At this moment 99 years ago, the U.S. was in the thick World War I. The armistice ending the war wouldn’t be declared for another year, on Nov. 11, 1918.
Bill Kloubec was one of the heroes of World War I. He went into the military a country boy and came out of the war with the Silver Star for gallantry and the Purple Heart for being wounded.
Bill is Bessie Kloubec’s baby brother in my historical novel, Secrets of the Dark Closet. Since readers say they want to know more about the characters in the book, Veteran’s Day seems like a good time to tell a little of Bill’s story. Fortunately, Bill kept a diary and wrote letters home during the war. His son, Dick Kloubec, wrote about his father’s war years in the Muir-Kloubec Genealogy & History 1708-2005.
Bill moved with his family to North Dakota in 1904, attended country school, then graduated from LaMoure High School. He enlisted in the North Dakota National Guard on April 24, 1917, just 18 days after the United States entered the war. Bill went overseas on the “SS Leviathan,” arriving in Liverpool in December 1917.
On Jan. 18, 1918, the unit went to the 1st Division AEF Co. M 26th Infantry. He was a private first class, then corporal. On June 9, 1918, he was wounded with mustard gas near Montdidier, France, and hospitalized in Limoge, south of Paris.
Germany was the first country to use mustard gas. They filled artillery shells with the poison. When the shells exploded, a cloud of gas would settle over the troops. The gas caused the victims’ skin to blister and their eyes to be very sore. It also caused internal and external bleeding and attacked the bronchial tubes, stripping off the mucous membrane. There were reportedly 185,000 gas casualties in World War I, with about 6,000 dying.
Bill wrote this letter home while he was hospitalized:
France, June 16, 1918
I suppose that you are getting somewhat anxious so, I’d better scribble a little. I wrote about a week or two ago, but hardly think it was sent. Suppose that you are worrying a little by now, but you need not.
I got a shot of gas, but not bad. My eyes are as good as ever now and lungs too, only the skin is burned a little yet. I’ll be ready for business again in a week. You see it burns the skin like a mustard plaster. Have been in the hospital since the 10th and will probably be transferred to another one tomorrow. Am getting the best of care. We have one Amex nurse and the best gas doctor in France, a Frenchman. Jake got a little hurt but not much.
We went out and dug ourselves in, in a field just after the squareheads had peppered it with gas shells. When we got that done they started throwing sourkraut barrels at us, none of them hurt anyone but we were almighty lucky. We thought they were after us, but guess it was the “frogs” they were after, but they got it in the neck. They don’t like to get tough with us very much for we gave them a few good trouncings and are good for some more. We cheated them out of a town a while ago and they’ve still got a bad taste in the mouths.
I’ll have to close now. Am feeling fine. Hope you are too.
Corp. W.H. Kloubec, Co. M 26th Inf. Amex
Although Bill downplayed his wounds, he spent over a month in the hospital. Then he returned to the front for two more battles in France. After Armistice, the unit went to Germany as the occupying force, where he lived in the town of Molsberg. He was discharged from the military at Camp Dodge, Iowa, on Sept. 24, 1919, after receiving the Purple Heart and Silver Star.
In 1925, Bill graduated from the University of North Dakota. He managed the Gamble Store in Fargo, N.D., where he sold the latest technology—radios. Later he managed Gambles in Moorhead, Minn., a manager-training store. He married Vera Pomeroy, and they had a son and later adopted a daughter. The family traveled several weeks out of the year, often to Florida or California. After retiring from Gambles, Bill bought a small farm and acquired rental properties in Fargo.
“He engaged in life and was forward looking,” Dick Kloubec said recently. Bill remained close to his siblings all of his life, especially his sister Carrie. When he died in 1959, Bessie, Carrie, and other family members from LaMoure, traveling to Fargo for the funeral.
During his growing up years, his family was torn apart, not once but twice. He endured the worst of the fighting in the “war to end all wars,” and went back into battle after being wounded. Still he managed to overcome his past and have a successful and interesting life.
Letters written by North Dakota soldiers in World War I were often posted in local newspapers. University of Mary Cultural History students have found and researched the letters and created a database from each county that records the biographies of the letter writers, plot summaries and reference information.
At 1 p.m., November 11, the students will perform a Readers Theater at the N.D. Heritage Center in Bismarck. The “Letters from the Great War” will include a lecture by Professor Joseph Stuart. The event is free and open to the public.
If you’re like me, your mind is leaping ahead to Christmas. Books are among my favorite gifts to give and receive. Secrets of the Dark Closet and By the Banks of Cottonwood Creek both make excellent Christmas gifts. They are available online and through your favorite bookstore. You may also order a signed copy by contacting me. The cost with shipping is $21.
Nov. 17-18, I will be at The Big One Art & Craft Fair at the Bismarck Civic Center, with two of my crafty friends. If you’re in Bismarck, please stop by. Just look for the “Christmas Gift Ideas” sign.
“Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods.” Psalm 95: 2-3