Goodland’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1133 is named for Lowell Coleman.
But who was Lowell Coleman?
Coleman’s service record on the Kansas Soldiers of the Great War page simply lists some bare facts. Cpl. Lowell Finley Coleman resided in Goodland, Sherman County, Kansas. He enlisted in the National Army June 11, 1917, and served in Company A, Fourth Engineers. Coleman was killed in action just over a year after he enlisted, July 18, 1918. He is buried at in Belleau, France. Coleman was the first Sherman County soldier to die in action during World War I.
The chatty Sherman County newspapers of the time paint a picture of a fun-loving, but responsible boy.
Goodland was a Rock Island Railroad division point. The newspapers carefully tracked railroad news. The July 3, 1914 (PDF), Goodland Republic said Coleman was “acting as a night call boy now-a-nights.” Night call boys “had to run throughout the town to gather train crews.” The call boy had to know where the railroaders lived and what bars they liked. “Many times the call boy had to guide engineers and firemen to the station because of their lack of sobriety.”
Twenty-five days after the “night call boy” article was published, World War I erupted in Europe.
‘Coly held the paint pot’
Another Coleman glimpse comes April 9, 1915 (PDF), when The Republic says, “Earl Reed and Lowell Coleman were busy Saturday painting Kent’s name on the garage signs east and west of town — that is, Coly held the paint pot while Earl did the work.”
While Americans were busy with their peacetime pursuits, the Great War ground on.
16 in 1916
Sherman County High School (SCHS) Class of 1916 appropriately had 16 members. They were the largest class ever to graduate from SCHS. Coleman played “basket ball” and ran track. He also managed the track team. Managing then included scheduling competitions. He took parts in the school operetta and the senior class play, as well as being the athletic association’s treasurer. Coleman read the Senior Class Prophecy (PDF) at their May 26 commencement exercises (PDF). The prophecy predicted that Coleman would become United States Senator from Kansas. “Sen. Coleman is one of the most capable, upright” Senators, the prophecy said. “His record practically guarantees re-election.”
May 26 had been a busy day for Coleman. He had placed in five events against Flagler (PDF) in a dual track meet earlier in the day.
After graduation, Coleman worked for the telephone company and Foster Lumber Company.
Making the world ‘safe for democracy’
Wilson’s implied promise to keep the United States neutral lasted until April 6, 1917. On April 2, Wilson had told Congress, “The world must be made safe for democracy.” Congress took four days, but eventually declared war.
First to enlist
Congress passed the Selective Service Act, which required all men between the ages of 21 and 30 were required to register for the draft. Coleman turned 20 March 11, 1918. He was too young to register. That fact did not matter to Coleman. He and Lloyd Warner were the first Sherman County men to enlist. Coleman joined the Army June 11, 1917, at Fort Logan, Colo. While in the Army, Coleman spent much of his pay on Liberty Bonds, thereby helping the government to finance the war. The Republic often mentions that Coleman family members had traveled to see their son and brother. Once, the paper said (PDF) that Coleman had the measles.
Coleman was stationed at Fort Logan until Dec. 12, 1917, when he was transferred to Vancouver Barracks, Wash. The Fourth Engineers, including Coleman and Earl Hodgkinson, were sent to Camp Greene, N.C., Dec. 21. Hodgkinson was a 1914 SCHS graduate. On Christmas Day 1917, their troop train stopped in Goodland and stayed nearly all day. “How soldierly and manly he looked,” the Aug. 15, 1918, Republic recalled. “…There were none of the hundreds here that made a better appearance. Goodland people were proud that day to know that two of the Fourth Engineers were Goodland boys.”
Mud swallows everything at Camp Greene
The Fourth Engineers arrived at Camp Greene Dec. 30-31. The book The Fourth Division in the World War says the engineers were nearly all volunteers. They had joined the engineers “because of their experience in some branch of construction (PDF) or engineering work.” The weather was entirely disagreeable. Mud swallowed everything. In severe cold, the only way to keep warm was to burn green timber. The men had to gather that green timber themselves. While at Camp Greene, Coleman received a promotion to corporal.
Orders to move came April 15. Before the division left Camp Greene, they adopted the Ivy Division insignia. Fourth Division says ivy means “‘steadfast and loyal’, two qualities which have ever distinguished the Fourth Division.” The Fourth Engineers left Camp Greene April 20, 1918, and went to Camp Merritt, N.J. Camp Merritt was a major embarkation point to France. The engineers were the first Ivy Division troops to leave for France.
Over there in The Great War
The Fourth Engineers were initially assigned to the British sector. Then they moved near Meaux and Chateau-Thierry. When the troops moved, the engineers were responsible for “all things necessary to expedite” travel. From their new location, the Ivy Division soon went into combat.
Shortly before he lost his life, Coleman wrote his parents that he hoped to be home for his family’s next Christmas dinner. On July 17, 1918, he wrote that he had been at hand grenade practice. He talked about rolling up his pack and drawing his rations. Then he went to the front.
The next day, the allies began a counter-offensive with the Ivy Division south of the Ourcq River, along with two French corps. Shell fire rained down on the American and French soldiers. By July 24, the Ivy Division had sustained more than 5,000 casualties (PDF). They had pushed back the Germans 10 miles.
First to fall
Coleman’s letter to his family arrived on Thursday, Aug. 6. On Saturday, Aug. 8, another letter arrived from France, Thinking the letter contained insurance papers, Coleman’s father, W.S. Coleman, opened the letter. The contents were not insurance papers.
The letter, dated July 20, 1918, read, “Dear Mrs. Coleman — I wish to extend to you my deepest sympathy in the loss of your son. He died a brave death on the battlefield, being struck by a shell while marching toward the enemy. You may well be proud, as are all his comrades, of such a heroic son. It is the army of such men who so loyally serve their comrades and their country that will bring this great war to a successful close and give peace and happiness to all the world. With best wishes to you, I am Most Sincerely, R.A. Wheeler, Major, Fourth Engineers.”
‘The entire town feels his loss deeply’
The Republic printed the major’s letter in its Aug 15, 1918, issue (PDF). The paper listed Coleman’s family members, his parents, W.S. and Jennie; two brothers, W.R. Coleman, a fire chief in Miami, Fla., and J.C. Coleman, a railroader in Herington; and a sister, Vera Stone, Elyria, Ohio. “Besides these relatives, an entire town feels his loss deeply,” the paper said. “…We all knew that may brave boys must fall before victory can be won, but we never fully realize that our boys must fall until the sad news reaches us.”
A few days later, the paper printed Hodgkinson’s letter to his mother (PDF). He said, “We were making our first trip to the line.” While crossing an open field, German soldiers spotted the Fourth Engineers “and commenced giving us something better described as hell.… I never saw him fall, but some of the fellows say his bunkie got hurt and he stopped to help him and some say it was the other way.… There weren’t any marks on him that I could see when we buried him and I think he was killed by the concussion of the shell. … He and his pal both died together.”
‘Coley’ always won
The next week, the Republic ran a poem (PDF) from former Goodland resident Roy W. Larson: “The first in line from his home town/First from the town to fall/But he died the death of a hero,/In response to his country’s call./He was first in his class in school days,/In games ‘Coley’ always won/It was safe to say he was first in the charge/”Over the top” to get the Hun.…”
‘What more could show what he was’
A month later, fellow soldier Mills Boyle wrote to the Western Kansas News and the Kanoradian (PDF), “Upon the hearing of Lowell’s death, my thoughts rushed at once to his parents.… Then my thoughts turned to Lowell, to our school days and friendship — and it was with joy I remembered his home life. How good and clean it was, and how he died, his face toward the enemy…. What more could show what he was.”
Later Jennie Coleman learned the name of her son’s “bunkie”. His name was Darrell Dunkle. Dunkle had also been a passenger on the Christmas Day troop train that had stopped in Goodland. She corresponded with his mother (PDF).
Capt. C.E. Chase wrote to Dunkle’s father, D.W. Dunkle, telling about Dunkle’s and Coleman’s deaths. A piece of shrapnel hit Coleman in the leg, Chase said, and Dunkle “stopped to bandage and assist him.” While Dunkle was bandaging Coleman, “a shell burst very close killing them both instantly.” Coleman and Dunkle had been “inseparable friends,” the captain said. Before tending to his friend, Dunkle had saved a lieutenant’s life.
In Flanders Field
Coleman never came home to Goodland. In the Aisne Marne American Cemetery, his remains lie in Plot A, Row 11, Grave 23. The Christian Church in Goodland held a memorial service Dec. 30, 1918, for Coleman and fellow soldier Martin Carl. Carl served in the Coast Artillery.
By the time of the memorial service, the war had ended. The church invited all “returned soldiers (PDF)” to attend the memorial service. About 30 of them came and filled three rows of pews, The Republic said (PDF). The church was decorated with flowers and a service flag. Two gold stars on the service honored “the two boys who passed away in the service of their country.” Vivian Crouch sang “Beautiful Valley of Eden“. She had sung to the troops at the opera house when the troop train came to Goodland on the previous Christmas Day. “Goodland citizens realized that day that our two boys who were with the Fourth Engineers … might fall in France,” the newspaper said. Rev. Luther Moore read “a number of letters from comrades, superior officers and old friends, all testifying to the manhood and loyalty of Mr. Coleman.”
Coleman does have a marker in the Goodland Cemetery. The stone stands in the Old Cemetery, Block 2, Lot 42, Plot 7. A memorial to those who lost their lives in the Great War stands in the cemetery’s veterans section. A plaque honoring Coleman stands at the base of a tree.
The bottom line of Coleman’s marker inscription reads, “In Flanders Field”. The line is a reference to Canadian Lt. Col. John McCrae’s poem about the Great War:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place, and in the sky, The larks, still bravely singing, fly, Scarce heard amid the guns below. We are the dead; short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields. Take up our quarrel with the foe! To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high! If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.
‘The last full measure of devotion’
Approximately 300 Sherman County men served (PDF) in the Great War, as it was then called. Of those men, 13 gave their lives. Then-Kansas Gov. Arthur Capper issued memorial certificates “in profound appreciation of the supreme sacrifice for country and humanity” to the families of the approximately 1,000 Kansans who gave their lives in the war. The certificate quoted the Gettysburg Address, saying that the soldiers had given “the last full measure of devotion.” The Jan. 17, 1919, Western Kansas News listed (PDF) 11 killed or missing “soldier boys” and the families who would receive one of the certificates.
Soldiers and their family members listed in the article were Frank Benjamin Doerfer (Alice Doerfer); John Leonard Emig (Peter Emig); Simon Preston Van Meter, (Samuel T. Van Meter of Colorado Springs); Delance Homer Fenno (Charles M. Fenno); Allen Trachsel (Jacob Trachsel); Paul Claxton (Amos Claxton), Fred Johnson (Mangus Johnson); Lowell Coleman (W.S. Coleman), Martin Carl (Bird Carl), all of Goodland; William Owens (John B. Owens), Edson; Albert Pralle (Adolphe Pralle), Kanorado, missing in action. Capper’s list did not include Charles Anderson, John Arkebauer and Fred W. Green of Goodland or Floyd Sussex of Edson. The Washington (D.C) Post later listed Pralle as having been found, but slightly wounded. Owens is not listed on the 1919 Sherman County honor roll (PDF) but neither is Pralle.
Four Sherman County residents died in action
Along with Coleman, Doerfer, Green and Sussex were killed in action. (All casualty links are PDFs.) Doerfer also is buried in France. His remains lie in the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery and Memorial. HIs marker shows that he had won the Distinguished Service Cross, the American military’s second-highest award for valor.
Pneumonia carries off Sherman County service members
Claxton (PDF) had been the first Sherman County soldier to die in the Great War. He died at Fort Logan Dec. 28, 1917, three weeks after he had enlisted. He contracted a cold which became pneumonia. He would not be the last to die from disease. Johnson, Carl, Trachsel, Van Meter and Arkebauer all died from pneumonia. Fenno may have died from the illness, but research only shows that he had contracted the disease. His father went to visit him (PDF) in Waco, Texas, home of Camp MacArthur, hoping he could return to Goodland to recuperate. Instead of recuperating, the soldier likely lost his battle with pneumonia. Later, the Fennos donated (PDF) their son’s motorcycle and pony to the Red Cross. President Wilson thanked them.
Research does not show what killed Anderson or Owens.
Remember veterans’ sacrifices
The next time you walk past VFW Post 1133, 824 Main, Goodland, remember Lowell Coleman and the other Sherman County men who gave their lives that we might be free. The Goodland Star-News printed a list of all known Sherman County veterans (PDF) in their Nov. 8, 2016, issue. When you see a veteran, thank them for their service. Thank their family members, too.
More stories about those resting in Goodland Cemetery
After paying respects to Coleman and the other Great War heroes, visit the Unknown Soldiers’ graves. William Johnson, who went from a slave to an artilleryman to a homesteader, is buried nearby the unknowns. Eva Morley Murphy, the first woman ever to run for Congress, is buried near Coleman’s marker. University of Nebraska quarterback Brook Berringer is buried in the new cemetery.