William "Billy” Bland was a popular, promising young attorney in Kansas City. Originally from West Virginia, he attended Kenyon College in Ohio, graduating with highest honors in 1909. As a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University in England, he was the first American student made president of the Oxford Union Society. In Kansas City, he worked for the law firm of Judge James Goodrich, and for the City, and was an assistant professor at the Kansas City School of Law. A friend recalled that, “He taught equity. The principles and rules of equity appealed to him and he was eloquent and capable in expounding them.”
In Sept.1917 he married Mary Johnson. In May 1918, he shipped out to Europe after training at Camp Funston, Kansas for 9 months. He was killed at the start of the St. Mihiel Offensive, on September 12, 1918. His orderly, Messick Toalson, wrote to the Kansas City Star, “The loss was felt greatly by all the battalion. I was with the body the rest of that day and night. Next day I got the chaplain and we buried him near where he fell, in a pretty little valley between two villages which the Americans had taken…” Three years later, Mary Bland succeeded in locating his body and having him returned to the U.S. to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
William J. Bland American Legion Post #50 was named in his honor, and the Post contributed to the design and construction of the memorial to ‘Billy’ Bland, located in the park where he once drilled with other young men, preparing for war. Mary Bland lived near the park and attended the dedication of the memorial, along with several hundred others, eighteen years after his death.
Mary spent much of the rest of her life working with the Red Cross. Among other things, she assisted people in locating the remains of their loved ones lost in wars overseas, as she had done to find her husband’s remains after WWI. She never remarried, and lived until 1977. Mary Johnson Bland is buried at Arlington National Cemetery near her husband.
Excerpts from the
ADDRESSES DELIVERED AT MEMORIAL MEETING OF KANSAS CITY BAR ASSOCIATION
Held in United States Court Room at Kansas City, Saturday, November 16, 1918, in Honor of those Members of the Jackson County Bar who gave their lives in the service of their country in the war with Germany.
"In the list here also, of those whose death we mourn, is Major Bland. I was about the say Billy Bland. …. Now tell that wife of Major Bland, that widow, tell her that we older lawyers in discussing the prospects of the younger men have never overlooked him, his character, his ability and his future prospects. No man….of his age at our Bar stood, as his equal, for future preferment.”
- Mr. Frank Hagerman
“William J. Bland was above all others a very modest man. He came to our office four years ago, weighed down with honors….graduated in one of the leading institutions of this country with distinguished honor... Singled out as a Rhodes scholar…. His success in his chosen profession was little less than phenomenal.”
“Major Bland had in his veins the blood of heroes…when the call to arms came he did not falter, he did not hesitate, but he threw down his work where it was and rushed to the defense of his country.”
“… he had a firm and secure foundation, and he had those natural endowments of heart and mind which are sure to bring success.”
“...he was a man of the highest and most lofty character….who measured up to the highest ideals….a tireless worker…”
His orderly was a young boy from Osceola, Missouri. When the fatal shell struck Major Bland, this orderly quickly removed him over into the shade of a tree nearby, and there he waited patiently, keeping up his vigil for three long days until the Chaplain arrived to give attention. That is the sort of respect he commanded. That is the sort of admiration he received from those friends who knew him well.”
- Judge James J. Goodrich
“ …men who passed away in life’s prime, even at the very threshold of its most useful and happy moments….. who…boldly and courageously went to their death, meeting dangers they had known and measured in advance, and placed their lives upon the alter of their country and of humanity and voluntary sacrifices to the cause of that justice and liberty ….”
“His character was as firm and solid as the rock, as sturdy as the oak; his friendship as everlasting as the pine; and over it all was thrown a veil of gentleness and kindness which no stress or storm of circumstances or conditions could remove.”
He was the same Billy Bland whether he sat by the side of the Prince of Wales in the dining room at Oxford, or was talking to the humblest of the poor, and had the equal respect of all with whom he associated, whatever their station in life.”
– Mr. John B. Gage
“Major Bland, or as we all knew him, Billy Bland, was an all around man.”
“There never was a man who was more loyal to his friends than Billy and he prized his friendships above everything else.”
“…if he were judged by the amount of money he left, probably he left nothing and died poor; but if leaving behind a memory of being loyal to his friends, of loving his fellow men, of greeting each day with a smile, of being a friend to the weak and oppressed, of leaving his family and law practice to serve his country, and finally, making the supreme sacrifice in the greatest fight of right against wrong in the history of the world – if the memory of those things be riches – how much he left to us all and how rich he was when he died!”
– Standford Lyon
Mary Johnson Bland, the daughter of William T. and Agnes Harris Johnson, was born in Kansas City, Missouri. She had a brother, Robert, and a sister, Margaret.
In September of 1917, just prior to World War I, Miss Johnson married William J. Bland. Major Bland was reported missing in action in France in 1918, and after the war, Mrs. Bland searched for and eventually located her husband's body. She also assisted other persons not able to travel to Europe in locating relatives missing during the war. Mary Johnson Bland never remarried.
Mrs. Bland was an avid supporter of the Red Cross. In Kansas City, she taught safety courses and oversaw the preparations of surgical dressings during World War II. Also during the war, she traveled to Europe at her own expense in order to direct the operations of American Red Cross Service Clubs in England and France.
Expressing a lifelong interest in historical and genealogical matters, Mrs. Bland was very active in several ancestral-related organizations. The papers consist of a photocopy of a volume compiled by Mrs. Helen Faye Smither in 1983 entitled, Bits and Pieces from the Mary Johnson Bland Files on The Cox, Harris and Johnson Families of St. Clair County, Missouri, 1700-1925. The volume has a general index and an additional index to blacks mentioned in the materials. Other genealogical materials and family photographs are also included. Mrs. Bland also researched her husband's family, which resulted in the volume entitled, On the Bland Side, 1700-1950, which contains compiled letters, memorabilia and notes. The papers also include a photocopied transcript of the journal Mrs. Bland kept while in England and France with the Red Cross in 1944 and other materials concerning her work with the Red Cross. Much of the collection consists of publications, printed materials, and notes concerning Missouri and Civil War history. The business records of the Morley and Bland firm's final years may also be found in the papers.
William Bland and his wife, Mary Johnson Bland, are both buried at Arlington National Cemetery. From the Arlington National Cemetery website (http://arlingtoncemetery.net/wjbland.htm):
BLAND, WILLIAM J MAJOR, U.S. ARMY, 1ST BATTALION, 356TH DATE OF DEATH: 09/12/1918 BURIED AT: SECTION 1 SITE 412-A-WS ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
BLAND, MARY DATE OF BIRTH: 04/16/1892 DATE OF DEATH: 06/09/1977 BURIED AT: SECTION 1 SITE 412-A ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY