Tape, Cassette, interview with William T. Knox, African American veteran in World War I concerning his experiences with the 366 Ambulance Company, 92nd Division in France. 2 tapes interviewed with Robert Sweeney; sides 1 and 4 relate to Mr. Knox. Interview has been transcribed. Interviewed by Mark Beveridge, curator May 23, 1980 at the Liberty Memorial. Side four of the tapes is Mr. Knox playing his banjo. Tapes have 30 minutes each side. Side three of the tapes relates to Mr. Knox and Mr. Sweeney's (1980.118) post war years in Kansas City.
From the service of William T. Knox, 317th Sanitary Train, 366th Ambulance Company, 92nd Division, AEF.
ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW OF 5/23/80 WITH WILLIAM KNOX
Beveridge: When were you born, Mr. Knox?
Knox:February 22, 1892
Beveridge: Where were you born, in Kansas City?
Knox: No, Kentucky. Owensboro, Kentucky.
Beveridge: What is your full name?
Knox: William Tecumsah Knox
Beveridge: Did you have a large family?
Knox: No, I had one brother.
Beveridge: Did you go to school in Kentucky?
Beveridge: Did you go on to high school?
Knox: One year of high school.
Beveridge: Did you have any occupations beforyou went into the service?
Knox: Yes. In Kansas City.
Beveridge: When did you move from Kentucky?
Knox: I came to Kansas City in 1907.
Beveridge: What type of job did you have when you came to Kansas City?
Beveridge: Did you join the Reserves prior to entering the service on active duty in WWI?
Knox: No, there was a bunch of us went to Funston and enlisted as amublance
Beveridge: Do you remember the circumstances when war was declared?What did you do on that day?
Knox: That caused me to enlist. I was reading in the paper about a drafted soldier, about how the rats run up and down the trenches, biting the wounded soldiers, so I heard about this ambulance deal, and I said well you'll have to come in with this ambulance to get me. So I enlisted as an ambulance driver.
Beveridge:Do you remember your date of enlistment?
Knox: Not exactly.
Beveridge: Was it after America declared war?
Knox: Yes, it was afterwards.
Beveridge: Did you join the Army here in Kansas City, or did you have to do that at Camp Funston?
Beveridge: What are some of the memories that you have of your first days in the Army? What happened after you took your oath?
Knox: Well, we had our regular duties, exercises, drilling, hiking.And then for pleasure night we either got to go to Junction City or Army City and played pool and did other things to pass away the time. We needed a pass to go to Junction City, but not for Army City. Army City was a block of buildings, erected for the soldiers.
Beveridge: How long were you there at Camp Funston before you left?
Knox:I don't remember exactly. I imagine we were there 3 months or more.
Beveridge: Did both of you gentlemen sail on the same ship?
Knox: Oh yes. We went into Funston together. We went over on the Great
Northern.It took 7 days. We returned on Olympia in 7 days.
Beveridge: Were you in the 317th Sanitary Train?
Beveridge: And what company were you in?
Knox: Ambulance Co. 366. There was 365, 366, 367 and 368.367 and 368th were mule drawn. 366 and 365 were motor drawn. Mule drawn could get to where motor cars couldn't.
Beveridge: Did you train with ambulances there at Camp Funston?
Knox: We trained not on ambulances but on trucks.
Beveridge: So then you sailed on April 17th, was it?
Knox:I can't remember the exact date. But it was in 1918.
Beveridge: So were you pretty excited about getting on the ship and going over to France?
Knox:Yes, I was very excited. On one job that I had, my folks (employers) went abroad and they told me so many great things about abroad that I was always anxious to go. Another reason I enlisted was for a chance to get abroad. So I was tickled to death. I was so afraid I wouldn't pass my examination so I would get to go.
Beveridge: So it was a feeling of adventure for you then? Knox: Oh yes, all the way.
Beveridge: Where did the ship dock when you landed in France?
Beveridge: Did you go to a particular camp at that time?
Knox: Yes, we were at the camp in Tours, France for awhile, and then we were sent to the Front. We relieved French Ambulance Co. The Rainbow Division was to relieve us, but before they could, Armistice was signed.
Beveridge: Did you go to a training area behind the lines before you entered the Front?
Knox: No, we did not have any training.We went on the ambulances and we were not there any time before we relieved the French ambulances.Of course, we rode around with the French drivers about a week to learn the routes and different hospitals, and then we relieved the French.
Beveridge: Did your company always operate together - all the trucks - or were you sometimes split up when you were serving with the French there?
Knox: No, we were not split up.We were all together.
Beveridge: So the Sanitary Train remained intact?
Knox: Ambulance 365 and 366 did most of it, because they had automobiles to haul the patients. The mule drawn - they were the ones used to go into the actual combat and pick up the wounded.
Beveridge: Did they ever replace those mule-drawn ambulances with motorized ambulances that you recall?
Knox: No, not as I recall.
Beveridge: What were some of your first impressions of France? Right when you got off the boat?
Knox: Well, I did not think much of it because we stayed there only a few days after we docked, before they took us for actual duty, and we had poor food, and I did not like sleeping on bags, and so forth. We did not have beds to sleep in. It was really tough down there.
Beveridge: You probably had heard about the cooties? Did they ever attack the Company there?
Knox: No, not until we got into actual duty.
Beveridge: But then almost all the soldiers had cooties?
Knox:Oh yes, yes. In my ambulance you know, I ate in it, slept in it, did everything as I told you, and I accumulated a few just from my blankets and wounded soldiers.
Beveridge: I always heard there was a popular pastime among soldiers called "reading their shirt", looking for cooties.
Knox: That's right. You took a candle and light it, and just go around the collar with that candle and you could hear them pop, pop, pop.
Beveridge: What was the weather like?
Knox: Some parts of France had bad weather - cold, drizzly rain. Found a place called Aix le Bains where we would go on leave - a sulphur springs. It was very nice there.
Beveridge: How long were you actually at the Front?You arrived in April of 1918, so were you involved in the Meuse-Argonne Battle?
Knox: Oh yes. Our base hospital was in Toul, France. When we got there we were at Pont-a-Mousson about 50 miles from Metz, and we were just about to go into Metz when the Armistice was signed.
Beveridge: What were your impressions of Toul? I think there was a large airbase there wasn't there?
Knox: Yes, there was an ammunition dump there too. That was the only thing we were afraid of - that the Germans would blast us some night.
Beveridge:Do you ever remember any of those early airplanes flying?
Knox: Yes, they were so common we wouldn't even look up.Battles all over our head; battles so common we wouldn't even look up at them.
Beveridge: The wounded soldiers that you were carrying - were they mostly men from the 92nd Division?
Knox: Yes, the 92nd. Two or three times I picked up a wounded German soldier.
Beveridge: Did you ever evacuate wounded Frenchmen?
Knox: Yes, I evacuated Frenchmen.But that was on my way to the hospital in Nancy. I had trouble getting rid of them.
Beveridge:Do you remember the Battle of St. Mihiel? The first action American troops were involved in as a unit.
Beveridge: What were some of the cities you remember visiting in the battle, when you drove your ambulances up to the Front?
Knox: Nancy, Pont-a-Mousson.
Beveridge: Were you going up to the advanced dressing stations with your ambulances or were you evacuating people from dressing stations further to the rear?
Knox: No, we would go to the Front and bring them to the base hospital, and according to his wound, if he was able to go back, we'd leave him there. If he wasn't, we'd bring him on to Nancy, and if he wasn't able to go back from there, he'd end up in the States again. It
was according to his wounds of course. If he was too bad he would be sent to Nancy.If he didn't recover, he'd go to Brest. If he lost arms or legs, he was taken back to the States.
Beveridge: On the day the Armistice was signed, Nov. 11, do you remember where you were at that time, and what your feelings were?
Knox: Yes. I was between Pont-a-Mousson and Metz. I was enroute to pick up some wounded soldiers.
Beveridge: What happened on Armistice Day?
Knox: Well, everything happened. That French ace aviator in the war- he went up to celebrate on champagne and he had a head dive - I don't think we ever found the motor. The French just went wild. They all had champagne, and were just pouring it all over everybody.
Beveridge:Do you remember the sound of gunfire, did it cease right at 11:00?
Knox: I didn't pay any attention to that.
Beveridge: What happened then after the Armistice?
Knox: All I was thinking about was getting home.
Beveridge:How soon did you get home?
Knox:I can't say exactly, but it wasn't long because the Pioneer Infantry relieved us. We weren't there long.
Beveridge:Did you stay there over Christmas?
Beveridge:Did you receive any packages from home?
Knox: Well, we got a lot of packages, but there was a lot of crookedness there. The YMCA received packages for soldiers and kept them.
Beveridge:l've heard some complaints from other soldiers of WWI about that, about the Red Cross or the YMCA. Was there a lot of prejudice?
Knox: There was a lot of prejudice over there, even the latrines were white over here, colored over there. Drinking fountains - colored here, white over there. So you could tell how we felt.
Beveridge: As a black soldier, when you got off that ship in France, did you feel you were treated differently than the other American soldiers, by the French people?
Knox: Well no, the French treated us and welcomed us with wide open arms. They were crazy about us. The only trouble we had was with American whites. We didn't come in contact with them.It was just when the Rainbow Division out of Texas, came over and relieved us.
Beveridge:Do you remember any incidences of problems between the American units?
Knox: Well, I can tell you one. There was one incident. A colored soldier and an animal he had gone out with, came up to the watering tr ugh with these 4 horses to get watered. A white soldier out of the Rainbow Division came up with 4 horses to drink.He said "pull over there nigger and let my horses drink." He said "I was here first" and this white soldier upped with his gun like that, and this colored fellow shot his eye out. He was just quicker. When you do something over there, they send you to the Front. The officer in charge will send you over the top that night- if you get back you were justified.If you don't get back you were convicted. They sent this colored soldier to the Front, the officer in charge sent him over. Next morning he came back with 41 Germans marching in front of him hollering "Kamerad".You see that was because they were hungery. They took him to Paris, and banqueted him, give him the Croix de Guerre and everything. I even had a tank shoot off at my ambulance, and didn't get doddly squat.
Beveridge: I bet there were probably quite a lot of fellows over there who were heroes and didn't get recognized for it.
Knox: That's what I'm talking about. Now how can one soldier train 6 months, go out and capture 41 soldiers, been training for 3 years, the best of training, and march 41 of them in, while they're hollering "Kamerad". They take him to Paris, banquet him, give him the Croix de Guerre, and everything. Meanwhile I'm out there suffering in mud, going through Death Valley, the signs on trees say "Step on it, Death Valley", and a tank shot off my ambulance and you do not hear anything about it.
Beveridge:In the French Army there were a lot of Negro units, did you see them and come in contact with those men?
Knox: Yes, and I was very glad to see those men, because most of them were officers and they were fine looking guys.
Beveridge: So, you had respect for the French units.
Knox: Yes, and the white American soldier wouldn't respect them, they wouldn't even salute them, and that's what caused a lot of trouble.
Beveridge: So, what was your overall impression of the French people, they were friendly to you?
Knox: Yes, the French people were kind. I had a quartet over there and we would go around and entertain at night. And the French girls would holler "Oh, jolly American soldiers, a commez sa vous."
Beveridge: Did they call you the Buffalo soldiers while you were overseas?
Knox: No. they didn't call us that.
Beveridge: Did you have a nickname?
Knox: American soldiers, that's all I can remember.
Beveridge: Or among yourselves, did you refer to each other with a nickname?
Knox: No , I didn't do much socializing.I was always in my ambulance.
Beveridge: Were you much of a souvenir hunter?
Knox: Oh yes, I had quite a few souvenirs. As I told you, I picked up a French officer once. I had his helmet and his Luger, and of course he died on my ambulance, and I discharged him at the hospital. I had quite a few souvenirs, and when I went to go through the delousing place, at the end waiting for the ship to go home, I went in one door, leaving my souvenirs, come out the other.All new clothes and everything, I didn't know what happened to my things.I lost everything. Just like the other soldiers.
Beveridge: When you got on that ship, how long did it take to get home?
Knox: We went over in seven and came back in six. Six days.
Beveridge: What was the name of the ship, do you remember?
Knox: We went over on the Great Northern, one of two sister ships, and came back on the second largest ship afloat - 889 feet long and 92 feet wide. The Olympia.
Beveridge: Do you remember the reception you got, when you got home? Where there a lot of people on the docks waiting for you, cheering?
Knox: No. We landed at Upton, New York and I didn't see anybody. Those 5th Ave. parades, I never heard of anything like that. We weren't in New York but a week and then they shipped us to Kentucky, Churchill Downs - it was a soldier camp then - that's where I was mustered out.
Beveridge: Then did you take the train to Kansas City?
Beveridge: Were you wearing your uniform at that time?
Beveridge: What was the red stripe that you had on?
Knox:I didn't have a red stripe.
Beveridge: Didn't they issue a discharge chevron to you?
Beveridge: When you got home, what was the reaction of the people in Kansas City, as you arrived here in uniform?
Knox: Our friends were glad to see us home. I went back on the job I had left, when I came back.
Beveridge: Did you join any veterans' organizations?
Knox: Yes, American Legion.
Beveridge: Were you active in the American Legion in those days?
Note: Not on tape - Mr. Knox was asked about passes issued while overseas.He said that "after training they sent me and the drivers to Paris to bring 41 ambulances back. But they didn't have time to do anything there, were railroaded out. Some of the boys went AWOL." He also said they might send 5 ambulances from Toul to Nancy and the drivers would go pleasure hunting of find better food than the beans and crackers they got in camp (such as steaks, pancakes, pies, which they got by "Conning the officer's cooks out of"). Knox had to take a motorcycle and check up on them then.
INTERVIEWER: Mark Beveridge, Curator of Liberty Memorial Museum
Knox, William T.
World War I
Wounds & injuries
317th Sanitary Train
366th Ambulance Company