Melville Gray Montgomery was born in Cowley County on August 6, 1890.  He became a minister in the Presbyterian Church, and in turn served as a chaplain during his short service in the army during the Great War.

In his early life he had been an orphan, losing both parents by the age of two.  He and his siblings went to live with an aunt and uncle in Arkansas City.  This was no barrier to him; he had an active life in school, being on the track team and showed promising oratorical skills.  The latter carried over to his days at Park College in Parkville, Missouri.  This also created an ironic moment; he took part in an oratorical contest at Winfield in 1913, and the Kansan Montgomery represented the state of Missouri.

At the outbreak of World War I, Montgomery was serving as the minister of a church at Mount Sterling, Illinois.  His registration card describes him as tall and slender, with brown eyes and brown hair.

Montgomery enlisted as a chaplain in late August 1918, and reported to Lexington, Kentucky to join his regiment.  Commissioned a lieutenant, he completed a course on training for being a chaplain by early October 1918, and was scheduled for overseas duty after a short furlough.  He came home to Arkansas City, then left for Hoboken, New Jersey on October 9, expecting to sail for Europe shortly afterwards.  He arrived in France by the end of the month.

Andrew Carroll in his book, My Fellow Soldiers, quotes a letter from Montgomery that the twenty-eight year old chaplain wrote to his family in Kansas two days after the Armistice on November 13, 1918.  Carroll indicates that Montgomery wrote it on an old typewriter and some German paper.  In the letter he describes the activities of the last day before the Armistice took effect.  He also described what he saw, and while his time in the army was short, he had seen enough.

(I would like to print the letter as it appears in Carroll’s book, but it appears there may a copyright issue.  Should you be interested, the text can be found on pages 316-317.)

On September 7, 1919, First Lieutenant Montgomery was home in Arkansas City, and spoke to the congregation of the First Presbyterian Church about his experiences.  The next day the local paper said he had given a splendid address and had a great experience while in the service.  It was also noted that he would be returning to church work.

That work took him to several locations around the western United States.  He took time to marry Elizabeth Jane Roberts of Lebo on June 16, 1920—in the Methodist Episcopal church, it might be noted—and after a honeymoon they returned to Wood River, Nebraska, and the church he was serving.  The stops appear to have been many—Idaho, Oregon, California.  It was at Sebastopol, California, where he lived in retirement, that he passed away on April 12, 1974.

I would certainly recommend Andrew Carroll’s book, My Fellow Soldiers:  General John Pershing and the Americans Who Helped Win the Great War.  Carroll is also the founding director of the Center for American War Letters at Chapman University, which also may interest you: or

Carroll recently spoke at the National World War I Museum and Memorial, and the talk was taped for broadcast on C-SPAN.  You may have also caught him as one of the historians in the PBS series, The Great War.

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.