Raymond Kellam Denson
Submitted by: Judy Johnson
Raymond Kellam Denson served in World War 1 with the United States Army. The dates of service are: Known February 15, 1918-June 14, 1919.
Raymond Kellam Denson (October 5, 1899- January 20, 1998) gave this account of his World War I experiences to his son-in-law, James B. Henry. It was published in the book, Ancestors and Descendants of Charles Denson and Mary Jane Wilkinson, by Billie Jean Denson Henry and Kathy Henry Sterne, 1995. It is used with permission of the authors.
World War I Experiences
Raymond Kellam Denson
Sully (Winifred Wayne) Kittley and I decided to join the army in February 1918. At the time we were attending Tanner Paint School between Rule and Sagerton, Texas where Ed Cloud was the teacher. Ed always said I preferred the army to going to school under his teaching. Sully was about to be drafted and we elected to volunteer. We did not tell either of our families we were leaving.
We left for Camp Bowie at Fort Worth, Texas mounted on Sully’s Yale motorcycle February 11, 1918. Most of the roads were dirt and near Albany, Texas the rear tire blew out. We used Sully’s gauntlet glove for a “boot,” patched the tube, wrapped the tire with a leather hitch-reign (purchased at an exorbitant price from a Mexican family) before pumping the tire up with our hand pump. This repair made for a bumpy ride to say the least, especially for me riding on the back-end.
We spent the first night on the road in Mineral Wells, Texas where we got our first introduction to bedbugs. We bought a new tire and had smooth sailing the rest of the trip. On the road between Mineral Wells and Fort Worth we passed soldiers of the 36th Division on maneuvers. We had some second thoughts about our military career when we saw the size and weight of their packs. They all looked straight ahead moving as if about to drop in their tracks. They marched down the middle of the road and we had to weave our way through.
When we got into Fort Worth we decided to spend a few days with George and Maggie Kittley (Sully’s uncle and aunt) while we looked over Camp Bowie. We made a trip or two out to the camp on the motorcycle and noticed some soldiers hauling supplies with wagons and teams. This duty looked like a much better deal than walking with those packs. We went to the recruiting office and asked about the supply deal. They asked us a lot of questions about handling mules and what experience we had. After a call to the captain of the supply company, the recruiter learned they had need for Wagoners. We were promised that duty and enlisted on February 15, 1918.
We were sent to what was called a “detention camp” of tents on a cold, dry, dusty hill for our shots and to recover from the fever, diarrhea and nausea that went with the shots. This all took about two weeks. Since we had not been issued uniforms, we had only the clothes we were wearing when we enlisted. We had lots of regrets about joining the army during “detention camp”.
Upon leaving the detention camp we were assigned to tents with wood floors, issued uniforms and got a bath. I was given the rank of Wagoner and received corporal pay of $36 per month (privates got $30, PFC $33, and Sergeants $38).
My first assignment was assistant to the number one driver, an old regular army man named Valentine who had served under General Pershing down on the Mexican border in campaigns against the Mexican bandit, Pancho Villa. Most of the wagoners, horseshoers, and other personnel in this supply company were older regular army men. For some reason I got along well with these older men.
While we were at Camp Bowie, Valentine got drunk and into a big fight. As a result, he was busted back to private and I was given the number one wagon. Sully Kittley was assigned to a wagon in the same 143rd Regiment Supply Company. We transported supplies from downtown Fort Worth to the camp during the early morning and got some training in marksmanship and other army basic training during the afternoon and night. On about June 5, 1918 we drove in a big parade through downtown Ft. Worth. After the parade we turned in our wagons and teams to the remount station and prepared to ship out for France.
The 36th Division was moved by train to Newport News, Virginia. On July 18, 1918 we boarded an Italian ship and joined a convoy of transports, destroyers, battleships and submarines sailing for France. There were several reported sightings of German submarines. There were repeated shellings and maneuvers by the destroyers apparently directed at these submarines. We never knew for certain if these were actual sightings or if the Navy was just practicing. We landed at Brest, France on August 2, 1918 in a pouring rainstorm. We were marched about four miles to a tent camp. The only way to stay dry was to stand straight-up.
After four days, we boarded a train and moved into an established tent camp. (We knew it was established because the bunks were already infested with “Cooties.”) From this camp I was sent with two other men by train to southern France where we were to pick up our horses from a French remount station. These were large draft horses, but they had been gassed and were in very poor condition. We picked out sixteen of the best ones we could find, loaded them on the train and took them to our camp. These horses were wheezing and coughing so badly they could never be used. We were very short on teams but French army wagons were plentiful, although they were scattered all over France. We finally rounded up all the wagons we needed but were still short of teams.
Three of us were sent by train down into Spain to pick up some mules. When we got to Spain, we found some of the wildest little mules you have ever seen. None of them could weigh more than 400 pounds. They would bite, kick and fight like crazy. We finally got them into the railroad cars and shipped them back to our base. After unloading them, it took the whole supply company to handle them. They would fight like tigers. It became obvious that we could never work them to our wagons. We just aggravated these mules for entertainment for two or three days. One night we decided we had had all of those mules we could stand, and we opened the gate and let them go. The sergeant tried to get us to tell who turned them out, but didn’t press us too hard. Everyone was glad to see them gone.
We made a third train trip to a different location in France and picked up sixteen smaller horses thought to have been from a French cavalry unit. These were healthy horses. I picked out a gray horse of about 1100 pounds and a sorrel that would have weighed about 900 pounds. I kept these horses all the time we were in France. All this time we were gradually moving closer to the front. We camped in a little French village which to my recollection was named Beau Champaign. The village had been almost totally destroyed by artillery bombardment.
The 141st and 142nd Infantry Regiments of our 36th Division had moved in earlier and relieved French units opposite the German Army entrenched in the Hindenburg Line. The French Army was just checking the German Army advance but not attacking the very strong fortifications of the Hindenburg Line which had an extensive system of reinforced concrete, pill boxes, bunkers, trenches and tunnels. The 141st and 142nd Regiments broke through the Hindenburg Line. Behind the main line were rows of pill boxes from which the Germans made a determined stand. The 141st and 142nd finally broke through those pill boxes by use of hand grenades and mortars. After this break through we were held up to prevent being cut off from their flanks. The 141st and 142nd lost half of their men during this break through.
I was in the 143rd Infantry Regiment and we, along with the 144th Infantry Regiment, relieved the 141st and 142nd shortly after the break through. We advanced 23 Kilometers in 5 days. After which we pulled up and held. The Germans were pulling back after the Hindenburg Line collapsed. We had to build roads as we advanced. There were dead soldiers of both armies that had to be pulled aside as we moved out.
Our supply company kept in close contact with the front line, delivering ammunition and food to the trenches. We hauled the “Rolling Kitchen” on carts pulled by two horses. We transported cooked food to the front lines. Some days the shelling would be so bad no one would come out to eat. We would set the food off and leave it.
The whole country we advanced through had been destroyed by artillery shelling and bombardment. Trees, houses, roads and villages were all gone. There were still a few German snipers left behind, but most of them had had enough of war and would come out with their hands up and surrender. We had more prisoners than we knew what to do with. There was one barn still standing with some nice bright grass hay in it. I loaded my wagon with this hay every day for my horses and made me a good bed with it. One day just after I had loaded my hay and pulled away a German artillery barrage destroyed the barn and my hay supply.
During a hold up after our rapid advance, there was very little infantry action. Many times the Germans would get up out of their trenches and walk around in plain sight unarmed and the Americans would do the same. Twenty-one days after we relieved the 141st and 142nd Regiments, we were ordered to the Verdun front where severe fighting was continuing. As I recall, we moved east by northeast toward Verdun. On the night of November 10, 1918, we stopped to make camp. About the time we got our hole dug to sleep in all of the shelling stopped and it was so quiet we could not imagine what was happening. The next morning a French man came by and announced, “Legear Finis”---the war is over.
After the armistice, our unit moved around a lot. We repaired roads with picks and shovels and delivered groceries to the troops. We were all anxious to go home. We learned some French, at least enough to order a meal in a restaurant. They served a lot of rabbit. If you got to a village or town that had not had American troops, the meals were about 40 cents. They were three or four times higher if Americans had been in the town ahead of you. I had a furlough come up and I was broke. A soldier from Brady, Texas, named Swede Carlson loaned me enough money for the trip. We went by train and spent about three days at an Army R&R hotel. We were transported back to the states aboard the Finlandia, and docked in Boston before arriving in Newport News, Virginia on May 31, 1919, where we had pay day and I repaid Swede Carlson and had $6 left over. While we were asleep that night everyone was robbed. I guess our food had been drugged. I had $6 in the watch pocket of my trousers and the next morning I found the pocket cut out and my six dollars were missing.
We traveled by train from Newport News to Fort Worth. We had about a five hour layover in New Orleans, Louisiana. While we were off the train there we found a beer joint and ordered beer, but they refused to sell to us unless we had our discharge papers in hand. We tried another beer joint but got the same story.
After arriving in Fort Worth, we spent about three or four days before we were finally discharged on June 14, 1919, given our mustering out pay and a railroad ticket to Sagerton, Texas.
The following tribute to Raymond Kellam Denson was written by Jack Westbrook for reading at the dedication of the Rule, Texas Veterans Memorial Monument on 20 October 1990.
Raymond Kellam Denson
United States Expeditionary Force
Texas’ own “Arrowhead Division,” the 36th Infantry Division took many young men into World Wars I and II, writing many pages in the annals of history by gallant conduct on their part. Wagoner Raymond K. Denson was one of them.
Raymond Kellam Denson was born near Rule, Haskell County, Texas on October 5, 1899. His parents were Rufus Samuel and Mamie Emma Davis Denson. Raymond has a brother, Delbert R. Denson, and a sister, Maude Isbell Denson Williams. Rufus Samuel was a cattle farmer, bringing his family up in the Tanner-Paint Community of the area. The family was church oriented as befitted the times. Raymond attended school in the community schools of Vernon, Jud, Idella, Carter, and Tanner-Paint.
He answered his country’s call by volunteering for service at Fort Worth, Texas on February 15, 1918. He joined the 36th Division at Camp Bowie, training as a Wagoner with a rating of Corporal in Regimental Supply Company. They trained with mule teams in supplying equipment and ammunition to troops until July 18, 1918 when they embarked from Newport News, Virginia for Europe.
They landed in Brest, France, in cold rainy weather, immediately moving toward the Front gathering animals and equipment as best they could. Having been assigned teams which had been gassed and were not usable, they went to Spain for mules—a mistake as they could not be broken. Raymond, through individual resourcefulness, acquired a good team from French Cavalry. They went into action against the formidable Hindenburg Line, a strong line of pill boxes, bunkers, tunnels, and trenches, considered virtually impregnable. The 36th breached the line with fierce fighting, some hand-to-hand, suffering heavy losses, finally having to hold up for flanking troops to catch up with them. The 36th was then ordered to Verdun where on November 11th, “the deafening silence” signaled the end of the conflict. The endless days of mud, cold, “cooties”, German snipers, continually being under artillery shelling, flooding in of prisoners—suffering—were over. These were trying experiences for a young cowboy. And he withstood them admirably—even excelling. Wagoner Denson was awarded ribbons for having participated in the Muse-Argonne Campaign, and the Champagne Forest Campaign.
Wagoner Denson moved around numerous times while in occupation service. They built roads by hand while delivering equipment and supplies to the troops. While the experiences were trying, Mr. Denson remembers many unusual experiences that were not uncommon to all soldiers. On May 31, 1919 they embarked for Newport News, Virginia, then went by rail, via New Orleans, Louisiana, to Fort Worth, Texas where he was mustered out on June 14, 1919. He returned to Sagerton, Texas by rail with mustering out pay and different outlook on life.
Citizen Denson married Ila Kathryn (Dolly) Kittley on November 2, 1925. They lived in the Rule Area for over 90 years during which time Raymond was cowboy, farmer, mechanic, carpenter, dairyman, City Marshall, Deputy Sheriff, contractor and Constable—recognized as a stalwart in the community. The Densons raised a family, surviving through the hard days of the depression.
Raymond K. Denson is one of the Veterans whom the Community of Rule honored in erecting its Veterans Memorial Monument. Mr. Denson accepted the ‘Responsibility’ that comes with the ‘Rights of Freedom’ at a critical time in our country’s history. We are all indebted to him for having acted in this manly manner. His gallantry will live with the Monument, placing him among the Giants of the Community. His selflessness serves as an example for those yet to be called upon.
Jack Westbrook, 6626 South 76th East Avenue, Tulsa, OK 74133