WWII Ft. Riley

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Philip S
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Sun Jan 12, 2003 10:20 pm

I have found some fascinating reading about WWII horse cavalry life in two quite unlikely sources:

“In My Own Fashion, an Autobiography,” by Oleg Cassini
“Reflections in a Silver Spoon,” by Paul Mellon with John Baskett

Both men write about their life at the Fort Riley Cavalry School. Count Oleg Cassini is a fashion designer (at the time for the movies and later to become famous for his Jackie Kennedy gowns). He was married to the actress Gene Tierney. Paul Mellon was from one of the richest families in America. Both were members of “High Society” and describe a most unusual military life. They had somewhat parallel experiences starting as privates and then advancing to OCS.

From Cassini”s autobiography:

“Our basic-training class was composed primarily of New Yorkers who’d only seen horses pulling carriages in Central Park, and also a few cowboys. To my surprise, the cowboys had almost as many problems as the novices. They rode Western style, slouched back in their saddles.”
(P. 144)

“The army had its own equestrian style, which, happily coincided with what I had learned in Italy (where Cassini grew up after escaping from Russia): the weight was kept forward to ease pressure on the horse (it was called the “forward” or Chamberlain seat) using the cumbersome wood and leather McClellan saddle. Naturally, this was much to my advantage. I was promoted to corporal and named an instructor in horsemanship when basic training ended–quite an honor, I thought, and certainly one of the best jobs attainable for a noncommissioned officer at Fort Riley.”
(P. 144)

“...after I became an officer, Gene (Tierney) and I felt quite at home in Fort Riley society–a term that I do not use lightly, since the very best horsemen and polo players from all over the country had congregated at the cavalry school (and it had some of the best horses–Darryl Zanuck, Jock Whitney, and others had donated their strings of polo ponies to the cause for the duration). Our neighbors were the Bostwicks, the Van Stades, and others of the horse set. Paul Mellon was there, and Cappy Smith, who was one of the finest equestrians in the country. Nor was Gene the only celebrity wife in camp. Gloria B. Vanderbilt was there, married then to my friend and fellow man-about-town Pat De Cicco....”
(P. 146)

from Mellon's autobiography:

“One could be excused for wondering whether the Army, as I knew it at Fort Riley at that time, was training for the Civil War or even for the Indian Wars. One of the Cavalry training exercises involved galloping on horseback past silhouetted cutout targets and shooting at them with the always erratic Colt .45, a risky operation for anyone who did not have perfect control of his horse, as well as for the trooper riding in front of him or behind him, and I can promise you very few of them had control of their horses or their .45's. We were also taught how to handle pack mules, the idea being that we might someday find ourselves conducting reconnaissance through rough mountainous terrain. In January 1942 there were twenty horse classes and one mechanized at Fort Riley. By the time I finally left, in February 1943, there were only two horse classes; the rest were mechanized.”
(Pp. 188-9)
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Philip S
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Tue Jan 14, 2003 8:59 pm

A very good article on the subject is:
"They Led the Life of Riley, to the cavalry post in the heart of Kansas came the country's foremost horsemen, suddenly soldiers but as keen as ever for gentlemanly sport," by Robert Cantwell, "Sports Illustrated," November 19, 1973 pp. 106-130

The author mentions more celebraties:

Thorkel J. Greenough, rodeo bronco buster, holder of the world championship seven times, who was married to Sally Rand

Fred Ryser, trick rider and roper, who appeared with Tom Mix, Buck Jones and Gene Autry

Private Norman D. Cleland, 5th ranking amateur jocky, who ranked 2nd in 1937

William Dritt, four-goal handicap polo player

Andy Fowler, polo player and steeplechaser

Charles Bernuth, polo player

Lyman Wright, polo player and steeplechaser

Adrian Rourke, a top-ranking polo player and steeple-chaser and husband of Helen Wills

Louis Stoddard, an amateur jockey

Bobby Davis, the steeplechase trainer

Charles von Stade, whose father was president of Saratoga

Sandy Baldwin, a polo player from Virginia

Ralph Neves, the California jockey

Delvin Miller, the harness driver

Joe Louis the boxer

He erroneously mentions Mickey Rooney and Ronald Reagan who were not there

He fails to mention Jackie Robinson.

Paul Mellon remembered that "Pete Bostwick was in my platoon for horse instruction...I thought that was amusing, because he was the best amateur steeplechase rider and flat rider in America and England."
Boswick, on the other hand said that "Fort Riley was just two wasted years..Oh, I played polo weekends sometimes. But I could do that anywhere."

Oleg Cassini said that "I often think it was like India in the time of the Empire. There was a group that socialized together, an in group of jumpers, famous horse people who stuck togher and created an elite. It was not unpleasant."
Sam Cox
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Wed Jan 15, 2003 11:48 pm

I have a WW2 Photo of M Rooney in Chino Breeches and 3 strap boots marked Fort Riley Kansas


Sam Cox
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Thu Jan 16, 2003 6:51 am

Sam,

GREAT! Let's see it.

At your(mounted)service,

Paul Scholtz
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Pat Holscher
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Thu Jan 16, 2003 10:15 am

<blockquote id="quote"><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica" id="quote">quote:<hr height="1" noshade id="quote"><i>Originally posted by Sam Cox</i>
<br />I have a WW2 Photo of M Rooney in Chino Breeches and 3 strap boots marked Fort Riley Kansas


Sam Cox
<hr height="1" noshade id="quote"></blockquote id="quote"></font id="quote">

I was unaware that Rooney was in the Army in WWII. Was he a cavalryman at some point?

Pat
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Philip S
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Thu Jan 16, 2003 11:28 am

Apparently Mickey Rooney did pass through Ft. Riley. Here is a link to an article about a man who served as a horsemanship instructor at the CRTC and remembered seeing him:
http://members.tripod.com/don.mckinney/ ... diers.html
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Philip S
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Thu Jan 16, 2003 1:07 pm

Here is an old thread we did on Mickey Rooney. I also would like to see that picture.
http://militaryhorse.org/forum/topic.as ... PIC_ID=129
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Thu Feb 06, 2003 8:42 am

Interesting about Mickey Rooney. Concerning Ronald Reagan, I knew several WWII cavalry members years ago, and some of them were Illinois National Guard members in the 1920's, including members of the original Black Horse Troop established in 1927 as the 106th ILL. Cavalry. When Reagan was elected, they came up with stories about how he had been a member of the Illinois Guard to get riding time without spending any money. He was a young, liberal aspiring actor at the time. When WWII loomed, his wife Nancy's father engineered his transfer to a California cavalry guard unit to escape the draft and real duty. Other than fighting the war on the big screen, that is where his service in WWII was, according to these old cavalrymen (some of whom ended up on Bataan). He was afforded a brevet commission as Colonel, I believe, in the Illinois State Militia sometime in the late 1970's by the Governor of Illinois. If he passed through Riley on the way to California, was not mentioned by the old troopers.
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Philip S
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Thu Feb 06, 2003 9:25 am

Interesting story. When Reagan was a broadcaster at WHO in DesMoines he went to Fort DesMoines where he received training. He ultimately became a reserve cavalry officer in, I believe, the 322 Cav. Though his commission is often missed by his biographers, Reagan believed it to be quite important and always considered himself to be a horse cavalry officer. In spite of his reputation as a "cowboy" he rode like an officer with Dehner three strap boots, flare pants, and an "English" style saddle (I think it was actually Italian).He went directly from Des Moines to California in the 1930's so I do not see how he could have been in the ILL Nat'l Guard or gone through Ft. Riley. As a reserve officer he was not effected by the draft and was called up in WWII as an officer. Though I have seen pictures of him in a cavalry officer's uniform, I have never seen a picture of him mounted on a horse as an officer.
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Thu Feb 06, 2003 10:16 am

Nor have I, but have seen a good many of him mounted as President, wearing exactly the gear you describe.

Joe
Tim Roth
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Thu Feb 06, 2003 10:47 am

I think it is interesting this thread comes around to President Reagan on this his 92nd birthday!

My question is how many former presidents in history were cavalry? I've never really looked up this information but would be interested to know who they were.
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Thu Feb 06, 2003 11:25 am

<blockquote id="quote"><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica" id="quote">quote:<hr height="1" noshade id="quote"><i>Originally posted by Tim Roth</i>
<br />

My question is how many former presidents in history were cavalry? I've never really looked up this information but would be interested to know who they were.
<hr height="1" noshade id="quote"></blockquote id="quote"></font id="quote">

On this question, I don't know the answer, but Theodore Roosevelt comes immediately to mind.

On the WWII Guard story, for what it is worth, I've found there to be a certain degree of bitterness amongst the old troopers in units that were busted up and cadred out. FWIW, those who saw combat duty sometimes seem to bear a bit of anomosity towards those who did not, when the unit was broken up, even if the later assignments of the troops were more or less all random. I'm totally unfamiliar with the Reagan story, but, if they will talk, I've run across old troopers who saw action in WWII who can be quite bitter towards their fellow guardsmen, particularly officers, who did not. In looking at it I haven't found all that many instances in which it seemed to me that something improper was done, but the bitterness is definately there.

In part, in at least one case I'm familiar with, I think this frankly virtually killed off any recollections on the old unit for nearly forty years, after which time many had died. They did finally begin to recall their old outfit, and their experiences with it, but not untill all that time had passed.

Pat
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Thu Feb 06, 2003 3:05 pm

A great uniformed Reagan photo can be found at http://home.att.net/~dcannon.tenn/rwr.html
You may want to see the Gipper on horseback at the eagan Library website. Look for images, pick " at the ranch ". George
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Thu Feb 06, 2003 4:23 pm

<blockquote id="quote"><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica" id="quote">quote:<hr height="1" noshade id="quote">Paul Mellon remembered that "Pete Bostwick was in my platoon for horse instruction...I thought that was amusing, because he was the best amateur steeplechase rider and flat rider in America and England."Boswick, on the other hand said that "Fort Riley was just two wasted years..Oh, I played polo weekends sometimes. But I could do that anywhere."
<hr height="1" noshade id="quote"></blockquote id="quote"></font id="quote">

Ricky Bostwick, Pete's grandson plays polo here at the Palm Beach Polo Club and down the road at Gulstream Polo Club where he keeps a string of horses. They are still notable in the horse world.
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Sat Aug 30, 2008 10:44 pm

AS AN INSTRUCTOR AT FT. RILEY, MY FATHER TAUGHT JOE LOUIS HOW TO FOLD THE ARMY'S SADDLE BLANKET...."SIX CORNERS TO THE NEAR AND REAR." HE ALSO HAD THE BUNK NEXT TO PAT DICICO AND SHARED THE BARRACKS WITH OLEG CASSINI, HENRY MORGENTHAU, JR. IN ADDITION, HE SHARED THE BARRACKS WITH THE HUSBAND OF SALLY RAND. MY DAD SAYS THAT HE STILL OWES PAT DICICO 25 BUCKS!
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Sat Aug 04, 2012 9:30 am

Can anyone help me find out more about my father John E. Merrill Jr who was at the Cavalry Officer's training school at the same time as Paul Mellon, probably 1941-43? I have photos of him jumping at Fort Riley and he aslo often spoke of polo. His horse was named Lonesome. He rose to the rank of Major, fought in the Philippines and was assigned to the cavalry equestrian team for the Olympics. He also told me when I was young that he had been part of FDR's funeral caisson. Other than that he spoke little of his army career. I am trying to put together some more information for our family.
Many thanks,
Jean Merrill
Sam Cox
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Fri Jan 04, 2013 10:05 pm

Image

Paul Mellon at Riley

Someone emailed this to me,but i forget who.
Sam Cox

Any photo i am kind enough to share may not be used without proper credit to myself or www.militaryhorse.org

This is kind of like closing the barn door after the horse has bolted given my recent experience but i live in hope.
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