John M. Klaassen

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Johannes (John) M. Klaassen, the oldest child and the only son of Michael and Margaretha Klaassen, registered for the draft in June 1917. Since he objected to war as a member of a Mennonite congregation, had poor eyesight, and was needed at home, John and his family believed the draft board would exempt him from service in an army camp. Instead, he was sent to Camp Travis, an army cantonment in Texas.

Like many conscientious objectors during World War I, John faced harassment at camp from officers and fellow draftees for his nonresistant position. He refused to provide service for the military or wear the military uniform on religious grounds. Nonetheless, John was court-martialed at Camp Travis along with forty other conscientious objectors, convicted of refusing to wear the uniform, and sent to serve a prison sentence in Fort Leavenworth. Here he became ill and died of pneumonia, and his body was sent home to Oklahoma dressed in the army uniform and covered with an American flag.

Michael Klaassen, John’s father, resented that his son’s body had been dressed in the military uniform which John had persistently refused in life. Michael removed the uniform and dressed John’s body in civilian clothing before burying him. However, his actions caused an uproar in the surrounding community, many of whose members were influenced by the propaganda and superpatriotic attitudes during World War I in the United States. Fearing for his life, Michael Klaassen fled to Canada with the rest of his family.

Submitted by Kate Yoder


Klaassen, Rose M., and Michael Klaassen. Mennonite Diary. 1985.

Sprunger, Mary S. Sourcebook: Oral History Interviews with World War One Conscientious Objectors. Printed by Mennonite Central Committee, 1986.