Life during wartime focus of upcoming history event

KKK’s former ties to Allentown will also be discussed

BY JANE MEGGITT Staff Writer

ALLENTOWN – The life of a local prominent wartime nurse will be recalled at a special program later this week.

TheAllentown-Upper Freehold Historical Society (AUFHS)will host the discussion on May 8 at the United Methodist Church. The program will also feature a talk about life in Allentown duringWorldWar II.

Linda Konover Meirs (1882-1972) announced at an early age that she wanted to travel around the world, according to her niece, Ruth Holmes Honadle, of Upper Freehold. After nursing school, Meirs went to Mexico City and served as superintendent of the city’s municipal hospital during the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution in 1913. She then joined the American Red Cross Nurse Corps and served with Gen. John “Blackjack” Pershing’s unsuccessful expedition to capture Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. She also went with the first American Red Cross delegation to the European war zone in 1916 even though the United States had not yet entered World War I.

Honadle will further discuss her aunt’s work in various European countries at the upcoming program. She will also display the Croix de Guerre from the French government, the Iron Cross from the German government, the brevet from the Rumanian government, the Florence Nightingale medal from the International Red Cross, theArgonne-Meuse Defense SectorMedal from the United States, and the Victory Medal from the state of New Jersey that her aunt received for her work.

Honadle will also talk about other anecdotes from her aunt’s life. She recalled that after the armistice was signed on Nov. 11, 1918, Meirs baked 176 apple pies for the soldiers in her care. Her aunt wanted every soldier to have apple pie for Christmas dinner.

Meirs’ impact during wartime was so great that in 1937, a play called “Red Harvest,” based on her life, ran on Broadway. The playwright, Walter Roberts, wrote, “Her nurses, aides, corpsmen- in fact all who came in contact with Miss Meirs – firmly believe that she, alone and singlehanded won the war.”

In later years, Meirs worked at the Soshone Indian Reservation in Wyoming where she was adopted into the tribe. She later returned to New Jersey to serve as head nurse of the Somerset County Health and Tuberculosis Association in Somerville and also served as head nurse in the public health division of the Johns- Manville plant in Manville.

After retiring in 1942,Meirs lived with Honadle’s mother, Anna, in the Cream Ridge section of Upper Freehold. During WWII, Meirs used her sugar rations to bake cookies for GIs. Meirs is buried in the family plot in the Allentown Presbyterian Cemetery in Allentown.

Honadle and byAUFHS memberMary Clark were young women during WWII. Honadle served as an aircraft observer at a post near the former Log Cabin Service Station on Route 539 and Clark was anAllentown High School student who sat in the auditorium listening to the declaration of war in 1941.

Clark, who will discuss World War II during the upcoming program, recalled that her classmate, Tony Marazek, was one of the local men killed in action.

In 1942, Honadle married her husband, Harold, who was soon deployed. She said he didn’t see his son, George, until the toddler was 17 months old.

Clark said Allentown threw a big parade at the end of the war during which she climbed into the first fire engine and sat with the driver.

“Everyone was singing and clapping,” she said.

Clark will also discuss an unfortunate chapter in Allentown’s history when the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) rose to popularity in the 1920s. Besides being anti-black and anti-Semitic, the KKK was also anti- Catholic and anti-immigrant, she said, noting that her father, Chris Theodaris, was a Greek immigrant who fought in the Balkan wars, joined the United States Army during WWI and opened the Candy Kitchen in Allentown in 1920.

Although the KKK was ostensibly against men like her father, members would patron his shop for sodas after meetings, she said.

Honadle added that the KKK owned property in Yardville that is currently the site of a park.

The AUFHS program will begin at 7 p.m. at the United Methodist Church, 23 Church Street, Allentown.

For more information, call (609) 259- 7392.