A look back at Iowa's contributions to the Great War.


News Stand




(By Leonard Orth)

Sioux City Journal:


 Although his right arm was blown off during the battle of Chateau Thierry more than nine years ago, John Harker, 3442 Seventh Avenue, bass drummer for Monahan post drum corps, finds that frequently it feels as if his right elbow needs scratching.

"That may sound idiotic," the former soldier of Company K, One Hundred and Sixty-eighth Infantry, of the Rainbow Division, explained, "but it is true none the less."

"There is the nerve end remaining that formerly led down to my right elbow and that segment every now and then becomes irritated and it seems exactly as it used to when my elbow needed to be scratched. And as soon as I scratch in the vicinity of the nerve segment ending near my shoulder pit the irritation stops."

Although Harker lost and arm on a battle field in France, he doesn't believe in allowing that to interfere with his earning a livelihood, nor does he believe in being content to become a burden on the public merely because he did his "bit." He's a painter by trade.

"I had been a painter for several years before I enlisted for the world war," Harker said, "and as soon as I finally got out of the hospitals, I went right back to the same old trade."

"I still am able to handle a ladder well, and work off the ground as well as to do interior decorating and I have been able to manipulate my left hand so that I don't feel awkward," Harker added as he wielded his paint brush in applying a coat of paint to the side of a house on Sixth Avenue, where he was at work while being interviewed.



"It was on July 28, 1918, that I lost my arm," Harker said.

"Melvin Kanago, of LeMars, who was a member of Company K and had enlisted with me, and we were preparing to dig in while a detail from the company was back getting the noon meal."

"It was open warfare right in there along the Ouree river and we could see the German lines possibly 800 to 1000 yards ahead. The place where Kanago and I were digging in was directly under a tree, which stood near to quite a large ammunition dump."

"All of a sudden a high explosive German shell struck the tree just over our heads and the next thing I remember was being hurled through the air about 20 yards."

"I don't remember what happened then, as things seemed to be happening so rapidly. However, some of the others in the company who saw the whole thing said that just after I landed on the ground again, I tried to rise to my feet but fell over. You see I was right handed and evidently I had attempted to put my right arm down to the ground to support me in getting up, but it was practically severed, merely dangling by a slight fragment of skin."

John Harker
"It did not pain me and I did not realize that I had been wounded, the nerves being paralyzed."

John Harker


"From then until October, 1918, I was shifted and transferred about in some five or six hospitals in France. Then I was invalided back to America and placed in Walter Reed hospital in Washington. They kept me there until February, 1919, and then I was discharged."

"While at Walter Reed," Harker said, "I learned how to tie my own shoe laces, how to write, how to tie my own necktie, dress myself, and otherwise become accustomed to having only my left hand and arm."

Five years ago Mr. Harker was married and for a short time after getting out of the army he lived in LeMars and Merrill, where he continued as painter and decorator and for pastime played a baritone horn in the Merrill band or at intervals played the bass drum for that organization.

An attempt to use an artificial arm proved futile, Mr. Harker explained, for the shell had severed his arm to close to the shoulder socket that it left no cushion of flesh, the skin having to be drawn taut over the bone segment.

Mr. Harker moved to Sioux City four years ago and since then has been engaged in the painting trade. For the past four months, he has served as bass drummer for Monahan post drum and bugle corps. Although he has but one hand and arm to wield the drum stick, he says he finds it not difficult to play the drum. Playing the baritone horn necessitates use of a strap, by which he fastens the horn so that it rests securely, leaving his hand free to open in fingering the necessary not positions of the keys.

(When Mr. Harker returned to Merrill, he was the first Plymouth county man who could tell as an eye witness how county soldiers who died at the front met their fate. An exclusive story of his experiences was published in the Globe-Post at that time. Mr. Harker was an eye-witness of several of the casualties, and was close at hand when others occurred.)

This soldier was originally from Plymouth Co., LeMars, Iowa.

~ source: LeMars Globe-Post, LeMars, Plymouth County, Iowa, Sept. 12, 1927


~ Submitted by Linda Ziemann <lin.ziemann@verizon.net>,  Plymouth County CC at http://iagenweb.org/plymouth/