Private Harvey Kopfer, born April 18, 1890 in DeKalb County, Illinois, was the oldest of the Kopfer children. His WWI draft card in 1917 identified him as “medium height, medium build, dark blue eyes, brown hair.” He was single and 27 years of age when his country required his service. He left his position as a farmhand on the Roberts farm and soon found himself stationed at Camp Fremont in California. In the year 1918 Harvey began his correspondence with loved ones back home in DeKalb County, Illinois.
Private Kopfer’s tour of duty during World War I didn’t really take place during World War I. He was headed to Siberia as his friends and neighbors, who had served as soldiers in Europe began heading home from the Western Front following the signing of the Armistice ending the war in November of 1918.
Private Kopfer’s first letter to the home of “Mrs. John Weiherman” was written from Camp Fremont, California on June 16th, 1918, just months before the war’s end. His first letter from Siberia was posted on August 22nd, 1919. American troops had already been home from the Western Front for 9 months when Kopfer found himself in Siberia.
I am familiar with the Siberian campaign launched by President Wilson in 1918. As a graduate student at Auburn University I worked with a team of professors exploring the archives of top secret documents that had just been released (1972) fifty years following the events that involved our Harvey Henry Kopfer. I will let our Private Kopfer’s letters speak on his behalf at this point. I will type the words and punctuation as I see them on his page. There are some awkward contractions, spellings and disjointed sentences. I will point out the relationship of Harvey Kopher to those he mentions at the end of each letter. He provides a few clues as to his role in Siberia; but keep in mind, each of his letters was scrutinized by military inspectors who had to co-sign the letter before it could be mailed. If you want the back story on what was happening in Siberia I will provide that information at the conclusion of Harvey’s letters.
Letter 1 Dated June 16, 1918 and sent to his sister, Laura Kofper Weiherman and her husband John M. Weiherman
Dear Sister and Brother-in-Law,
I thought I would write and let you know that I feel alright, only had a cold but that wasn’t bad. I suppose you folks are all well. I haven’t heard from you folks since I left the hospital. So I went to Post Office and they said they would look for it. I got a card from Hy Franke to-day. That was the only mail I got. When I wendt to the post office I got from Edna Bowker a letter that was mailed 20th May and got it 13th June. Well I suppose Avery is plowing corn out their but I don’t think is corn to plow here in this country. I got another pair of shoes, and overalls and jacket from Unkle Sam. The overalls are number 40. I think they will fite me alright. Ha ha. I got my rifle yesterday and I will have something to do to keep that clean if it when it clean those fellows have to help in the kitchen to get the meals. It is sure durty down hear we haven’dt had no rain since I been down hear. I suppose you folks are getting ready for the school picnic soon? How is the little girls getting along. I suppose they are all well? I got my picture taken last Tuesday and got them Saturday and they did not get good. I thought I would send them out anyway to Illinois. There are building more tents so their must be more soldiers coming. Well I think I will quit for this time. I have more letters to write. Carstead ased me what Lena’s address was, the route number. So must be go-ing to write to her. Tell John folks hello for me. Well good by. Love to all. Write when you can. From HHK Excuse written it is so dusty hear that the paper gets durty and my hands get durty.
Connecting the Names
- Sister and Brother in law: Laura Kopfer Weiherman and husband John M. Weiherman
- Hy Franke: aka Henry Franke, same age as Harvey Kopfer, Hy married Lena Temma, the daughter of Henry Temma and Wilhelmina (Minnie) Lampe. Henry Temma was the brother of Harvey’s mother, and my great grandmother, Mary Caroline Temma. Henry and Mary Caroline were the children of my great great grandfather, Conrad Temma.
- Edna Bowker:
- Avery: ?
- Unkle Sam: United States Government!
- little girls: Weiherman girls including Eleanor and Marion.
- Carstead: Art Carstedt, who was two years younger than Harvey. Art would follow up on his request for Lena’s address. He would write to her and eventually marry Lena Weiherman, John M. Weiherman’s sister.
- Lena: Margaret Caroline (Lena) Weiherman, John’s sister. Wife of Art Carstedt.
- John: John M. Weiherman
- HHK: Harvey Henry Kopfer
Letter 2 Dated June 25, 1918 and sent to his sister, Laura Kofper Weiherman and her husband John M. Weiherman
Dear Brother-in-Law & Sister
I thought I would auncer your letter to-night, because I had a little time to write. Well I feel pritty good, only got a headache tonight but that comes from the Heat and drilling to-day. It was sure Hot to-day. Well I’m glad to here that you folks are all well. I got your letter the 25th June the one you wrot the 18th June, and got those papers, the DeKalb Chronicles and the Waterman Leaders they want to the Hospital first and got a post card from Emma and one from Edna they said they were in DeKalb that day. But there cards were mailed the 21st June and got them the 25th. Well I suppose your through plowing for the third time now? You ask me about the kitchen I don’t like it. If I had my saying I would be in Illinois. Ha Ha. But I think I will wait til the war is over and then I’ll be back to Illinois. I get home sick some time but it don’t do any good. Dan L. and Louie Mizel are in my Company and they are only two tents from mine. You ask me how I like Cali. I like California allright but I don’t like Camp Fremont. It is sure dusty out here. It won’t rain here till next fall they say. Marion and Eleanor I suppose there are feeling alright. Yo say that Marion has two teeth now and is growing. I suppose I won’t know her when I get back. You say that Eleanor talks about me tell her Hello for me.
Well John you say you got a cousin in France. So I suppose you will find out how the war is in France then. Ha Ha. Well I suppose you had a good time at the picnic? If the they took 245 men from DeKalb County they must not be many left. Two of the fellows that came with me from DeKalb County are playing in the Band. They are from Sandwich, IL. I’ll bet Arthur Baie makes some cook allright. We have a good cook in our company they are putting up some more tent last week I think ther is some more coming to this camp. You tell mother that I got these papers that she send June 9th to-day 25th. and tell her I am going to write to Lena Groos to-morrow after-noon. We have a holiday on Wensday after-noon and Saturday afternoons and outher days we go out to drill at 7:30 in the morning and come back at 12 o’clock and go out at 1:30 and come back at 4 o’clock and have supper at 5:30. Well I think I wrote a nuf of this been written. I suppose you got that picture I send you. Ha ha. With love to all. Good by. HHK
Connecting the Names
- Emma: Would marry HHK, Harvey Henry Kopfer. Her maiden name escapes me.
- Edna: Is this the same Edna Bowker in Letter One? I am trying to identify her.
- Dan L.: Probably Daniel Leifheit (b. 1888 in Waterman), the son of August and ‘Minnie’ Leifheit. Dan was 29 and single at the time he entered service. He left his work as a farm laborer, working for his brother Charles on the family farm.
- Louie Mizel: was the son of Louis and Marie Mizell, French born farmers who settled in Clinton Township in 1888. Louie was age 24 in 1918.
- Marion and Eleanor: Daughters of Laura Kopfer and John Weiherman
- Arthur Baie: The Baie family is found in the Rissman family tree. The family played a significant role in developing Immanuel Lutheran Church in Hinckley and Squaw Grove. Arthur is identified as a veteran of WWI.
- mother: Harvey’s mother, Mary Caroline Temma Kopfer
- Lena Groos: ?
- HHK: Harvey Henry Kopfer
Letter 3 Dated March 29, 1919 and sent to his sister, Laura Kofper Weiherman and her husband John M. Weiherman
Dear Sister & Brother-in-Law
Dropping you a few lines to let you know I’am well, and glad to hear that you folks are well. the letter you wrote Feb 9th I received 19th March. We sure are having a lovely spring her for this country. I received the kids pictures about a month ago. You say their is no excitement around there. there will be some when I get back. Hai Hai. Say if Augst Temma has got home tell him to write to me if he will, I didn’t now his address when he was in France. I like to read those letters that comes from France. I see by your letter that he has moved to Maryland. I heard that he lost one of his eyes. Did Mrs Theo Swanson move to DeKalb or Aurora? Say John dont forget to put a keg or two in the cellor because I may not get back before July 1st. I haven’t had a good drink for some time. Dan wrote to Charles his brother a short time ago and told him to save a drink hai hai.
Dan he is just as fat as ever. I think I gaind a few pounds I think I will be lose because it is chow time and I don’t want to mis the show to-night, how is the shows in DeKalb do they still have them. So I’ll say good night Love to all from Harvey.
Note: he then provides his identity as Depot Quartermaster, AEF Siberia. The letter is approved by JA Hinton. All of Harvey’s letters are read and approved before they are mailed from his location.
Connecting the Names
- “the kids”: More than likely pictures of Eleanor and Marion, two young children of Laura and John.
- Augst Temma: August Temma was the son of Henry D. Temma and Wilhelmina Baie. He married Cora Baie. Cora was a servant in the home of John and Mary Fuller in 1910 at the age of 24. Arvid Swanson, age 24 and Albert Carlson, age 22, were farmhands on the Fuller’s farm in Somonauk, IL. Cora married August on December 20, 1911 in Chicago. He was 25 and she was 26. She died three years later in 1914. August did indeed lose an eye while fighting on the Western Front in France during WWI. He returned from the war and married Hilde Graff. August died in 1931. The Carlson family is found in the family lineage of our Sawyer cousins. The Baie family is found in the Rissman family tree.
- Mrs Theo Swanson: a Theodore C. Swanson (1875-1951) and his wife Carrie T. Swanson (1881-1967) are buried in the Fairview Cemetary in DeKalb. Carrie’s maiden name was Larsen. She was born in Norway. I am still researching the connection to Harvey and the Kopfer family.
- John: John Weiherman, our grandfather and Harvey Kopfer’s brother in law.
- Dan and brother Charles: The Leifheit brothers worked their parent’s farm prior to WWI. The Leifheit family is found in our family tree and played host to some awesome family reunions in the 1950 and 60’s.
- Harvey: Harvey Kopfer, also signed his letters HHK. Harvey was our great uncle and brother to Grandmother Laura Weiherman.
Letter 4 Dated Aug 16, 1919 and sent to his sister, Laura Kofper Weiherman
I thought it was about time to write a few lines and let you know I’am well, and hope this letter finds you folks well. I should have written this letter long ago. but I always neglected it. So I thought I would write a few lines to-night. Well I suppose you folks are getting ready to thresh those oats by this time? How is the corn this year You sayed in your last letter I got that the farmers had to plant over corn there no corn in this corn in this country all small grain. the weather has been pretty good here this summer. Yes Cord told me about L.W. Leifheit selling his farm. I expect he lives in town now? You said in your last letter that Peeny Weiherman was coming home to make you folks a viset this summer. I expect he is well? If he is out there when you folks get this letter you can tell him Hello for me. I suppose cousin August has told all news from France by this time. and when I get back from Siberia I tell the rest of the news. Hai hai. I seen a moving picture show about a week ago. I would like to see a show in the states again. A year ago day before yesterday I left for Siberia. How is the Victrola getting along? Well Dan findly wrote a letter to his Brother Charles a couples days ago. Tell the folks across the road Hello and give them my best regards. Well I think I’ll close for this time. Will write more later With Love from your brother.
Connecting the Names
- Cord: I haven’t a clue just yet
- L.W. Leifheit: Louis William Leifheit (1889-1939). The son of William J. Leifheit and ‘Minnie’ Baie, he married Alice Emma Charlesworth. The Charlesworth Brothers are the attorneys identified on the bill of sale for the Kopher family farm.
- Peeny Weiherman: John Weiherman’s younger brother Frederick William ‘Chief’ Weiherman.
- August: August Temma whom we have met previously.
- Dan and Brother Charles Leifheit whom we also met previously
- “the folks across the road”:
Letter 5 Dated Sept 17, 1919 and sent to his sister, Laura Kofper Weiherman
I thought it was about time to write a few lines and let you know I’am well, and glad to hear that you folks are well. Received you letter last week the one you wrote Aug 9th. I suppose you though I was on my way home the way your letter read. I’ll get there some time in 1919 or 1920. Ha ha. Yes there has some of the news troops landed over here allready. You say Marion is nothing like Eleanor she can turn around 3 times to Eleanor one she must be some mischief allright then. I expect I wont know them when I get back. You folks must of had soom earlie threshing this year if some them wear through threshing in July. I have’nt seen any threshing machines here in this country. It would not be very nice weather here now for threshing had some rain here a couple days. That’s where the hip boots was nice. If the farmers are geting land crazy tell them to come out here Hai Hai, You were asking if the U.S. troops were guarding. Yes they are guarding the railroad yet. Well I think will close for this time. Love to all Harvey. Depot Quartermaster. Letter approved by Sylivan G. Kendell.
Connecting the Names
There are no new names in this letter that we have not met before.
The Back Story on American Involvement in Siberia
Private Kopfer was a young man proudly serving his nation, a nation he loved. He put his life on the line as did every person called to duty during the war to end all wars. We lost a few of our cousins and uncles in the war effort. Harvey was an unwitting participant in one of our nation’s clandestine war efforts. He was one of the first Americans to engage in a secret war against the Bolshevik (Communist) forces engaged in a civil war for control of Russia. The Bolsheviks had eliminated the Czar’s family and were seizing control of the vast nation.
The war to end the threat of communism was so secretive that President Wilson kept Congress in the dark regarding American intent and participation. He provided a variety of logically constructed arguments for engagement, each of which collapsed as the world moved forward, safely away from the World War that had consumed humanity. Ostensibly, we were in Siberia to protect a Chech military force in Siberia from German attack. When the Armistice was signed the Germans lost interest in further bloodshed and the Chechs returned to their home land untouched. They didn’t need American protection. Wilson told Congress he wanted to protect American interests from Japanese expansion. The Japanese maintained a presence in the region to counter a Chinese expansion should it occur. The Japanese were not an issue, nor a threat to Americans.
President Wilson put Major General William Graves in charge of his forces in Siberia. Graves was responsible for training Private Kopfer and the men of the Infantry at Camp Fremont in 1918. Graves received a mysterious message from the War Department ordering him to take the first train directly to Kansas City. At the train station, Secretary of State, Newton D. Baker handed Graves an unsigned copy of the Aide Memoire:
“This is the policy of the United States in Russia which you are to follow. Watch your step; you will be walking on eggs loaded with dynamite.”
Graves was now Commander of the AEF, Siberia. Wilson’s signature would not be found on any orders. There had been no elaborate strategy developed behind closed doors or discussion in Congress. The intent of Wilson’s efforts were never apparent to Graves or any of those soldiers in his charge. They had a job to do: protect the Trans Siberian Railroad and telegraph system that connected the port of Vladivostok with the European communities. He was told to neither side with the Red Russians (Communists) or the White Russians (Czarist forces and those favoring democracy). He was to simply stay focused on protecting the lines: rail and telegraph.
I believe Graves was oblivious to the reasons for securing the railroad. He had no idea what his own government was doing at the other end of the rail line, 3,000 miles away in Ukraine, Bylorussia and Russia proper. He was kept in the dark for a reason. Forerunners of the American CIA, agents of the American and British governments, were buying up leather and grain supplies in vast quantities and shipping them to the east out of Russia on the Trans Siberian Railroad. Troops had to insure that Bolsheviks did not hijack the trains and pilfer the goods. The intent was to create a hardship for the common man, the kulaks and others who would hopefully rise up against the Bolsheviks. A shoeless and starving population would surely rise up out of the chaos and run the Bolsheviks out of power. Wilson hoped to see Russia develop a democracy, as opposed to a communist state. It was also at this time that J. Edgar Hoover was rising to power in the ranks of the FBI, engaging in efforts to squash the growth of labor unions and communism.
This was not the first time the British had resorted to this tactic of starving the masses to gain an upper hand. In recent decades British and Irish historians have reviewed and discussed countless British government documents that reveal that governments attempt to destroy and eradicate the lives of more than a million Irish Catholics in what had previously been thought of as a potato famine. But those are events that impacted the lives of my Grandmother Hughes family from Ireland and remains a story to be told on another day.
The facts related to Wilson’s clandestine efforts in Siberia were not revealed until top secret documents were released by our state department as mandated by law, in 1972. Private Kopfer never knew that he was engaged in an effort to thwart the birth of communism in Russia. President Wilson’s ‘policy’ was disastrous on a horrific scale, creating genocide among Russian and Ukrainian populations. It was my privilege, as a student of Dr. Oleg Pidhainy at Auburn University, in 1972-1973 to review State Department documents related to the American effort, as those documents were released. The University viewed our activity as unAmerican and counter productive to American interests related to the defeat of communism in South Vietnam. Dr. Pidhainy was relieved of his duties. The history related to his departure can be verified online if you care to do a reality check.
American troops survived a dismal winter in the first months of 1919. Temperatures frequently dropped to below sixty degrees. Frostbite was common and in some cases led to amputation. The Chief Surgeon noted that “practically” no sanitary conditions existed. Drinking at the popular vodka houses became the most popular pastimes for many bored and lonely doughboys needing an escape from the harsh conditions. As you could see Private Kopfer’s letters are discrete with regards to his personal conduct and military orders. Each of his letters was subject to military inspection. He indicates that he had gone a long time without a beer, so he was apparently not joining the bar room expeditions. He also acknowledges the fact that the soldiers were guarding the railroad. That statement apparently passed inspection, but Harvey said and probably knew little more than that. He was good man, perplexed by the fact that he seemed to be stuck in Siberia for a year more than he had anticipated.