WITH A FIGHTING CHEROKEE IN FROZEN SIBERIA
Decorated by Four Nations, Full-Blood reluctantly admits He
"Mixed in the Mess"
Wounded Three Times in 10 Hours He Continued to Fire Machine Gun
TULSA DAILY WORLD, SUNDAY, APRIL 19, 1931
This is the fifth of a series of articles describing the exploits of that gallant group of men living in northeastern Oklahoma who are entitled to wear the coveted distinguished service cross.
It should be remembered that this decoration is given exclusively for personal heroism above and beyond the call of duty while under fire. Most of the facts obtained in these articles are from the war departments records.
BY R.P. MATTHEWS FORMERLY FIRST LIEUTENANT OF INFANTRY, A.E.F.
Back in the hill country of Rogers County the dogwood is flowering in pink profusion and the buds on the hickory trees are swelling and rapidly approaching the size of a squirrels ear; and hickory buds according to ancient lore, are nature's calendar of seed time. Already the rich bottom land and the sunny upland fields are beginning to turn black under the plow man's efforts, and corn planting time lurks just around the corner.
Seven miles out from Claremore, on rural route No. 3, Emmett Lunsford watches the plowing and harrowing of his neighbors and wonders if searing blasts of July and August will again spread desolation in the smiling fields around him. For two years he has watched the green splendor of spring turn to barren stalks of withered corn in August, but this year a smile of confidence lights his face as he surveys his own acres. When the "hot winds" set in this summer Emmett's crop will be in the stack waiting for the thresher. His farm is sowed in oats.
It's quite a gamble at that, this thing of placing all your eggs in one basket, so to speak, but when this possibility was voiced, the ghost of a smile hovered for a moment over his lips and then faded as his face became grave and his eyes stared in a brooding manner out over his smiling acres.
For Private Emmett Lunsford of company A, Thirty-first infantry, is accustomed to taking chances. It began when he was a boy and the gang would meet and break fractious colts on Sunday morning and flowered to perfection on the bleak, hostile tundras of Siberia in the shadow of the arctic circle.
It was a beautiful Sunday morning as three of us, all former A. E. F. 'ers sat in the front room of Emmett's modest home. It had been a difficult matter to get him to talk about his army life, but as the conversation shifted from pyramidal tents and Sibley stoves to cognac, vodka and mademoiselles, the ice was broken gradually and his story came in sketchy phrases. "I told the recruiting officer I wanted to go to France." Emmett explained to us as he deftly rolled a smoke from the "makings."
And so began the trek of Emmett Lunsford that took him half way around the world and involved an ocean trip of 41 days before he felt the comforting solidness of land under his hobnails again.
His first stop after visiting the recruiting office was at Fort Logan, Colo. Here, under the shadows of the towering Rockies, he sweated away the weary hours learning the "rookie" drill and thrilled to the thunder of the post cannon at retreat, when the flag came down. Denver, just a few miles away knew him. Curtis street, that brilliantly lighted theater section helped to while away the lonely hours of "leave," but the scene shifted shortly.
Emmett puffed slowly on his cigarette. "The first thing I knew we were sailing for the Philippine Islands. Someone told me that all the camps in the states were full so they would train us over in the islands before going to France. That suited me all right for I was seeing lots of country and when I saw Fort McKinley, near Manilla, I was more than satisfied."
Of his training days in the Phillippines, Emmett was reticent; suffice to say that it was here that his division, the "Polor Bear," was assembled and went through the long training that was necessary before being flung into the scales of war. Came long days of school of the soldier, school of the equad, company, battalion and regiment. Hikes to harden the muscles, days on the target range to sharpen dangerous instruction periods of bombing.
The Polar Bear, a strange leavening of seasoned soldiers and recruits, was soon passed by the division inspectors as ready for more sterner duties.
The cigarette glowed brightly as Emmett resumed his story, "We were a tickled bunch when the gang plank of the transport Sheridan, I believe it was, was dropped and we all went on board. We knew it was quite a ways to France so you can imagine our feelings when the transport put into Nagaisiki, Japan."
Deep down in his eyes a twinkle welled up and he chuckled.
"Some of the boys were worried and thought the ship's captain was lost. This suspicion of the captain wasn't helped much when we went back to sea after staying in port for four days, for we sailed and sailed and sailed. Days slid by and then weeks and I never got so tired of anything in my life as I did of going up on deck each morning and seeing nothing but water tumbling past the ship and hearing the shrill whine of the wind in the ship's rigging.It was exactly 41 days from the time the Sheridan left Manilla before Emmett;s company set foot on solid ground and they rubbed their eyes in amazement for instead of the shores of sunny France, the Sheridan poked its blunt nose into the busy harbor of Vladivostok Siberia.
For 14 months, the Thirty-First lived in tents, log cabins with double walls filled with sawdust and cold drafty stone barracks and mounted lonely vigil over depots of ammunition and supplies. Lonely patrols went out nightly into the bitter, swirling whitness of Siberian winter to guard the precious railroads leading to the sea ports. Side by side with contingents of British, French and Japanese soldiers, the Thirty-First carried on in a theater of operations far removed from the western front.
Far to the south the allies pressed home the last thrust and the central powers capitulated under the pressure. But in Siberia things were different. Armistice day to this band of Yanks was only another day.
The GREAT Russian bear was sick. Through his veins coursed a poison that made it hard to distinguish friend from for and he struck out blindly in all directions. Bands of querrillas and irregular soldiers ranged through the country like hungry wolves; and back of these loomed the ever-present threat of the bolsheviki army.
To checkmate the swift raids of the querrillas, the Thirty-First found its contingent scattered in detachments of various sizes over a broad domain, and it was near Romanovka, Siberia. June 25t, 1919, that the "bear" left his mark on the body of Emmett Lunsford.
The cigarette was burning close to his lips and Emmetts eyes were glowing. We knew they were fighting about 10 miles away so all of us gathered in a log hut. We were expecting to recieve marching orders any minute. It was about 4 o'clock in the morning. All of a sudded we heard firing and someone yelled "the bolishies are here." I had a browning machine gun, a colt's automatic and plenty of ammunition, so I mixed into the fuss. There was nothing else to do. "That's about all except," he added reflectively, "those bolshies' sure were big men and made fine targets."
Of his own part in the fight, Emmett was silent. The citation accompanying his D.S.C. is also terse and sheds little light on the engagement
It is known, however, that the execution this slender Oklahoma lad wrought amoung the attacking Russians was astounding. The fight raged for 10 hours before the "boishies" were driven off and when the Russians withdrew they left in the neighborhood of 700 dead on the field. Emmetts company suffered a casualty list of 47 killed and 23 wounded. Eight sentries, who were on guard the night the fight started, were found butchered at their posts the next day. early in the fight, Emmett was wounded three times. A shell splinter tore a long jagged hole in his leg. A rifle bullet drilled him in the hip and another shell fragment struck him in the back making a terrible bruise, but failing to puncture the flesh very deeply.
Despite his wounds, Emmett carried on all through the fight and at its end he fell exhausted by his gun, weak and bleeding from his terrible wounds.
Today Emmett Lunsford has a little treasure box of souvenirs. Nestling side by side are decorations from four different governments.
Beside the D. S. C. is the Italian Merito Di Guerra, the War Cross of Great Britain and the French Croix de Guerre with a palm, each one a silent tribute to the 10 hours at Romanovka when private Emmett Lunsford and his browning machine gun stopped the assault of the "Wolves of the Steppes."
When this fight took place nearly all the boys that went to France were home and back into "civies" but not so with the Thirty-First. their job in the frozen north was far from completed. For Private Lunsford, however the war was over. A hospital ship brought him back in the states and he was transferred to a hospital on the Pacific cost. For many long weary months he tossed on beds of pain and it was not until Thanksgiving day, 1919, more than a year after the Armistice, that the scars were healed so that Private Lunsford could come back to the hills of Oklahoma that he loves so well.
LUNSFORD, EMMET E.
Private First Class, U.S. Army.
Company A, 31st Infantry, 33d Division, A.E.F. (Siberia).
Date of Action: June 25, 1918.
The Distinguished Service Cross is presented to Emmet E. Lunsford,
Private First Class, U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in action
near Romanovka, Siberia, June 25, 1919. Though wounded early in
action Private Lunsford continued to operate his automatic
rifle throughout the fight.
General Orders No. 133, W.D., 1919
Home Town: Claremore, OK
text of the Distinguished Service Cross
War Hero, Dies
(b.July 19, 1898 Trenton Mo. d.. Aug 10 1958 Claremore OK.)
Emmett E. Lunsford, 60 year old local service station operator and World War I hero, died at 8 O'Clock Sunday morning in the veterans hospital at Muskogee following an illness that attacked him last April.
Mr. Lunsford entered World War I from Claremore, serving with the 31st Infantry division on Siberia, where he was twice decorated for valor and was twice wounded. He held the Distinguished Service Cross. Following the war he returned to Claremore. In recent years he has operated a Conoco filling station on Highway 66 but sold it in April when he became ill. He had spent most of the time at the Muskogee hospital since then.
Funeral services for Mr. Lunsford will be at 2 O'clock Thursday afternoon in the First Baptist church here. Burial will be in Woodlawn Cemetery under direction of Musgrove funeral home.Mr. Lunsford is survived by his wife, Mattie Lola Lunsford; three daughters, Mrs. Lillian Andrews of Stinnett Texas., Mrs. Loila Louise Ward of Foyeil and Miss Doris Ann Lunsford of the home; and by six brothers and five sisters.