By Jeremy P. Ämick
Military history can be uncovered in the most unexpected locations, as demonstrated by a recent visit to a Jefferson City antique store where a postcard was discovered that inspired a hunt for information about a Mid-Missouri World War I veteran.
The postcard, which shows two men dressed in military uniforms and posing in front of a wooden building, contained no information other than the name “Guy D. Corwine” scribbled upon the back.
Through review of census records and newspaper archives, it was established that Corwine was once a resident of Sedalia. A subsequent post on a social media site dedicated to preservation of Sedalia history, helped to uncover additional details about the mysterious veteran.
“I was so excited when I saw his picture on the (Facebook) post,” said Donna Leiter of Ashland, Mo., one of Corwine’s granddaughters. “I had seen the photograph somewhere before and I thought it was strange that it turned up in Jefferson City.”
Information provided by another of Corwine’s granddaughters, Hallsville, Mo., resident Kay Kitch (sister of Leiter), notes that the veteran earned his teaching certificate in 1909 and taught in rural Missouri schools for several years, until he was netted by the military draft in September 1917—less than five months after the United States declared war against Germany.
Military records accessed through Missouri State Archives indicate that Corwine—who was inducted at Nevada, Mo.—was assigned to the 89th Division (which trained at Camp Funston, Kan., the current site of Ft. Riley) and became a cook with the 89th Military Police Company.
According to the official history of Company M, 356th Infantry Regiment, a company under the command and control of the 89th Division, “the men (of the division) were drawn from the States of Kansas, Missouri, Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, Arizona and New Mexico.”
The officers of the division trained at Ft. Riley in the summer of 1917 with Major General Leonard Wood (namesake of Missouri’s Army post) assuming command in August 1917.
Corwine’s service card shows that he served overseas beginning June 27, 1918, initially as a cook and was later appointed as a mess sergeant.
“He once told me he became a cook by default,” Leiter recalled, “because he knew how to cook and no one else in his company really could.”
Kitch said, “My grandfather sent several postcards back home, many of which were of buidings that he saw over there (in France). Reading some of the comments on the cards were amusing … it almost sounded like he was on vacation by the way he spoke of the weather, scenery and buildings.” She added, “One time, he mentioned that he had fed 2,100 refugees.”
The veteran left overseas on May 27, 1919, returning to the United States and received his discharge from the Army on June 10, 1919. Six days later, Corwine married Lola Mae Wilson in Boonville and the couple raised a son and daughter.
In 1943, he moved to Sedalia and continued teaching in rural schools, accruing 45 years in the profession by the time he retired. His wife also taught schools for a number of years in Moniteau and Cooper counties.
“One time, when I was in middle school, I believe,” Leiter explained, “I asked my grandfather why he didn’t cook. He told me, ‘Why would I do that? I cooked for all of those men in the war and I’m not cooking anymore.’”
Leiter also noted that in later years, Corwine suffered a “major fall outside of the backdoor of his house” in Sedalia, breaking his shoulder, which required several months of rehabilitation at the veterans’ hospital in Leavenworth, Kan.
During World War II, Corwine relived the stresses of combat service when his only son, Maurice, became a B-24 Liberator pilot and was shot down over Dortmund, Germany on January 28, 1945, as noted on the American Air Museum in Britain website. Surviving the incident, the younger Corwine was held as a prisoner of War in Germany for several months.
“I don’t think that our grandfather or grandmother ever talked about this,” said Kitch. “Our mother told us about our uncle’s time as a POW, but I am sure that it was very hard for them all.”
Corwine later developed Parkinson’s disease and passed away in 1975, receiving burial in Memorial Park Cemetery in Sedalia. More than four decades have passed since his death, yet his grandaughters have never forgotten the brief time they were able to spend with a man they deeply adored.
Though both Leiter and Kitch believe the postcard’s movement from Sedalia is somehow linked to their other sister, the late Dorothy Pack of Jefferson City, they are delighted by memories that have been reinvigorated by the surprising discovery buried in a booth at an antique store.
“It was truly unexpected to see the photograph resurface,” said Kitch, “and it really got me and my sister talking about all of the good memories of our grandfather. It helped us remember that, being a teacher, he would always inquire about our studies and ask us about what we had been learning.”
She added, “That was something he always viewed as important.”
For more information about the military records available through the Missouri Digital Heritage site, visit http://www.sos.mo.gov/archives/soldiers/.
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America