The Selective Service Act of May 1917 was to build an army of a million men.
The infrastructure to clothe, house and train all the new soldiers didn’t exist. Thus in July 1917, ground was broken for Camp Funston, Kansas. A 2,000 acre site along the vast flat of the Kansas River, three miles east of Fort Riley, was selected.
The camp was named for General Frederick Funston, a native Kansan.
Under the direction of Fuller Construction Company, thousands of workmen began construction. Construction would continue throughout the next year, even as recruits arrived and trained.
An estimated 2,800 buildings were constructed to house the 30,000 soldiers in the U.S. Army’s 89th Division. And other divisions trained here later. It was the largest training camp built during World War I.
The 89th Division was formed at Camp Funston in August 1917 under the command of Major General Leonard Wood.
Of the 30,000 men in the 89th Division, about 3,500 were assigned to the 353rd Infantry Regiment.
The 353rd Infantry Regiment received its first recruits on September 5. Commanding Colonel James H Reeves and about 120 officers were already there, having been transferred from the regular and reserve Army.
From the State of Kansas draft, the following recruits arrived.
- 323 men on September 5
- 1,791 men on September 19
- 680 men on October 5
This total of 2,974 Kansas men gave the Regiment its name, “The All-Kansas Regiment”.
Eastern Missouri made up the 354th, northest Missouri the 355th, and the 356th was mostly from Nebraska.
Like all regiments, the 353rd Infantry was continually called upon to transfer men to the front and to receive replacements from later drafts. So gradually the composition included men from all over the country.
Ben Is Assigned to the 353rd
Ben Teply was one of those original recruits from Kansas. His enlistment record is dated September 24. He reported to Camp Funston and was assigned to the 353rd Infantry, Company M.
Ben was assigned as a mechanic, along with two or three others in his company.
Upon arrival, recruits were to shower, have a once-over by a doctor, and receive government clothing. Since regular uniforms were not available in sufficient quantity, the first uniform was blue denim overalls and jumper. Officers wore regular uniforms.
Civilian clothes had to be shipped home or donated to the Belgium Relief Commission.
Men arriving in the morning were on the drill field the same afternoon.
In the beginning, there were no regular uniforms, no rifles, and insufficient buildings. Barracks were overcrowded.
But there was adequate and good food.
First six weeks of training
The Division Training Plan called for the completion of recruit training within six weeks. During this time, the daily routine for every man was as follows:
- 1st Period.–The Advance.
- 2nd Period.–Setting Up Exercises.
- 3rd and 4th Periods.–Squad Drill. (Close Order.).
- 5th and 6th Periods.–English Bayonet Work.
- 7th Period.–Squad Drill, Close Order.
- 8th Period.–Practical Guard Duty.
- 9th and 10th Periods.–First Aid.
- 11th Period.–Duties of Messengers.
- 12th Period.–Squad Drill.
- 13th Period.–Recreation–Athletic.
In November, after the first six weeks, various schools of specialty training were begun. Emphasis shifted from drill to instruction. Instruction was begun in the French language, bayonet fighting, grenade throwing, field fortifications, automatic rifles, and scouting.
By November, there was at least a minimal supply of weapons and makeshift devices for the artillery.
By late December, target practice was added as a new training objective.
General Pershing had emphasized the importance of target practice in a cablegram from France:
“Longer experience and conditions in France confirms my opinion highly important Infantry soldiers should be excellent shots. Our allies now fully realize this deficiency in rifle training. Therefore, strongly renew my previous recommendation that all troops be given complete course in rifle practice before leaving United States.”
Rifle shooting appealed to the men. The march to the range was six miles. All day long the firing continued in shifts, without a stop until the light grew too dim, when the return march was made.
Officers of the Foreign Missions admitted that the soldiers of middle America were more expert at the beginning of practice than the average British or French soldiers were at its close.
Group Infantry Training
By February, the training directive changed from individual to group training.
The Companies began before sun-up and marched to Smoky Hill Flats, a distance of five miles. At 8:45 a. m. the work began–bayonet training, grenade throwing, automatic rifle practice, trench and combat formations. Here the men threw live grenades and did their first firing with the Chauchat Rifle.
Kitchen forces, too, had their first experience in cooking on a field range.
At four-thirty the return march was begun and entrance to camp was made under cover of darkness.
In November 1917, General Leonard Wood had been called to France for observation duty. When he returned in April 1918, he brought back clear ideas for training and final preparation for overseas service.
Increased activity in trench exercises were conducted at Smoky Hill Flats and Carpenter Hill Trench System.
As Camp Funston developed, there also came recreational facilities. There were movie theaters, sports fields, and canteens. Each unit had a YMCA.
And the 353rd built a huge Kansas Building for meetings and recreation. It was paid for by subscriptions from Kansans, ranging from a few cents to hundreds of dollars.
By February, the building was complete, and used for concerts, meetings, etc. On February 9, and open house was held for family members from all over the state.
By spring 1918, the recruits were acclimatized to military camp life.
Ben Teply’s pay record showed that he had gross pay of $33 in December 1917. But he had deductions of $15.00 for Class A allotment and $3.35 for insurance, and thus net pay of $14.65.
Allotment of Pay. All enlisted men having a wife or a former wife divorced not remarried) or a child. are obliged to allot a certain portion of their pay each month: an allotment to any other person is voluntary.Bulletin No. 12. Headquarters AEF – November 30, 1917
So Ben was making a voluntary allotment, probably to his parents.
Health and Sickness
Medical and dental staff worked to keep down diseases in camp, and to sort out those who could not sustain the rigorous physical regimen.
Nevertheless, diseases were frequent, and spread quickly through the ranks.
During training, short leave furloughs were allowed.
Preparation for Deployment
By May 1918, rumors were rife that deployment was imminent.
During the months of training, there were many transfers of men into and out of the division. But by May 1918, the 353rd counted 100 officers and 3,500 enlisted men.
Here’s a picture of the 353rd Infantry at Camp Funston. It gives a feel for the size of a regiment, about 3,500 men.
Here’s a picture of Company F. I couldn’t find a picture of Ben’s Company M, but this will give you an idea of a company, about 250 men.
Nibbles Extra Credit
1918 Flu Pandemic
Many sources attribute the beginning of the 1918 flu pandemic to Camp Funston.
In 1918, a new influenza virus emerged. During this same time period World War I was taking place. The conditions of World War I (overcrowding and global troop movement) helped the 1918 flu spread. The vulnerability of healthy young adults and the lack of vaccines and treatments created a major public health crisis, causing at least 50 million deaths worldwide, including approximately 675,000 in the United States. Below is a historical timeline of major events that took place during this time period.CDC – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Half of all American soldier deaths from disease were due to influenza, many in training camps in the United States. Did the war cause the flu epidemic? Perhaps so. Certainly, it created the conditions in which the epidemic began and spread. The question has been debated ever since.
Whatever its cause, the flu epidemic killed more people than the war itself.
- Ben Teply military documents and photos and dogtags – Teply family memorabilia
- Camp Funston photographs – Kansas State Historical Society
- Camp Funston Kansas Building photograph and much of the information – History of the 353rd Regiment, 89th Division, National Army, by Capt. Charles F. Dienst et al. – 1921
- Much of the information – Official Brief History of the 89th Division USA – 1917-1918-1919 – Maj. C.J. Masseck
- All news articles are from The Hanover Democrat, The Hanover Herald, The Marysville Advocate, Washington Register. All are available on Newpapers.com and are free for Kansas residents – Kansas State Historical Society – https://www.kshs.org/ancestry/drivers/dlverify
- 1918 Flu Pandemic – CDC – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-commemoration/pandemic-timeline-1918.htm