Paul Logan Dornblaser

Paul Dornblaser
Paul Dornblaser
from The Sentinel yearbook

These links are to additional materials from Michael Webster's master's thesis.

Dornblaser's Combat Diary

Dornblaser Letter of Recommendation


Topeka, Kansas- August 26, 1887

University Connection:

Law graduate, 1914

Dornblaser Field is named in his honor.

War Service:

Marines, Corporal


Dornblaser was killed by a sniper on Blanc Mont Ridge, in France, in October 1918

Dornblaser Marker

The following is a portion of Michael Webster's master's thesis.

Over the Top: Paul Logan Dornblaser

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.

Dornblaser football

The Sentinel

Paul Dornblaser at the University of Montana, 1913

    “It is safe to say that of all the men who ever played football in the Montana uniforms, none will stand more prominent in aftertime than Paul Dornblaser,” the Kaimin student newspaper proclaimed at the end of his senior-year season.  With mortar shells exploding around him, pinned down by German fire, writing in his diary, Dornblaser carried a memento from that last season at Montana, a reminder of his time in Missoula.  He carried it from trench to muddy trench: a golden watch fob, shaped like a football, no larger than a jellybean.  “Paul Dornblaser, Left Tackle” the inscription read on one side.  “Montana Champions, 1913,” on the other.
    “His example is bound to live,” the student paper went on to say, “and it will better athletics at Montana.”

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.


Used with permission

Paul Dornblaser, second from right. From My Life Story for Young and Old, by T.F. Dornblaser, 1930.

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.
    “I know your son Paul very well,” Rev. Maclean wrote to Dornblaser’s mother in 1912, “and like every body else who knows him here I respect him highly… He is ‘straight goods.’”  Maclean also wrote that he tried to get Dornblaser to teach Sunday school or lead a troop of Boy Scouts, “a work for which he is admirably fitted.”  Dornblaser’s excuse was that he wouldn’t be able to do them justice with his time split between studies and football.  “He has the work of two ordinary men on his shoulders,” Maclean wrote.  “Assuring you that Paul has the highest respect of everyone who knows him,” Maclean concluded, “and that I count him among my friends.”

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.

Dornblaser Missoula

Courtesy Paul D. Phillips

Paul Dornblaser (left) with (left to right) Mrs. Kate Harpster Moore, Ike Harpster and Josephine Dornblaser.

    On April 6, Congress voted for war.  By June the post office of Missoula housed a Marine recruiting station in the basement, and Dornblaser and a few other Missoula men expressed their intent to enlist.  The Missoula Sentinel newspaper ran the story, asserting that “The marine corps is a more difficult branch of the service to enter than other departments, it is understood, because of the rigid examination that is given.  Only men of the highest physical type are permitted to enter.”
    Dornblaser’s father, despite his own war experience and the family history, urged him to wait, hoping that perhaps the war would end and he wouldn’t be needed.  To his father’s chagrin, Dornblaser followed instead in the footsteps his brothers and father had walked before him.  “Now I can go with my comrades,” Dornblaser replied.  “If I wait they may send me where they please.” 
    With his law degree, age and experience, Dornblaser almost certainly could have earned a commission.  His sisters later wrote that “he was offered a safe position with good pay in the Ordinance Department, but felt he should enlist as a private.”  He did so on June 20, 1917.
    After reportedly scoring perfect marks on his entry exam, Dornblaser and Jack Powers, another Missoula enlistee, boarded the Milwaukee Olympian railcar for Portland for the second stage of exams.  From there they continued on to Mare Island, a naval shipbuilding yard and marine barracks near San Francisco in present day Vallejo, California.  Recognizing Dornblaser’s leadership merit, the brass asked him to stay as an instructor.  He declined.  “When I know I am able to lead the destiny of men, then I would try for a commission but not until,” he wrote to Mrs. Moore, whom he called his aunt.  “Even if I had their confidence I would know if I made a mistake and was the cause of them losing their lives.”
    “I read that from Paul’s letter to the marine that recruited him,” Mrs. Moore later wrote to Paul’s brother and sister-in-law.  “He fairly jumped from his chair and exclaimed, ‘Oh, for an Army like Dornblaser.’”
    By October 1917, Dornblaser and the rest of the 109th company sailed from Mare Island through the Panama Canal en route to Quantico, Virginia, to join the 8th Marine Regiment.  Yet Dornblaser’s path to France took a literal U-turn with the 8th regiment was sent to Fort Crockett in Galveston, Texas, in November.  The Allied forces were largely dependent on the Mexican oil fields at Tampico, and U.S.-Mexican relations were less than stellar after the U.S. military had seized the port city of Vera Cruz in 1914.  In 1916, Major General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing led an expedition to quell the forces of the revolutionary Pancho Villa, further chilling the relationship.  The 8th regiment, now stationed at Fort Crockett, would finishing their training and, if necessary, invade Mexico to secure the oil fields.
    No such event took place, and in the six months Dornblaser was stationed there, he and his company instead spent much of the time selling Liberty Bonds and War Stamps.  Outselling the other companies in the regiment, they were rewarded by standing for inspections less often than the others.  The company had another skill besides selling: shooting.  Composed of 100 men, the company was divided into 46 experts, 34 sharpshooters and 20 marksmen, of which Dornblaser was one, as was Edwin “Red” Cummins, another Missoula boy.  Jack Powers, who’d left Missoula with Dornblaser, was an expert.
    Dornblaser climbed the ranks quickly, becoming a noncommissioned officer and earning his rank of corporal.  In May of 1918 he began writing letters to his old Missoula connections, asking a favor of them.  “Will you write a letter to me as to my reputation and character while in Missoula,” he wrote in one letter.  “The purpose of the letter is to have such a one ready should an opportunity for advancement come and one should be required I will then be in readiness to comply.”  Dornblaser received 11 letters in all.  They were signed by the secretary of the Hell Gate Elk’s Lodge; an official from the lumber department of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company; two Missoula attorneys; the president of the Montana Bar Association; Asa Duncan, the fourth judicial district court judge; an Army captain; Frank Woody, the assistant attorney general of Montana; U.S. Senator Henry L. Myers; and U.S. Representatives John M. Evans and Jeannette Rankin, the former of whom was a family friend and the first woman elected to the Congress.  Dornblaser folded each letter and tucked them in his wallet.
    Five days after the last letter arrived, Dornblaser shipped for France.

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.

Blanc Mont Ridge


Blanc Mont Ridge, France

    By October Dornblaser had taken the train and hiked 30 kilos to another stretch of the front, near the Argonne forest, near Mont Blanc Ridge.  The fighting intensified, and trips over the top were more frequent.  On October 3 he lead a group and advanced three kilometers.  One of his men was hit along the way.  They came back and were told to prepare to leave.  In the woods along the road back, a shell came bouncing along next to them.  A dud.
    Dornblaser ducked in another shallow trench the next day, writing in his diary.  Shells burst and showered him with dirt.  He advanced on an enemy machine gun emplacement and dodged fire, returning unharmed.  In the morning he and the men advanced again and dug in.

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 diary.
    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.

    Shortly after, Southmayd wrote to the Sigma Chi fraternity explaining what he’d found, and Golden soon received a letter from the governor of Montana requesting the fob and pin.  Golden complied and sent them to Governor Joseph Dixon, who in turn sent them to the president of the University of Montana.  Two years later, UM President Charles H. Clapp tracked down Mrs. Moore, Dornblaser’s aunt, who was living at the time in California. Mrs. Moore passed them down through the family, and in 1988, Dornblaser’s great-nephew, Paul D. Phillips, brought them to campus during a visit. Today they reside in the University of Montana library archives.
Dornblaser's fraternity pin and watch fob

Archives and Special Collections, Mansfield Library

Dornblaser's fraternity pin and watch fob

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.