Would “Treat ‘Em Rough”

Kansas City Star/April 18, 1918

Four men stood outside the army recruiting office at Twelfth Street and Grand Avenue at 7:45 o’clock this morning when the sergeant opened up. A stout, red faced man wearing a khaki shirt was the first up the stairs.

“I’m the treat ’em rough man,” he bawled. “That cat in the poster has nothing on me. Where do you join the tankers?”

“Have to wait for Lieutenant Cooter,” said the sergeant. “He decides whether you’ll treat ’em rough or not.”

The fat man waited outside the door. By 9 o’clock thirty men crowded the third floor hallway. The stout man was nearest the door. Just behind him was a gray haired man wearing a derby, a well cut gray suit, a purple tie, socks to match and a silk handkerchief with a light purple border peeping from his vest pocket.

“I’m over draft age and it doesn’t matter what my profession is,” he said. “I never really wanted to get into this war before, but the tanks are different. I guess I can treat ‘em rough.”

The crowd grew steadily. By 10 o’clock there were forty applicants. Some of the men were humming, others talking among themselves. The stout man, perspiration pouring down his face, held his place next the door. He tried to whistle, but his lips wouldn’t pucker. He stood on one foot, then the other. He mopped his face with a handkerchief, and finally bolted out through the crowd.

“He looked pretty hot but he got cold feet,” a mechanic in overalls commented.

After the fat man left there was a slight exodus. A high school boy with a geometry book decided in favor of school. Two flashily dressed youths said, “Aw, let’s get a beer.” One man, saying nothing, slipped away.

“Can’t stand the gaff,” said the mechanic.

But most of the applicants stayed. A youth wearing an army shirt explained: “It’s my girl. I belonged to the home guards and she kind of kidded me. Nobody’s going to kid a tanker, I guess.”

The opinion of most of the men was voiced by a clerk. “I don’t know anything about tractors or machinery, but I can learn to work a machine gun and I want to get across. Gee, I hope I get in.”

A little man with double lens glasses said: “I don’t suppose they’ll take me. Guess I’m pretty useless. But I want to try. It’s about my last chance. They all throw me down.” When Lieut. Frank E. Cooter, special tank recruiting officer, appeared, the crowd formed a line outside the door. The men were admitted one at a time. Moistening their lips, they entered the little room and stated their qualifications.

John R. Ecklund, 27 years old, was one of the first admitted. “What mechanical experience have you had?” he was asked. “None. I’m an attorney for the Kansas City Street Railways Company,” he replied.

“Why do you want to join?”

“I want to see action and get over in a hurry.”

Lieutenant Cooter accepted him.

“That is the type of all of them,” the lieutenant said. “That is what brings men here. Not promises of high pay or easy service, but telling the truth about quick action and danger. ‘To know and yet to dare,’ would be a good slogan. Quick service, quick promotion and action, action, is what brings them. They are the finest type of men for soldiers.”

Besides Ecklund six other men were accepted for service up to noon.

(Source: Matthew J. Bruccoli: Ernest Hemingway, Cub Reporter. University of Pittsburgh Press, 1970.)