Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum


Oral History Interview with
Lorain H. Cunningham

Member of the 129th Field Artillery regiment, 35th Division, in World War I, acquaintance of Harry S. Truman, and mining engineer.

Baxter Springs, Kansas
September 8, 1989
by Niel M. Johnson

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


NOTICE
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

RESTRICTIONS
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened October, 1990
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript |List of Subjects Discussed]



Oral History Interview with
Lorain H. Cunningham

Baxter Springs, Kansas
September 8, 1989
by Niel M. Johnson

Summary Description:

Subjects discussed include coal mining in Kansas; Camp Cody, New Mexico; Camp Doniphan, Oklahoma; 129th Field Artillery's trip to France; Cunningham's experiences as an artilleryman in France, 1918; photographs taken by Cunningham of 129th Field Artillery personnel, including Captain Harry S. Truman; Verdun battlefield; disposal of surplus military equipment; Missouri School of Mines at Rolla; Peabody Coal Company; and Battery D reunions at the Inaugural in 1949 and in Kansas City on November 3, 1952.

Names mentioned include Harry S. Truman, Eugene Donnelly, Ted Marks, Lynn Cunningham, Gordon Cunningham, Olive Cunningham, and Glenna Cunningham.

 

[1]

JOHNSON: Mr. Cunningham, will you tell us when and where you were born and what your parents' names were?

CUNNINGHAM: I was born in Pleasanton, Kansas, in Lynn County.

JOHNSON: What was your birthdate?

CUNNINGHAM: March 10, 1895.

JOHNSON: All right, and your parents' names?

CUNNINGHAM: My father was a Scotchman, Duncan Cunningham. He didn't come until he was 19 years old from Scotland.

JOHNSON: What was your mother's name?

CUNNINGHAM: Helen. She was a foreigner. She was a musician. Oh, she was a beautiful woman.

JOHNSON: What was her maiden name?

 

[2]

CUNNINGHAM: Porter. Most of her life was spent up at Pleasanton, Kansas.

JOHNSON: What did your mother do? Was she a housewife, was she a teacher, or what did she do?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, she was mostly a housewife.

JOHNSON: What was your father's occupation?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, he was a miner, mostly. He was president of the local union here for twenty-some years. See, around this place, from Northrop and Scammon on up, at one time there was about 45 mines working you know.

JOHNSON: What kind of minerals was it?

CUNNINGHAM: Coal.

JOHNSON: How about zinc mining; was there zinc mining here?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, but that was way down here.

JOHNSON: More south.

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, that was across into Oklahoma.

JOHNSON: Harry Truman did some zinc mining back about 1913-14. Did you know that, that Harry Truman did some zinc mining?

CUNNINGHAM: I don't remember that.

 

[3]

JOHNSON: Down in Commerce, Oklahoma.

Okay, let's get a little background here. Where did you go to school?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, I went to high school in Columbus, Kansas. My dad took me underground when I was 11 years old, because I was the oldest of 11 children. I had three brothers and seven sisters. Dad, of course, was digging coal.

JOHNSON: Was it his own coal mine; did he own the mine?

CUNNINGHAM: No, no.

JOHNSON: He just worked for a coal mine operator. And you had to do some mining yourself; you had to go down and dig coal when you were eleven or twelve years old?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, he just took me down during the summer vacation, you know, in the mine we were working. He got me a little shovel and took me underground, more I think to teach me. I stayed there until I graduated from high school [in 1913]. Dad had been promoted then. The local union was in the little town where we lived and they promoted him to that. But there was no such thing as Rolla, or a school of mines around there then. There was one in Colorado and the one at Rolla [Missouri], of course, and the people in Kansas were hollering; they

 

[4]

wanted a school of mines too.

So, just about the time, right after I got out of high school, they took an old high school building there and made that a school of mines for Kansas. That's at Webb City. I was raised four miles north of Columbus.

JOHNSON: What city was that where they set up the school?

CUNNINGHAM: Webb City. They set up the third floor, and when they first started, I went up there and joined them. The street car line went through my dad's farm, just about a hundred feet from the barn, and I could go from there. I think it was about 10 miles from where I was living. It was fine, except when the people on these cars went on strike; then I had to get up in the morning and walk ten miles, and then in the evening come home and carry my book and read. I did that sometimes eight or ten days at a time.

JOHNSON: That was after you finished high school, or during high school?

CUNNINGHAM: Just as soon as I finished high school.

JOHNSON: You went to this school of mines.

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, for two years. My dad wanted me to go to college, and of course, that's the reason I was up to Webb City. I stayed at home. You see, I'd take the

 

[5]

street car and go. It only cost me a dime to go either way. Then I could stay home and do my studying and stuff there. But then I had a chance to go to Missouri School of Mines at Rolla -- that's where I wanted to go. I got an encouraging letter from them to come up there; they would help me.

So I went up there with a couple of the other fellows that still live here in Kansas you know. I went up there as a junior, in 1916.

JOHNSON: Did you get your degree there?

CUNNINGHAM: Oh, yes I did [after the war]. I went there as a junior. One day, when all this war stuff was going on, the dean of the school there at Rolla -- that was one of the really big schools -- got word that they wanted all the guys that were taking engineering education to go to a training school of some kind. They were going to need them in the war somewhere. But they only wanted seniors, and I was a junior. Well, they picked three juniors that were there, and I was one of the juniors but had enough grades to be called in as a senior. We went in there and talked to him and he said, "Now, listen, I want to tell you what; they want you as engineers. You don't have to take it, but if you don't go up to that training school and get a degree, you'll be drafted then just as common old everyday soldiers.

 

[6]

That was when World War I was on you know, and they were looking for students all over

JOHNSON: What year was this?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, now, let's see. I don't remember just when the date was [Cunningham enlisted in the Army in May 1917 at Fort Riley, Kansas. See Appendix I for a chronology of his military service.] but I went with the gang down to the training school headquarters here in Kansas. They had a school for the Army. They sent most of us down there; most of us got this doggone walking you know, walking, walking around.

JOHNSON: Marching?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, marching, and I didn't like that.

JOHNSON: Where was that camp?

CUNNINGHAM: That was close to Lawrence, Kansas, at Fort Riley, Kansas. They asked me if I liked it one time and I said, "No, I don't like it." I got married just about that time; that was [December 20] 1917, I remember that.

JOHNSON: You got married before you went into the Army, or after?

CUNNINGHAM: After I went in. Now, while I was up there word came that they wanted some men to come down to Deming,

 

[7]

New Mexico. I went down there, to Camp Cody, and it was just about the same as up here -- just walk all day and run and make charges, you know. We'd get out there and take our pistols, twelve of us, and six of them would run ahead and plop, and then we'd protect them; that was just in theory, you know. Then they'd lay there so long, and we'd get up and run past them. And you talk about the weeds and all those things down there! If they weren't a mess, and bugs -- whooo. That lasted about four months. The guy down there was this Scotchman and I get pretty well acquainted with him. He said, "You really don't like this, do you, Cunningham?" I said, "No." He said, "What would you like?" I said, "I'll tell you what I think I'd like; it would be in artillery or something where you do something like engineering, a certain amount of work in engineering, where you figure all the stuff you know." He said, "Well, that sounds pretty good."

Oh, I don't know about how long after that, he came to me one day and he said, "Listen, I'm going to send you up to Oklahoma. There's going to be a meeting up there of some of the big people from Washington, D.C. just to see how the different units look like, you know." He said, "Would you like to go up there and spend a week or two?" I said, "I sure would."

JOHNSON: Do you remember his name?

 

[8]

CUNNINGHAM: No I don't.

JOHNSON: Did you go to Oklahoma, to Camp Doniphan?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes. [Transferred there on October 19, 1917.]

JOHNSON: These would be Army generals, Army officers who were meeting?

CUNNINGHAM: And people interested in the Army.

JOHNSON: At Camp Doniphan now you're talking about?

CUNNINGHAM: In Oklahoma, yes. Anyhow, they were short one man on one of the four guns. I think there was a little Scotch in him, but he and I got along pretty well. I'd been there, oh I guess for several weeks or maybe a month or two -- I've forgotten just when -- and he said, "Cunningham, would you like to stay here?" I said, "I'd rather be here than a hundred places like that down there." "Well," he said, "I'll talk to the man in charge here;" that was Harry S. Truman.

Truman called me in one night and he said, "Say, do you really mean that you would like to stay here and be on the number one gun? Would you like to stay and study and be put with that?" I said, "I'll try it." "Well," he said, "I'll see what I can do to get to keep you." And he sent word down to New Mexico and that guy said, "That's just exactly what I want you to do, because I

 

[9]

know that he's not satisfied down here." So they kept me here.

JOHNSON: That was the first time you met Harry Truman?

CUNNINGHAM: Oh, yes. I had been there a couple of weeks before I met him. Yes, and they had some big shots; they were making the rounds of different plants you know, and they were going to stop there. That was artillery, of course, down there.

JOHNSON: At Doniphan.

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, and they were going to put on a show, how you shoot the guns, you know. I don't know what caused it, but there was really some big shots from Washington, D.C. I think there were six or seven of them, and they wanted to put on a show; they wanted Truman to put on a show. They said, "Okay, we'll give you a pair of field glasses, powerful field glasses," and this was when there were clouds up there. They had guns and they had them shoot up, and then the bullet would disappear in the cloud. They didn't give me a pair of field glasses but I stood there and watched them. They shot them and you could see them about that time up in the sky.

JOHNSON: You could see the projectile, you could actually see the shell, the projectile?

 

[10]

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, you could see it.

JOHNSON: They were shooting into the clouds.

CUNNINGHAM: Into the clouds, yes. I don't know what happened but one of the guys there evidently didn't see very good, one of those big guys from Washington. I said, "There it is, coming down on the other side." He said, "You're a damn fool; it's not even up there." Three of the other guys that had the glasses, they saw them [the projectiles] all right you know; and they said, "Well, did you really see them?" I said, "Yes, I saw them." I had an awfully good pair of eyes.

JOHNSON: So you were out at this firing practice and you saw this without your spyglass, or binoculars. What did they do then? They made you an officer apparently. You were a first lieutenant, weren't you?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, first this guy who had been my friend, who I thought was a Scotchman, he talked to Truman about it. He said, "I know the way he talks, the things he had in school, and things like that. I believe that he could learn this kind of business." Well, anyhow, Truman said, "Would you really like to come here?" I said, "Yes, I would like to." He got me transferred there and put me on number one gun, and that's where I stayed [except for January 1918 when he was an instructor at

 

[11]

Camp Funston, Kansas].

JOHNSON: Are we talking about the fall and winter of 1917? Do you remember when you went to Camp Doniphan?

CUNNINGHAM: No, I don't.

JOHNSON: Do you remember going to the canteen down there. You know, Truman and Jacobson ran the canteen. Do you remember that? Do you remember the canteen at Camp Doniphan? Do you remember Jacobson?

CUNNINGHAM: No.

JOHNSON: You don't remember Eddie Jacobson? What was your first impression of Truman?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, he and one of the guys in there had a little store, Truman and them, and that's...

JOHNSON: Yes, that's the canteen we're talking about. Did you use the canteen there?

CUNNINGHAM: Oh, yes. Yes.

JOHNSON: But Truman made you, was it head of the section, section 1 of the...

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, number one gun.

JOHNSON: What was your job then with that section one gun?

 

[12]

CUNINGHAM: Just the same as all the rest of them that had been there; they were trained on it.

JOHNSON: Did you calculate the firing angles and so on?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes.

JOHNSON: You calculated those?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes. Then we got orders to get ready to get our stuff all put on the train, that we might be leaving. We put the guns on the flat cars you know, and then we got orders then from Washington, D.C. Those orders came out to all of us you know "Don't ever tell who you are or where you are going. Don't say what you're going to." And there were those guns sitting up there, and all those things, with great big letters, "Battery D." Yet, don't tell anybody you know.

JOHNSON: Did your train go through Kansas City, Missouri?

CUNNINGHAM: No. The word got out that that train was going through Kansas City, and many of the fellows were from up around Kansas City. But, you know, for some reason they changed and sent us up through Rolla. I don't know why. They had two breakdowns going up there, when they had their guns on there. They had given us orders to put our things in bags you know, and some of us just threw our bags up on those flat cars. They told us

 

[13]

they're just going to run down and get the engine and then they'll be right back and hook onto us.

I told them that my mother and dad and my wife was coming down. We just had a breakfast. They said just tell them to wait out there. We had to go about six or seven miles from the training camp to get on the main line. Anyhow, they hooked up under those trains, and I started to walk over to mom and dad you know, and the guy said, "Hey, get back on here."

They [the train] finally got into the edge of St. Louis and we were told, "Now, listen, don't tell anybody who that outfit is." There was thousands of people there, including the people from Kansas City. That's when we were cautioned, "Now, don't tell anybody what you are." And I'll tell you, I never saw so much pieces of cake and pies and stuff these people had brought down, you know. We had a caboose on the end of that train; that's where I rode.

JOHNSON: Was this in St. Louis?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes.

JOHNSON: It was in St. Louis where they met you with the cakes and that sort of thing.

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, they had brought a lot of them down. They thought the train was going to go through Kansas City,

 

[14]

and there was a lot of them who came down there [to St. Louis], you know.

JOHNSON: So, eventually you got to New York City.

CUNNINGHAM: Yes.

JOHNSON: Did you know McKinley Wooden by this time? He was the chief mechanic. Did you know him by this time?

CUNNINGHAM: I don't recall.

JOHNSON: You don't remember him by this time, but you know who he is, of course.

CUNNINGHAM: Yes. Oh yes.

JOHNSON: Well then you get to New York City, right?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, yes.

JOHNSON: To get on the ship to go to France. [According to his diary, Cunningham traveled to England on the Saxonia, via Halifax, Nova Scotia, from May 20-June 6, 1918.]

Were they taking you to Europe by way of Halifax, Nova Scotia?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes. We didn't know where we were going; they put us on there and told us to be sure and take our pack of clothes. Well, I was standing by one of these guys

 

[15]

from Texas that I really liked, and it was tiresome standing up there you know. After we'd been riding for an hour or so, he says, "Where are we going, Cunningham?" I said, "Well, we're going across the ocean to London." "Oh, how long will that take?" I said, "That will take eight or ten days." "Oh," he said, "I can't stand it, I'm tired now," a whole two hours.

JOHNSON: But then you didn't go to London; you went to France, didn't you?

CUNNINGHAM: No, we went to the river that comes out of London.

JOHNSON: The Thames?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, the Thames River; that was the Thames River.

JOHNSON: You went into the Thames?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, and they put us on boats then and took us right up to London. We stayed in London just about a week.

JOHNSON: And then they put you on a ship again and took you to France?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, took us to -- what is that big lake between

 

[16]

London and France?

JOHNSON: Well, the channel, the English Channel. Took you across the Channel, to France?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, in France.

JOHNSON: Do you remember the name of the ship that took you across the ocean?

CUNNINGHAM: No, I don't.

JOHNSON: Was all of Battery D, or most of Battery D on that ship?

CUNNINGHAM: There was about five or six ships and we all stayed together. [Cunningham's diary, entry of May 23, 1917, mentions a "transport of 18 ships."] The slowest ship pretty near set the speed. Of course, they were watching all of the time.

JOHNSON: Okay, now, you get to France. Did you go to Camp Coetquidan? Do you remember that name?

CUNNINGHAM: Camp what?

JOHNSON: Camp Coetquidan in France. That's where Truman got more artillery training over there. You don't remember being at Camp Coetquidan?

 

[17]

CUNNINGHAM: No.

JOHNSON: Well, where do you remember being? Where did you first go after you reached France?

CUNNINGHAM: After a while, they sent me up to artillery training school.

JOHNSON: Do you remember where that was?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes. It was one of the famous places for training that way.

JOHNSON: That wasn't Coetquidan? That name doesn't ring a bell, Coetquidan?

CUNNINGHAM: I believe it was. Yes, that was it. [Cunningham's diary states that on June 17 he was sent to Coetquidan, to the artillery training school, and on July 14 he was transferred to Battery C]

JOHNSON: Did you see Harry Truman at that camp?

CUNNINGHAM: He might have been there. But, you see, that's the place where they put one of those things that goes up in the air, you know; had a...

JOHNSON: A balloon?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes. They would go up. I think it would go up about two or three hundred feet, depending upon the

 

[18]

degree of the weather of course. [In his diary, Cunningham states he took his "first trip" in a balloon on November 5, 1918.]

JOHNSON: An observation balloon.

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, that's what they were.

JOHNSON: They had a fellow there in the basket to observe the enemy?

CUNNINGHAM: Oh, yes. I had never been in a basket and they put me in there with one of the fellows that was down there. It might have been somebody that knew me, but anyhow I got up there, and boy, that basket looked big down on the ground, but when you got up there and it'd just tip a little bit, and he'd come over on the same side that I was. I think he found it was just fun to try to tip it a little bit, you know.

JOHNSON: Didn't they give you parachutes? You didn't have a parachute?

CUNNINGHAM: No.

JOHNSON: No parachute, huh?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, I'll tell you. While I was up there the few days I went up I got about used to it. But this same guy was telling me, "Listen, this is probably going

 

[19]

to be about the last week that we're going to have these darn things to go up there." He was an observer, you know, able to see a long way. He said, "I'll tell you, they're getting too many of these things shot down because they're targets you know." And he said, "The trouble was they'd shoot into the bag up there, and it would fall faster than anything hanging beneath." They said they were going to try an experiment and fix some way to make the thing that you were in, you know, after the thing above it burned up. They put some rocks in it [the basket] one time, and they wanted a volunteer to put one out the side of it and cut them both loose at the same time, and the one with the rocks on it, see how much faster it would fall. Nobody would volunteer; I sure wouldn't. They said, "It won't hurt you." Boy, it went a lot faster than the one we were in, and those rocks just bounced way up. I don't know whether they ever did quit that because...

JOHNSON: Did you ever go up in a balloon after that training camp? Did you ever have to go up in a balloon when you were in combat with the Germans?

CUNNINGHAM: Just at camp.

JOHNSON: Did you ever see Truman go up in a basket?

CUNNINGHAM: No.

 

[20]

JOHNSON: His eyesight wasn't too good. Remember his thick glasses?

CUNNINGHAM: I know, yes. Anyhow, finally we got the orders to get ready, to go down there to the foot of the Vosges Mountains. Epinal, I think that was the name of the town, wasn't it?

JOHNSON: Epinal, that may be. [Jay M. Lee, The Artilleryman (Kansas City, MO: 1920), p. 53, notes that the 129th Field Artillery moved through Epernay and Epinal, and detrained at Saulxures on August 19-20. Lee lists Cunningham (p. 333) as a line officer, and says that lieutenants served at various times with different batteries (p. 331).]

CUNNINGHAM: I think it was. I think it was the Vosges Mountains, near Alsace-Lorraine.

JOHNSON: Right. What did you do down there?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, we took our guns up and put them in, and loaded them, and here come three French officers that had a lot of experience. Boy, I'll tell you, there's one of the best class of people I ever worked with, because they appreciated that America was helping them out you know. They came out and checked our guns and they said, "You've got your guns set up all right; it's important how you put that leg [spade] into the ground, you know, because when that shell goes off it sometimes

 

[21]

might otherwise kick it out." Whatever you're going to shoot at, you know, it would change that...

JOHNSON: Change the angle, yes.

CUNNINGHAM: Yes. Well, anyhow they come and looked at them and they said, "You've done real good." They stayed with us. They said, "We've got orders to stay with you until we're damn sure that you're all right, because you might get hit and the whole damn bunch of you get killed, you know, if you don't know just what to do."

JOHNSON: Do you remember the first time that German shells exploded in your vicinity?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, I know that; I saw that happen. Well now, here's what happened. We had loaded the guns, I told you; we had loaded the guns, and those Frenchmen walked up to check them and they were standing close. The guy on the number one gun, he wanted to start shooting right away. Truman was standing up there looking at one of them, and I was standing up, oh about as far as from here to the road, from this guy at the gun.

JOHNSON: About 60 feet.

CUNNINGHAM: Yes. Now, tell me why I did what I did. I was watching, you know, because I know those darn things; the big old shells when they hit the ground they flew

 

[22]

into thousands of pieces. That's what the Germans shot with, a lot. I was watching. Truman told me, "Son, listen, don't you tell that guy or anybody to shoot; you can't, until we get orders from headquarters, on what kind of firing or where we are supposed to shoot." I was standing there just kind of waiting, to see what might happen. Something happened in my mind; I don't know how it happened. (I'll tell you about it in the coal mines too sometime). I moved back about five feet, Truman was up there a little ways, and one of those darn shells hit between Truman and me on the ground. This fellow in the first gun, he had got up and walked out and that piece hit him right there, a big piece hit him. Truman took him by the legs. Well, I think it scratched a little bit of Truman's insignia on there, but this, it just made an awful big cut right there. If I had stayed where I was, boy, I wouldn't have had a chance. [Interviewer's note: This episode is not related in the letters or memoirs of Harry S. Truman, nor in Jay M. Lee, The Artilleryman (Kansas City, MO, 1920), nor in the oral history interviews the Truman Library has conducted with several other veterans of Battery D. See Cunningham's diary, entry of August 24, 1918, in which he mentions "one man of 139th [not 129th] is killed." There is no mention of Truman's presence.]

JOHNSON: You mean you were cut across the chin by some shrapnel?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes.

 

[23]

JOHNSON: You still have a scar?

CUNNINGHAM: I had a scar for pretty near a year. They sent me over to that big hospital over there.

JOHNSON: So you were wounded the first time that the Germans shelled your position?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, it made an awful sore place there.

JOHNSON: But who was the gunner who was wounded? Do you remember that gunner that you mentioned, that was in the number one gun?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, he was in the number one gun.

JOHNSON: Do you remember what his name was?

CUNNINGHAM: I kind of think it was Robertson. I may be mistaken on that.

JOHNSON: But he was wounded by shrapnel in the stomach?

CUNNINGHAM: He was killed.

JOHNSON: Oh, he was killed?

CUNNINGHAM: Oh, yes. When Truman picked him up by the legs, every bit of his stomach ran down there on the thing.

JOHNSON: On the ground?

 

[24]

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, he was deader than a door nail. And Truman, I heard that that was supposed to be in the place there, but I don't know whether it is or not, just a little...

JOHNSON: You mean it nicked his insignia?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes.

JOHNSON: On the shoulder, or what did it do...

CUNNINGHAM: It didn't hurt his shoulder; it just knocked the little insignia that he had on there, but I don't know if that was true or not.

JOHNSON: But you heard that it nicked, or it knocked off, the insignia on Truman's shoulder?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, on his jacket, yes.

JOHNSON: Now Truman's never mentioned that. Harry Truman has never mentioned that. I wonder why?

CUNNINGHAM: I don't know.

JOHNSON: But you're sure that this is what happened? You were there and you saw it? You're sure that that's what happened, that's what you saw?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, one of the fellows picked me up and put me on a plane and sent me right over to the place there to

 

[25]

get it fixed up, because it was...

JOHNSON: Well, not on a plane; you mean an ambulance or what?

CUNNINGHAM: No, on a plane. These French officers, most of them lived there, and they had...

JOHNSON: Oh, they had one of the airplanes there, and they put you on one of the airplanes?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, they put me in there and sent me to there. Yes, took me to the hospital. Here's a picture; that's where I was when I come out.

JOHNSON: This picture that you have right here. When was that taken?

CUNNINGHAM: Oh, that was taken long after I got home.

JOHNSON: This one right here?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, that's the same one.

JOHNSON: I don't see any scar there on your chin, but you say there was a scar.

CUNNINGHAM: Oh, I didn't have it on the chin, because you see it was quite a little while, and they fixed it up pretty good down there.

JOHNSON: But you were wounded on this...

 

[26]

CUNNINGHAM: Well, it just made an awful sore chin. And they fixed it up pretty good. I was only there in the hospital just a few days.

JOHNSON: Do you remember where that hospital was?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, it was in that big point down there at the southwest corner of France.

JOHNSON: Do you remember the town that that hospital was near?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, I'd have to look at the map to remember.

JOHNSON: But this was in the Vosges Mountains? This was in late August of 1918?

CUNNINGHAM: I've forgotten when.

JOHNSON: Do you remember the so-called "Battle of Who Run"? Have you heard of the "Battle of Who Run?" when a German shell fell into the area of Battery D and one of the sergeants said, "Run men, they've bracketed us; they've bracketed us." They started running, and Truman yelled at them and got them to stop and get their equipment and get it out of there. Do you remember that phrase, "Battle of Who Run?"

CUNNINGHAM: No, I don't; that might have happened right after that first shot, during the five or six days I was

 

[27]

gone, but I don't remember it.

JOHNSON: This happened on the first day of combat that you're talking about when you were wounded?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes.

JOHNSON: That was the first day of combat. That was the first time that Battery D fired at the Germans?

CUNNINGHAM: They hadn't fired when I left yet.

JOHNSON: They hadn't fired yet. In other words, you were fired on first. The Germans fired on you first?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes. As far as I remember, because I never saw anything else. And those Frenchmen were there. They were watching us too, you know.

JOHNSON: Do you remember Colonel [Karl] Klemm who was in charge of the 129th Field Artillery Regiment? Do you remember Colonel Klemm?

CUNNINGHAM: I don't remember him.

JOHNSON: Do you remember a [Lt. Colonel Arthur J.] Elliott?

CUNNINGHAM: No.

JOHNSON: Who were the other people there in Battery D that you recall working with?

 

[28]

CUNNINGHAM: Well, I could tell you by looking at that thing there.

JOHNSON: Oh, on these group pictures you have here?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes.

JOHNSON: Well, let's mention some names here and see if these bring back any memories to you.

Well, we've mentioned Ted Marks of Battery C; do you remember that name? Do you remember Ted Marks?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes.

JOHNSON: Eddie McKim?

CUNNINGHAM: I don't remember.

JOHNSON: Vere Leigh, or Harry Murphy?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, you see, we didn't stay very long in those hills. They wanted help up -- where was that place -- the other place where they were fighting, the Americans were fighting, and they were having trouble with their...

JOHNSON: Okay, do you remember Kruth? In mid-August of 1918 you marched from the Vosges to Saulxures to Kruth. And then you were ordered to fire chlorine gas at the Germans for practice; this was on August 28. Do you

 

[29]

remember firing chlorine gas shells? [Cunningham's diary entry of August 25 says he rode into Kruth that day and stayed all night with the drivers. Diary entries indicate Cunningham was in Tours and Bordeaux from August 26 to 28, and from August 28 to September 29 he was serving as an instructor for the 301st Field Artillery on use of the 75 mm. gun. On September 30 he was assigned to similar duty with the 338th Field Artillery, and apparently he remained with them for at least a week in October. No mention is made of firing gas shells.]

CUNNINGHAM: I don't remember that.

JOHNSON: Do you remember Eddie Meisburger? Housholder, Vic Householder?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, there was a Housholder I knew, yes. A big tall fellow, yes.

JOHNSON: And Harry Murphy. Do you remember Harry Murphy?

CUNNINGHAM: I remember that name.

JOHNSON: Now, you were a first lieutenant, right?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes. [Promoted to first lieutenant on September 17, 1918.]

JOHNSON: Were you assigned only to Battery D, or were you assigned to other batteries as well?

CUNNINGHAM: No, just Battery D, all the time. [See preceding note re. diary entry, indicating he served with other units, also.]

 

[30]

JOHNSON: You were always assigned to Battery D. Who did you report to?

CUNNINGHAM: Truman.

JOHNSON: You reported directly to Harry Truman. After you went to the hospital and were stitched up, did you come back to the unit?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, I wasn't gone too long in the hospital.

JOHNSON: Okay. So you came back. Did Truman have anything to say to you? Do you remember talking to Truman?

CUNNINGHAM: He told me to quit picking up shells.

JOHNSON: He told you to quit picking up shells.

CUNNINGHAM: Well, I think he felt kind of saucy about it. But he was awful nice.

JOHNSON: But now, this was a German shell? Or was it one of American shells that went off accidentally?

CUNNINGHAM: It was a German shell. One of those big ones.

JOHNSON: What were you assigned to do most of the time? What was your job most of the time?

CUNNINGHAM: They would tell me where they wanted to hit. Oh, I got a map about that big; these French were an

 

[31]

awful lot of help on that. They gave me the distances, you know. One thing that I probably wouldn't have thought about -- sometimes we would have to be ready to fire at night, you know. Well, when you're going to fire, you've got to have something out there to look at, that is to put your -- see what I mean? You've got to have it so far away that if you're going to fire out here. Well at night that would be hard.

JOHNSON: Have an aiming point?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes. You've got an aiming out here, you know. Here is your aiming point out here, see; now here you're going to fire away down there. But this Frenchman, he showed me a lot of those tricks.

JOHNSON: So you had a French officer with you most of the time?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, helping a lot. Well, I'll tell you how good the Frenchman was. I was sent one time, just to run down to the office. I was riding a horse and pretty soon I hear shells lighting someplace. They make a lot of noise in those woods. I got off and tied the horse up; there was a big hole in the side of the hill there. I went in there and sat down for a little while. Pretty soon I heard a horse coming down and I thought, "My God, don't tell me it's the Germans chasing me." The fellow

 

[32]

was one of the Frenchmen; he said, "What's the matter?" He said, "They're not going to hit your horse. Get on there; you'll be better off riding a horse than you will walking." So I did, and he took me on down to the office there.

JOHNSON: Was this French officer attached to the 129th Field Artillery, or was he a part of Battery D?

CUNNINGHAM: He was working with Battery D at that time.

JOHNSON: He was with Battery D. Well then, he was working with Truman.

CUNNINGHAM: Yes.

JOHNSON: He and Truman were consulting with each other then, is that right? Do you remember seeing him talk to Harry Truman?

CUNNINGHAM: Oh yes, because he knew more about what they were trying to do, I think. That is probably things like I was told, "Now, don't you say a thing where you're going or what you're doing," you know.

JOHNSON: Do you remember being forced marched for several days through Nancy, France. Do you remember being force marched for several days and then being marched for about a week to go up to the Argonne? Do you remember going up to the Argonne to fight?

 

[33]

CUNNINGHAM: What I remember mostly on that was when they got the orders to get the guns and start up; oh, I was up there quite a little ways. They were having an awful time up there -- what was the name of that -- I can't think of the name of the town now.

JOHNSON: Was this towards the end of the war? Near the end of the war, October?

CUNNINGHAM: No. When the war was going on real tough, and they were having trouble with their short, their three inch guns; that's what I understood. But anyhow, we got orders to get up there and I took something, and I knew I could have been in trouble. I had a camera and I took a bunch of pictures. I got a lot of pictures that were taken on the roads going up there.

JOHNSON: Do you have those pictures? Do you still have them?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes.

JOHNSON: Where are they? Where are these pictures?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, let's see. I think I've got them in a book [album] up there somewhere. [Copies of photographs of 129th Field Artillery activities, from Mr. Cunningham's album, are being accessioned into the audiovisual collections of the Harry S. Truman Library.]

 

[34]

JOHNSON: They aren't on this table? They're not over here?

CUNNINGHAM: Oh, no, no. I haven't had them out for a long time.

JOHNSON: Can you get those out for us before I leave?

CUNNINGHAM: If I can find the book.

JOHNSON: How did you get the camera? You weren't supposed to carry a camera were you? How did you do that?

CUNNINGHAM: I had a camera, yes. Well, I didn't know it was illegal until I found out afterwards. But the way I'd do it; I'd write and tell my wife, "I ate that last big cookie you sent, mom." Pretty soon I got a cookie with two or three things in it, you know, to put in my camera to take my pictures.

JOHNSON: Rolls of film?

CUNNINGHAM: Oh yes.

JOHNSON: She sent film to you?

CUNNINGHAM: Oh yes, she'd send me film. And then I'd put the [exposed] film in something and send it home to her and then she'd have the pictures developed.

JOHNSON: Whatever happened to that camera? Do you know what happened to the camera?

 

[35]

CUNNINGHAM: Yes.

JOHNSON: Do you still have it?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes.

JOHNSON: You do?

CUNNINGHAM: I was looking at it this morning. [This camera is now in the custody of the Harry S. Truman Library.]

JOHNSON: I'd like to take a look at it.

Do you remember Cheppy? This was a town in France, or Charpentry?

CUNNINGHAM: Is that where they were having a lot of trouble with their firing?

JOHNSON: Well, the front line was near Cheppy when the men of Battery D noted a lot of American dead out in the field. Did you see American casualties out in the battlefield? Did you see infantrymen that had been killed fighting the Germans?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes. I saw one picture.

JOHNSON: But was there one place where there were quite a few American dead?

 

[36]

CUNNINGHAM: Yes.

JOHNSON: Was that near Cheppy? This was during the Argonne offensive. Do you remember the Argonne offensive?

CUNNINGHAM: Not in particular, no.

JOHNSON: Do you remember firing into the 28th Division sector? Battery D was supposed to fire only in the 35th Division's sector, as you may remember. On one occasion, Truman noticed there were some German batteries moving into position and they were in the 28th Division's sector, so he ordered Battery D to fire at these Germans.

CUNNINGHAM: Yes. Yes I remember firing at some Germans and then I went out and saw them afterwards. Truman and I did. We went out. They had come up and we started firing on them. They make some awfully big holes in the ground and then when they went back things quieted down. Truman took two or three other guys and myself to walk out there in case some of our fellows had been out there you know, they were out there. We were walking along, and I heard a guy crying, you know, and looked down and here was a German down there in the hole.

JOHNSON: Did you take him as a prisoner?

CUNNINGHAM: Took him around there and he pulled out a

 

[37]

picture of his wife and two kids. He was crying because he thought that he would die, you know. Do you know what Truman did? He got two little guys to pick him up, and took him right into our hospital. [This episode is not mentioned in the other sources of information on Harry S. Truman or the 129th Field Artillery.]

JOHNSON: Is that right? You remember seeing that.

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, I saw that.

JOHNSON: I don't believe Truman ever mentioned that. But he had two men carry this wounded German back to the hospital?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, there was nothing to lose on that.

JOHNSON: Apparently, you were back in battle near Verdun in mid-October of 1918, at Verdun, the big French fortress. There were a lot of casualties around Verdun. Do you remember anything about Verdun, the battle around Verdun, France?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, the last place we were at -- what was the last place, way, way up...

JOHNSON: I think it was Verdun; that seems to have been the place.

CUNNINGHAM: I think it was Verdun. That's getting pretty

 

[38]

well up into France, isn't it? Well, now there was pretty near always a French officer where we were, and they'd come out and visit with us, but there was a place up there that looked like a great big old building and this Frenchman took us down in there in the building, to a place down below. They had fought up there long, long before we had. He took us down there and you could see the wall where they had been hit, you know. And then he walked out. He said, "There was one place where they had been, where you could walk on that whole yard and never touch the ground; dead bodies were laying there."

JOHNSON: It was a concrete fortification that you're talking about?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes.

JOHNSON: A concrete fortification that this French officer took you to see. Do you remember Lawrence Becker? He was the other chief mechanic in Battery D (in addition to McKinley Wooden).

CUNNINGHAM: I remember that name I believe, yes.

JOHNSON: I see you have a souvenir album of a Battery D reunion. This is the reunion dinner at the Meuhlebach, and what year are we talking about here?

CUNNINGHAM: That was before he went out as President.

 

[39]

JOHNSON: Okay, November 3, 1952.

CUNNINGHAM: Here's the fellow I was talking about being such a nice guy.

JOHNSON: On the right side of Harry Truman? Do you remember his name?

CUNNINGHAM: I don't remember. [Note: Subsequently, he was identified as Eugene Donnelly. The person to Truman's left in this photo is Fred J. Schmidt. See photo 77-1873 in the Truman Library's Audiovisual collection.] I kind of think this is the guy that was Truman's appointments secretary in the White House, wasn't he?

JOHNSON: The Appointments Secretary was Matt Connelly, and that's not Matt.

CUNNINGHAM: That's not Matt?

JOHNSON: No.

CUNNINGHAM: Well, was Matt a tall guy?

JOHNSON: Well, he might have been, but, no, that isn't Matt. Are there any identifications anywhere here? Are the names of any of these people listed?

CUNNINGHAM: No.

 

[40]

JOHNSON: Do you recognize any of the others?

CUNNINGHAM: No.

JOHNSON: Well, here's Tiernan, Chaplain Curtis Tiernan [third person to Truman's left]. Do you remember the Catholic Chaplain Tiernan? Do you remember him?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes. I've seen him a lot. Do you know what that is [pointing to person on far left]?

JOHNSON: Who is that?

CUNNINGHAM: They had just handed us a piece of candy and I had it in my mouth and somebody lit the thing to take a picture. I pretty near swallowed it. That is me sitting there at the end of the table.

JOHNSON: Oh, this is you. Right here, at the far left.

CUNNINGHAM: Yes.

JOHNSON: So you're the second one from Truman's right here, and that's the head table isn't it?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, that's the head table.

JOHNSON: And how'd you manage to get up to the head table?

CUNNINGHAM: Truman wanted me up there to talk before the -- I was about the first number at the head table. He came over to me and kind of scolded me. He said, "Listen,

 

[41]

where in the hell have you been the last four years?" He was referring to the morning that we had breakfast -- the day that he was going in as President.

JOHNSON: You mean the Inauguration, in 1949.

CUNNINGHAM: We were up there; all of us were up there waiting for him to go in, and we had a great big breakfast.

JOHNSON: And he hadn't seen you since then?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, he talked to me a couple of times, and I got letters from him on my anniversary. I got some nice letters from him. Anyhow, hardly anybody was there yet when he came over and said, "Now, listen, I'm going to ask you, and I don't want anything that's not right. Where in the hell have you been for the last four years? Don't you remember when I got up and made a speech to you after we had breakfast, that you had been one hell of a good bunch of soldiers, and if there is anything I can do for you, while I'm President, don't you hesitate to ask." And he said, "You never came up there once." I said, "I know I didn't, but my dad told me never to get into politics." I just made that up for fun you know. He said, "What do you mean by that?" Well, "Dad says, 'You stay out of politics, that's about the most wicked thing you can do.' He says, "I'd like to meet

 

[42]

your dad. Damned if I wouldn't kiss him and shake his hand," just kidding of course. He said, "Now listen, I had three men picked that I was going to see that they went up big after this whole thing was over with, and you didn't even come in." I don't know who the other two men were.

Now, just for instance, I was working there in Illinois. My oldest son was a Captain [later, Lt. Colonel] in communications, and he was being sent by the United States to a different place. Now he had just spent three years in Germany and of course, this is a long, long time after the war was over. Well, anyhow, I woke up one morning and here he was and his wife and two kids. They had spent their three years in Germany and they were being transferred to the Philippines for another three years. Well, he liked the three year treatment because he got everything he wanted. But now he had a wife; he had met his wife in Alaska at one of these places, and she was a surgical first-class nurse. They had two kids. We were living about twenty miles out of St. Louis and that was when I was working in Illinois.

I said to him, "Why don't you just go on into East St. Louis there." He had to get passports you know, and he was in uniform of course. She had just finished her time, and had her honorable discharge. Well, he came

 

[43]

back, and, oh, he was mad. They didn't have any trouble giving him his passport because he was still in uniform, but she had her discharge, and they would not pay any attention to it. He said, "I am not going and leave my wife and kids here." Well I said, "Listen, why don't you go on to the West Coast; there's a good place on the West Coast, and you might get a little better treatment out there." He said, "That's a good idea, Dad." So he went and the morning he got there, or the day he got there, he called me. I said, "Did you have any luck?" He says, "It's the same old thing, Dad. I got mine, but they will not pay attention to her." He says, "I am not going any further, because I'm not going to leave her there with those little kids." So I went and called this guy that was Truman's person there, you know, whoever it was. And I told him what the trouble was. He said, "Well...

JOHNSON: It wasn't Harry Vaughan?

CUNNINGHAM: I don't know what his name was.

JOHNSON: It might have been Harry Vaughan. You know, Harry Vaughan was his military aide.

CUNNINGHAM: Well, anyhow, I told him what the trouble was about my son being out there. He said, "Well, listen, lieutenant" -- he knew me well -- "you just go sit down, and

 

[44]

see what happens." That was in the evening; I called and explained to him about my son out there, you know. In the morning I got a telephone call from my son. He said, "Dad, everything's all right." He said, "We got them right away."[See Appendix III for a copy of a cross reference sheet in the Truman Library that refers to Cunningham's written communication with the White House. The letter itself has not been located. Also see Appendix IV for a copy of another letter from Cunningham to President Truman, February 22, 1951, concerning an appeal for Orville Dermott, and the reply to this request from Naval Aide, Robert Dennison.]

JOHNSON: In other words, he was able to take his wife and children to the Philippines?

CUNNINGHAM: He was going to the Philippine Islands.

JOHNSON: So he got authorization to take his wife and children to the Philippines with him then. I see.

CUNNINGHAM: Yes. They would not pay any attention. Now, she had an honorable discharge and they would not give her…Now, I also had three other things happen that were about the same thing that...

JOHNSON: Where you went to the White House to get help?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, I just called, you know, and explained what it was. There were three different times that I had called, and they just...

 

[45]

JOHNSON: Do you remember about what year that was?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, I don't remember what year it was.

JOHNSON: But Truman was in the White House as President.

CUNNINGHAM: Oh yes, he was in the White House, yes.

JOHNSON: Do you remember Armistice Day, the day the war ended, November 11, 1918?

CUNNINGHAM: Oh yes, I have a picture here. Wait a minute. Let me get my pocketbook and I'll show you. That's one picture I have.

JOHNSON: Just a second here, and I'll put this on the record. Mr. Cunningham has a card here that says, "This will certify that Lorain H. Cunningham was a member of Battery D." I think that's number 159 isn't it?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes.

JOHNSON: It's signed by Harry Truman and by a Mr. Schmidt, Fred Schmidt, as secretary and treasurer. Your signature is on there too.

CUNNINGHAM: Now, this picture is a short time after the Armistice was signed, and I walked in there and he was working on that. I took his picture.

JOHNSON: Now, wait a minute. This is a picture that you

 

[46]

took of Harry Truman?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, and that's in a book that Margaret Truman wrote. [Mr. Cunningham is alluding to photograph number five, following page 376, in Margaret Truman, Harry S. Truman (1973). See 79-18 in the Truman Library audiovisual collection for an enlarged reproduction of this photograph.]

JOHNSON: Yes, he's shown writing something at his desk. Is this a picture that you took with your camera?

CUNNINGHAM: Oh yes.

JOHNSON: With that camera that you had in France?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes. I walked in there and took that, and he said, "Hey." Then, he took my picture.

JOHNSON: Truman took this picture of you, with this...

CUNNINGHAM: This same camera.

JOHNSON: Okay, you're at the desk. You're holding something here in your left hand it looks like. What did they call that kind of cap, with a peak on the front and the back?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, I don't know.

JOHNSON: So, Truman took that picture of you.

 

[47]

CUNNINGHAM: Yes.

JOHNSON: Well, I'll be. And this picture was taken in the mines.

CUNNINGHAM: We used to carry our lunch you know. Here I am, and there's a fellow that worked next to me; he was a good guy but he was just a little off, kind of a funny guy.

JOHNSON: When was that? Was that back when you were in college?

CUNNINGHAM: That's when I was...

JOHNSON: At the school of mines.

CUNNINGHAM: No, that's after I got out of college and I was working.

JOHNSON: Okay, before we get to that, I should mention again that you said this photograph of Truman in uniform at a desk is in Margaret's book, that you say you took?

CUNNINGHAM: I took, yes. And I think that's what it is.

JOHNSON: That's the one that we have in our Library too.

CUNNINGHAM: I've got two of those books of hers. I gave one of them to somebody.

 

[48]

JOHNSON: But you took that picture. Now how about this little snapshot here that you have clipped to this formal portrait.

CUNNINGHAM: I don't know. I don't know what his name is. This of course, is me and that's -- I think he's a little...

JOHNSON: And you're in the middle.

CUNNINGHAM: This Frenchman that had been with us. Yes.

JOHNSON: Well, he's not wearing a French helmet though. He's wearing an American uniform. I don't think he's French. But this fellow to your left is a rather tall fellow, a big fellow. You don't remember his name?

CUNNINGHAM: No, we all three stayed in the same Battery I think, yes.

JOHNSON: Do you remember where, or when that was taken?

CUNNINGHAM: I think that was taken before we started home. I'm not quite sure where.

JOHNSON: In France.

CUNNINGHAM: Yes.

JOHNSON: With that camera, with the same camera that you took Truman's picture with.

 

[49]

CUNNINGHAM: Yes.

JOHNSON: Well, I'd like to see these other pictures that you said you took in France.

CUNNINGHAM: Well, I'll get them.

JOHNSON: I'd like to see them before I leave today if I could.

Okay, Armistice Day, November 1918: what do you remember about Armistice Day, the day they said the war is over? Do you remember that day?

CUNNINGHAM: 1918?

JOHNSON: When they said, "The war is over."

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, and then it wasn't. Wasn't there a false...

JOHNSON: Yes, there was a false alarm there. What do you remember about that?

CUNNINGHAM: Truman said, "Now, listen, we don't know whether this is the real one or maybe it's another. You get down in over there and you stay down there; don't you worry about firing tonight. I'm not going to lose anybody just to be a damn fool."

JOHNSON: You mean, he said you weren't to fire that night?

 

[50]

CUNNINGHAM: Yes. We were all ready to fire, but don't stay with your guns. You can get your guns ready to fire…

JOHNSON: He said, "Stay with your guns, be ready to fire, but don't fire until what?"

CUNNINGHAM: No, he didn't want us to stay with the guns. He wanted us to stay down in the kind of a dugout so we'd be safe.

JOHNSON: Oh, I see.

CUNNINGHAM: Well, I'll tell you another thing about that man Truman that I loved him for. There was one place -- I've forgotten just where it was -- where they had gotten orders to make a ditch about three feet deep; that's where you could bury old clothes or stuff like that. We were to make it about three feet deep and put in our old shoes or anything like that, and then cover it up. And I never knew the sense of that. But we were sitting at the breakfast table one morning and looked out there -- there was a road right by us -- and here come about six or eight men; somebody said, "It's a bunch of Germans that have been turned loose." They went into that ditch that was where you were supposed to put your old shoes, and old clothes and cover it all up, you know. Somebody went out and told these Germans to go to that ditch and

 

[51]

dig. They went over there, and there was just about that much water. Truman had given his men orders to put only three or four inches of dirt on the stuff. He said, "What the hell's the use of wasting stuff like that?" He said, "I don't care who it is, there's people that can use it. They won't use it to hurt us." I said it was Germans, but I don't know whether it was Germans or just whether it was people that lived around there. But they were sure digging that out. Now, wasn't that about as good as you could do? Wasn't that a Christian thing to do?

JOHNSON: This was after the war was over?

CUNNINGHAM: Oh yes. It was just a short time after the war because those Germans were just walking down there; they had released them from someplace.

JOHNSON: But whose uniforms were you to bury? You mean your own uniforms, the ones that were...

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, your old ones, or your shoes, stuff like that.

JOHNSON: Stuff that was worn out? You mean the stuff that was worn out?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, or that you didn't want any more. But they were like those people that didn't have a thing, just

 

[52]

like when they come to a barrel where they dump the old breakfast and stuff like that out. They'd stand there eating the garbage.

JOHNSON: Do you remember how you washed up or how you tried to keep clean? Do you remember how you did that?

CUNNINGHAM: Not too much, no. I know that we found some way, found water some place, just depending on where we were.

JOHNSON: Well, now if it was a stock tank, for instance, a tank to feed cattle would you use a stock tank?

CUNNINGHAM: Oh, sure, if it would be clean enough, yes.

JOHNSON: Well, what did the Army provide to keep you clean?

CUNNINGHAM: I don't remember how I kept clean, but I know that we had to keep a certain amount of cleanliness.

JOHNSON: Did you have to worry about spit and polish, about having your boots polished? Did you have to worry about that?

CUNNINGHAM: Not too much.

JOHNSON: After the war is over, what do you do then?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, after that false thing you know, there was wagon loads, or truck loads of stuff coming up there,

 

[53]

guns, and all that stuff. The war was over with as far as they were concerned, you know. They had brought it up there and they had a place -- I bet it was as big as a big yard -- and they'd just come in there and dump it out, you know.

JOHNSON: The guns were just dumped out into a...

CUNNINGHAM: In a big pile.

JOHNSON: In a big pile, in a crater, or ditch or something?

CUNNINGHAM: No, they were just out there in the open.

JOHNSON: Just piled it out in the open.

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, just out in the open and they had somebody to watch it then.

JOHNSON: How about all the ammunition? They had to be careful didn't they about where they put the ammunition. What happened to all that ammunition?

CUNNINGHAM: They had a certain corner they put that. That is, they didn't put it where the rest of it was. Well, sometimes we needed some pieces and stuff. So I asked one of the guys that was kind of in charge of this place, and he said, "Well, you know what you want. There's some boxes down there; you just take you a couple of men and go down and get whatever you need, if

 

[54]

you need a new piece of this, or that." We went down there and here was a great big box. Of course, that's the place we went to; we opened that up and there was these great big old covers that you slept in, you know. And every one of them took one of those.

JOHNSON: A sleeping bag?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, I got one of them. Later they were going to send people in to get the stuff you know, save as much as they could. The order came out from Washington, D.C. to the captain or whoever was in charge of it, "Now, get your piles all in boxes; we'll send the boxes to you. Get them in the boxes, like all your guns and all your ammunition, all of the things that might be possible..." and boy they did. Lots of it came in. But you know, the thing that I wanted more than anything else, was these -- the French gave me...

JOHNSON: Binoculars?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes. They were really better than any that we had because they had a way of calculating a little bit with them. I wanted one of them.

JOHNSON: Did you get it?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, I went and asked Truman and he said, "Well, I'd like to give you permission, but I've got

 

[55]

orders to put all that stuff in there and then put the top on." Well, so...

JOHNSON: You didn't bring back any souvenirs then?

CUNNINGHAM: I brought back three guns.

JOHNSON: You brought back three what, rifles?

CUNNINGHAM: No, no, just little old tiny guns. No, I only brought back two. They were never used, but anyhow...

JOHNSON: Now, you're talking about pistols?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes.

JOHNSON: You brought back two...

CUNNINGHAM: I didn't get them there. I got them from some other guy; I just traded something for it. But anyhow, the funny part was, Truman had told us when we put all that stuff in there -- there was three or four of us who put them in -- "Now, you get that all in there and put on one of those tops and nail it down so they will be all right." Pretty soon, here come those trucks to pick them up, and the man said, "Where are they?" One of the fellows, who was a little older than I was, said, "They're right out there. They're all ready to go." So the man came back in a minute, and said, "They're not

 

[56]

ready to go." He said, "The tops are laying there loose." "Well," our man said, "we'll go out and tack them in." The other man said, "You don't need to. We've never found one of those things yet that are tacked down very good; just to hell with it, let it go." They just put them on those big old trucks, you know, everything that was topped or not.

JOHNSON: Was all this equipment supposed to go back to the United States?

CUNNINGHAM: I expect it was to go back where they got them from the first place, like ammunition and stuff like that. There was an awful lot of stuff.

JOHNSON: But the only things that you brought back from France were what?

CUNNINGHAM: A couple of pistols. And I got one of those big blankets; I had that for a long time.

JOHNSON: A big blanket. But you didn't have anything from the Germans? You didn't bring back any loot?

CUNNINGHAM: No.

JOHNSON: The two pistols were American issue?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes. They were different type pistols. One of them was just a single shot, and one of them was where

 

[57]

you put in several shots.

JOHNSON; Yes, a .45, wasn't that what they had, Colt .45? Did you have to carry a pistol with you all the time?

CUNNINGHAM: I never carried a gun the whole time I was there.

JOHNSON: You didn't carry a pistol?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, I did if I...

JOHNSON: I think Truman did.

CUNNINGHAM: I did if I went out at night and that sort of thing.

JOHNSON: Okay, any other incidents involving Truman that you can think of?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, I'll tell you. He was just a gentleman all the way around. Now, listen, when we were in camp there and actually got across to France, waiting to move on, everytime an order came from headquarters, he'd want me to go with him, and I'd go with him. We'd get on a horse and ride, maybe until 8 or 9 or 10 o'clock. We'd come back, say about 9 or 10 o'clock, and there's a place there, kind of like little cabins set up where it was if you'd been out with a girl that night, you had to take your shot -- see what I mean. If you didn't take

 

[58]

a shot after you had intercourse with somebody, and then got a disease, then you were fired and sent home. Well, sometimes there would be a line there of twenty-five or thirty people in each line, or maybe longer than that, just waiting. Harry said, "Isn't that a hell of a shame. I'm sure glad you don't." Well, anyhow...

JOHNSON: So you and Harry, let's say, kept it clean. But you did go out horseback riding.

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, we did. We went horseback riding, and boy oh boy.

JOHNSON: What did you talk about? Do you remember what you talked about when you were with him?

CUNNINGHAM: He liked to talk about my experiences mining coal and things like that, you know, when I was just a kid.

JOHNSON: Did he ever tell you about his experiences mining zinc?

CUNNINGHAM: When he was a farmer, yes.

JOHNSON: He did talk about the farm?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes.

JOHNSON: Did he ever indicate that he wanted to go back to

 

[59]

farming?

CUNNINGHAM: He never said much about that. I think he was so glad they were getting away from the darn war; that's what was happening.

JOHNSON: You know, he became a haberdasher when he came back. He set up a store in Kansas City. Did you ever go up to Kansas City to meet Harry Truman after the war?

CUNNINGHAM: I was up to that place there.

JOHNSON: Yes, but I mean after the war in the 1920s. Where did you go after you got back from France? When you got discharged. You got discharged out at Camp Funston?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes.

JOHNSON: With the rest of them. You were discharged in May of 1919?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes.

JOHNSON: Did you parade in Kansas City, by the way? Were you in that parade in Kansas City?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes. Yes I did.

JOHNSON: When you came back?

CUNNINGHAM: My dad came all the way from Turk. It's four miles north of Columbus.

 

[60]

JOHNSON: So he went up there to see you in the parade?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, he knew I'd be up there. I told him that we were going out to parade the next day. I don't know how he got up there so quick.

JOHNSON: Then you went out to Camp Funston and were discharged. Did you join the Army reserves after that? Were you ever a member of the Army Reserves?

CUNNINGHAM: No, I never did.

JOHNSON: Did Truman ever ask you to become a member of the Reserves? Did he ever talk to you about being a member of the Reserves?

CUNNINGHAM: No, never.

JOHNSON: Well, where did you go after you were discharged? Where did you go?

CUNNINGHAM: I went home; this youngster here was four months old when I got discharged.

JOHNSON: Your child. Your baby?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes.

JOHNSON: This was your first child?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, my first child.

 

[61]

JOHNSON: How many children do you have?

CUNNINGHAM: Just the two.

JOHNSON: What are their names?

CUNNINGHAM: The other was this one here. That's the one that's coming down here this next week.

JOHNSON: He's the younger one. What's the name of the oldest one?

CUNNINGHAM: He is Lynn, Lynn Cunningham.

JOHNSON: Okay, and what's the other?

CUNNINGHAM: Gordon. He's the one that was a professor at the University of Wisconsin, for 20 years.

JOHNSON: Yes, you mentioned that. Then you moved back Now, you know Truman got married in June of 1918, about a couple of months after he was discharged. Were you invited to the Truman wedding?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes.

JOHNSON: Did you attend?

CUNNINGHAM: No.

JOHNSON: You didn't go. Where were you living at that time?

 

[62]

CUNNINGHAM: Well, let's see, what year was it?

JOHNSON: Now, we're talking about the second or third month after you were discharged. Where did you live after you came back?

CUNNINGHAM: Oh, I was living in Oswego, Kansas.

JOHNSON: Did you get your degree from Rolla?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes.

JOHNSON: Did you go back to Rolla to finish your studies?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes. You see, I went into the service just as a junior. When I got back, it was hard because my son, see, the older one, was born. I had him and no job. I had a real good friend that I went to high school with and he got a good job with a big coal company. We had been real good partners in high school together. I had really got offered a job before I went to the service, but I didn't want that. That is before all this happened.

Well, anyhow, when I got back and I got discharged up there, I had to take the train from there down to Columbus. There was an old lady there, and she said, "Sit down here."I was still in uniform, of course, and she wanted me to start talking all about how many men were killed, you know, and how many men I killed. I

 

[63]

said, "Tell me how big is a boy four months old?" "Why?" she asked. I said, "Well, I've got a boy that I haven't seen that's four months old," and she gave me the dickens for wanting to talk about him, you know.

Well, anyhow, when I got home I wanted a job so I went back over to Oswego and they gave me a job there. I was there for quite a while.

JOHNSON: What kind of job?

CUNNINGHAM: With the county engineer, assistant engineer. I worked there for quite a little while. Well, Olive and I, my wife, we rented a home there and we decided we'd stay there until I got what I wanted. I kept on waiting and waiting for...

Well, it was quite a little while, I remember, until Gordon was born. Anyhow, I worked and worked with the county engineer and I liked it, but this fellow that was county engineer was getting a pretty ragged, bad record. And they let him go. So they called me in and asked me if I would take it. I said, "Yes, I'll take it for a while." They said, "What do you mean for a while?" I said, "Well, I want to go back and go to Rolla and finish up." Well, anyhow, then I got that message from my friend in the coal company, and he said, "Canny, I'm being moved up another stage, up to superintendent of the mines, and they're looking for a

 

[64]

guy that's had experience in coal mining to put in my place. Would you be interested?" I said, "Well, I might be interested, but I didn't know." So, he went and talked to the dean there at the school [Missouri School of Mines at Rolla], and that dean sent me a letter. He said, "Listen, you come up just as quick as you can. We want to talk to you and don't wait very long because there's plenty waiting for the job."

So I talked to Olive, my wife, and said, "I'm going to go up there and see them. If I don't like it, we'll just stay on here." So I went up there and this fellow talked to me. I still had my senior year to go you see. He said, "Now, listen, I want you to come back and I'm going to tell you why." I said, "Well, I don't have much money." I didn't have much money after being in the service. They didn't give you much and about half of it was sent home. He said, "Well, I'll tell you what I'll do, Cunningham. If you'll come here, I'll give you a job teaching." I said, "Teaching what?" He said, "Well, we're getting applications from a bunch of these guys that went into the service, and were drafted you know. Some of them are not even high school graduates." He said, "We've had an awful lot of them that want to come up and go to school, but they can't go without a high school education or something." He said, "I'm going to try a class of them and see if I can help them

 

[65]

as Dean." He said, "I'll give you that job, teaching three kinds of arithmetic or something you know; that's all you have to do."

Well, I knew it was a big old job because I had to get up the letters because I had had it years before. And then, besides, I had to help everyone of the guys you know. Some of them were pretty nice. One of them, he was a smart guy, but everybody made fun of him because he was a funny acting guy. Well, I had rented a room, a place there where they had a cook stove in it and two beds. It was a pretty nice place. There was a porch, and I asked the lady if I could put in just a little frame over the window and use that kind of as a place to lay stuff in. She said, "Yes, with the understanding that when you leave here, then every bit of this stuff that you put on I get for nothing."

JOHNSON: So you did some teaching there for a while?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes.

JOHNSON: And how long did that last?

CUNNINGHAM: That lasted as long as I was up there, you know, until I got ready to graduate in 1920. I graduated in 1920.

JOHNSON: And then after you graduated, what job did you get?

 

[66]

CUNNINGHAM: That's when I took that job with the coal mine.

JOHNSON: What company was that? What was the name of the company?

CUNNINGHAM: That was Peabody Coal Company.

JOHNSON: Okay, and you became an engineer for them?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes.

JOHNSON: A mining engineer, what they call a mining engineer, for Peabody?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes. I had three states to take care of, including Illinois and Kentucky. I had a squad of about fourteen men to take care of that. At that time the company was using underground mines, you see, and they weren't allowed to mine underground if the fellow who owned the land wouldn't let them. There was a place, two hundred acres, owned by a third generation, some Germans, I believe. They would never send me the rights to go under there and get coal until the last German died. The son that was left, when he was old enough, came out one day and talked to the superintendent of the company and said, "Well, I'd like to do it; there's 200 acres of coal there, if it's any good." They had one of the finest farms just out of Chicago there.

JOHNSON: Oh, this was near Chicago.

 

[67]

CUNNINGHAM: Oh, yes, that's not very far from Chicago, at Morris, Illinois.

JOHNSON: Where did you live at this time; where was your home?

CUNNINGHAM: Morris, Illinois.

JOHNSON: That's where you lived for many years?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes.

JOHNSON: Was your whole career with Peabody?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, with that same company.

JOHNSON: When did you retire then?

CUNNINGHAM: I had to retire when I was 65 years old; 1960 was when I retired.

JOHNSON: Well, now, in the meantime, you were invited to these reunions of Battery D, weren't you?

CUNNINGHAM: Oh, yes.

JOHNSON: Did you attend? Do you remember attending any of the reunions before Truman became President? Did you attend any reunions in the 1920s or '30s?

CUNNINGHAM: Oh yes.

 

[68]

JOHNSON: Did you happen to attend one of the first ones? I think it was 1921 in Kansas City, Missouri, at the Elks Club. There was sort of, what shall we call it, a big mess there. They started throwing dishes and things. Do you remember attending one of the reunions where it became a free-for-all? Is there anything that stands out in your memory of these reunions?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, I remember that I met two or three fellows that had been with Battery D, the old battery, that lived down there and I caught the passenger train there and went on up.

JOHNSON: To Kansas City?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes.

JOHNSON: After Truman became President you went to the inauguration there in 1949, didn't you? You mentioned that breakfast in 1949 after Truman was...

CUNNINGHAM: The day that he was to go in as President? Yes.

JOHNSON: This would have been when he was inaugurated in January 1949; there was a big Battery D breakfast, and you were there for that. And then I think he signed a portrait for you too. Didn't he sign a portrait for you?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes.

 

[69]

JOHNSON: And then you mentioned this 1952 gathering. Now, you talked a little bit about what Truman had to say to you, but is there anything that we need to put on the record here before we finish? I do want to look at these photographs that we talked about. Did you attend the funeral of Harry Truman?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, I did.

JOHNSON: Did you ever get into the Truman house in Independence? Were you ever inside the Truman home in Independence?

CUNNINGHAM: No, I don't think I ever was.

JOHNSON: You never were. Were you there at the Library before the funeral? Did you ever visit the Truman Library before his funeral, before his death?

CUNNINGHAM: I don't remember if I did. But I do remember this: at the funeral there were lots of people who came out to be there. Wasn't that where we were only allowed in there, in that one place, for the services?

JOHNSON: It might have been, perhaps in the auditorium, which was limited to...

CUNNINGHAM: That's what it was, and there was quite a few of us. I think there was quite a few of them, I think

 

[70]

twelve, fifteen, in the cars, you know.

JOHNSON: But they lost track of you. McKinley Wooden said that [Edward] Meisburger would send out invitations and then he would ask you to send back the card, and when they didn't get the cards returned after a few years, they kind of assumed that the people were dead. And of course, you weren't dead.

CUNNINGHAM: No.

JOHNSON: But after the funeral of Harry Truman, did you ever attend any more reunions? Did you ever get together again with any of the Battery D people? Was that the last time that you ever met Battery D people, at the funeral in 1972?

CUNNINGHAM: I think it was. Yes, I started to tell you that one of those guys was in a wheel chair getting around. "I can't see," he said. He was blind; but he said, "I know your voice." We talked then quite a while. A real nice guy.

Well, they were an awful good bunch of people. I liked most of them; I got along with them.

JOHNSON: Before I finish, I want to get the names. What was your first wife's name?

CUNNINGHAM: Olive.

 

[71]

JOHNSON: Okay, and she died when?

CUNNINGHAM: August, 1975.

JOHNSON: Okay, and then you remarried; you married...

CUNNINGHAM: Glenna, yes.

JOHNSON: What's her maiden name, last name?

CUNNINGHAM: Mom, come here a minute.

JOHNSON: He's asking for your maiden name?

MRS. CUNNINGHAM: My maiden name?

CUNNINGHAM: Before we got married.

MRS. CUNNINGHAM: Oh, before we got married. You see, I was married before, and you want my maiden name.

JOHNSON: Yes, your maiden name and then your first married name.

MRS. CUNNINGHAM: McCorckle was my maiden name; Wheeler was my second name. I was married to a Wheeler.

JOHNSON: In what year did you marry Mr. Cunningham?

CUNNINGHAM: Ten years ago..

MRS. CUNNINGHAM: July the...

 

[72]

CUNNINGHAM: July the 7th wasn't it?

JOHNSON: Of '79, ten years ago?

CUNNINGHAM: Of '79, yes.

JOHNSON: Okay, thank you.

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


List of Subjects Discussed

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]