Friday, February 1, 2013

From Mexico to Germany: The Military Experiences of "Ned" Henschel

James "Ned" Henschel
James Edward Henschel, born April 26, 1896, experienced war in multiple capacities, each experience catapulting him into the next.  “Ned” Henschel started his military experience on June 20, 1916, when he dropped out of the University of Missouri to enlist in the Missouri National Guard.  At this time, the United States border conflict with Mexican revolutionaries was intensifying and required National Guardsmen to reinforce the United States Army garrisons from Texas to California. Henschel went south to train for the conflict in Laredo, Texas, with Company F, Fourth Missouri Infantry. After an unremarkable experience at the Mexican border, Henschel’s unit was mustered out on March 1, 1917, but this dabbling in military involvement left Henschel with a desire to do more.

"Ned" Henschel (left)
at the Mexican border
Although the conflict with Mexico was slowing, foreign relations had been broken with Germany. The United States claimed to be maintaining a neutral stance in regards to the war in Europe and showed little interest in direct involvement in World War I. The United States’ position, in combination with the mustering out of his National Guard unit, led Henschel to the decision to volunteer as an ambulance driver in France for the American Field Service.
As tensions between the United States and Germany escalated, Henschel prepared to volunteer overseas. Volunteering for the American Field Service was Henschel’s solution to help in the impending United States involvement in the war, but these good intentions would create a complication that would put his plans in jeopardy.

After Congress declared war on Germany, on June 25, 1917, Henschel boarded the Rochambeau in New York City for Bordeaux, France. Unbeknownst to Henschel, he had left the country before receiving his discharge from the National Guard. Henschel had requested a discharged from Captain E.E. Major who advised him to wait for an answer, pending the decision from the Adjutant General, Honorable James H. McCord. Anxious to leave with the rest of his new unit, Henschel disregarded the warning and left for France. Back in the United States, Henschel’s father, Leopold H. Henschel, acquired the task of obtaining a written discharge for Ned.

Letter from James McCord to
Leopold Henschel granting "Ned"
an honorable discharge.
The first request to Captain Major left Leopold Henschel with an unfavorable response. In a letter dated July 14, 1917, Captain Major wrote, “I did all that I could for the discharge of your son and have been unable to get the A.G. of Mo. to approve it...This places your son in a very unenviable position as when the company is called out he will have to be posted as a deserter.” After writing several letters to McCord and Major to reverse decisions, Mr. Henschel’s efforts proved fruitless. These failed attempts encouraged him to seek alternative sources. Mr. Henschel approached friend William T. Kemper, an influential Kansas City banker, in hopes he would be able to place pressure on officials in Jefferson City. With the aid of William T. Kemper, Mr. Henschel’s tactics succeeded in getting Ned discharged from the National Guard.

Once in France, Henschel’s idea of being an ambulance driver with the American Field Service was once again challenged, due to the lack of ambulances. However, there was a place for Henschel in the French Army’s Reserve Mallet. Serving as a motor transport service for the French Army, the Reserve Mallet held similar duties as originally outlined by the American Field Service for a driver. Eager to aid the French Army and reluctant to wait for an operable ambulance, Henschel began transporting supplies for the Reserve Mallet.

Henschel (second from left) with the
American Field Service, July 1917
On October 1, 1917, the American Expeditionary Forces absorbed the Reserve Mallet. Given the option to enlist in the United States Army, Henschel registered with the Quartermaster Corps, at Jouaignes, France. Henschel records in a letter written on November 7, 1918, “Oct. 1st Enlisted in the Q.M.C. U.S. Army at Jouaignes, France, doing exactly the same work with the same trucks and with the same army as before.” In June 1918, Henschel attended the “Centre d’Instruction Automobile รก Meaux” where he completed a course for officers of the automobile service. Henschel later transferred to the Motor Transportation Corps as an instructor. On October 26, 1918, Henschel was appointed Second Lieutenant of the Motor Transportation Corps and on November 2, 1918, he accepted.

After the armistice, Henschel served with the Army of Occupation in Germany. Henschel was in charge of collecting German equipment and classifying its condition near Coblenz, Germany. He continued to write home in detail. In a letter dated November 14, 1918, Henschel wrote about the happenings of the “old Reserve”: “Starting out with the Crown Prince Offensive shortly after the Missouri outfit landed—the Aisne Drive—Chemin des Dames—Cambrai Offensive of the British—then winter (enough said; my feet were wet for months). And then came real work—the five big German pushes—and we played right along up and down—Cambrai was nothing compared to these!”

Henschel (third from left) with the
Motor Transportation Corps in Trier, 1919
After a long battle to obtain a discharge from the National Guard, a handful of transfers, several battles and two years of service overseas, Henschel landed in Hoboken, NJ from the Imperator on August 10, 1919.

The National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial has a collection of over 150 documents, 90 photographs, and several artifacts concerning “Ned” Henschel’s experiences.


James E. Henschel Collection, 1917-1919. 96.51. National World War I Museum, Kansas City, MO.