Monday, December 12, 2011
For some battle-hardened soldiers, the most difficult mission they can be assigned is behind a desk. Born in Illinois on this date in 1856, Frank Charles White moved to Dakota Territory as a young man. He quickly involved himself in the newly organized Dakota National Guard where he served as Captain of the Valley City unit. A few years later, during the Spanish-American War, White distinguished himself as commander of the First North Dakota Infantry, even earning a Silver Star for bravery during combat.
When the US entered the war in Europe nearly two decades later, White was again eager to do his part. Promoted to Colonel, his North Dakota regiment was assigned to the 41st Division, which saw some of the heaviest action of the war, but Col. White himself remained far from danger. At the age of 61, the decorated war veteran knew it was unlikely he would be sent to the front for active service, but when he finally received his assignment, he couldn’t help but be disappointed. As Commanding Officer of Renting, Requisitions, and Claims Services, White dealt not with German bullets, but with French property owners, setting rental agreements and settling claims on property damage complaints. While acknowledging that someone had to perform the important but mundane task, he only wished it was anyone but him.
He frequently bemoaned the “glory” he was missing out on. In a letter to his wife, he complained, “[When I first joined] we were full of enthusiasm expecting to get into the game at the head of a fine regiment of men. Our plans went aglee and my principle job now is holding down a desk. It is evident there is no absolutely safe place in this war except where we are.”
Near the end of his tour, the colonel mused, “I am inclined to think it takes as much courage and more loyalty to stay here in the intermediate section and dig to keep things moving forward than to go over the top on the front line.” For Col. Frank White, familiar with the warfare of a bygone era, and far removed from the horrors of trench warfare, this was an unarguable truth.
Dakota Datebook written by Christina Sunwall
Cooper, Jerry. Citizens as Soldiers: A History of the North Dakota National Guard. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005.
Eriksmoen, Curt. Did You Know That…?: 47 Fascinating Stories About People Who Have Lived in North Dakota. Vol. 1. McCleery & Sons Publishing, 2006