Inside JCPRD: Unearthing History – Frank L. Hagaman’s WWI Identification Disc

Frank Leslie Hagaman (1894-1966) behind the Kansas Governor’s desk, 1951. Note the pipe. (Source: Johnson County Museum, JoCoHistory.org)

By the Johnson County Museum

The name Frank L. Hagaman might be familiar to some in Johnson County. Recently, his World War I identification disc (not called “dog tags” until WWII) was donated to the Johnson County Museum. Sometimes the story of how an object comes to the museum is more interesting than the object itself. In Hagaman’s case, his life story and the story of finding his ID disc are equally fascinating. Just in time for Veterans Day, here is Hagaman’s story.

In early April 2018, Texas-based writer Ron Franscell called the museum, wanting to know as much information about Hagaman and his genealogy as possible. Franscell’s friend, Jean Claude Fonderflick, had unearthed Hagaman’s identification disc on a farm field in Glonville, Lorraine, France. After a basic Google search, Franscell discovered on jocohistory.org that many photographs from Hagaman’s life were part of the Johnson County Museum’s collections.

Hagaman’s pipe, seen in use in an image below, was carved with a capital “H” and “117 AmTn.” (Source: Johnson County Museum)

Museum staff conducted a brief genealogical search and confirmed Franscell’s own results: Hagaman and his wife Elizabeth Sutton (married in 1920), had not had any children, and were themselves only children. Other lines from the Hagaman family (traced as far back as the Netherlands in 1649) were too-distant connections. Franscell and Fonderflick made the decision to donate the disc to the museum, joining it with an existing collection of photographs, documents, genealogical material, and artifacts – including Hagaman’s pipe and Purple Heart medal—all donated by his widow in the 1970s and ‘80s.

But who was Frank Leslie Hagaman? Born in Illinois in 1894, he moved to the Kansas City area and graduated from Rosedale High School. During WWI, Hagaman served in the 117th Kansas Ammunition Train, 42nd “Rainbow” Infantry Division (namesake of Rainbow Boulevard). Shipped from Kansas City, Kan., to France, the 117th was at the “mud camp” in the fields near Glonville from April to June 1918. It was there that Hagaman lost his ID disc. Strung about the neck with a simple leather thong, exposed to the elements and mud, discs often were lost but easily replaced in camp. Fonderflick found several other identification discs in surrounding fields with his metal detector. Interestingly, Fonderflick also found two 1,600-year-old Roman coins several feet below Hagaman’s disc. The coins were surely there when Hagaman lost his disc, just over 100 years ago. Hagaman was later wounded by an artillery explosion in the Second Battle of the Marne, on July 21, 1918. He was shipped home to recover and was subsequently awarded the Purple Heart for his injuries.

Photograph of Hagaman in France with three little girls during WWI. (Source: Johnson County Museum, JoCoHistory.org)

Earning a law degree from George Washington University in 1921, Hagaman worked in Fairway, Kan., as an attorney. He was elected to the state legislature as a representative for Johnson County in 1939, serving three terms. This was a critical period for the county, which had begun to experience suburbanization without any of the infrastructure, zoning, housing codes, or other policies in place to manage change. Hagaman helped to lay that groundwork. He was elected lieutenant governor in 1948, and, due to Governor Frank Carlson’s resignation after being elected to a U.S. Senate seat, Hagaman then served as the interim “41 Day Governor” of Kansas, until Governor-elect Edward Arn’s scheduled inauguration. Afterward, Hagaman resumed his law practice, and died in 1966.

Frank L. Hagaman’s ID disc, found buried in a field on a farm in Glonville, France, since 1918. (Source: Johnson County Museum)

Hagaman’s is just one story that Fonderflick has uncovered while unearthing ID discs. He tries earnestly to reunite them with families whenever possible. Fonderflick told museum staff: “When I dig up such an artifact, I have three possibilities: I can put it in the drawer and look at it every five years, which benefits nobody. Or I could sell it on eBay for $10, which is shabby and disrespectful. Or I can make a family happy about a relative who has risked his life for your country and your freedom. Now, if you were in my shoes, which would you choose?”

In the end, Fonderflick and Franscell chose a fourth option: donating Hagaman’s identification disc to a museum. Although a disc is not an exceedingly rare object, Hagaman’s story certainly is. The artifact will help tell a more complete story about Hagaman’s life and his work on behalf of his country, state, and county. While not a family in the genetic sense, the museum will safeguard and share Hagaman’s memories, stories, and objects, which help to tell the “Johnson County family history” for future generations.