Occasionally a reporter had the good sense to write about older veterans before they left us. Gene Smith — himself now gone — wrote about Charles Hosley of Humboldt in December 1998. The article, which appeared in the Topeka Capital-Journal on December 19th of that year, follows:
Humboldt resident served his country in two wars
By GENE SMITH, The Capital-Journal
HUMBOLDT — Born in the waning years of the 19th century and “Manifest Destiny,” Charles Hosley almost has outlived the turbulent 20th century and is within 13 months of welcoming the technological tangle of the 21st.
His memory isn’t what it once was, and the diaries he kept for most of his life vanished long ago, but some pages still linger.
Marching 80-some miles each way from Austin, Texas, to San Antonio and back in the 100-degree summer heat of 1916, for instance, when he was an 18-year-old bugler in “L” Company, 137th Infantry Regiment, Kansas National Guard.
Hosley still resents the fact he wasn’t allowed to snatch a drink from one of the tinkling streams that crossed the Guardsmen’s line of march. He doesn’t remember what stream so appealed to him, though a number might have. The Blanco River maybe or the Comel. The San Marcos or perhaps the Guadalupe. Then there are the creeks, at least a couple of which would qualify. What he does remember is the heat — 100 degrees Fahrenheit, or more — and the full packs the Kansans carried.
They had been dispatched to Texas to guard against further raids by Pancho Villa, the part-time bandit and full-time revolutionary leader who ruled that part of restive Mexico.
The mustachioed Villa resented United States support of President Venustiano Carranza, and, to show Carranza was powerless, Villa raided Columbus, N.M., on March 9, 1916. When President Woodrow Wilson ordered Gen. John J. Pershing to take his Southwest Department cavalry into Mexico to hunt down and punish Villa, the latter retaliated two months later by raiding Glen Springs and Boquillas, Texas.
Wilson then mobilized the whole National Guard to protect the border.
Born Nov. 22, 1998, near Bayard in Allen County, Hosley was the first of eight children of Edmond and Hattie Hosley. Water seems to have had a big place in his thoughts even then, for he tells of having to walk from Rising Star school to a neighboring farm for a drink from a well there.
He graduated from high school in 1915 and enrolled in Emporia College that fall.
“They had the National Guard thing,” he said, “and that’s how I got mixed up with the service,” joining while still a student.
The Kansas Guardsmen were mobilized June 19, 1916, and arrived in San Antonio around the end of the month by troop train. Encamped in a mesquite-and-cactus wilderness at Eagle Pass, the Kansans whiled away their time making route marches every Saturday to “toughen them up,” soon attaining distances of 15 or 16 miles a day with full equipment.
They stayed there until October. Since they never crossed the border, they saw no action — but did participate in the first Army experiment with large-scale troop movement by truck, a 175-mile trip from San Antonio to Eagle Pass.
“When I was discharged, they paid me with gold,” he said proudly. “I think that was about the only gold I ever had.”
Hosley briefly stayed home when the Guard was drafted into federal service again Aug. 5, 1917, as the United States inched toward World War I. He rubbed his face reflectively, chuckling at the memory. “I had impetigo or some kind of skin disease on my chin. I guess they thought I had the clap or somethin’.” But Hosley’s chin soon cleared up, and before long, he rejoined the company, this time as an ammunition bearer for one of the new machine gun crews.
Sent first to Fort Sill, Okla., and there combined with Missouri Guardsmen to create the new 35th “Santa Fe” Division, the 137th left East Coast ports in April for Le Havre,France.
The division was in reserve during the St. Mihiel Offensive, but were in the thick of the Meuse-Argonne push — the last big Allied offensive of World War I.
The 35th lost 7,000 men or more in heavy fighting in and around Exermont and Montrebeau Wood the last nine days of September.
“It was a big ‘Boom! Boom!’ all night long. It was terrible,” said Hosley, who added that while he was shot at a lot by the Germans, he never shot back. “I didn’t have anything to shoot back,” he explained. “I carried the ammunition. I was just there.”
The 137th recuperated in a quiet sector south of Verdun and was southwest of Commercy when it received word of the Armistice, which took effect 11 a.m. Nov. 11, 1918. “I think we had a good breakfast,” said Hosley, wrinkling his brow. “They didn’t need me,” so he went on leave, ending up in a French hotel for a few days.
Hosley says he never drank alcohol, only lemonade and never flirted with the French girls because “I was scared of ’em.
“I’ve never smoked cigarettes, and I have not yet. I never drank, not even beer. I went to some of those reunions, and all they could think of was smokin’ and drinkin’. I tried near beer once at a Fourth of July celebration. It tasted like hog slop to me.”
Discharged May 10, 1919, at Fort Riley, he and his uncle Jimmy — a Union veteran of the Civil War — went to California, where Hosley took the Civil Service examination and followed his father into the U.S. Postal Service, working mostly in Oakland but with some time as a rural carrier in Nebraska. Uncle Jimmy soon returned to Kansas, but Charles wouldn’t follow until the 1980s.
In 1942, in the desperate early days of World War II, Hosley heard the Marine Corps was looking for prior service men. They were, too, enlisting him as a 44-year-old private first class. After finishing boot camp, he spent the next 18 months guarding a Navy base in Florida and was discharged Sept. 15, 1943.
He retired from the post office in 1953 and worked as a roving unarmed guard for the California penal system, checking on minimum-security convicts and facilities.
Two wives, Iva Mae and Ella, both died in California, the latter Oct. 18, 1980. A third, Vida Grace, declined to leave her Twentynine Palms property when Hosley opted to return to La Harpe to see to Hosley family property there, “so I divorced her.”
A Seventh Day Adventist, Hosley met Jon and Debbie Anderson at church in Iola and now shares their rural home south of Humboldt. “We just kind of adopted him,” Jon Anderson explained.
“He walks every day for exercise and spends lots of time reading. Charlie loves the light romance novel.”
And he looks forward to welcoming in his third century of life.
Copyright 1998 The Topeka Capital-Journal
As you may have guessed, the correct birth year is 1898. Charles Hosley passed away at Humboldt on June 6, 2001.