It should not be surprising that many figures of mid-twentieth century Kansas should have had some military experience in World War I.  Perhaps it is surprising how little experience some had.

The Grand Old Man of Kansas politics in the twentieth century is surely Alfred M. Landon.  Born in West Middlesex, Pennsylvania on September 9, 1887, Landon’s family lived first in Marietta, Ohio and then moved to Independence, Kansas, when Alf was 17.  He graduated with a law degree from the University of Kansas in 1908, then followed his father into the oil industry.  He married in 1915, but his first wife died of meningitis in June 1918.

Up to that point Landon worked at oil drilling and headed Henry Allen’s campaign for governor in southeast Kansas in 1918.  When his wife passed away, Landon put his affairs in order and accepted a 1st Lieutenant’s commission on October 21, 1918.  He was sent to Camp Humphreys, Virginia, for training in the chemical warfare service.  When the armistice came on November 11, Landon was quickly discharged  as his “services were no longer required.”  he was back in Kansas by December 9.

That brief stint in the army qualified him for membership in the American Legion, in which he took an active role.  This was important because the Legion was quite influential politically in Kansas in the 1920s and 30s.  He also accepted an honorary membership in La Societe Des 40 Hommes et 8 Chevaux (The Society of 40 Men and 8 Horses) in Kansas City.

Landon’s role in Republican politics would net him the governorship (1933-1937) and the Republican nomination for President in 1936.  He lost in a landslide to Franklin D. Roosevelt in Roosevelt’s first re-election campaign.

He came back to Kansas and tended to his businesses.  He celebrated his 100th birthday in 1987 with a visit from President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan.  He died a month later on October 12.

For more information, see Donald McCoy’s Landon of Kansas–although it was published 20 years before Landon’s death!

Blair Tarr is the Museum Curator of the Kansas State Historical Society. He oversees the three-dimensional collections of the Society, but has special interests in the Civil War, Wichita-made Valentine diners, and Leavenworth's Abernathy Furniture. In the last few years he has also done a lot of cramming on The Great War. He is a past president of the Kansas Museums Association and the Civil War Round Tables of both Kansas City and Eastern Kansas. He is currently a board member of the Heritage League of Greater Kansas City.