Remembering the Forgotten 101

Problems - What to collect, how to collect it and who to include.


Photographs - No single artifact can turn a name into a person the way a photo can. But while some families embraced taking pictures of its members, many families just recovering from the grip of the Depression considered a photo a luxury they couldn’t afford. So it was expected that locating photos for members on the list might prove to be difficult.


While many remain elusive, for the majority of the men it has proven to be easier than expected. Several factors somewhat unique to the area contributed to this fortunate situation and most of those can be traced back to the college.

Because of its proximity and its military training program, a disproportionate number of area young men attended Kansas State Agricultural College - now Kansas State University. The Royal Purple yearbook from very early contained photos of campus life and those attending. But because the book was produced by the students, whose picture was and whose was not included varied from year to year. Consequently, finding a picture of any particular student is not a certainty, although the odds favor finding one.


Those men who attended primarily for the military training did so because it increased the probability of entering the service at an elevated rank. However, those who attended for only a semester or a year were sometimes only captured in a photograph of an entire company - one small head shot among many.


The Manhattan high school’s Blue M yearbook also proved to have photos for many of the men who never attended KSAC.  With many of the college’s employees having students in the local public schools, the high school had more resources available than an average school in a town without a college would have.


Basic information - With websites such as, and others created primarily for the family history sleuth, locating basic information about a serviceman such as his parents' names, birth and death dates, occupation, where he lived and many other things is often routine. The national censuses taken every decade combined with Kansas censuses of 1925 and some for other years generally allow locating a serviceman’s family with a minimum of effort. However, even a small effort multiplied by more than a hundred individuals still amounts to a considerable effort.


Problems do arise if a young man had a common name. Trying to keep their records straight can be challenging.


Who to include - A bigger problem was one not even initially considered. Deciding whether a man should be included on the list is frequently difficult. While the goal was to memorialize the men with a connection to Riley County, what does that mean in practice? Bates included several men whose residence was outside the county, but had a demonstrable connection to Riley County. One example involves men who lived in rural areas, yet wanted to continue their schooling past that available at the 8th grade level provided by the nearby country school. Such a student would have to make arrangements to go to a nearby city with a high school.


Harry Gehrt lived in rural Pottawatomie County and attended Manhattan High School.  After rubbing shoulders with his fellow Riley County classmates, Bates considered him a local boy.


Another problem was created by Manhattan’s location on the county line. Requiring a man to have resided within the county would disqualify anyone who thought of himself as a Manhattanite, but lived just across the Riley-Pottawatomie county line. A similar situation existed in the south with Geary County. Ogden is within Riley County, while Junction City is not. But people who work at Fort Riley have moved between those communities for years.


Bates also included a man who, as far as can be proven to date, never resided even near Riley County. But his parents did. The Eslingers apparently moved to Manhattan from southwestern Kansas after their son was grown. Lawrence chose to remain behind, working on farms until he entered the service. If his parents were well integrated into the Manhattan community by the time their son died, the effect of his death may well have spread into the community via his parents’ friends and neighbors.


Questions about including someone may also arise due to what precipitated his passing. It is reasonable upon hearing of a soldier’s wartime death to imagine his or her end coming as a result of combat. But of the people being researched, 27% of those for whom a cause of death has been established, died from something not combat related. Being a soldier is a hazardous endeavor and many died in training, particularly so for those in the Army and Navy air forces.


Of the men being researched, 45% were classified as having been killed in action while another 7% were listed as having later died of their wounds. So barely half of the casualties can be directly related to combat with certainty. About one in every six soldiers disappeared without a trace.


Some also died of common infectious diseases. While life in the service may have encouraged the transmission of pathogens, a case may be made that once sick, a soldier was more likely to have medical attention than he was as a civilian.


Should men be included who died while America was preparing for war or after hostilities ceased? Men were retained after the guns fell silent to ferrying men and equipment home, move refugees, patrol for diehards, serve as police in war-ravaged countries and in many other capacities. During that duty, some men died. Records can also be misleading. A man missing in action was sometimes assigned a death date of the day a review board decides he was dead. This was sometimes years after combat.


Riley Countian and sailor Marvin Barry died on June 20, 1941, more than five months before the war began for the United States, when his submarine failed to surface on a test dive.


There is the “town-and-gown” problem too. Long-term residents in almost every college town have mixed feelings about the students in their midst. Should they be considered as residents or just visitors? A student's initial intentions are not sufficient to make a decision. Many people in all stages of life have visited places or taken a job with the expectation of staying for a short period, but end up staying longer. Several men who arrived in Manhattan as KSAC freshmen, met local women, married and had children. Widows frequently remained living in Manhattan.


What was done - This inclusion problem with so many facets has not been resolved. Rather, it has been left for another day. Since no criteria can be applied without the details of a soldier’s situation, the decision was made to first acquire those details. And since that process is ongoing, people whom Bates placed on the list as well as those suggested by other sources as having a connection to the Riley County area have been allowed to remain on the new one or be added to the list.



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