TWIN FALLS — During the last decades of the 19th century, European countries chose sides, ensuring they had allies in the event that one country attacked another and a full-fledged world war broke out.
That led to complex entanglements with overlapping partnerships as World War I began. Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy — in the center of Europe — became known as the Central Powers; Russia, Britain and France became the Triple Entente.
Because of the United States’ affiliation with Britain, the U.S. lent support to the alliance even before it declared war on Germany. During the war, U.S., Serbia, Belgium and Japan joined the Triple Entente, forming the Allied Powers.
Now, on the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, few people have an understanding of the war and its impact, Twin Falls historian Jim Gentry told the Times-News. The world is a different place today than it was before the war, and much different than it would be if the war had been won by the Central Powers.
The Ottoman Empire gave up much of its land in the Middle East and southwest Asia. In Europe, only Turkey remained. The Versailles Peace Treaty, signed at the end of the war, created new nations: Finland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Latvia, Yugoslavia, Lithuania and Estonia.
“The irony is that the Great War was intended to make the world the safe for democracy, but the war, in fact, made it very hard for democracy to survive,” Gentry said. “The war created the atmosphere for Communism, Nazism and Fascism,” eventually fueling World War II.
In all, the war killed some 20 million people, including more than 10 million civilians. Nearly 120,000 U.S. military personnel died in the war, but not all from combat. Disease — particularly Spanish influenza — killed many U.S. soldiers before they reached Europe.
Of nearly 20,000 Idahoans who went overseas to fight in the war, at least 375 men died. Some sources say as many as 782 Idahoans died.
Fifty-three of those soldiers killed, including 96-year-old Betty Pastoor’s uncle Kenneth Brown, were from the Magic Valley.
Ken Brown and his brother Raymond — Betty’s father — fought together in World War I in the Twin Falls Unit of the 146th Field Artillery, Headquarters Company.
Ray, a former high school football star, was injured in a gas attack on Oct. 19, 1918, in France during the Argonne Drive, barely two weeks before the Armistice. He was honored for his distinguished conduct under fire.
As a courier, Ray “displayed remarkable courage and coolness under fire, while delivering messages to the different units of the regiment,” his citation read. “On many occasions, he volunteered for this service.”
Ray was reluctant to accept the honor.
“If I am entitled to it, every man in the outfit is,” he said. “I did no more than any of the rest.”
Just four days before the war ended, Ray’s only sibling died in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, one of the last battles fought on the Western Front.
Letters to home
Sgt. Ken Brown was mortally wounded on Oct 31, 1918, by a mortar shell that fell just feet from him while he battled the Germans west of Verdun, France, near the Argonne Forest.
Twelve others were hit by the same shell: Tom Irwin of Twin Falls was knocked down by the blast and lived; Henry Personious of Shoshone was severely wounded; another soldier died instantly.
Tom carried Ken to a medical dugout — Ken’s left leg was shattered below the hip.
Ken couldn’t catch his breath and he asked for something to relieve the pain, Tom told Ray, who relayed the story to his parents in a letter from the battlefield.
“He told Tom he was sure he couldn’t live and to tell his folks that he had done his best, and then he was unable to speak again,” Ray wrote.
Ken went into a coma and died in an ambulance on his way to a hospital.
“It was the saddest day I ever spent,” Ray wrote in the letter, which reached his parents long after his brother had died. “It came as a bolt out of the sky and I can’t seem to realize it yet, but mother and father, you may know that he died every inch a man and a soldier.”
Death twice mourned
The war ended Nov. 11, 1918, with a ceasefire and the signing of an armistice. The Browns were notified of Ken’s death 10 days after the armistice, the day before his 21st birthday.
“Kenneth’s death is especially hard for us,” Bess Brown told the Twin Falls Weekly News on the evening of Nov. 21, 1918. “We had steeled ourselves for this word while the fighting was going on and had felt deep gratitude after the armistice was signed that both of our boys were safe.”
One hundred years after Ken’s death, his only niece, Betty Pastoor, 96, sat in her home south of Twin Falls and recounted the stories told to her by her grandmother, Bess Brown.
A mix-up after Ken’s death caused extra grief for the family, Betty said.
Dave and Bess Brown were later told the report of Ken’s death was a mistake. Ken was alive and well, the Army said. But the family’s resulting elation was short-lived.
“My grandmother was, of course, devastated,” Betty said. “She grieved so much.”
Keeper of the memories
Betty is the only grandchild of Dave and Bess Brown. She and her late husband, John Pastoor, had no children of their own, so keeping the family’s memories alive falls on her shoulders.
She donated several family albums, including her family genealogy, to the Twin Falls Public Library. Nine generations separate Betty from her English roots.
Elijah Janes’ great-grandfather William A. Janes immigrated from England to America in 1637, just 17 years after the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts. The chartered ship carrying the group of wealthy London merchants sailed into the Boston Harbor just seven years after the town was founded.
But rather than staying in Boston, the group — including Janes, his wife and children — purchased land from Chief Momaugin in an area called Quinnipiack and set up the religious colony that became New Haven, Conn.
Three generations later, Elijah Janes joined a company of Minutemen — ready “in a minute” to respond to any sudden call — during the Revolutionary War; he was dismissed Nov. 21, 1776. Four generations later, Bess Waterman Brown became a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Bess and Dave Brown spent the early years of their marriage in Janestown, Wis., named for its founder, Henry Janes, a cousin of Elijah. The Browns raised their two boys, Raymond and Kenneth, in Wisconsin. The family moved to Twin Falls in 1913.
After graduating from Twin Falls High School in 1915, Ken enlisted in Company D, Second Idaho Infantry, and served on the Mexican Border.
Also from Twin Falls was Dr. H.W. Wilson, captain of the medical corps of the Second Idaho regiment, stationed at Nogales, Ariz.
Wilson was said to be a dead ringer for U.S. Major Gen. Frederick Funston, who led 5,000 troops into Mexico in 1914. Funston then supervised Brig. Gen. John J. Pershing’s 1916 “Punitive Expedition” of Pancho Villa.
Wilson is said to be the first American military officer shot from across a U.S. border when he was mistaken for Funston by a sniper from the Carrancista faction in Mexico.
According to the Oct. 12, 1916, edition of the Twin Falls Weekly Times, the shooter took deliberate aim at Wilson while the officer was boarding a train bound for Idaho. According to eyewitnesses, the Times said, the sniper then handed his rifle to a Mexican customs agent and ran off into the crowd.
Wilson was shot in the thigh.
“I had put on a new pair of shining military boots that morning,” Wilson told a Times reporter when he returned home. The boots “looked conspicuous and I felt conspicuous in them, so I think that the Mexican saw me and the thought flashed into his mind that there was some high officer and he would shoot him, so he fired. I believe my shining boots were what attracted his attention.”
While the Great War raged in Europe, the United States remained neutral but supported British and French forces with money and supplies. But in early 1917, Germany gave the U.S. reason to join the war.
British intelligence intercepted a telegram sent from German foreign secretary Arthur Zimmermann to the German ambassador to Mexico proposing a Mexican-German alliance if the U.S. were to enter the war. In return for Mexico’s alliance, Germany promised Mexico would regain its “lost” territories of New Mexico, Texas and Arizona:
Berlin, January 19, 1917
“On the first of February, we intend to begin submarine warfare unrestricted. In spite of this, it is our intention to endeavor to keep neutral of the United States of America.
If this attempt is not successful, we propose an alliance on the following basis with Mexico: That we shall make war together and together make peace. We shall give general financial support and it is understood that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in New Mexico, Texas and Arizona. The details are left to you for settlement.
You are instructed to inform the president of Mexico of the above in the greatest confidence as soon as it is certain that there will be an outbreak of war with the United States and suggest that the president of Mexico, on his own initiative, should communicate with Japan, suggesting adherence at once to this plan; at the same time, offer to mediate between Germany and Japan.
Please call to the attention of the president of Mexico that the employment of ruthless submarine warfare now promises to compel England to make peace in a few months.”
The telegram never reached the Mexican government but was deciphered and printed on front pages of newspapers across the country, raising the ire of Americans toward the Germans. German U-boats soon began sinking U.S. ships and the U.S. declared war in April 1917.
President Woodrow Wilson signed the Selective Service Act into law on May 18, 1917. By the end of the war, the Army was more than 3 million men strong — two-thirds of whom had been drafted.
After he returned to Idaho from Mexico, Ken Brown transferred to the 146th Field Artillery, Headquarters Company. The unit sailed for France on Dec. 24, 1917.
In the last days before his death, Ken wrote his parents that he and his brother had talked about buying land to farm on the Bruneau tract. He told his parents that he was up for a promotion, but asked them to keep the news under their hats until the promotion was granted.
He wrote his parents about close calls on the battlefield.
“We are experiencing a great deal more shell fire than heretofore but I have escaped so far and what more could a fellow want,” he wrote. “...I guess they have failed to find my address.”
Ken was promoted to sergeant major posthumously.
Lynn Beauchamp, a high school friend of Ray and Ken who served with them in the war, went to the army hospital to pick Ken’s belongings. When Lynn arrived, he discovered Ken had yet to be buried. Since a chaplain was there, they held a service for Ken and the other soldier killed by the same shell.
“Then we went up on a little hillside, dug their graves and buried them,” Lynn wrote in a letter to his father, J.C. Beauchamp. “We fellows are going to fix the grave up as best we can, and take a picture of it.”
Ray wasn’t at the burial, Lynn wrote.
Lynn told his father he was glad that he was there to bury Ken. He expressed the weariness that had fallen over the battlefield.
“We have talked to a few of our prisoners and they are ready to quit,” he wrote. “They don’t want to fight another winter.”
Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Brown, the only Twin Falls man from the 146th killed in action, was reinterred in the American Cemetery at Roumange, France.
The peace treaty with Germany was signed June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles in France. Betty Pastoor’s father, Raymond Brown, was discharged July 31, 1919, at Fort Douglas Hospital in Salt Lake City.
Magic Valley men from the 146th returned home from the war June 27, 1919, arriving by train at Minidoka, where “the band blared forth, hands and handkerchiefs were waved...,” the July 27, 1919, edition of the Twin Falls Daily News said.
The first to hit the ground were E. J. Ostrander, C.E. Booth, George Easley, Carl Hahn, L. Wright, J.H. Wise and W.M. Dow.
“The boys with the evidence of service apparent in their upright carriage and keen glance stretched their legs while preparations for departure were made,” the newspaper wrote. Most had not been home in two years. All were heralded as heroes.
Ray Brown, still recovering from being gassed, was on leave in Twin Falls to welcome home the others.
Enlisted men returned home from the war at a rate of 60,000 to 70,000 per week, Col. Arthur Woods, assistant to the Secretary of War, told The Associated Press. About 70 percent of them were able to return to their old jobs or find new jobs, Woods said, but the unusual demand for clerical labor and the reluctance of the average man to perform farm labor kept many unemployed.
While the men settled in, newspapers continued to cover news of uncertainty in Europe. These headlines appeared the in the Twin Falls Daily News the day before the Treaty of Versailles was signed:
“Spartacans are certain their hour has come”; “Allied delegates fear signing of peace will not relieve situation”; “Lithuanian forces expel Bolsheviki”; “Plot to create new Hun state is discovered”; “Spanish King’s life menaced”; “Hungarian Soviet foreign minister calls Lenine greatest man in the world—says Communism will succeed”
A dozen years later, the U.S. government sent Bess Brown and other American Gold Star Mothers to Europe to see the graves of their sons or husbands. Bess’ passport for her special pilgrimage was printed in English on one side and in French on the other.
She left for France on May 28, 1930, from New York City on the steamship U.S.S. Roosevelt.
Over the course of four years, the U.S. sent nearly 7,000 women overseas to American cemeteries in England, Belgium and France on what became known as Pilgrimages of Gold Star Mothers. The trips were paid for by Congress.
Many in the Magic Valley were touched by the war. Even Betty’s mother, Harriet Holler, had two brothers who served — one was injured.
After the war, Harriet married Ray Brown. Betty was born Dec. 2, 1921.
Her parents divorced when Betty was young, and she lived with her grandparents Bess and Dave. Bess, who organized the Twin Falls Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1917, was a major influence on her granddaughter. Betty joined the DAR five decades ago to honor her grandmother.
In the early 1920s, Bess wanted to commemorate Twin Falls County’s war heroes. The local DAR commissioned a bronze plaque listing all 42 Twin Falls County men — including Bess’ son Ken — killed in World War I. The women raised more than $300 for the plaque and in 1925 installed it on an enormous basalt boulder on the Twin Falls County Courthouse lawn.
In 1991, Betty discovered the memorial was gone.
“Both the bronze plaque and the large boulder were missing,” Betty said. “Some of us are still mad about it.”
The women went searching for answers. The plaque was found in an office in the courthouse, but the boulder has never been found. Kimberly Nursery donated another rock and the memorial was reinstalled at the Fourth Avenue North door of the courthouse.
“We put flowers on the memorial every Veterans Day,” chapter Regent Diane Greene previously told the Times-News.
The war left a lot of loose ends, Gentry said, and some of those ends are still loose today. In the short term, the war’s aftermath helped pave the way for World War II. In the long term, some divides have still yet to be bridged.
“One of the things that came from the war opened the opportunity for countries to sit down and talk things over,” the historian. “The resulting League of Nations — precursor to the United Nations — created a structure for working on common issues.”