I know there’s no such thing as the Hannibal National Guard, but when I was a boy, my dad was in the National Guard for almost all of my childhood, and we lived in Hannibal, so the name seemed correct to me.
Originally organized 21 February 1896 in the Missouri National Guard at Hannibal as Company F, 4th Regiment, the unit was mustered into Federal service 16 May 1898 at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, as Company F, 4th Missouri Volunteer Infantry; mustered out of Federal service 10 February 1899 at Camp Wetherill, South Carolina, and reverted to state control as Company F, 4th Infantry.
Reorganized, and Federally recognized 15 November 1947 in the Missouri National Guard at Hannibal as the 35th Military Police Company, an element of the 35th Infantry Division.
The Admiral Coontz armory, where the Guard unit was based, at Third and Collier Streets on the banks of Bear Creek three blocks from the Mississippi River, is where my dad worked during my childhood. He was a full time employee of the Missouri National Guard, and was responsible for maintaining the facility and property of the National Guard.
Inside the field was a baseball diamond and stadium, and across from it, inside the walls, was a large limestone building that housed the vehicles and mobile field equipment of the Guard unit. Off to the side of that building was a separate room where Dad kept all the batteries hooked up to a row of trickle chargers so they would always be ready at a moment’s notice.
As I mentioned in Mississippi River Town, downtown Hannibal would often get flooded by the river in the spring, and as flooding appeared to be imminent, dad would get permission from the company commander to move trucks, jeeps and other equipment out of the motor pool to higher ground. He then would activate a phone chain where he notified squad leaders who then notified the members of their squad that equipment needed to be moved.
Various members of the Guard would install batteries in the vehicles, load them up as appropriate, and take the equipment where it could be protected from the danger of flooding. Dad would drive one of the biggest motor pool trucks home, so he could ford the flood waters and get to the armory. He often pulled a very large trailer containing the field kitchen and equipment, with a “pup” water tank behind. These he could park in our large parking lot behind the house. Later, if the unit was activated, he would spot the equipment downtown as needed
Admiral Coontz Armory
The Admiral Robert E. Coontz Armory, was constructed at the corner of Collier and Third Streets, facing Collier, with Bear Creek at its back. Its original address was 301 Collier Street. The armory was named for US Navy Admiral Robert E. Coontz, the highest ranking military officer from Hannibal. CB&Q and Wabash railroad tracks ran down the center of Collier Street in front of the armory, and the Hannibal & St Louis Railroad tracks ran behind the armory on the banks of Bear Creek.
Built by the Works Progress Administration in a WPA Modern style and complimenting the newly built Clements Field wall design, it was built during 1938; and occupied 1939-1977 by the Missouri National Guard. The architect and builder was Harold L. Reeder.
Since quarry work had already been underway for the limestone wall, WPA decided to use the same quarry work crew to fashion the limestone blocks for the adjacent armory.
First erected in 1924, the original Clemens Field facility was destroyed by fire on August 14, 1936. The replacement stadium was built as a Works Project Administration project in from 1936 to 1938 with a limestone wall around the entire perimeter and a grandstand behind home plate. The historic field has served as a site for minor league baseball teams and Little League baseball for many years, and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Quarry activity had begun in 1936 to cut stone for the new Clements Field wall, which was constructed in 1938. Construction on the armory was then started on January 24, 1938. WPA laborers were paid 30 cents an hour during the Great Depression, and WPA paid $54,400.34 of the $85,000 final cost for the armory.
The City of Hannibal contributed $25,000, the state $6,000. The building was completed on November 4, 1939 and the Missouri National Guard remained in this armory until the current Hannibal Armory was completed in 1977. The Admiral Coontz Armory reverted to the city and is now part of the Hannibal Parks and Recreation system.
In September of 1944, Clements Field was used to house German prisoners of war, who worked for a six week period sorting military shoes that could be repaired and shipped to Europe for war refugees.
Often, the Hannibal unit of the National Guard was activated by Missouri’s Governor to help with building retaining walls along the waterfront by stacking gunny sacks full of sand as high as the predicted flood crest, from the base of Cardiff Hill to Bear Creek. The wall of sandbags was then covered with tarps to hold back the water.
The workers rotated between filling the sacks with shovels full of sand, stacking the filled bags to create the wall, and then spreading the tarps and anchoring them in place with more sandbags. Many shopkeepers and other volunteers always pitched in to help protect the downtown shopping area.
Stacking the sand bags had to be done just right to avoid leaks, and when a leak appeared the stackers got after it right away. I never did know what the right way to stack them was, but, someone doing all the yelling and barking orders must have! This view is of the rear of the armory from across Bear Creek.
It was exciting to me to watch the men hurriedly fill the bags from the sand trucks that arrived one after another. The filled bags were then passed from man to man who were standing shoulder to shoulder from the sand truck to the wall. The end of the line sometimes would suddenly swing to spots where leaks occurred, in an effort to get the holes plugged before they got any bigger.
During flood duty the Guard unit was often activated for several days at a time, and they would set up their field kitchen in a very large tent on an empty lot somewhere in the downtown area where the troops could take breaks and get refreshment. What seemed like a steady stream of visitors brought food and beverages for the troops which kept the kitchen crew busy sorting, storing and dispensing.
The guardsmen treated flood duty as a training exercise, using the unit’s equipment to set up and operate just as they would if they were deployed to the field, carrying supplies, transporting support personnel, assisting in evacuations by jeep or truck, and all the other tasks that were required during the emergency. I remember a Captain Elmer Meyers being in charge at one point. My dad was a staff sergeant, and a few of the troops were . . . Delbert and Albert Tate, Bill Schenck, Webb, Tompkins, Brothers, and Robertson.
My father, Gene Vaughn, joined Company D, 4th Missouri State Guard, First Infantry Brigade, housed at the Admiral Coontz Armory in 1943. He entered the infantry unit as a communications specialist.
The unit attended a two week summer camp each year as a service requirement. They would receive their orders to move their unit from their home armory in a convoy by a particular route at a particular time. En route to their final destination they would join with other units of their battalion where they would move in a column. I remember them going to Camp Ripley, Minnesota a couple of times, Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, Fort Gordon, Georgia, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and others I no longer recall.
I heard Dad telling mom one year, after returning from camp, that his battalion had arrived at the camp as another was departing, and that the double line of military vehicles was so long you couldn’t see the end of it. He also said the mosquitoes in Minnesota are big enough to carry you off.
After being converted to a military police unit, the Hannibal National Guard unit assisted the local police department with traffic control during numerous parades, and ran a concession stand during wrestling matches held on weekends in the armory. The proceeds went toward the purchase of supplies the unit used while on weekend training bivouacs they organized once a month, to prepare for summer camps, and to qualify members of the unit for promotion.
Keeping the Change
In those days the National Guard wore olive drab fatigue uniforms with large roomy patch side pockets on each trouser leg. The pants legs were tucked in shiny black combat boots with black shoelaces. As a full time employee of the National Guard, dad wore his fatigue uniform to work every day, so it wasn’t out of the ordinary at all to see him at business or social events in fatigues or, later as an officer, in a dress uniform.
It was a great surprise, a source of much pride, when dad presented me with a fatigue uniform of my own, which he, himself, had made from old uniform parts. Although not an exact copy of an adult’s uniform, it had patch pockets on the trouser legs, and looked enough like a real uniform that I felt really good about wearing it to the armory to be with the men of the unit.
The uniform was popular with the guardsmen, and they would good-naturedly salute me when they came into the room. I was very young, and this kind of kidding around with the adults was a lot of fun to me. The guardsmen took it upon themselves to entertain me, instructing me in how to perform marching drill, facing movements, proper salutes, and how to stand at attention.
When I got a little older, I got to help out with the concession stand on several occasions, working first in the kitchen getting supplies and serving as a “gofer” for the adults. A couple of years later I served bottles of soda pop, retrieved from a huge ice-filled tub in the center of a square made of four banquet tables out on the drill floor. It was a nice arrangement, because we could serve from all four sides.
The first time I worked at the drink counter, taking cash, I was very impressed with how kind people can be. Many customers who bought a soft drink from me, said, “Keep the change.” Wow! This was great! So, I happily put the cost of the drink in the cash box, and put the penny change the nice people had given me, in my big patch trousers pocket!
By the end of the night my pocket was so full it bulged way out, the weight threatening to pull my pants clear down! This was a great bemusement to the guardsmen, who had been watching me do this all night. When the evening was over, and it came time to close the kitchen, Dad turned to me, and asked what was making my pocket so heavy. I happily reached into my pocket, pulled out a handful of coins, and told him about all the nice people who had been giving me their penny change.
All the guardsmen got a good laugh, and Dad gently explained to me that the change wasn’t meant to be mine, personally, but a gift to the unit itself. I was so embarrassed that I misunderstood! But, it quickly became clear to me, even at that tender age, that volunteerism, and selflessness, brings its own rewards. The guardsmen good-naturedly teased me about that for some time after that, but it was all in fun, and I became a regular helper for the weekend matches, helping with the concessions and setting up chairs.
The National Guard unit’s mission was changed from infantry to military police. They were designated the 35th Military Police Company of the 175th Battalion, Missouri National Guard. The unit traded their large 5 ton troop and cargo trucks for more jeep vehicles for their new mission, and the men were busy training for their new duties, studying police roles and responsibilities.
The MP company kept two 2 ½ ton trucks, nicknamed deuce-and-a-halfs, and a 5-ton with a wood and tin room on the cargo area which served as their command and communication center. It was equipped with rows and stacks of radios, desks and chairs, had a lock on the wood door on the rear. I got to peak inside it once when dad went in to put some papers on the desk, but it was too dark for me to really get a good view, and I was never allowed to go inside.
The unit’s jeeps were emblazoned with “Military Police” under the windshield and across the tailgate, and had “MP” painted on each corner of the bumpers. One of their jeeps, though, was painted white, in contrast to the olive drab of the other jeeps and trucks. The white jeep was lettered for use by the “Provost Marshal,” who is the Chief of Police in a military unit. The title originated with an older term for military police, “provosts.”
The white jeep had a two way radio installed behind the driver and had a very long steel whip antenna that stood several feet high, and when not in use, it was pulled down over the top of the jeep and fastened to the front bumper. Mounted on the front fender was a bright chromed siren with a flashing red light on the front of it.
The siren was activated by pressing a foot switch located on the floor next to the clutch pedal. The longer you held the button down the faster the siren would turn, and the higher pitched the tone became. (I never got to play with that either!). There were also flashing red lights mounted on either side of the front bumper that were activated by a toggle switch on the dash.
I thought that jeep was about the prettiest thing I had ever seen, and spent a lot of time pretending to drive it when I was in the motor pool building. Occasionally dad would take me to the motor pool where he performed various maintenance chores on the trucks and jeeps. I recall a room on the Collier Street side of the building that had rows of vehicle battery chargers positioned just above shelves where the batteries spent most of their time.
Since the unit didn’t use the trucks or jeeps regularly, the batteries were maintained in this room. I recall a large container of some mysterious liquid that sat on the shelf with the batteries, and a tool that looked like a turkey baster that dad would use to test the batteries. Often he would squirt some of the liquid in various parts of the batteries, but I only got to see this from a distance. That was okay with me, because I was usually pretending to drive one of the jeeps, flipping switches and running the manual windshield wipers.
Military Police Uniforms
Along with the change of the guard unit’s military mission came new involvement in the community. The unit could be found providing traffic control at large community events, including parades and the annual street fair downtown. The men’s uniforms had changed, too, for this new mission. They wore tan khaki uniforms with white pistol belts, white helmet liners, white gloves, white laces in their boots, with bloused trouser legs, and white gloves.
This seemed like the perfect uniform to me, and it was all topped off with a chromed whistle attached by a white cord to the right shoulder epaulet, and the whistle itself hung from a hook on the right pocket. Dad looked very striking in this uniform, and I was very proud of him when he dressed to perform some volunteer duty in the community.
Hannibal’s central business street is Broadway, which runs uphill to the west from the Mississippi River. The National Guard unit was performing traffic duty that day, in support of a parade that was scheduled to begin later that morning. One of my most vivid memories is being on the curb at Broadway and Third Streets, watching dad direct traffic from the middle of the street.
Pedestrians were lining Broadway all the way to the top of the hill at Fifth Street. There wasn’t a lot of vehicular traffic at that point, but military policemen stood in the middle of Broadway at each alley and street intersection, in their khaki and white uniforms, whistles blowing as they directed traffic. And, at the top of the hill, at Fifth Street, sat the white Provost marshal’s jeep, with its chromed trim and red lights flashing!
As the parade passed, the guardsmen went into action directing traffic to safely clear the congestion while getting normal traffic flow restored. Later, as the guardsmen debriefed at the armory, and were released from duty, there were lots of tales and much laughter
The Jeep Story
When I was about twelve years old, my dad was working for the National Guard as administrator of the local armory. One of his duties was to put their vehicles through routines, including starting, letting them run long enough to circulate all the fluids, and periodic short drives to keep them ready to go into immediate service when the unit was needed. I loved the jeeps, officially U.S. Army Quarter Ton General Purpose vehicles (GP). The GP eventually became, “jeep,” hence their name.
Some of the jeeps in the local armory inventory were configured for communications, with bunches of radios located in the back, or field kitchen support with the kitchen trailer behind, or troop support with shovels and axes attached to the sides. I appreciated the jeeps’ versatility and the fact that the top and doors could be quickly removed, or folded back as the case may be, to create my favorite configuration . . . the open top convertible.
Many times dad would drive one of the vehicles home for lunch, and sometimes he would park the big trucks in the front part of our driveway, so he could back out into the street, but the jeeps he usually parked in the rear of the house next to the back door. While he was having lunch, I would jump into the driver’s seat and pretend to drive. I had to scoot halfway out of the seat to reach the pedals, but had figured out from watching dad shift our car, how to progress through the gears.
One day he brought the Provost Marshal’s jeep home and parked it out back. I don’t remember the circumstances, but for some reason he left it at home while he went somewhere else. I thought that white jeep with all the chrome red light/siren on the fender, and flashing red lights on the front bumper was beautiful. I climbed up in the seat and pretended to drive it. My younger brother also wanted to drive, but, I usually was able to convince him that swinging the levers back and forth to activate the windshield wipers was just as important and gratifying.
On one occasion, while pretending to drive, I remembered how dad moved the floor gear shift lever into the center, and start the engine. I thought that sounded like fun to do. So, I pushed the shift lever until it popped into neutral and moved freely side to side. Then, I turned on the ignition very briefly just to make sure it would start without trying to move. It worked! So, I then started it! Afterall, it made it more fun to pretend to drive it with the motor running! Then I decided to try to back it up a little. I climbed mostly out of the seat and pressed the clutch to the floor and the shift lever into “R,” and let the clutch out ever so slowly. The jeep started inching backwards at idle speed.
I stopped the jeep and started backing a tiny bit again and again, until I had run out of room. Then it was time to go the other way. But, just to my left was the driveway leading to the street. We lived on the edge of town at that time, and the whole area for several blocks around had only gravel roads, and no through traffic in our neighborhood. That driveway beckoned to me! I couldn’t resist!
I jockeyed the jeep back and forth until I got it turned, facing the street, and then inched my way out the driveway to the street. I turned to the right, straightened it out, and then gave it a little gas to pick up a little speed. I turned left at the end of our block, to follow the outermost road up the hill four blocks distant. I figured out how to shift into second gear, and believe that was as high as I went, never reaching third gear or any real speed.
At the top of the hill were two houses on a short half-block that overlooked a steep cliff to a creek below. There was a little turn around at the end, by the side of an in-ground concrete block garage. I knew this when I headed up the hill, because this was part of my Grit newspaper route. As I turned onto that half-block, I eased over to the left side of the road so I could make a 180 degree turn and climb the little hill that covered the side of the garage. As I executed the turn, I was forced to stop short to avoid hitting a wheelbarrow and gardening equipment left in my way.
I stopped short, and looked back behind me. The cliff was not far behind, and there was no guardrail or anything else to keep me from going over the edge if I miscalculated. So, I set the hand brake and cranked the wheels as hard as I could so the jeep would turn sharply when I backed up, keeping away from the abyss below.
As I slowly released the handbrake, the jeep started backing as I planned, but as it came backwards, the left side lifted off the ground, because the wheels had turned so far the weight of the jeep forced it to stop and rest on the side of the front wheel. Oh, this wasn’t good! I could see that I was about to turn up on the side of the jeep. So, I moved it forward again, straightening out the wheels, and getting all of them on the ground again. Then, I backed up with a less severe cranking on the wheels.
This turning around thing was more difficult than I expected, and I was badly frightened. But, now the adrenaline was really rushing, and I knew I had to get the jeep back home, but I was afraid of how to keep it from getting away from me going downhill. It looked a lot steeper downhill, but, I decided that I would put it in second gear and let gravity pull me down, while I regulated the speed with the handbrake.
So, I got home from what had become a harrowing 8-block adventure that scared the dickens out of me. I parked the jeep where I thought was the correct spot, and got out to look at the right side. The lugnuts on the front right wheel were packed with grass and dirt. None of the paint was damaged though, which was a great relief! I dragged out the garden hose and fixed a scrub bucket with soapy water, and began cleaning up the wheel.
As I cleaned up, I checked for damage, and didn’t see any, but began to discover that I had splashed water over the surrounding metal, which turned the accumulated gravel road dust into splotches of mud. I decided that I would have to wash the whole jeep to cover up my escapade. When I finished, the jeep was shiny and clean, sparkling like the beauty it was. I didn’t think to clean up the mud and dirt that i had washed off the wheel onto our gravel driveway, and nothing was ever said, but dad never left a jeep unattended in our driveway again.
Read more –
- WPA: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Works_Progress_Administration
- Clements Field: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clemens_Field
- MO National Guard – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missouri_National_Guard
- MO National Guard – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGjACjLS8Hw
- Hannibal Unit Mo National Guard History – – https://history.army.mil/html/forcestruc/lineages/branches/mp/2175mpco.htm