The ABCs of Lowell History: U is for Uniform

The Lowell Area Historical Museum is offering a weekly feature to explore local history. The ABCs of Lowell History continues with a look at the service of a man whose World War I uniform is part of the museum’s collection. To learn more about Lowell history, visit the museum website to explore its collection of local artifacts and records.

The Lowell Area Historical Museum is honored to be able to preserve many fascinating artifacts. One such treasure is the World War I Uniform that belonged to Walter John Kropf, Balloonist.

Walter was a U.S. Army Balloon Pilot, licensed on January 30, 1918 as a member of the Aero Club of American, which was recognized by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale. He and his classmate from Lowell, Bruce McQueen, flew observation balloons over France during the war. They were in the 15th Balloon Company of the 4th Balloon Squadron. The December 15, 1960 Lowell Ledger explained that “The balloon was a tactical vehicle used by the expeditionary forces to spot enemy positions and direct artillery fire. Stout cables reeled the observers up to heights of 1200 to 8000 feet.” “We maintained communications with the ground through telephone wires in the cables,” Kropf explained in the article.

On February 28, 1918, The Lowell Ledger announced the news that Walter Kropf and Bruce McQueen were promoted to Second Lieutenant and were stationed at Fort Omaha in Nebraska. On Decoration Day, May 30, 1919, Lowell was honored to have Lt Bruce McQueen and Lt Walter Kropf command the returned soldiers and sailors in the parade and memorial service.

Walter John Kropf went on to be a merchant here in Lowell. He was involved in the community, serving as one of the original Endmen of the Lowell showboat. He later worked as a purchasing contractor for the United States Air Force for 25 years and lived elsewhere, but Lowell was always home. Walter also was a founding member of the American Legion Lowell Post #152, and his uniform hat is preserved by the museum.

Walter died in 1970, his wife Hazel, three sons, one daughter, and eight grandchildren surviving him. He is now buried in Oakwood Cemetery, here in Lowell.

The picture above shows Walter Kropf and Bruce McQueen in their uniforms. The picture below shows the maps used to chart courses over Belgium and France. There are dark lines drawn on the map that highlight main rivers that could be seen from the air to help guide the balloon. The maps have fabric backings to make them sturdy. They have survived in wonderful condition along with the map bag used to store the maps.


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