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Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, and selective service in 1940
Out of the Morgue
The theater card for the first official cartoon appearance of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd in 1940. Located on Wikipedia.

Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.

On Saturday June 27, 1940, movie goers got their first look at a newly minted cartoon pair, courtesy of Warner Bros. Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd appeared together in the cartoon classic, “Wild Hare,” created by Tex Avery and Bob Givens who also worked together on the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series. Cartoons created by the studio were released along with films back in the day, and this one was first released with the film Ladies Must Live, a romantic courtship comedy. 

According to Warner Media, the cartoon was first theatrically released with the Warner Bros. film Ladies Must Live, a romantic comedy starring Wayne Morris and Rosemary Lane. We checked that week’s motion picture listings, and found no billing for it at The Strand, The Kansan, nor The Plaza, all Great Bend movie houses at the time. 

Eventually, Great Bend got its first look at Bugs and Elmer, but probably not for at least a couple of months. You can see some of “Wild Hare” on YouTube at .

 Fast-forward to 2020. Warner Media, through HBO, is releasing the “New Looney Tunes”, which will feature all the old favorite characters, including Bugs and Elmer Fudd, as well as most of the old cartoony violence of dropping anvils and exploding dynamite. But, guns are out. Elmer Fudd, as a result, now carries a scythe, rather than a double-barrel shotgun. Warner Media hasn’t commented on the reason for no guns. Because of copyright, we can’t show you what the revamped Elmer looks like here, but you can check him out by searching “Elmer Fudd” on your internet browser. 

Debating Selective Service

Also happening this week, Congress was considering a peacetime conscription bill eyed at becoming a major part of the national defense effort.

“We know exactly what countries are going to attack us unless we are prepared, New York Mayor La Guardia told the House military committee early in the week. “But those two (unnamed) are not going to attack us if we are prepared.” 

He suggested boys age 18, high school graduates, “should be trained first, to prevent dislocation in industry, widespread demands for exemption, and hardships for dependents.” He said high school graduates should be permitted to take their training before, during, or after college so that there would be a minimum of interference with higher education. 

Meanwhile, the Senate military committee was also working on a draft of a similar bill, and called for “the registration for military service of all men in the nation between the ages of 18 and 64.”

With Great Britain’s stand against the Nazi’s precarious, many saw passage of some sort of conscription act inevitable. The Associated Press, in a report “Kansas to provide 5,700 young men,” broke down the numbers. 

“If the present conscription bill passes Congress and becomes law, Kansas will send approximately 5,700 young men to army camps this fall for training.”

This number was based on a population of 1,840,000, with about 167,000 men ages 21 to 30 years, of those and estimated 39 percent or 65,100 men fit and free for immediate service. From that amount, it was expected 8.8 percent would be chosen, or 5,700. 

Throughout the week, it became increasingly clear there was majority support for compulsory conscription, but the ages of men required to register was the sticking point. Another pitch was for men ages 21 to 31 in age. The bill also contained modifications exempting conscientious objectors. As the week wore on, rumors circulated that President F. D. Roosevelt “was not so hot about conscription,” which prompted the president to permit a direct quotation to the press:

“I am distinctly in favor of a selective service training bill and I consider it essential to adequate national defense.” 

No resolution was found that week in 1940, but it wouldn’t be long after. The Burke-Wadsworth Selective Service Act passed the Senate Aug. 28 and was ratified by the president, becoming effective Sept. 16, 1940. The draft began in October of that year. The initial age ranged from men 21 to 36, but when the U.S. entered World War II, it was broadened to include men ages 18 to 45.  

otm_vlc_conscription registration form.jpg
The Great Bend Tribune published a sample of a registration card for Selective Service young men would be expected to carry with them if the Burke-Wadsworth bill should pass. It did in August, and was in effect by mid-September. A draft began in October, 1940.
Eyes on the sky

Weeks after it was announced flight training would be provided to a select group of young people here in Great Bend, the initial group of ground school students was growing.  

“Three more names have been added to the list of persons taking the summer non=college primary flight training course here, Clarence Evans, secretary of the Chamber of Commerce said today.  Those added brought the towel enrolled in the course to 39.” 

The goal was to grow the list to at least 50 students so 10 flight scholarships could be awarded by the federal government.  The stated effort was to get more commercial pilots trained, but in light of the war activity happening at the time, one has to wonder if there weren’t other motives at play.  At any rate, those signing up for the program would have also been within age range for the draft that would soon be in effect. 

“The three new students who qualified as competitors: Elmo Lowry and Richard Darnall, Great Bend, and Robert Garvin, Ellinwood.” 

We asked Barton County Historical Society Co-director Karen Neuforth if she could help us find more information about these young men.  She was successful with two out of the three.  

Elmo Lowry was a lifelong resident of Barton County according to his obituary.  He was a lifetime member of the American Legion Argonne Post No. 1121 here in Great Bend, as well as a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1428.  The retired railroad engineer received military rites from the Fort Riley Honor Guard.  He died in 2005

Neuforth also located a brief report about the passing of Darnell. In 1970, Darnell, Stafford, died of “injuries suffered in his horse corral” about a month prior to his death. The report stated he never regained consciousness, so it was never learned what happened in the corral.  Darnell was active in the Kansas Arabian Horse Association.  There was no mention of prior military service.  

Just for fun
Sandhill plum scare

It’s sandhill plum season in these parts of Kansas. We found one account of a 1940 plum gathering experience that should keep readers on the lookout as they make their way to their favorite grove. 

“It is not safe to mention sandhill plums to one of the young husbands in Great Bend, as it touches a sore spot in his recent experiences when he was picnicking with his daily and picking the plums. 

“A bucket full of plums had been set down by a bush and later when he stooped over to retrieve it a large snake was coiled a few inches away. The young husband who has a pronounced aversion to snakes, anyway, left that vicinity, losing the bucket and the plums to say nothing of a little sweat.”