A descendant of Harry Frank Hunt published a book of his letters in 1998, and Gene Smith of the Topeka Capital-Journal wrote about the man and the book:
Long ago, far away and over there: Book chronicles Kansan in WWI
By GENE SMITH, The Capital-Journal
With the end of the contentious 20th century only 15 months away, World War I seems ancient history to most Americans.
Nearly all of the doughboys who went to France with the American Expeditionary Force are gone now, joining their long-dead comrades in final rest. Where once shelves groaned beneath the weight of thousands of books about that 1914-18 conflict, today only a handful remain relatively available.
None of those deals with the Army Veterinary Corps, and certainly none with the fortunes of Kansans still stuck in France after the Nov. 11 armistice that ended the “war to end wars.”
So when Kevin Brown cornered his mother to ask about his great-uncle Harry, Faye Converse Brown decided to do something about it.
The result is “Letters Home,” a large-format, 108-page trade paperback subtitled “The true story of Lt. Harry Frank Hunt World War I.” It is liberally illustrated with old photographs, reproduced letters and official documents.
“I knew there were some letters that my mother had kept, so I asked my brother if I could use those and try to get them published,” the author explained from her home in Tucson, Ariz.
She never knew her uncle Harry, but she had heard stories of him all of her life from her mother, Nellie, who adored her big brother.
A 1913 graduate of the veterinary school at Kansas State Agricultural College in Manhattan, 2nd Lt. Hunt died Feb. 5, 1919, of carbon monoxide poisoning in his tent at Sampigny, France. Others in the 69th Infantry Brigade, to which he was then assigned, said the vent pipe apparently was partly choked and allowed enough carbon monoxide into the tent to kill the sleeping man.
He was 28.
Survivors included his mother, Annie, a widow who had moved to Manhattan from Fredonia years earlier and opened a boarding house to enable her two children to obtain a post-secondary education, and sister, Nellie, four years younger. A sweetheart in Wichita named Gesinda (called “Gussie”) dropped out of sight of the family after Hunt’s death and was never traced.
“That’s the big mystery,” said Faye Brown, “what Gussie’s last name was. So anyway, I had the letters and since I was close to my grandmother because I had stayed with her, when I got to reading the letters and knowing how the story ended, it was just so emotional it took me a couple of years to really settle down and get (it all) on my computer.”
Born at home on a Wabaunsee County farm, Faye Converse earned a degree in journalism and home economics from KSAC in 1950 and worked for Household and Capper’s Farmer magazines in Topeka before her marriage to John L. Brown III. They and their sons Kevin and Steven moved to Marysville in 1963 and in Tucson in 1984. In Arizona, Brown spent more than 10 years freelancing for publications there.
“My husband died of cancer two days after last Christmas,” she said. “So I was going to let the book go, but a friend in the Society of Southwest Authors took me by the scruff of the neck” — and a local firm rushed the self-published book out in two weeks, in time for a January SSA writers’ conference.
“That was really a thrill,” Brown said. “I’ve had many good comments, good book reviews from down here, the Fredonia paper, the Manhattan Mercury, several places around. I would really like for people to know the true story of Lieutenant Hunt because his experience was a little different, being in the Veterinary Corps.
“And when I went to the big book stores in Tucson, there were no books on WWI, so I think it fills a niche there,” she said.
“I have had a book signing at Borders Books and am going to have another in Tucson October 25.”
Copies are available from the author at 7425 E. Serenity Lane, Tucson, Ariz., 85750.
The content of the letters is mundane enough. They include Hunt’s first exposure to New York City:
“They treat you right. I bought a new serge suit better than the one I have for $29.50 and the one I have cost $40” plus a pair of hightop shoes for $8 that “would have cost me $20 in Little Rock,” but while “I enjoy being in this old town, don’t believe I would care to live here.”
The letters also include a variety of his impressions from France.
Of his voyage across the Atlantic, Hunt reported waves 30 feet high that “now and then break over the side,” and admitted it was difficult to get use to life aboard a vessel that pitched 25 feet from end to end and rolled half that from side to side.
He commented about the wooden shoes worn by “the poorer class” of French men, women and children and the “racket” those made on the sidewalks; about the narrow, crooked streets and the great variety of carts and wagons drawn by horses, dogs and peasants.
“The people here are about 100 years behind the times and it’s sure amusing the way they do things,” he summed up.
Assigned to the 35th Division Headquarters at the end of September 1918 and to the 130th Field Artillery, 69th Infantry Brigade, the first of November, Hunt was in the line near Verdun at the climax of the Yankees’ Meuse-Argonne offensive. Later, he reported visiting Fort Douaumont and picking up “a Hun helmet” as a souvenir for Nellie “after knocking what was left of his skull out of it.”
He was applying for discharge at the time of his death.
Copyright 1998 The Topeka Capital-Journal
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