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Guest Post: The Red Triangle Club

By: Kevin Folkman - September 25, 2012

From the minutes of a foreign branch of the church, April 27, 1919:

[Meeting held] on the shores of a small lake, for the purpose of baptizing service. President Zwahlen presided. Singing, “Lo, On the Waters Brink.” Prayer by Sheridan Ballard. Singing, “Ye Elders of Israel.”

Elder Hunsaker spoke a few very interesting remarks on the first principles of the Gospel. Bro. Andrew Husberg (the candidate) then spoke, speaking of his assurity [sic] he had found the right Gospel and was going to heed [the] spirit’s promptings. After some very good remarks from Pres. Zwahlen, Bro. Thos. E. Hunsaker led Bro. Husberg into the water and performed the sacred ordinance. After two quartets by the Brethren present, Bro. Husberg was confirm by Elder J.R. Gibbs.

Closing Song, “I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go.” Benediction was pronounced by Bro. J.M. Baxter.

Two circumstances make this particular baptismal service highly unusual. First, the location was a lake near Vladivostok, Siberia. Second, the men listed here were all members of the “Red Triangle Club,” the informal name for LDS members of the Allied Expeditionary Force, Siberia. Branch President Zwahlen was also Pfc. Samuel Zwahlen, Co. D, 31st. Infantry, drafted in 1918 from Ferron, Emery County, Utah. And Bro. Husberg, the newly baptized member, was Pfc. Andrew Husberg, born in Sweden, brought to the US with his family, and drafted from his new home near Reno, Nevada. [1]

As WWI continued in Western Europe, most US soldiers were sent to the front in France and the horrors of trench warfare that took too many lives. By 1918, the Russian Revolution 1918 had effectively removed Russia from the Eastern Front. The Allies had shipped large amounts of munitions, military supplies, and foodstuffs that now sat in warehouses in Vladivostok on the Pacific coast of Siberia, Archangelsk on Russia’s northern White Sea coast, or at various locations along the Trans-Siberian railway. Fearing that the supplies could fall into the hands of the Bolshevik revolutionaries, British and French diplomats convinced Pres. Woodrow Wilson to send US troops to both Archangelsk and a larger number to Vladivostok, as part the Allied effort. Some of the stated reasons for US involvement included helping a force of 40,000 Czechoslovakian troops escape Eastward from the Bolsheviks and guarding the Trans-Siberian railway from both the Bolsheviks and marauding Cossacks. Other reasons may have been attempting to contain or defeat the Bolsheviks, and also keeping an eye on 70,000 Japanese troops, ostensibly allies, but already showing some imperial ambitions.

Some twenty LDS soldiers, mostly from Utah, Arizona, and Wyoming, are know to have participated specifically in the Vladivostok campaign, with Andrew Husberg being the only known convert. Many of these LDS servicemen found each other while training at Camp Fremont near San Francisco, and after being deployed to Siberia in August and September of 1918, they organized a branch and held regular meetings. I have not found who organized them, but Pres. Zwahlen appears to have been exercising normal priesthood authority, and collected both tithing and fast offerings. Many of the men were married with wives at home, some with children, and a few with children on the way. Calling themselves the Red Triangle Club, they met mostly at the YMCA cabin in Vladivostok [2], beginning November 3, 1918, and continuing, at least as far as the minutes indicate, until August 31, 1919, by which time the US troops had begun their withdrawal from Vladivostok.

Many of them had light duties; some served as musicians in the regimental band, others guarded the docks and warehouses of Vladivostok. Some units were deployed further away from Vladivostok, patrolling the rail lines or monitoring the movements of Bolsheviks and allies alike. The minutes indicate that they held their meetings as often as duties would allow, administered the sacrament, enjoyed prepared talks, testimonies, and many musical numbers. Sheridan Ballard played the Violin often, and many of the servicemen sang solos or in quartets. Men were assigned to visit the hospitals where some of their fellow servicemen were sick. Money was collected to provide for a Christmas party in December of 1918. A few known LDS servicemen, deployed away from Vladivostok, apparently never got the chance to meet with the Red Triangle Club.

The US force’s commanding officer, General William Graves, was suspicious of all sides in this conflict, and kept his almost 8,000 troops closely supervised, avoiding conflict as much as possible. When hostilities ended in Western Europe with the Armistice in November of 1918, peace did not come to Siberia quickly. The Germans were no longer a factor, tensions between the Bolsheviks and loyalist White Russian troops escalated, and sporadic fighting continued throughout 1919. Eventually, Washington began to doubt the utility of keeping troops in such an unstable environment, and began withdrawing US troops in March of 1919, with the bulk of them gone by the following winter. A few troops lingered over that winter, and the last of them departed in April of 1920, a full year and a half after the end of hostilities in Western Europe. [3]

A related story to all of this is the story of an LDS serviceman from Arizona, assigned to the 31st Infantry in Siberia, and who participated in a deadly skirmish with Bolshevik forces in April of 1919. That, however, is a separate story …

[1] Andrew Husberg’s conversion stuck. After being released from the service in 1919, he moved to Salt Lake City, married in the temple, and raised a family there.

[2] I wondered about the YMCA cabin, but learned that the YMCA in WWI and in previous conflicts served much the same purpose as USO clubs were to perform in WWII and later. In fact, the YMCA was instrumental in creating the USO between the wars to help men and women serving in the US military.

[3] The US forces stationed in and around Archangelsk (nicknamed the Polar Bear Expedition) had a rougher time of it, although their deployment was shorter, ending in August of 1919. With some 3,000 fewer troops than the AEF Siberia force, they were involved in more direct combat with Bolshevik forces, suffered more from the cold, and had to cover a much larger theater of operations. Total deaths of the AEF Siberia numbered 189 in 19 months of deployment. The Polar Bear Expedition suffered 235 deaths from all causes in just nine months.



23 Comments »

  1. Great story! You find our people in the most amazing places and circumstances, Ardis. Keep up the good work (or is that “Keepa – the good work.”)

    Comment by Grant — September 25, 2012 @ 8:31 am

  2. I’ll take the praise, but do want to point out that this is a story researched and contributed by kevinf, who keeps his eyes peeled for those stories in “amazing places and circumstances.”

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 25, 2012 @ 8:45 am

  3. That is so cool, Kevin. I know I’ve mentioned my great-grandfather from Arizona who was supposed to have been in Russia at the end of the war. I really don’t know anything about his service except his bout with the Spanish Flu and that he was paid $136.56 upon his discharge with an Excellent character on June 19, 1919, in El Paso, Texas. I’ll have to ask my dad if he knows anything more and if Roy was in Vladivostok.

    Comment by Amy T — September 25, 2012 @ 8:51 am

  4. Kevinf! Way to go! (sorry, I have to read the “Guest Post” heading more carefully). Still, Ardis puts this thing together. I’m so glad that Kevin and many others can share here.

    Comment by Grant — September 25, 2012 @ 9:03 am

  5. I was wondering if there were any other identifying information about Brother Thos E Hunsaker? I have a friend who is a Hunsaker (from the Star Valley Hunsakers) and I was wondering if she would be particularly interested in the story.

    Comment by Coffinberry — September 25, 2012 @ 9:03 am

  6. Coffinberry, there is a little more information, including the names of some of the other members of the Red Triangle Club, but I don’t have all of that here at work. I will see what I have, and maybe try to post a comment with all the names of the LDS servicemen that I know of.

    Comment by kevinf — September 25, 2012 @ 9:16 am

  7. Thanks Kevin. I’m looking forward to the separate story as well!

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 25, 2012 @ 9:18 am

  8. Grant, I’ll let Ardis take a big portion of the credit, as she lets me bask in the reflected glow of her stellar work here from time to time. She’s also been a big part of getting me interested in doing research in Mormon History, and not just a reader.

    Comment by kevinf — September 25, 2012 @ 9:20 am

  9. I’ll keep my lips sealed on that other part of story, which I chanced upon several months ago while doing something other than work. So, for now, just a few comments.

    It’s interesting that the group chose “Red Triangle Club” as its name, since in those days of revolution and civil war in Russia, anything red seemed to be tied to the Bolsheviks. I wonder if they chose their name from the YMCA logo, which in those days included a red triangle, point down. Here’s a graphic “history” of the Y logo which shows what the logo on that cabin in Vladivostok might have looked like.

    And, a minor point regarding Russian involvement in World War I. After the Bolshevik revolution in early November, 1917, the Russian armies effectively withdrew from combat, and the war on the eastern front ended formally with the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on March 3, 1918. Since the terms of that treaty were awfully generous toward the Central Powers (Lenin and his Bolsheviks had bigger problems on their hands in those days), it’s easy to understand why the Allies might have been concerned about the Russians handing over war materiel to the Central Powers.

    Comment by Mark B. — September 25, 2012 @ 10:13 am

  10. Mark,

    Thanks for the pointer to the YMCA logo. That makes more sense now. Also, thanks for keeping quiet on the other part. We should have that up next week.

    Here is a list as I know it, of the LDS servicemen involved in the AEF Siberia:

    Baily Allen, home state unknown
    Sheridan Ballard, Utah
    John M. Baxter, Utah
    Orson Boyle, Arizona
    Leonard Carter, unknown
    Harry Coleman, Utah
    Cornwall, unknown
    Charles L. Flake, Jr, Arizona
    Sidney Gee, unknown
    John R. Gibbs, Utah
    William Goodman, unknown
    Ferry Hadlock, Utah
    Wiley Hamilton, Texas
    Thomas E. Hinsaker, Utah
    Andrew Husberg, Reno, later Utah
    Freeman Loyd, unknown
    Dexter L. McCray, Arizona
    Lloyd Miller, unknown
    David I. Pearson, Utah
    Heber Petty, unknown
    Cyril V. Porter, Arizona
    Napoleon B. Round, Utah
    Harry or Harvey Seller, North Dakota
    Andrew Spencer, Utah
    Austin Willis, Unknown
    Merrill R. Willis, Unknown
    Samuel H. Zwahlen, Utah

    Comment by kevinf — September 25, 2012 @ 10:29 am

  11. Thanks for this cool piece of history.

    Comment by Julia — September 25, 2012 @ 12:47 pm

  12. This is great, Kevin. And I am looking forward to the next story too.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — September 25, 2012 @ 7:43 pm

  13. What an awesome story. Waiting the sequel with great anticipation.

    Comment by Reid — September 25, 2012 @ 8:37 pm

  14. Thanks for all the comments!

    Comment by kevinf — September 25, 2012 @ 10:23 pm

  15. Kevin-

    I included you in today’s A Few Things I’ve Been Reading post. Thanks for a great post, and the light on something I didn’t know. :-)

    http://poetrysansonions.blogspot.com/2012/09/a-few-things-i-have-been-reading.html?m=0

    You can check it out here if you are interested.

    Comment by Julia — September 26, 2012 @ 5:22 am

  16. Julia,

    Thanks for the link. I should also note that my source for the minutes of the Red Triangle Club is the CHL, and I recently have been able to get in contact with Ron Ballard of Elko, Nevada, grandson of Sheridan Ballard, who submitted the minutes to the library a few years ago. I’ve also been able to contact other descendents of a few other servicemen in this list, and it promises to open up some additional resources for more on this story.

    Comment by kevinf — September 26, 2012 @ 12:33 pm

  17. Fascinating reading! How did you get interested in this? Loyd Miller was my grandfather. He was from St. David,Cochise County, Arizona. Dexter McCray may also have been from St. David. I look forward to reading more from your fascinating research!

    Comment by Ann Miller Hansen — September 26, 2012 @ 1:11 pm

  18. Kevin’s second post is going to go up next Wednesday morning (October 3). It’s one you’ll enjoy and long remember.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 26, 2012 @ 5:46 pm

  19. Thanks for the story. Andrew Husberg is my grandfather and I love his story. I do remember minor details of the story a bit different.

    Comment by Cathleen — February 16, 2013 @ 12:39 pm

  20. This is wonderful information. For clarification the Merrill R. Willis listed as a member of the “Red Triangle Club” is my father and is from Snowflake Arizona. His full name is Merrill Roundy Willis and is a 1st cousin to Napoleon B. Round (Roundy) and is from Utah. Dexter L. McCray married Euphemia “Famie” Berry from St Johns Arizona in 1917 & was living there when he joined the Army. Famie’s mother & Merrill R Willis’s mother were sisters. These 3 soldiers were 1st cousins. Charles L Flake jr was also from Snowflake Arizona, unfortunately he was shot & killed in Siberia.

    Comment by Bert Willis — February 26, 2013 @ 6:15 pm

  21. That’s great, Bert. Have you seen Kevin’s follow-up post about Charles L. Flake, Jr.?

    (Far From Arizona.)

    Comment by Amy T — February 26, 2013 @ 6:29 pm

  22. Bert, thanks for dropping by. I have some information about Merrill Willis here that is part of my ongoing research. I had just discovered the cousins connection this week, which is pretty cool. I would love to cross check the information I have with you. I will ask Ardis to share my email address with you if you are willing.

    Comment by kevinf — February 27, 2013 @ 12:06 am

  23. Cathleen, i would love to learn more about your grandfather and will ask Ardis to forward you my email as well.

    Comment by kevinf — February 27, 2013 @ 12:10 am

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