”Honor the Past; Deserve the Present“

Jack Converse

Army, Services of Supply (SOS), Driver for President Woodrow Wilson at Versailles

Grandfather of Candace McCorkell (Candace's husband is Pete McCorkell) and Penelope Sorensen (Penelope's husband is Randy Sorensen)

Documentary materials provided in part by
Candace McCorkell, granddaughter of Jack Converse

Background

  • Jack Converse was born on May 18, 1892, in St. Paul, Minnesota [birth certificate]; he died in June 1974 in Portland, Oregon. Parents divorced during Jack's childhood.
  • Jack's mother moved to Seattle when Jack was about four years of age.
  • Father remarried and had son in new marriage; lived in San Francisco "ever after." "I don't know that Jack ever saw him again."  [Candace McCorkell, e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 2 April 2009]
  • Mother remarried (to Cecil Beddome) in 1915
  • Jack Converse had brown eyes; brown hair; 6'1"  [Note—Honorable Discharge document, July 15, 1919, indicates height is 5'11"]

National Guard and Enlistment in Army

  • Granddaughter Candace McCorkell describes him as "a car nut"
  • Enlisted in Army, partly to escape an overbearing mother
  • His parents, both Canadian-born, divorced amid great scandal in Chicago society
  • Discharged as sergeant in Washington National Guard, Field Signal Battalion on August 5, 1917, since he was drafted on August 5, 1917

Assignment as Driver

  • Because of his background in auto sales and auto and motorcycle repair [background as auto salesman and mechanic noted on National Guard Discharge document] and because he was tall and handsome he became a driver for generals and other high-ranking officers. He was also a mechanic. He was a "Driver and mechanic" and "occasional bodyguard for high-ranking officials/military as needed." "There weren't that many of them, so I guess it was just luck of the draw, though he was attractive and personable." [Candace McCorkell, e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 2 April 2009]
    • Note—Chauffeurs in those days were all mechanics, too. Eddie Rickenbacker started out driving for Billy Mitchell. The Air Service was then under the Signal Corps. [Mike Hanlon (Great War Society), e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 23 March 2009]
  • May have driven ambulances [several photographs show him at wheel or in vicinity of an ambulance]. When asked if he drove ambulances, his granddaughter responded, "Not that I know of." He "probably repaired them as needed." [Candace McCorkell, e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 2 April 2009]

Meeting Melina Adam in Nevers, France

  • In summer 1918 Converse met Melina Adam in Nevers. Writing in February 1919 Melina explained to Jack's mother, "Jack and I met early last summer in Nevers." [Melina Adam, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 10 February 1919]. Apparently referring to Signal Corps telephone operators, Melina wrote, "When we moved from one house to another Jack was detailed to move our trunks and that is how we met." [Melina Adam, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 10 February 1919].
    • Note—Nevers was a very important logistical base, a warehousing and rail center. Converse seems almost certainly to have been attached to the Services of Supply. [Mike Hanlon (Great War Society), e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 23 March 2009]; Tours was the grand headquarters of SOS [Mike Hanlon (Great War Society), e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 1 April 2009]
  • Melina and Jack "spent a very happy summer in Nevers," but Melina received orders requiring her transfer to Tours on September 8, 1918. Melina explains that "the reason for transferring me was because … the Signal Corps officers … suspected I cared too much for Jack." [Letter, Melina Adam to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 10 February 1919]
  • At that time Jack was the driver for Major Henry Opdycke. Opdycke, was an important officer in the Signal Corps. [Mike Hanlon (Great War Society), e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 23 March 2009] Major Opdycke drove Melina to Tours so she would not have to take the train. Melina writes that she had always "hated" Tours and now she had to go back and without Jack. "For two weeks I cried myself to sleep every night." [Melina Adam, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 10 February 1919]
  • While Melina was in Tours, Jack, still in Nevers (?) fell ill with influenza, which developed into pneumonia [Melina Adam, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 10 February 1919]
  • Jack received orders transferring him to Tours, though he otherwise also despised Tours [Melina Adam, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 10 February 1919].
  • Sometime after September 8, 1918 (the date Melina was transferred from Nevers to Tours), therefore, Jack was also transferred from Nevers to Tours. Tours was the grand headquarters for the Services of Supply. [E-mail, Mike Hanlon (Great War Society) to Frank Mazzi, March 23, 2009] This appears to have been Converse's assignment while he was detached for service at the presidential garage when Wilson arrived in Paris. [Mike Hanlon (Great War Society), e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 1 April 2009]
  • Three days after Jack's arrival in Tours, Melina was transferred to Paris. [Melina Adam, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 10 February 1919]
  • On December 19, 1918, Jack wrote a letter to Melina noting that Captain Palle has offered Jack his office any evening he needed it. Writing in that office he tells Melina that "at the Garage" he requested permission to spend Christmas with her, and "they promised to do what they could. . . ." He mentions driving "the car" and the three hours it took to wash the mud off of it. [Jack Converse, letter to Melina Adam, 19 December 1918].
  • Converse was granted permission to spend Christmas with Melina. Melina wrote, "we were very fortunate in being able to spend a few evenings and Christmas and New Years together." [Melina Adam, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 10 February 1919]
    • Note—In a December 15, 1918, letter to Jack, Melina's return address is M. J. Adam, Tel. Unit S.C., Paris, American E.F. [Melina Adam, letter to Jack Converse, 15 December 1918]

Marriage to Melina Adam

  • Jack married Melina in Paris on February 4, 1919 [Marriage document, February 4, 1919, République Française], having obtained permission to marry in France [P. A. Poirier, 1st Lt., M.T.C., Commanding Co., letter to Motor Car Co. #302 M.T.C., Hqs. Garage. Hqs. S. O. S., 1 February 1919]
    • Note—MTC is an acronym for Motor Transport Corps; S. O. S. is an acronym for Services of Supply [Mike Hanlon (Great War Society), e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 1 April 2009]
    • Note—In a letter to her mother-in-law, Melina referred to "our unusual marriage…." [Melina Adam, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 10 February 1919]. By "unusual" Melina would seem to be noting that enlisted personnel rarely could get permission to marry.
  • Writing to his mother almost three months after the marriage, Jack noted that "Everybody knows we are married now and although she isn't allowed to live with me, I have a room right across the street and she is known as Mrs., or Madame Converse. . . ." [Jack Converse, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 25 April 1919]
    • Note—Jack and Melina were married on February 4, 1919, but two letters written by Jack to Melina before that date suggest they were already married:
      1. In a letter dated September 15, 1918, he begins by writing "Dearest little girl wife. . . ." In the body of the letter he writes, "if all the girls in the world were lined up the only one for me is my own true pure sweet little wife." He ends this letter writing, "all the love in the world for my own little wife from her lover Jack." [Jack Converse, letter to Melina Adam, 15 September 1918]
      2. In a letter dated November 13, 1918, he assures Melina that he is "trying to help my little girl wife." [Jack Converse, letter to Melina Adam, 13 November 1918]
    • Note—Granddaughter Candace McCorkell believes those early references to Melina as "wife" "were probably more a cultural/vernacular gesture of the times—life was so uncertain, and once betrothed, I suspect the emotional aspects of 'marriage' were entered into before actual weddings. Remember, they have gone through the flu epidemic, as well as war, etc." [Candace McCorkell, e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 26 April 2009]
  • Dispensation to marry in France during the war was uncommon. Jack obtained permission to marry but they did not live together and Melina still went by her maiden name (Jack's letters are addressed to Melina Adam).

Disapproval of Jack's Mother

  • "Reading between the lines" of Jack's letters leads one to wonder if Jack's mother disapproves of Melina. In October 1918, which is after the enjoyable summer Jack and Melina spent in Nevers, Jack wrote to his mother, "Got what I thought was going to be a nice letter from you the other day but which turned out to be nothing but a bunch of clippings. Have a heart mother of mine—the disappointment was great." [Jack Converse, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 15 October 1918]. In a letter to his mother, dated January 27, 1919, he expresses his happiness in receiving on that day two letters from his mother, one dated November 16, 1918, and the other dated January 1, 1919. [Jack Converse, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 15 October 1918]. These letters may have been written in response to his.
    • Note—According to Jack's and Melina's granddaughter Candace McCorkell, Jack's mother did disapprove of Melina, and her opinion never changed. Jack's mother, who was on the social register, "was horrified that her only child, The Golden Boy," had "married down" to a "farm girl" with no family connections. Some of the apparent disapproval was assuaged in February 1921 when a daughter, Patricia, was born to Jack and Melina. Patricia (Candace McCorkell's mother) "took center stage ever after in Jack's mother's life. [Candace McCorkell, telephone interview by Frank Mazzi, 9 April 2009; Candace McCorkell, e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 21 April 2009]
    • As Jack's and Melina's granddaughter notes, Jack's mother was 6' tall, but Melina, only 5'1", was a "spitfire who grew up as the leader of 8 kids in a farming family! Don't mess with Addie! Subservient she was not." [Candace McCorkell, e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 21 April 2009]
    • Only nine days before he married Melina, Jack seems to be introducing Melina to his mother for the first time, and at that, not mentioning the imminent wedding, when he writes, "I'm anxious for you to see our new addition to the family. You said to adopt a little girl in one of your letters a long time ago so I did. Mother of mine—she is only five feet one. . . . I've known her for nearly nine months now so please don't think its [sic] only an infatuation. . . ." [Jack Converse, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 27 January 1919]

Record of Jack Converse Assignments

  • By September 15, 1918, Jack is Chauffeur J. P. Converse, 33rd Service Co., R. C. (?) A.P.O. 708 [return address noted in Jack Converse, letter to Melina Adam, 15 September 1918]
  • By October 15, 1918, Jack is Chauffeur Jack Converse, 33rd Service Co, Signal Corps. [return address noted in Jack Converse, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 15 October 1918]
  • By November 13, 1918, Jack is Jack Converse, 33rd Service Co., Signal Corps, A.P.O. 708 [Jack Converse, letter to Melina Adam, 13 November 1918]
  • By December 15, 1918, Jack is Chauffeur Jack Converse, 34th Service Company, U. S. Signal Corps, A.P.O. 717, American E.F., France [Melina Adam, letter to Jack Converse, 15 December 1918]
  • By December 19, 1918, Jack is Chauffeur Jack Converse, 34th Service Company, Signal Corps, A.P.O. 717, American E.F., France [Jack Converse, letter to Melina Adam, 19 December 1918]
  • By January 27, 1919, Jack is Chauffeur Jack Converse, 34th Service Co., Signal Corps, APO 717 [return address noted in Jack Converse, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 27 January 1919] At that time he writes that he is "permanently assigned to a General Donaldson, inspector general," and that he is therefore "floating about with a big star on the car." [Jack Converse, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 27 January 1919]
  • By February 1, 1919, Jack is with Motor Car Co, #302, M. T. C. (Motor Transport Corps), Hqs. Garage, HQs S. O. S. (Services of Supply)
  • By February 15, 1919, Jack is still with 34th Service Co., Signal Corps, APO 717 [return address given in Jack Converse, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 15 February 1919]

Driver for President and Mrs. Wilson

    • Note—President and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson arrived in Paris on December 14, 1918.  During the last week in December and the first week of January, Wislon visited Prime Minister David Lloyd George and King George V in England and Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando and King Victor Emmanuel III in Italy.
    • Note—President and Mrs. Wilson resided at L'Hotel Murat in Paris. Wilson's advisor Colonel House and the American delegates resided at L'Hotel Crillon in Paris.  The Paris Peace Conference began on January 18, 1919, at Le Quai d'Orsay in Paris.
    • Note—From mid-February to mid-March Wilson returned to the U. S.
  • At least by late April, a month after Wilson's return to Paris from the U. S., Converse had been assigned as driver for President and Mrs. Wilson.
  • By April 25, 1919, Jack's rank and address (he is writing on presidential stationery) is sergeant, Presidents [sic] Garage, Paris. [Jack Converse, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 25 April 1919]. In this letter he writes, "Here I am, transferred to Paris, driving in [?] Mrs. Wilson [sic] car, a room of my own out side [sic], eating my meals in the President's house. . . ."
  • Three days later (he is writing on presidential stationery) his address is Sgt. Jack Converse, Presidential Casual Co #1, Paris, France. [Jack Converse, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 28 April 1919]
  • Later, he is Sergeant Jack Converse, Presidential Casual Co. #2, c/o Room 38, District of Paris Hdqtrs, Paris [Melina Converse, letter to Jack Converse, 11 June 1919]
  • At Versailles Peace Conference drivers became bodyguards for dignitaries; Converse, a bodyguard and driver for Wilson, appears in motion picture news film standing at attention on steps of Versailles Palace as Wilson arrives)
  • Jack expects to be with Wilson when Wilson returns to the U.S. [Jack Converse, letter to Mrs. C. H. Beddome, 25 April 1919]

Seeing Melina Off at Brest

  • When Melina received orders to return to U.S., Jack accompanied her to Brest by train, first class on the American Special, leaving Gare Montparnasse on May 14, 1919 [A. C. Smith, Captain, Casual Company No. 2, Headquarters, District of Paris, memorandum, 14 May 1919]
  • He saw Melina depart Brest for the U.S. in late May 1919

Last Weeks in France

    • Note—The Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, five years to the day after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
  • President and Mrs. Wilson invited Jack Converse to dinner, June 17, 1919 (at Hotel de Croisset in Paris?)
  • In Paris Converse became friends of Mr. and Mrs. Abner Doble. Jack noted that Abner "invented the Doble Steam Car. . . ." [Letter, Jack Converse to his mother,Mrs. C. H. Beddome, April 25, 1919]. In Swansea, MA, Melina wrote Jack, "Darn so glad you have ridden in the Doble automobile. . . ." [Melina Adam, letter to Jack Converse, 11 June 1919]
    • Note—envelope address for above-cited letter (Sergeant Jack P Converse, Presidential Casual Co #2, c/o Room 38, District of Paris Hdqtrs, Paris, American E. F., France) was crossed out with stamped words "Addressee Returned to U. S."

Home

  • Jack returned to U. S. on board S. S. George Washington, in July 1919
  • Honorable discharge on July 15, 1919, at Camp Merritt, NJ; at that time he was "Sergeant, Co K Casual Bn formerly 116 Field Signal Bn"

Washington National Guard Again

  • On June 16, 1921, Converse was appointed Staff Sergeant, 116th Ambulance Co., Washington National Guard [Washington National Guard, appointment document, 16 June 1921]
  • Due to expiration of service, Converse was discharged from Washington National Guard, 116th Ambulance Company, on April 24, 1922 [National Guard, discharge document, 24 April 1922]

Post-War Employment

  • After the war Jack first worked in a paint store in the Mt. Vernon and Seattle area; he also returned to auto sales.
    • Note—When Jack's and Melina's daughter and son were old enough to drive, the family took the train to Detroit, a trip paid for by Portland, Oregon, car dealers, so the four of them could each drive a new car back to Portland, where the dealers would therefore be able to display Detroit's latest models within a couple weeks of their unveiling to the public. [Candace McCorkell, e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 29 April 2009]
    • Note—Jack's love of cars, especially big American cars, explains why he purchased a new one every three or four years [Candace McCorkell, e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 29 April 2009]
  • For most of his post-war years he was a public relations and sales executive with Longview Fiber Company in Vancouver, Washington. He sold boxes and packaging materials to, for example, canners of green beans, apple packers, Janzen swimsuits and Pendleton Woolen Mills.
    • Note—Given Jack's gregarious nature, he was well-suited for his job, a job he very much enjoyed. He entertained his customers at the Multnomah Club, minor league baseball games, fancy dinners, and conventions.
  • Appointed member of Skagit County, Washington, Salvation Army Advisory Board on March 14, 1922 [Salvation Army, letter to Jack Converse, 14 March 1922]
  • Lifelong member of the Kiwanis

Death

  • Died in June 1974 in a convalescent home in Portland, Oregon
(rev.11.17.09)