Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Guest Post: Far from Arizona: Charles Love Flake, Jr., Pfc, Co. M, 31st Infantry, Siberia
 


Guest Post: Far from Arizona: Charles Love Flake, Jr., Pfc, Co. M, 31st Infantry, Siberia

By: Kevin Folkman - October 03, 2012

One of the LDS soldiers who did not attend the LDS meetings of the Red Triangle Club was Charles Love Flake, Jr. A member of the Flake family of Snowflake, Arizona, he was named after his father, who served in the Southern States Mission with B.H. Roberts. The senior Flake, after returning from his mission, served as Justice of the Peace in Snowflake. In December of 1892, Charles and his brother James confronted a bank robber named Mason, and tried to arrest him. In the resulting struggle, Charles was shot in the neck and died, leaving four children and his wife pregnant with their fifth, Charles, Jr.

The younger Charles grew up, did well in school, loved to dance, and graduated from the LDS College in Salt Lake in 1913. He later enrolled at the University of Southern California and studied to become a pharmacist. During his time in Salt Lake City, he met and danced with Ruth Nyberg, an attractive young woman with whom he began an earnest correspondence while at school in Los Angeles. He also loved the theater, took part in dramas at USC, and enjoyed going to the plays whenever he could find the time and money. Upon his graduation from USC, he returned to Snowflake where he worked in the Flake family store as a “pill roller,” as he described it in letters to Ruth.

In October of 1915, Charles departed to Tennessee to serve an LDS mission under Southern States Mission President Charles Callis. President Callis had strict rules for the missionaries, including no dancing and no shows. Charles did his best to comply, but he found himself on more than one occasion on the outside of the rules attending a dance, watching a movie or play, or attending a baseball game or two. His letters to Ruth continued, and he admitted many of his shortcomings to her. Still on his mission in 1917, President Callis asked him to stay an extra six months, to which Charles agreed. He wrote to Ruth “I wouldn’t take millions for my mission. It has served to clear my vision.”

At the same time, the United States began preparing to enter World War I. Charles registered with his draft board back home in Arizona, but before he returned from his mission he was notified that he needed to report for induction. He departed his mission in the fall of 1917, married Ruth on April 12, 1918, and then reported for duty May 9th. He had hoped to get into the hospital corps, but did not. Assigned to the 31st Infantry, he learned to shoot the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), the heaviest handheld weapon of the time. He told Ruth he did not fear going to war, and worried more about his brother Marsh, who had already departed for the trenches in France.

Once Charles had completed his basic training, he was reassigned to Camp Fremont near San Francisco, and allowed to live off base, where Ruth joined him. They rented rooms in a building where several other LDS servicemen from the 31st and their wives were also living. They visited San Francisco on weekends, went to dances and the theater, and enjoyed their married life as much as possible, knowing that Charles’ unit could be deployed at any time. When the orders finally came in July of 1918, Charles and his companions were surprised to be ordered to Siberia, to become part of the allied effort to secure the Trans Siberian Railway, the docks and warehouses of Vladivostok, and help keep peace between uneasy allies and the warring Bolsheviks and White Russians. After the 31st embarked for Vladivostok, Ruth and the other LDS wives returned home. In Ruth’s case, she set up housekeeping in Snowflake, announced that she was pregnant, and worked at the Flake family store to be near Charles’ family.

Charles continued to write, always looking forward to returning home and getting on with his life with Ruth and raising his family. Charles was stationed with his company away from Vladivostok at Suchan and other locations which made it impossible to participate in the LDS meetings of the Red Triangle Club. That didn’t seem to bother him much, as he wrote to Ruth in April of 1919:

Don’t worry about my spiritual self, dear. I guess I’m almost too old to depart very radically from my pre-war views of the big issues of life. I’m pretty firmly anchored despite my present environment.

Soldiering turned out to be mostly dull and boring, with a lot of stamping around in the mud and snow over the winter of 1918 and 1919. Still, he found the country beautiful. He wrote Ruth in September of 1918:

This country is just like the mountain sections of Tennessee and Virginia. Raspberries and hazel nuts grow in abundance.

The men of the 31st knew that the war had ended in Europe in November, and began to look forward to coming home. In the spring, rumors began to circulate that the US troops of the Siberian campaign would soon start to withdraw. Charles also learned that he was now a father of a baby girl, named Margery. Charles actively promoted his status as a married man with a child, and hoped to be among the first to return. In May of 1919, he asked Ruth’s help in getting his discharge:

Dearest Ruth, I am more at peace with the world today than I have been for many long days. Your’s and Allie’s letters arrived at the same time … containing the wonderful news of the arrival of our daughter. Those letters brought me more happiness than anything that has happened since I left you. I was so overjoyed that I felt like shouting. You can’t start to imagine how proud I am of you, dearie, and I hope I can convince you to some extent at lest of how much I appreciate your sacrifice. The fact that you had to bear it alone makes me feel as though I had shifted the responsibility, as it were, and escaped the unpleasant part of it, but I’m sure I’d like to have been with you. We’ll simply be too happy for words, and in a few weeks after my return we’ll forget that we’ve ever been separated.

Dozens of fellows have put in for discharge for various good reasons, but a medical discharge is about the only thing that can get a man out, except where a man’s dependents make affidavit to the fact that he is their only support. Now, dearie, it would be wise for you to consult a lawyer or a notary, at once make out the necessary papers, have witnesses sign them and mail them to me. You have a clear case and with these papers I can get a discharge. You have nothing that is producing anything, so you are absolutely dependent on my allotment and with doctor bills and the baby you are handicapped. This expedition is apt to be here indefinitely, so there’s nothing for it but secure a discharge. This has been a good experience, and there’s satisfaction in knowing I served my country in time of need, but now my duty is with my family. They need me now, and I consider it just as honorable to go to them now as it was to go into the army then.

In May of 1919, Company M got a new commander, Capt. Roy Lynd. Lynd became acquainted with his men, and was impressed with the gregarious young man from Arizona. Learning of private Flake’s situation, Captain Lynd put Flake’s name on the list for early discharge. With the recommendations of his other officers, Captain Lynd also put Charles in for promotion on June 21st, 1919, presumably as a financial help to a family man.

On June 22, word came down that an American officer and four soldiers on patrol had been captured by the Bolsheviks and were being held at nearby Novitskaya. Company M was hastily assembled, extra ammunition issued to the soldiers, and they departed on foot for Novitskaya at 5:30 p.m. Charles, a member of the First Platoon, was part of the vanguard that warily entered Novitskaya around 8 p.m. The streets were quiet, and his platoon carefully made their way towards the center of the town.

Without warning, the Bolsheviks, hidden in houses, buildings and trees, opened fire. The rest of Company M, following some two hundred yards behind, rushed to the conflict while Flake’s 1st Platoon sought cover and began to return fire.

The firefight lasted about forty minutes. Company M routed the Bolsheviks and secured the town. Bolshevik casualties were estimated imprecisely at between forty and one hundred seventy five. One American officer and three enlisted men were killed, and two wounded. Charles Love Flake, Jr., situated right next to his platoon sergeant, was shot in the head early in the conflict, and never regained consciousness, dying the next morning at the hospital in Suchan.

Captain Lynd wrote the family of Private Flake’s death, saying:

His character and habits were above reproach. He was an excellent soldier in every sense of the word. He was well liked by all the officers and men in the Company. The members of this Company extend to you their earnest and heartfelt sympathy. You who were near and dear to him will suffer the greatest loss, but we also feel the great loss very keenly as we have lost a faithful friend and a true comrade.

Charles Love Flake, Jr., returned home to Snowflake on October 18, 1919, and was buried the next day while his wife, daughter, brother Marsh, and other family members looked on. The parallels with his father are striking. Both were tried in the crucible of the Southern States Mission where persecution and abuse were common and on occasion deadly. Both died while serving their community or country, willingly placing themselves in harm’s way for their sense of duty. Both left unborn or newborn children who never knew their fathers.

To the best of my knowledge, Charles Love Flake was the only LDS serviceman in Siberia in 1918-1919 to die in the conflict.



10 Comments »

  1. Fascinating.

    Comment by mahana — October 3, 2012 @ 9:05 am

  2. Great post, Kevin!

    Now, if you can send a gentle note to whoever wrote on New Family Search that Charles Love Flake Jr. died in Russia in 1919 in World War II! Maybe just a link to this post would do the trick.

    I am curious whether the young widow and her daughter remained in Snowflake. Margery would likely have been a year behind my uncle and two years ahead of my aunt in school had she remained in Snowflake, but they, alas, aren’t here to ask about it.

    Comment by Mark B. — October 3, 2012 @ 9:42 am

  3. So much history we don’t learn in school. I’m reading the Wikipedia article on the Siberian Intervention (Wikipedia is all I have time for right now!) and finding it fascinating.

    Thanks for the post, Kevin, sad as the story is.

    Comment by Amy T — October 3, 2012 @ 9:56 am

  4. Mark, I don’t have this with me, but I believe she eventually returned to Salt Lake City. I also don’t know for sure if she remarried, but I seem to recall seeing something to that effect.

    Don’t get me started on New Family Search Wiki Thingy…it has caused much grief in my wife’s family through some rather, um, creative research, and a novel approach to facts.

    Comment by kevinf — October 3, 2012 @ 9:56 am

  5. That was really well written, Kevin. Do you write for a living?

    Comment by Bruce Crow — October 3, 2012 @ 2:21 pm

  6. Oh, and that casualty figure for the Bolsheviks sounds a lot like the “body counts” from another U.S. intervention in an Asian civil war half a century later.

    Comment by Mark B. — October 3, 2012 @ 2:43 pm

  7. Bruce,

    Thanks, no I don’t (computer server sales). I appreciate the compliment. If you know anybody who is paying, though, I am all ears! You know the old story, do what you love, the money will follow? If it’s following, it is getting further and further behind.

    I’ve read a few of CLF Jr’s letters from his mission, and he seems to have had a great time there in your neck of the woods. The only time I was ever n Tennessee was about 10 years ago, and I went straight from the airport to the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, and two days later, went straight back to the airport. Didn’t get to see anything of Nashville, which was disappointing, or anything else for that matter. Making a living always gets in the way of all the fun stuff.

    Comment by kevinf — October 3, 2012 @ 2:46 pm

  8. Mark, that count was right in Captain Lynd’s report of the encounter at Novitskaya, so you think if he was there, he might have had a better estimate than that.

    Also, that June 22nd encounter is when things really started to heat up between the US and the Bolsheviks. There were a number of other more deadly ambushes by the Bolsheviks in the weeks that followed, and eventually by September, General Graves, who commanded the US troops in Siberia, pulled them completely out of the area around Suchan and Novitskaya. I think there was something in the neighborhood of some 100 total casualties, dead and wounded, in the next fee weeks.

    Comment by kevinf — October 3, 2012 @ 2:52 pm

  9. This reminds me so much of a dear friend who lost her husband in Afghanistan earlier this summer. It is well written, and I am sure well researched. I will reread it when I am not crying.

    Comment by Julia — October 3, 2012 @ 7:50 pm

  10. A moving bit of history, Kevin. Thanks.

    Comment by J. Stapley — October 4, 2012 @ 11:53 am

Leave a comment

RSS feed for comments on this post.
TrackBack URI