Meet the humble Kansas City woman who wrote the World War II poem “I heard it all over the world”

On a hot night in June 1943, Francis Angelmeier couldn’t sleep. So she got up after midnight, went to a typewriter, and-in 20 minutes-written what would be the most famous poem of World War II.

this week’s “What is your KCQ?” Explore the amazing story of “Conversion,” a poem about a soldier’s conversation with God, which brought hope to millions of readers during the war. The unpretentious secretary of Kansas City, the poet, could not foresee her simple composition penetrating the hands and hearts of countless soldiers around the world.

Portrait of the poet Francis Angelmeier, 1945.

Portrait of the poet Francis Angelmeier, 1945.

She lived a quiet life before Francis Angelmeier wrote “Poems I’ve heard all over the world.” Born in 1907, she was a lifelong resident of Kansas City, a devout parochial of Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church, and attended parochial school. She then became a secretary at the office of pediatrician Dr. Joseph B. Cowherd. She held that position until she retired.

In his spare time, Angelmeier’s poems evoked a playful, reverent and empathetic spirit. People often called her humble and humble. Even after Anger Meyer became a local celebrity, Kansas City Star writer Margaret Hamilton seemed to be successful, but speaking in public was “very shy” and “afraid.” I have. “

After all, she mandated repeated requests for interviews about her famous poems, spoke at local meetings, and publicly expressed her beliefs. In 1956, she edited a passionate letter condemning the racist mob who harassed Autherine Lucy for challenging the white-only policy for students at the University of Alabama. I wrote to the person.

“Tell me,” wrote Angelmeier. “When our country is in a state of war, are people of other races forbidden to fight or die for our country?”

It’s no wonder Angelmeier used war to explain her claims. Because she knew it well. She was 36 years old in 1943 and experienced a restless June night that influenced her “conversion” during World War II. Annoyed by head-on news, she woke up for her brother-in-law, Glenn Berchu, a Corporal of the Army stationed in the South Pacific. Her thoughts drifted to others on the battlefield.

“I wondered what a dying soldier would do,” Angelmeier later wrote. “If he didn’t know God, how would he feel if he hadn’t been religiously trained? In that situation, the word” conversion “came to me. “

She finally got up after midnight and set about working as a typewriter, being careful not to wake up her parents who lived on 2548 Gillham Road. Within 20 minutes, she wrote the first version of the poem, originally entitled “Soldier Conversion.” Two more drafts have undergone minor changes, including a shortened title. The whole process took less than an hour.

The poetry itself was a straightforward and serious quality that would contribute to its popularity. Pastor JF Maggie, Rev. Angermeier, said: The great truth told in the simplest words that ordinary men and women understand and love. “

& # X00201c; Conversion & # x00201d; Reissued on February 4, 1945 at The Star.  & # X00200b;

“Conversion” was republished on The Star on February 4, 1945.

After publishing his previous poem, Angermayer sent a “Conversion” to Our Sunday Visitor, an Indiana-based Catholic publication. Female editor Mary E. Magill published a poem on July 18, 1943. Ungermeyer didn’t hear much about it until a year after the first “conversion” of a series of events was broadcast to military personnel on a Des Moines radio show. It will lead to the tremendous popularity of poetry.

After the broadcast, a column in the Atlanta Constitution reported that an unexplained poem was found in the bodies of US soldiers in Italy. During the trip, Rev. Edward J. Morgan of the Centropolis Baptist Church in Kansas City cut a poem from a piece of paper and used it in his home sermon. Morgan repeatedly received requests for copies and eventually broadcast them on the uncredited radio station WHB. Some of Angelmeier’s friends recognized the poem and set out to inform the general public of its author. This is a frequently repeated task.

Angelmeier soon received flowers and words of gratitude from the camp of Italian soldiers, so the words quickly spread. The story was reported at The Star in June 1944 under the heading “Poem Echoin Foxhole.” The reserved poet could not imagine the subsequent flood of communications, or how far her work had already progressed.

Headline from the Star, June 18, 1944.

Headline from the Star, June 18, 1944.

By December 1944, “Conversion” was cited in the New York Times and read by Congress by US representatives. New York Daily Mirror columnists called it “the outstanding poem of this war,” and newspapers across the country sometimes continued to print it under different titles. The work was translated into several languages, and by the spring of 1945, an estimated 6 million copies had been sent to soldiers in almost every war theater.

Angelmeier, who has never made money from poetry, finds that he is paying for printing and postage due to a flood of copy requests. Local printers began helping by sending her copies for free, and some organizations independently published in large numbers. After the poem appeared in the Hebrew Chronicle, 250,000 copies were donated to Jewish soldiers. St. Francis of the Church of Assisi in New York also learned the author and published 75,000 non-attribute copies before reprinting 100,000 with the correct credits.

Her friend’s efforts to cite Angermeier as the author continued as more copies were attributed to the fallen soldiers who carried them. “Conversions” were also increasingly quoted on the radio and often uncredited. Celebrities such as singer Ginny Simms, actor Joe E. Brown, and Shirley Temple read it on major broadcasts. When Temple learned that Angelmeier was the author, he insisted on reading a second time, gave Angelmeier legitimate credit, and sent him a signed photo. In 1945, fans reported that an unnamed actress had a beautiful reading of “conversion” at KMBC in New York. The actress said the poem was found in a Belgian black soldier.

Denver Darling Records from the Digital Audio Collection of the Internet Archive, 1945.  & # X00200b;

Denver Darling Records from the Digital Audio Collection of the Internet Archive, 1945.

“Conversion” was also set to music and was recorded in the fall of 1945 by singing the cowboy Denver Darling. The star reports: In the best Western style with dance-friendly beats. “

As her poetry became more popular, Angelmeier received hundreds of phone calls and thank-you letters from foreign military personnel. Copies of “conversion” were found in the bodies and belongings of soldiers in North Africa, China, the South Pacific, the Aleutian Islands, and throughout Europe. From time to time, the entire battalion carried it into battle with them, and the Angermeier brothers wondered how his sister’s poems were distributed to the Solomon Islands army.



Some stories about the existence of poetry on the battlefield were particularly inspirational. On D-Day, June 6, 1944, numerous copies were found scattered on the beaches of Normandy. The Catholic minister remembered crawling between the injured and the dead. Some of them still had the poem in their hands, but many copies were floating in the wind.

To the surprise of Angermeier, she heard reports that her poem was somehow smuggled into the Buchenwald Memorial and secretly passed on among some prisoners. After the Battle of Metz in northeastern France in 1944, US Army Captain Roland L. Lancer of Kansas City found a German translation of the body of a dead Nazi soldier. Lancer was unaware that the poet had summoned him from his hometown.

It wasn’t the only conversion that went into the hands of local military personnel abroad. 23-year-old John A. O’Connell from Kansas City, Kansas, Corporal of the Army, honored Angermeier for surviving the Malmedy massacre at the Battle of the Bulge. On December 17, 1944, the Germans attacked O’Connell’s fleet and captured O’Connell along with more than 100 other US soldiers. Instead of sending the prisoners to the camp, the Germans lined them up and fired machine guns. They then walked among the injured Americans and brutally killed the survivors.

Howard Brodie's portrayal of the Malmedy massacre, 1945.

Howard Brodie’s portrayal of the Malmedy massacre, 1945.

Already remembering “conversion,” O’Connell lay with bullet wounds on his face, hands, back, and shoulders, so he repeated it. He prayed for the strength of the Germans to stay still for nearly six hours. Miraculously, they left him alone.

He and several other survivors managed to return to the American front and be taken to a hospital in Paris. O’Connell immediately wrote to Angelmeier explaining how her poetry helped him survive. His letter was one of many that brought her to tears.

“Even now, Angelmeier told the star in 1957.” I can’t believe I wrote a poem that was meaningful to so many people. “

Anger Meyer and John A.O & # x002019; Connell and his family, Star, November 10, 1957 & # x00200b ;.

Angelmeier, Star, with John A. O’Connell and his family, November 10, 1957.

Indeed, there was so much newspaper coverage of the poem’s influence on readers that Angelmeier’s relative ambiguity, perhaps worthy of her humble nature, is somewhat puzzling. She died on July 25, 1993, at the age of 86, and the obituary contained only a brief reference to her notable poem.

The words of Lieutenant Harry C. Lawson of the 102nd Army Signal Corps may provide a better compliment to Angelmeier’s legacy. You shared with us. … Today I came across your poem. By tonight, it found the way for everyone in the company — and left a mark. The man died near me, he will probably die on his own in the future — but I know this, the thoughts you left for us go beyond what may come in the future Will continue. “

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