The University of Montana
The University of Montana
Topeka, Kansas- August 26, 1887
Law graduate, 1914
Dornblaser Field is named in his honor.
Dornblaser was killed by a sniper on Blanc Mont Ridge, in France, in October 1918
The following is a portion of Michael Webster's master's thesis.
Under heavy shell fire, Paul Logan Dornblaser crouched in the shallow trench on a hillside in western France and scribbled in his diary.
Oct. 6th Sunday... Our losses were heavy this morning.
The year was 1918, and Dornblaser and the rest of the 2nd marine division were advancing far into German territory on Blanc Mont Ridge.
The machine gun ahead opened up and gave us hell.
The wooded, hilly terrain made progress slow as they crept toward the top, intent on driving back the German line and seizing a strategic railroad line on the other side.
Sgt. Kelly was placing his gun when he fell backwards killed.
This sector, Dornblaser wrote, is no bon—no good.
I see three comrades dead within 50 feet of me... A boy on my left has just relieved himself and was hit with two machine guns through his trousers. They can see us better than we can see them. We are now standing by. ...Some Hell!
Dornblaser, a corporal, had been assigned to a machine gun battalion, a group that required strong men to haul the guns and ammunition through the woods of France. It suited him perfectly. When he wasn’t crouched into a trench, Dornblaser stood five foot eight and weighed nearly 200 pounds. He brought the same energy and intensity to war that he had to the football field as a star halfback and tackle on the University of Montana team five years prior. There his size was formidable, yet he ran fast and tackled low, with the force and profile of a warship at full steam ahead. The analogy spurred a moniker, and Dornblaser, the “Battleship,” captained the team his junior and senior year.
On a Wednesday in December 1913, students of the University of
Montana packed the campus assembly hall for weekly convocation. More
crowded then usual, the buzz of anticipation centered on the main event
of the day’s meeting: players from the football team were being honored
for their championship season. After two songs from the women’s glee
club and a speech from the president of the Missoula Chamber of Commerce
Sid Coffee, each man was called forward to receive his prize: a golden
football watch fob.
The second man to step forward was Paul Dornblaser, so well known throughout the campus that one nickname was hardly enough: Dorn, The Baron, Blitz, The Big Bruin, Battleship. In addition to football, he had played for the baseball team and track squad and captained the annual freshman versus sophomore class tug of war; he’d been a member of the glee club, the Y.M.C.A. and the Hawthorne Literary Society. Dornblaser’s German heritage and large size gave him a hard but rounded shape, like a pumpkin on a rain barrel, but standing before of his cheering classmates, he couldn’t help but smile. His friendly countenance won many hearts. More than just athletic, Dornblaser, president of the associated student body and member of the Sigma Chi fraternity, was hinted to be a ladies’ man. The crowd cheered, and the B-average senior law student was pressed to say a few words. He told them football is a combination of work and fun, but mostly work. That year, his skills helped his team beat the cross-state rivals from Bozeman, thumping the Aggies twice to take the state championship. Their first match in Bozeman, a 7-0 win for the Grizzlies, was considered by many at the time to be the best football game ever played in Montana. The assembly signaled the end of Dornblaser’s achievements on the field and marked his place in Montana football history. Thrust into his hand was the fob, a black ribbon attached. Dornblaser found his way back to his seat to the sound of thundering applause.
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Born in 1887 in Topeka, Kansas, Dornblaser was the youngest of five
children, following two girls and two boys. His father was a Lutheran
preacher and Civil War veteran who had been wounded several times
serving in the Seventh Pennsylvania Cavalry. After the war, his father
had attended seminary and become a traveling home missionary, spending
14 years in Kansas, mostly Topeka, before moving to Ohio, Illinois, and
ultimately Chicago, the family in tow.
When Dornblaser was 11, he saw his two older brothers leave home to fight in the Spanish-American War. The tradition of soldiering had been well established in the Dornblaser family by this point. Dornblaser’s great uncle, Captain Israel B. Schaeffer, had commanded Dornblaser’s father in the cavalry; another great uncle, Benjamin Dornblaser, served as a major general in the Civil War; John Dornblaser, Paul’s great-grandfather, was a captain in the War of 1812.
When his oldest brother, John, returned from the Spanish-American War, he was a physical wreck. “When his mother saw him enter the door a mere shadow of his former self,” his father, Thomas Franklin Dornblaser, later wrote, “she cried as if her heart would break.” Suffering from rheumatism and dependent on a crutch and later a personal assistant, he managed to earn a law degree from the University of Michigan and become a city attorney before dying a few years later. The middle brother, Thomas Franklin Jr.—Frankie—returned unharmed and became a physician. He would later write how he and the veterans of that war prided themselves as being the first overseas veterans. Their military service and advanced educations continued a family precedent. Dornblaser soon followed.
By high school, he had shown his athletic prowess on Chicago’s North Division High School football team. The team had achieved such acclaim that in 1906 they were slated to play for the title of National High School Football Champions against Seattle’s Broadway High School. Dornblaser and the team arrived in Seattle a few days before New Year’s, saw the city, and prepared for battle. At 3 p.m. on game day, the opening kickoff sailed through the cold January air into Dornblaser’s arms, and the National Championship was underway. The field, the Seattle High School yearbook of 1907 claimed, was “as sticky as a glue pot” from a snow and thaw the day prior. Dornblaser, “the star of the Middle West,” the only Chicago player mentioned by name in the yearbook, slogged along with his teammates but ultimately came up short, losing to Seattle 11-5.The trip to Seattle likely had another effect on Dornblaser, as it almost certainly took him through Montana. It’s possible that he stopped in Missoula to see a relative on his mother’s side of the family, a Mrs. J. Wilson Moore, formally Kate Harpster, who had moved to Missoula as early as 1890. Having seen Montana and knowing that a relative lived there are factors that likely helped Dornblaser decide to move to Montana after graduating from high school in 1907, although his exact reasons remain a mystery to family descendants and researchers today. From the time he moved from Chicago until 1910, when Dornblaser was living with his aunt and enrolled at the University of Montana, records are scarce. Second-hand reports from the school newspaper and a university yearbook indicate that Dornblaser lived in Clemons, Montana, a town that doesn’t exist on today’s maps of Montana. (A 1930 map shows Clemons, population 25, on the Rocky Mountain front, a few miles south of Augusta.) Another article in the student paper says he worked at a sheep ranch in eastern Montana. Letters and family oral history point toward time spent on the Deschamp family ranch just west of Missoula. But by 1910, city life. In addition to the university, Dornblaser began attending the First Presbyterian Church. The pastor there was the Rev. John Maclean, whose son Norman would later write of early twentieth-century life in Missoula through his iconic novella, A River Runs Through It.
Finishing his bachelor of law degree in 1914, Dornblaser missed
graduation, as did all nine of the law graduates of the first law class
at Montana. He was in Helena taking the bar exam. “I’m quite confident
and am anticipating a favorable reply,” he wrote to siblings. He was
as an assistant county attorney for Missoula by 1915 when his actions in
a rather insignificant case brought some attention.
One Saturday night, Dornblaser’s client, M.R. Bride, found himself facing a bar tab after a night of “drinking considerably,” the Missoula Sentinel newspaper reported. Bride presented the bartender a check that had been endorsed earlier in the night by a friend of his. He was promptly arrested and charged with trying to pass a bad check. Hearing Bride’s side of the story, Dornblaser didn’t believe him to be a crook and granted an opportunity to right the situation. Under the threat of serving jail time himself should anything go wrong, Dornblaser secured Bride’s release, provided carfare, and let him “ride out to see a friend who had promised to make the check good.” Bride returned a short time later with the funds, and the charges were dropped.
With two more years of practicing law, Dornblaser had established himself by 1917 as a successful attorney and won the friendship of many prominent Montanans, from the local Elk’s Club and lawyers to senators and congressmen. He was elected as a trustee of the First Presbyterian Church and as vice president of the University of Montana Alumni Association. He hunted in the fall and was by all indications content with his life in Missoula.
Courtesy Paul D. Phillips
He saw his first day of action five months later, on September 12,
1918, after a reassignment to the 82nd company of the 6th Marine
Regiment. Rain fell as he marched eight kilometers through the woods to
the trench and no man’s land beyond. In the hastily made dugout that
night, he recalled the thrills of the day. Went out into No mans
land and over the top this morning. A terrific barrage! Wonderful to
me! Tanks, trenches and advancing lines - wonderful!
Things turned grim as he saw the prisoners, wounded and dead over the next few days. The shells began landing closer. Two observation balloons brought down. Many aviation battles and not a few brought down. Many killed. He managed to hold his composure. Have a more firm grasp of myself than I thought I would have. He slept on the side of the road, in dugouts, in the rain. It leaked under his poncho. One day he bathed in a sewer. Had a hell of a stomach ache and did not sleep at all. Got up during the night several times. Gas mask drills in the afternoon and church service on Sunday. Card games when he could, and sometimes one meal a day. A new assignment to a machine gun battalion.
The next day, under heavy shell fire, Paul Logan Dornblaser lay in
the shallow trench on a hillside in western France and scribbled in his
Oct. 6th Sunday... Our losses were heavy this morning… The machine gun ahead opened up and gave us hell. This sure is some no bon sector. A boy on my left has just relieved himself and was hit with two machine guns through his trousers. They can see us better than we can see them. We are now standing by. …Some Hell!
To this he added one more line. Heavy shelling, seemingly from all directions.
They are the last words written in his diary.
The details of what happened next, on October 8, 1918, vary
considerably but share a common ending. For certain, Corporal Paul
Logan Dornblaser, 6th United States Marine Corps Regiment, 2nd Division,
emerged from his trench, was shot by German fire and died a short time
later. From there, accounts differ.
One letter says he was hit by sniper fire, gasped his last words and collapsed. Another says he was shot in the leg, hobbled back, proclaimed, “Boys give me a cigarette they’ve got me,” and died a few days later. Both accounts are suspect, written years or decades after Dornblaser’s death by second- and third-hand sources. A third, more substantiated third version of the story may be closer to the truth. T.F. Dornblaser, Paul’s father, wrote in his autobiography that his son had been over the top twice that day without receiving injury. When his relief came on duty, the officers, citing their inexperience, asked, “Is there any man here that will guide us and show us where the enemy’s machine gun nests are?” The captain of Dornblaser’s company wrote to T.F. explaining what happened next.
“Your son Paul volunteered to point out to them the enemy’s position,” he wrote. T.F. then added, “While doing so he was mortally wounded; he was literally riddled with machine gun bullets . . . He lived about twenty-four hours after he was wounded. There was no hope of saving his life. The doctor and the nurse each wrote me a letter, telling me how bravely my son bore his sufferings, and assuring me that all was possible was done to ease his dying hours.”
A Montana Kaimin article confirms this report, saying, “A German machine gun nest that had not been wiped out by the advance, got into action and the former Montana student was hit in the hips by machine gun bullets.” The same article quotes Lieutenant Mort J. Donoghue, a former student: “I have looked up Dorn’s official death records,” he said. “Dorn died of gunshots wounds in both the hips and thighs, received in action in the line of duty of the Champagne front.”
Folded in his wallet, tucked in a pocket, were the letters of recommendation Dornblaser had received should he have a chance at advancement. Of the German bullets that killed him, one stuck his wallet, piercing the letters. The bullet hole is still visible today.
Dornblaser was buried in France, at the cemetery in Cuperly. He and the rest of the fallen were later exhumed and reinterred at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, the largest American military cemetery in Europe, on Mont Blanc. A bit of his story, however, had yet to be told.
F.L. Golden, a soldier from Arkansas, was serving in the 36th
Division, 142 Regt., Co. G on October 28, 1918, when he confronted a
German prisoner and looked inside his bread pouch. There, Golden found
two small pieces of jewelry. Never learning how the prisoner obtained
them, Golden kept them for his own and brought them back to Arkansas
after the war ended a few weeks later.
In early 1922, another man named L.H. Southmayd was riding the streetcar in Fort Smith, Arkansas, when he noticed an unusual stickpin in the conductor’s necktie. Looking closer, Southmayd recognized it as a fraternity pin, which was strange, as the conductor didn’t strike him as the college sort. On a subsequent ride, Southmayd spied the same conductor, again wearing the stickpin. This time he inquired as to its origin. The pin was a German war emblem, the conductor told him. Southmayd had his doubts. He looked closer and recognized the design as the Sigma Chi coat of arms. The conductor was F.L. Golden, who said he obtained the pin during the war, from the bread pouch of a German prisoner. Also in the pouch, he said, was a small watch fob shaped like a football. “Paul Dornblaser, Left Tackle” the inscription read on one side. “Montana Champions, 1913,” on the other.
Archives and Special Collections, Mansfield Library
Farther south on campus, another part Dornblaser’s example lives on, bettering athletics at Montana. Four months after his death, in February 1919, the Missoula Rotary Club met and adopted a resolution. They suggested that Montana field, the university’s football field, be renamed in honor of a former team captain who’d recently died at war. The university accepted the change, renaming it Dornblaser Field. Today Dornblaser Field is the site of the track and field stadium.
Dornblaser’s father was perhaps hardest hit by the news of Paul’s
death. “As soon as I heard that my son, Paul Logan, was killed and
buried in France I determined to visit his grave as soon as I could
arrange to do so,” he wrote in his autobiography. He visited the grave
many times, living in Europe for several years after the death of this
wife. He further wrote of “my youngest son, on whose strong arm I hoped
to lean on in my old age…” The old Civil War veteran’s view of war
soured. On his 100th birthday in 1941, he told a Chicago Tribune
reporter that he believe the Revolutionary and Civil Wars were just, but
the World War was “for nothing.”
“He expressed fervent hope,” the article continued, “that ‘the mistake will not be repeated’ and that no American boys will ever be sacrificed on European soil again.”
In recognition of reaching 100 and to help fete the man and his son, the University of Montana sent as a birthday greeting a sprig of pine from the tree planted on campus on Arbor Day, 1919, as part of Memorial Row, in honor of his son.
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