History in Focus: 2 men from Missouri
Researching and writing about the men from Moffat County who died in World War II can be a frustrating endeavor. This month focuses on two men and their scant and meager trail through Northwest Colorado. Clarence Frost and Paul McMahan were born in Missouri, came to Moffat County, left when the war called and died far away from our area of the world.
Clarence Frost was a member of the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division. Yes, that’s the same infamous regiment that was wiped out by the Sioux in 1876 when the arrogant and reckless Lieutenant George A. Custer led his men into a disaster at Little Bighorn in 1876.
Frost was drafted out of Moffat County on Oct. 7, 1940, a full 14 months before the U.S. entered the war. Remarkably, in 1940, the 7th Cavalry still used horses as part of its training and operations, the last unit in the military to do so. Based out of Fort Bliss, Texas, the regiment was uniquely able to patrol our inhospitable southern border during the interwar years. It’s likely Clarence was one of the last soldiers to learn the antiquated technique of warfare on horse.
Based on a unit history by former WWII 1st Cavalry member William Boudreau, the 1st Cavalry was finally dismounted in February 1943, and the horses were auctioned off to ranchers in the El Paso, Texas area. The unit was trained in modern warfare and shipped to the muggy jungles of the South Pacific.
In February 1944, the 1st Cavalry landed on the Admiralty Islands near New Guinea. In October, they fought in the invasion of the Philippines at Leyte Gulf. By January 1945, the division was part of the massive landing of the island of Luzon at Lingayen Gulf. The U.S. and Filipino forces rushed down the island towards Manila.
Frost was wounded and later died on March 10, a few days after the capture of Manila. His death was not reported in our local newspapers. In fact, Frost never even appears in the newspaper archives, but his older brother, Lester, lived in Phippsburg, so we can surmise Clarence came west during the Depression to find work and live near family.
Paul McMahan was born in 1898 in Neosho, Missouri. His mother passed away when he was 4 years old, and his father died when he was 12. At some point in the mid 1920s he came to Moffat County. His brother, Monte, a bank cashier at the First National Bank, was elected county clerk and recorder. Monte, a veteran of WWI, was also commander of the American Legion Post 62. By 1935, Monte and his wife moved to California, where he died in 1942. Unlike his brother, Paul left almost no trace of his time in Moffat County. Only one small blurb in the Craig Empire Courier reports he leased 40 acres of land in July 1924.
By 1940, he was caught up in the machinery of war. Impressively, he rose to the rank of master sergeant working in the medical department at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. when he died on Feb. 28, 1944, at the age of 45. Interestingly, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
At times, history is a frustrating dead end, and history can only be told to the future if we take the time to write it down. Unfortunately, the two men from Missouri leave more questions than answers about their lives. If someone reading this column has knowledge of Frost and McMahan, please contact the Museum of Northwest Colorado, so we can remember their lives and sacrifice.