Heartbreak House, the Kansas City Quartermaster Depot

I transcribed this article in its entirety since I’ve not had much success in digging up information about the Kansas City Quartermaster Depot, even through Kansas City historians. This seems odd since this had to be a a very important place during the war.

The effects of both Dale and Danny Wilson were sent to the KCQM Depot, from their bases in Port Moresby, New Guinea, and Triolo, Italy. Clabe and Leora Wilson started getting letters from them about where their sons’ clothing, watches, billfolds, stationery, and other items should be sent.

Dale Wilson’s Pidgin English dictionary was among his effects sent home to Iowa through the KCQM Depot.

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‘Heartbreak House’ Clears Belonging of Lost Soldiers

KANSAS CITY, MO (AP)–Every week or so, a switch engine shoves a couple of boxcars up to a big, white, 11-story building, once a national mail order house but now the Kansas City quartermaster depot with two floors devoted to the army’s personal effects bureau.

The boxcars bring here, for distribution to relatives, the personal effects of American soldiers who have died or have been killed, captured or listed as missing–the trinkets they treasured, their letters, their money.

Lieut. Col. John R. Murphy, who under Col. C. J. Black, the depot’s commanding officer, has been in charge of the bureau through its two years of existence, says it takes six months to a year–and three entries in the big files–to complete the final record on many soldiers.

Lt. Col. John R. Murphy, from “The Michigan Alumnus,” Vol. 50, page 438

Money.

Their money usually arrives first; next may be the billfolds, pictures and letters they had with them when they died; finally comes the articles left in their quarters when they went out to their last battle.

The bureau has had to feel its way along, for it is without a precedent, so far as Colonel Murphy knows.

During the last war, the personal effects were cleared through Hoboken, N. J., and several others points, and difficulties encountered were almost as great as the variety of articles shipped home. This time it was decided to have one distributing point, centrally located.

Next of Kin.

Most cases cause little trouble. The property is received, the next of kin is found, and the effects are sent on by mail, express or freight. (If the package weighs less than four pounds, the post office department carries it free.)

All this would be as cold and as impersonal as death itself if Colonel Murphy didn’t believe this bureau should utilize something more than just another form letter.

As he wrote to a congressman who inquired about the bureau: “A am ever conscious that we here at the bureau are dealing with wives, mothers and fathers who have made, through the loss of their husband or son, a tremendous sacrifice.”

Letters.

Letters to the bureau display a cross section of life. Some of a son’s belongings haven’t arrived yet, so a father demands:

“I want to know what has been done about the property stolen from my son’s footlocker. The government stole half his check, now all his effects. Nothing could be lower than this.”

A mother, who has received her son’s effects, writes:

“I know, dear people, this is merely routine work, ‘your job,’ to you, but it’s very special and wonderful to us. God bless you all.”

And then there are the problems which make filling out an income tax blank seem easy. A fairly common one: A soldier marries; doesn’t tell his mother. To whom shall the effects be sent?

Investigation.

A father writes that he is sure his son had much more money than was returned, and will the army please hurry the rest along immediately.

An investigation discloses that the soldier neglected neither wine, women nor son, that he repeatedly was absent without leave, that the surprising thing is that he had any money left at all. How should this news be broken to the father?

A girl wrote to inquire what had been done with her brother’s belongings. She knew exactly where everything should go, she said, for her brother had written he was sending them. Queer, thought the colonel, how did the fellow know his number was up?

The answer was simple, but shocking. He had gotten into serious trouble, was court-martialed and executed.

The army tactfully reported he had died “not in the line of duty.” The sister never guessed why her brother knew that death was near.

Understanding.

All this means that 7,000 letters, tactful and understanding, go out of here ach week, for the bureau wants this last contact most relatives will have with the army to be sympathetic. “Very little of the glory of war in this business,” declares the colonel.

To all those who fret because personal effects are slow in coming, there is this assurance:

The army wants to deliver these things as quickly as possible; indeed, it has to keep them moving. For this bureau grows as casualty lists grow, and, as the boxcars keep moving in, packages and boxes must go out or even this mammoth storeroom will have more than it can handle.

The Des Moines Tribune, Mar. __, 1944

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My earlier post about the KCQM Depot.

7 comments

    • Indeed. Until your comment, I hadn’t tried to find information about him, but found an article (with photo) in a volume of “The Michigan Alumnus.” He had a law degree.

  1. Have heard stories of how the personal effects of the deceased were pilfered at Kansas City. Hope that didn’t happen with the Wilson brothers…

    • Really heartbreaking. Their cash was sent home ahead of the rest. Neither brother kept much anyway. The hard one for me is that Dale kept a diary. On one list of his things, there was a diary with * next to it. Below, it was noted “removed for the duration.” The diary was never sent to his folks. They did send his logbook, which listed his missions, but I had no luck locating the diary. (There are several in the Harry Truman museum.)

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