was drafted.  In 1920 Ernie was living with his parents on North Minnesota in Hastings and managing a grain elevator.  In 1930 he was part owner of the Standard Station at in Hastings.  In 1940 Ernie was back to managing a Hastings grain elevator.  His father, Jule Bassett, died in 1941, and in 1942 Ernie and wife Mary were living in Long Beach, California where he worked in the Douglas aircraft factory.  Ernie died at Long Beach in 1957.  He had no children, so any stories of his war experiences died with him.

Luckily for Ernie and Frank, while they were in Camp Funston the 314th Motor Supply Train was organized.  That saved them from the trenches of World War I.

Members of the 314th Motor Supply Train from the Adams County area of Nebraska.

Company A

Chauffeurs: Corporal William Graneman, Glenvil

Corporal James J Kluver, Glenvil

Corporal Walter C Nowka, Inland

Corporal Walter F Rhodes, Trumbull

Private   Anton Mohlman, Glenvil

Company B

Mechanics : Corporal Fred Flesner, Inland

Chauffeurs: Corporal John F Hinrichs, Glenvil

Pvt.  Frank Lolling, Glenvil

Company C

Company D

Chauffeurs: Corporal William E Brune, Blue Hill

Corporal Alfred O Buschow, Blue Hill

Corporal Alfred G Engelhardt, Blue Hill

Corporal Millard Marymee, Bladen

Corporal Anton Pavelka, Bladen

Asst. Chauffeur: Pvt. Peter Koch, Campbell

Pvt  Virgil I Walburn, Bladen

Company E

Dispachers: Corporal Ernest J. Bassett, 816 N. Minn., Hastings

Cook:        Fred Eckhardt, 302 S Bellevue, Hastings

Chauffeurs: Corporal Martin G. Goldenstein, R.F.D. Glenvil

Corporal John L Goldenstein, R.F.D. Hastings

Corporal Lester L Ground, 3428 East 6th Hastings

Corporal Frank N Kaiser, R.F.D. Juniata

Corporal Axel T. Peterson, Holstein

Corporal Onno Valentine, R.F.D. Pauline

Private James E Gallagher, R.F.D. Ayr

Private Elmer E Grothen, R.F.D. Juniata

Private Henry Kimminau, R.F.D. Lawrence

Company F

Chauffeurs:   Corporal Fred Eckardt, Campbell

Asst. Chauffeur: Pvt. George C Porterfield, Heartwell