Verne E. Chaney Papers
Date Span: c. 1918, 1998.
Size: Less than one-half of one linear foot (about 125 pages).
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The papers of Verne E. Chaney consist of two drafts of a memoir in which Chaney recalls his military service during the First World War as a sergeant in Battery D, 129th Field Artillery Regiment, 35th Division. One draft is in Chaney's own handwriting, while the other draft is typed. The typed version was edited by James G. Henry and includes many explanatory footnotes in which Henry comments or elaborates on Chaney's recollections. This edited draft, which is undated, was received by the Truman Library in 1998. This collection, both documents, is digitized in its entirety, and available by clicking on the folder title links below.
Chaney's handwritten draft is also undated, but it was apparently composed soon after the events he describes. His account begins on May 6, 1918, the day his regiment learned of its imminent departure for France. From Camp Doniphan, their training post in Oklahoma, Chaney and his comrades traveled by railroad to New York, and then set off across the Atlantic on May 20 aboard a British vessel, the Saxonia. Chaney colorfully describes an encounter with a submarine during the voyage, and comments on the poor quality of the food, a theme which recurs repeatedly in his narrative.
On July 11, 1918-about a month after the regiment arrived in France-Captain Harry S. Truman became the new commanding officer of Battery D. Sgt. Chaney never refers to Truman by name in his memoir, but he does mention him several times as "the captain." Battery D experienced its baptism by fire one night in the Vosges Mountains in late August 1918, when a German artillery barrage caused some of the men to panic and run. Chaney's memoir includes an account of this action, which was later humorously dubbed "the Battle of Who Run." A few weeks later, the battery participated in the Meuse-Argonne offensive, the largest American operation of the war, which was launched on September 26, 1918. Chaney provides a vivid account of the rigors of this campaign: the long march to the front through rain and mud; the struggles to get the guns into position and camouflage them; the constant fear of attack from enemy aircraft or artillery; and the chronic lack of food and sleep after hours of back-breaking labor. In early October 1918 Battery D was pulled back with the rest of the division for rest and recuperation, and then marched to a new position near Verdun. Chaney's memoir ends with the announcement of the armistice on November 11, 1918, which the French troops, he notes, celebrated by "cheering, drinking and playing like children."
As chief of the third section of Battery D, Sgt. Chaney was responsible for the operation of one of the battery's four French 75mm field guns. His memoir includes such technical information as degrees of elevation and rates of fire, but its main focus is on the men of the battery and their experiences. Many of the events related by Chaney are also described by Captain Truman in his contemporary letters and other writings.
More information about Battery D can be found at the Truman Library in the papers of John Thacher, Edward McKim, Lorain Cunningham, Vic Housholder, L. Curtis Tiernan, and Edward Meisburger. Another source of information is the Library's collection of oral history interviews with McKim, Cunningham, Meisburger, Eugene Donnelly, Frederick Bowman, Vere Leigh, Walter Menefee, Harry Murphy, Floyd Ricketts, and McKinley Wooden. In the papers of Harry S. Truman, President's Personal File 1333 in the White House Central Files contains correspondence between Chaney and President Truman; additional information is in the General File of the Post-Presidential Papers. The Truman Family, Business and Personal Affairs Papers include many letters written by Truman during World War I, and other related documents. A relevant collection of federal records is Record Group 391: Records of U.S. Regular Army Mobile Units (Records of Battery D).