The Selective Service Act of 1917 authorized the United States federal government to raise a national army for service in World War I through conscription, otherwise known as the draft. Carl Albert (his family called him Albert) was 25 years old, when he signed his draft card on June 5, 1917 listing his occupation as Farmer. He would pen a remarkable 225 letters home, most of which came in the first year of his enlistment. He told both the gutwrenching story of war, and the heartwrenching story of a young man who just wanted to return home to Beulah.
The second oldest son of John and Christina Simonson, Albert called both the 55,000-acre 3R Ranch (leased in 1894), and then the nearby Simonson Ranch (the family moved there in 1898) home; he had grown up there with six other siblings–three brothers and three sisters.
The scene Albert was greeted with when he arrived at Camp Funston—now Fort Riley near Manhattan Kansas—could not have been more different from his Beulah origins. A newly constructed complex of 1,400 buildings covered 2,000 acres, nearly 50,000 young men were trained at the camp, headed by Major General Frederick Smith Strong. Private Simonson sent photos, postcards and letters sharing his experience of becoming a Private in the Army, and his desire to come home.
Albert had hopes of passing through Pueblo on his way from Camp Funston to Camp Kearny in San Diego, to facilitate a short visit with family; however, the troop train traversed Colorado on the northern route through Denver. The grueling five-day winter train ride turned up an unexpected surprise when the train stopped in Helper, Utah. He had a chance meeting with a young woman, was immediately smitten, and began corresponding with her.
While stationed on the coast of California, Albert adapted to living in a tent, more training, and finding fun with his Army pals. Notably, Albert served in the same infantry with friend, and Goodpasture neighbor Frank Coleman. (One day, Frank would marry Albert’s sister Agnes, and become Albert’s brother-in-law, although Albert would never know.)
The downside of enlisting isolated farm boys meant diseases like mumps, measles, typhoid fever, flu, malaria, TB, dysentery, and tetanus brought casualties before the soldiers even stepped onto the enemy battlefield. In March 1918, some of the first recorded American cases of what came to be the worldwide influenza pandemic, also known as "Spanish flu", were reported at Camp Funston. While in San Diego, Albert contracted measles, his temperature soared to 106 degrees for several days, and he almost died. His letters home were delerious, requesting his family ’send his discharge papers’.
Albert received visits from the Weitbrec family, who owned the 3R Ranch at the time, and lived in nearby LaJolla, CA. They would bring Albert cakes and sweets; he even visited their home during a brief leave.
Albert received orders to ship out to France just ahead of new plans to visit home. He traveled by train to New York City where on June 18, 1918 was listed as passenger number 169 on the Lapland. After a year of training and drills, he was finally sailing to the war in France.
Letters home began to lag once the young Private landed in France, and just four months later on Sept. 6, 1918 (two months prior to the armistice), Albert was killed in battle. His Infantry Division took part in heavy fighting around the area of the Chateau de Thierry battlefield, during the Second Battle of the Marne.
At the time, the Simonsons did not have the resources to have their son’s body shipped back to Beulah, so Albert is buried in the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery in Fere-en-Tardenois, France along with 6,020 of his fellow soliders, half of the 12,000 US soldiers who died in the encounter.
In 1929, Christina Simonson’s name appears on a Mother’s Pilgrimage list that includes mothers and widows of American Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines who were entitled to make a pilgrimage to war cemeteries. The trip was rejected with the word ‘No’ written beside her name. Travel at that time would have been formidable; a farm wife, and mother of six would not have had the luxury to consider such a journey of the heart. However, her great grandson Jerry Wahl did make the journey in 1990, paying his respects to Albert and all the young boys who never arrived home like they planned.
One look at the military portrait of US Marine Pfc. Thomas Michael ‘Mike’ Hanratty (crew chief), and you will feel his determination, despite his youthful features. Mike was born on June 19, 1946, growing up outside of the Beulah Valley near the limestone quarry off of Siloam Road. The Hanratty family—parents Patrick Sr. and Leta May (Koger); older siblings Patsy and Patrick, Jr; Mike. and younger siblings, Bessie and Bernie, twins—lived simply, and enjoyed rural life..
Beulah resident Corky Outhier was one of Mike’s good friends, and spent quite a bit of time at the Hanratty place. “He was a good basketball player, we learned how to shoot with a flat basketball and a bucket nailed to the side of the barn!” The boys were one of three kids in the 1st grade, they were in the same 4-H club, and spent considerable time exploring nearby Buzzard Canyon. “Mike was 100% Irish. He didn’t start a fight, but he wasn’t afraid to finish it, either.”
Athletically gifted in every sport, Mike was also a budding artist, after graduating from Pueblo County High School in 1964, pursuing Architecture for two years at Southern Colorado State College (CSU-Pueblo) prior to his enlistment into the Marines.
His sister, Bess explains that despite his parents strong desire that he stay in school, Mike felt his draft number would be low, and if he was going to serve, he would serve on his terms. Mike and his good friend Edward ‘Eddie’ Janezich entered the Marines together through the Buddy System, allowing them to enlist and train together.
When he arrived in Vietnam he started as a mechanic, but ‘volunteered for everything’ to play a greater role in a war that was already 10 years in the making (the endless war would not conclude until 1975). Mike found himself a gunner in the belly of a helicopter, a provisional Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol unit vital for gaining intel on the enemy.
Mike’s helicopter went down on June 11, 1967 in the Quang Tri province; the full crash report is available online, an excerpt reads....
“At an estimated altitude of 400-600 feet, the helicopter was observed to climb erratically, similar to an aircraft commencing a loop. [Enemy] Machinegun men had been waiting for the opportune time to fire on the aircraft. Portions of the rear blades were seen to separate from the aircraft and a radio transmission was received from the aircraft indicating that it had been hit. The helicopter became inverted and continued out of control until it was seen to crash by a stream in a steep ravine. Subsequent efforts by ground units to reach the crash area failed due to a heavy bunker complex surrounding the site. The ground units inspected the site from within 500 meters through binoculars and observed no survivors. All eleven personnel aboard the helicopter were therefore classified Killed In Action, Body Not Recovered.”
At that time, the Hanrattys had no phone, so news of the crash was given to neighbors Ray and Yvonne Youngren to deliver. For months rumors swirled around his death, but the family had no confirmation, and could say nothing.
In August the official and final notice of ‘little chance of recovery’ was fatefully delivered to the family when his mother Leta was alone—unimaginably just two hours before brother Pat Jr. would arrive home for leave from the Army—stretching the limits of a mother’s heart.
Years later, it would be a Pueblo South High graduate by the name of Ray Sullivan who would connect with the family and they would learn that he was on the mission to recover the downed helicopter, providing much needed details, and friendship in the years since the fateful crash.
Just four years ago, Bess was asked for a DNA sample, eventually learning from Sullivan, that the remains of two bodies were identified as members from the crew, but not of her brother.
‘The Fighting Spirit’ award, endowed by his father Pat, is still given out every year to the Pueblo County High School athlete who best exemplifies Mike’s bravery. Bess and her daughter Leta continue to search for any pictures, stories, letters, about Mike; and spread awareness that there are still those that have not returned home.
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