You’re right, these aren’t WW1 biplanes, although they have been used as such in low-budget movies. They were designed by Lloyd C. Stearman (1898-1975), who was born at Wellsford, Kansas, which is today a mostly abandoned town in Kiowa County, about 120 miles west of Wichita.
2nd Lieutenant Elbert Sanford Wright was born January 25, 1894 at Baldwin City, Kansas. He was a graduate of the local university, Baker, which made him eligible to attend the officers’ training school at Fort Des Moines. While he was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant, we do not have information about which unit he belonged.
1st Lieutenant John E. Wilson was born December 4, 1881 at Mobile, Alabama. He had been working as a porter in 1901 when he enlisted in the 9th U.S. Cavalry, one of the “Buffalo Soldier” regiments. He served for six years, and records found so far suggest he never rose above being a private. However, since attendance at the officers’ training school at Fort Des Moines required either being a non-commissioned officer or a college education, one may assume he did reach at least the rank of corporal, as there is no indication of a college education.
1st Lieutenant Johnson Chesnut Whittaker, Jr. appears on the list of Kansans that went to Fort Des Moines, but he was in a way an accidental Kansan. Born September 25, 1896 in Sumter, South Carolina, Whittaker was raised in Oklahoma City, but in 1917 he was a student at the University of Kansas. That certainly qualified him for the officers’ training school.
In recognition of the anniversary of World War I, the Kansas Museum of History created a special exhibit about a Topekan who experienced both world wars. Captured: The Extraordinary Adventures of Colonel Hughes has been extended through May 2018.
Hughes’ story is both common and exceptional. He was born in Topeka in 1888. The timing of his birth, the influence of his military father, and the impact of world politics shaped his life. He began his service as a member of the Kansas National Guard and was sent to the Texas border with the American Expeditionary Forces in 1916. As a member of the U.S. Army he served from 1917 to 1948 and fought in both world wars. He left many detailed records of his time in service. He photographed battlefields and towns in Europe, recorded his daily survival as a Japanese Prisoner of War (POW), and saved many belongings from the wars that were later donated to this museum. In essence, he captured his life.
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:
Aldon Leslie Logan was born in Lawrence, KS, on April 14, 1894. The city directory for 1915 shows he was a student at the University of Kansas, which would qualify him for the officers’ training school. His draft registration card shows him to have been working as a laborer for the Griffin Ice Company of Lawrence.
2nd Lieutenant Wilbur Francis Stonestreet was born in Topeka on September 3, 1889. His father was an undertaker, and Wilbur followed him into the business. He earned an embalming diploma from the State of Kansas; no other education has been found mentioned, so this may be what qualified him for the officers’ training school.