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The Corps and the Cannons
It’s Saturday, October 10, 1942, at Ethel and Tom McGinn’s house, 726 E. 6th Avenue, Hutchinson, Kansas. Twin sisters, Ethel Rose Sames and Effie Kate Sames Chandler, 56, are talking about no-win situations, specifically the dilemma Ethel has encountered for the past week as President of the Joe Hooker Women’s Relief Corps.
“I hated doing it,” said Ethel, “but after a vote yesterday, I announced that our Women’s Relief Corps decided to donate our two Civil War cannons and the last gun entrusted to us by the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). The relics will again be sent to the Victory scrap metal heap to await destruction.”
“You fought the good fight,” said Effie, “the people of the country have been stirred up to believe that withholding any metal is somehow unpatriotic, even when the items are part of our democratic and military history.”
“I was trying to do my duty as I saw it,” said Ethel. “I knew it was a risk when I told Mayor Willis Kelly to return the cannons that he had ordered removed from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ monument. I didn’t blame him. He didn’t know who owned them. But our victory was short-lived; now the cannons will return to the scrap pile.”
“I couldn’t believe that the mayor had the cannons taken from the G.A.R. monument in the first place, without asking the Women’s Relief Corps,” said Effie.
“The mayor said that Army officials at Fort Riley had requested the guns be scrapped because all metals are needed in the war effort to defeat Hitler and Japan,” said Ethel. “He told me he had talked to patriotic organizations and they had agreed, but funny thing, he overlooked us, the true owners.”
“The newspapers have people aroused to a point where they are unfairly pressuring everyone to donate metal items, even items that are still useful,” said Effie. “I’ve heard of students taking metal trash barrels from the State Fairgrounds when the barrels are needed and can’t be replaced.”
“You know I’m all for the war effort and donating scrap,” said Ethel, “but the newspapers have gotten out of control by encouraging the public to shame anyone who is unwilling to donate an item deemed as scrap.”
“You can’t fight Editor John P. Harris as long as he produces a daily newspaper,” said Effie. “He really let you have it the other day when he said the women of the Relief Corps were sentimental, not practical.”
“Actually, I’ve given his comments a lot of thought,” replied Ethel. “There’s truth to the charge that we’re sentimental, but we see our compassion as a strength, not a weakness. It helps us fulfill our duty to preserve the past by educating the public. The cannons that were willed to us are valuable reminders of courage and sacrifice. I still believe their display at First and Walnut, as part of the monument, serves the greater good.”
“Ethel,” said Effie, “you don’t have a chance against the newspaper editors who are leading this scrap drive.”
“Why can’t the Army and the editors discriminate between an old discarded kitchen sink and a prized Civil War keep-sake?” asked Ethel. “Instead, the editors are obsessed with Reno County collecting 100 pounds of metal for every person in town.”
“Sometimes things are bigger than us,” said Effie. “When Sheriff Tom Jennings died, your husband Tom, who was undersheriff and experienced, would have been an ideal replacement. Only politics dictated a different course, and the governor appointed Scott Sprout.”
“Actually,” said Ethel, “I’ve recalled how well my Tom handled the unfortunate circumstances and how he faithfully supported Don Jennings for sheriff. Tom’s helped me understand this wild ride I’ve been on for the last week. He told me not to blame myself, that I shouldn’t feel bad for being unable to stop a runaway train. I’ve also thought about father.
“What about father?” asked Effie.
“I’ve asked him for help,” said Ethel, speaking of William Jasper Sames, who had served as a private in the 47th Kentucky Infantry and had died in 1908. “If father was alive, would he have wanted the cannons saved for history or molded into bullets? I don’t know.”
“We’ll never know,” said Effie. “But remember, you did your best. Because of father’s influence, you’ve made it your sacred duty to serve our country’s defenders. As president of the Joe Hooker Women’s Relief Corps, you’ve cared for Civil War veterans, helping give them better lives. You’ve decorated graves with flags every Decoration Day and engaged the public throughout the year.”
Ethel nodded her head in agreement. “Thanks for your support, Sis. I just hope that in winning this world war, our country won’t forget our Civil War veterans. Isn’t father’s dedicated service as important as today’s soldier, sailor, marine, or airman? No matter the war, all veterans are worthy of remembrance.”
Click to see a photo of William Jasper Sames and his wife, Isabelle Coleman Sames, in the rear seat of a 1914 Ford Model T Touring Car.
Until next time, happy writing and reading.