Saturday, November 24, 2018

A Centennial Worth Remembering

This Thanksgiving weekend I am taking some time to reflect on the activities that took place during the Centennial of the Armistice. I thought this would be a good opportunity to journal my thoughts and also acknowledged the many people who took time to remember the service and sacrifice of those who served our nation, 100 years ago. While I can't possibly name everyone, I do want to put a spotlight on several friends that helped with our local endeavors.

My years of research about the veterans involved in the Great War, and discovering a large community of people that have a similar interest in this topic, has given me a great appreciation for all the planning and execution that took place across the nation that week, and in our region. Today, I give thanks, and must say, this was a Centennial worth remembering!

November 7
My countdown to Veterans Day started with an invitation to be a guest speaker at the Penn Trafford High School Veterans Day program in Harrison City, PA. The public was invited to hear two ensembles, jazz and symphonic, perform patriotic songs and recite poems to honor the service of our veterans. The students acknowledged the 100th anniversary of the Great War with a rendition of George Cohan's Over There, and a reading of John McCrea's poem In Flanders Fields. Band Director David Cornelius took the opportunity to invite the public to the Trafford Memorial Park 'Bells of Peace' ceremony on November 11. Following my address, the entire assembly was invited by the band director to gather outside the high school, near the flagpole, where the 1910 Trafford School Bell was tolled, taps played, with the event ending on an upbeat rendition of John Philip Sousa's Washington Post March.
On my way outside to hear the bell tolled, I was approached by a high school student who was very eager to tell me about his interest in WWI. He loved reading about the subject and told me he had a full Doughboy uniform in his collection. It was encouraging to hear him speak of his interest in studying the topic. I was also very grateful to learn that all the donations collected from the concert that evening were going to be given to the WWI Centennial Commission for their efforts to build the WWI Memorial in Washington DC. This was the start of a great week of commemoration.

November 9
My friend and fellow Marine, Mike Castagnero, asked me to participate in the Gateway Middle School Veterans Day program in Monroeville, PA. I was honored to give a talk to an auditorium packed with fellow veterans and family members of the students. It was my understanding that Gateway teacher, Mrs. Kelly Perry, organizes this annual program, and the students are energized to participate every year. Wow, was I was impressed. A wonderful event. Aside from the student performances, I was delighted to find out that one of my clients, a World War II veteran, was asked by his granddaughter to speak at the event. While I knew that he was a veteran, I was unaware of his vast military experiences, and I came to my own realization that I need to ask more questions of those of whom I know that have served. It seems so simple to do, and I'm going to make that commitment to ask more questions about a veterans service and listen. Respect.

November 10
While this day would have typically been spent celebrating my Corps birthday, it was jammed packed with other events for my family while we were in Washington DC. Upon arrival, our first stop was to the future site of the National World War One Memorial to be built in Pershing Park.

The exhibit was called, "A First Look," and gave visitors a preview of the future memorial using a model with a video vignette to describe the creative process and why it was necessary to build this memorial. It was a great first look at the future memorial.

I did not want this weekend to be entirely focused on the history of WWI, and only on what I wanted to see while we were in DC. I asked my son Jacob what he wanted to visit while we were there. He chose the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. November 9-10 happened to be the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the "Night of Broken Glass." While I know that Jacob has an interest in the history of World War II, visiting this memorial museum, just weeks after the events that occurred at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, just seemed right.

Our visit was oddly validated when we checked our coats upon arrival. My son Jacob and I have a game of texting each other the number 313 when we see it appear in our everyday lives. He knows my obsession with researching the 313th Machine Gun Battalion, and when he was given the coat tag number 313 that afternoon, it made both of us smile in a place that is hard to smile.

Our final experience in Washington that day was to attend the Church of the Epiphany to hear a performance by the New Orchestra of Washington entitled End of the War to End All Wars, Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the End of WWI. Interestingly, this happens to be the church that General Pershing married Helen Warren. Well, after a phenomenal performance, and as people were leaving the church, I asked the composer, Joseph Turrin, if he would take a photo with Jacob. Turrin is an acclaimed composer, and I let him know that Jacob is an aspiring musician (you know, the sometimes embarrassing moments that proud fathers tend to do). Anyway, meeting him and allowing Mr. Turrin to give Jacob a few words of encouragement made it a special evening to remember.

November 11
We attended the Washington National Cathedral's Sacred Service on Sunday, Armistice Day. This ceremony far exceeded my expectations and was the highlight of our trip. I commented to my wife that the grandeur of the event made it feel as if we were a European cathedral with all the pomp and circumstance one might experience in a ceremony befitting the British Royals. The planning and execution of the event must have taken a phenomenal amount of time. The organizers were right on schedule when the cathedral bell tolled 21 times in the moment of remembrance. We had the luxury of a printed program that went along with the ceremony, making it extra special to follow along with the special attendees.

The hour and a half service seemed to fly by leaving me wanting more stories and music. I was also happy to finally meet the famous (in podcast land) Theo Mayer and his wife. I think I've listened to nearly all of his WW1CC podcasts during my commutes to work.  It was very nice to have had the opportunity to thank him for his work with the Commission. The entire ceremony can now be viewed online at the World War One Commemorative Service.

My family and I returned to Pittsburgh later that day. While I was happy to be in Washington, it was also hard being away from home and not able to participate in two local commemorations that I helped organize. However, I am very proud, but not surprised, of the level of dedication given by the many people of Trafford and Irwin who commemorated the event.
In Trafford, Reynold Peduzzi, Curt Stemmerich, Kurt DeMarchi, Tammi Demarchi, and Shane DeMarchi of the Trafford Veterans Memorial Renovation committee helped to organized the 'Bells of Peace' event and took active parts in the ceremony. Bob Kozubal of the Trafford Historical Society read the poem In Flanders Fields. I believe this was an important reading to acknowledge all the deceased, but in particular, Nicola Elmo, the last Trafford soldier added to the WWI memorial who is buried in Flanders Fields American Cemetery in Belgium.  My dad, Victor Capets, a member of the Forbes Trail Marine Corps League gave the prayer. Other contributors were Jim Drnjevich, Trafford American Legion, the Penn Trafford Community Band, and the Honor Guard of the American Legion Gold Star Post 820. Chuck Sessa ended the program with everyone joining in the song God Bless America. The 1910 Trafford school bell was tolled 21 times as part of the 'Bells of Peace' remembrance, and the local Pittsburgh News Station (WPXI) captured the video and played portions of the event on the evening news. I am very grateful to have had the support of many dedicated friends from Trafford.

I also believed it to be essential to hold this special centennial ceremony in the Borough of Trafford because the World War I Memorial in this park was designated as an official WWI Centennial memorial, one of only 100 such memorials designated by the WWI Centennial Commission in the United States. 

In Irwin, a World War I Armistice Film Festival was held at The Lamp Theatre. I made a donation to the WWI Centennial Commission from the proceeds of my book sales, and in turn, I was asked if I wanted to participate in the film festival being offered by the Commission. I contacted Danelle Haggerson at the Lamp Theatre who loved the idea. An article was published in the Tribune-Review by Rex Rutkoski, Lamp Theatre film festival puts spotlight on World War I. Carl Huszar of the Norwin Historical Society kicked off the event with a program that discussed the history of WWI as it related to the local community. Rachel Good sang our National Anthem, and the Lamp Theatre used the WW1CC 'Bells of Peace' mobile app for the bell tolling ceremony. Members of the Irwin American Legion Post and the Irwin VFW Post were also invited to participate in the event.

November 12
I was asked by the Irwin VFW Post Commander Don Kattic, a former Marine, to address the Irwin VFW's Veterans Day ceremony held on Monday. I was honored to receive the invitation and spoke about the namesake of their VFW, J. Howard Snyder, the first soldier from Irwin who was killed while serving with the 320th Infantry, 80th Division. Snyder was on the same transport ship as my grandfather when the Division sailed to France in May 1918.

I was reflecting on what it must have been like to hear the church bells ringing out in the communities across the United States on November 11, 1918, with the citizens of Irwin also celebrating the end of the war. I then thought of the Snyder family living in Irwin. How did they feel? I was immediately filled with emotion and had to stop and gather my thoughts. I wasn't expecting that to happen. I was also thinking about the portrait of this young man who hangs on the wall of the VFW. Later that week, during Irwin's Light Up Night parade, a gentleman who was at the VFW ceremony stopped me to express his thanks for my speaking at the VFW. He told me that the pause in my talk, when I started to talk about the Snyder family, showed my sincerity and he too got choked up thinking about the sacrifices of this family. This encounter was very meaningful to me. It validated that my message of remembrance was well received by members of the community.

November 13
My final event to commemorate the Centennial came on Tuesday. I was asked by a dear friend, Eddie Roberts, to address a Veterans Day program he organized at the Bethlen Communities in Ligonier, PA. I told him, just a few days earlier, that an announcement appeared on TribLive that I was going to be speaking at the Irwin VFW. The strange coincidence was that the stock photo the Trib used for the announcement was a photo taken from a past Veterans Day ceremony held at Bethlen Communities. In any case, I was delighted to address the many veterans and guests that attended the Bethlen program. Eddie and his peers worked very hard to create an impressive display that filled an entire room honoring the service of veterans having ties to Bethlen.

I was given a peek into the room that houses the Bethlen Archives and had a bit of envy knowing that there is so much history in that room, yet to be discovered. I was also honored to be introduced to Rev. Gabor Nitsch, Director of Pastoral Care and the pastor of the Hungarian Reformed Church. He shared an interesting tie to the Centennial events when he told me that his wife is a descendant of Count Istvan Tisza, a former prime minister of Hungary. Tisza was assassinated on October 31, 1918, during the Aster Revolution, just days before the end of the Great War (it occurred on the same day that Hungary terminated its political union with Austria). I have to admit, I did not know the story, and was fascinated to hear him describe these events that took place 100 years ago.

While I know that I probably failed to mention the name of someone who contributed to the Centennial events, I do apologize, and I do sincerely wish to express my utmost admiration to all of my friends, old and new, who took time to commemorate this historic Centennial. For each of us, it was personal in our own way, and I thank you for honoring all those who served. Lest We Forget.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Descendants of machine gun battalion meet 100 years later

One-hundred years ago, a young buck private named Andrew A. Capets entered the battlefield of the epic Meuse-Argonne Offensive under the command of Captain John Kean. A century later, the son of John Kean meets the grandson of Andrew A. Capets on the anniversary of the beginning of that battle. Both men both bear the namesake of their respective ancestor. 
John Kean Jr. showing the uniform worn by his his father, Captain John Kean, to Andrew J. Capets, grandson of Andrew A. Capets
Liberty Hall Museum, located at Kean University in New Jersey, is currently running a World War I exhibit entitled ‘Brothers-in-Arms’ that tells the story of the two brothers, John Kean and Robert W. Kean, who both took part in the frontline fighting of the Great War.  Captain John Kean was the Company Commander of C Company, 313th Machine Gun Battalion, 80th Division. Private Capets spent his entire enlistment as a machine gunner in the ranks of Company C.
Uniform of Captain John Kean, 313th Machine Gun Battalion, 80th Division (Ribbons: Mexican War Service, WWI Victory, Purple Heart).
September 26, 2018 marked the centennial anniversary of the start of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, considered to be the largest and bloodiest battle in American history, where more than one million American soldiers took part, with over 26,000 American soldiers killed, and over 95,000 wounded.  Captain John Kean can be counted among the soldiers wounded in action as he was taken off the battlefield just nine days into the fighting.  Kean was wounded when an artillery shell burst near him as a machine gun cart was being unloaded. A piece of shrapnel penetrated his shoulder, breaking his clavicle, and embedding itself requiring a surgeon to have to remove the piece of iron in a evacuation hospital.
Letter written by Captain John Kean to his father describing the injury and drawing the size of the shrapnel (Liberty Hall Museum). 

Private Andrew A. Capets continued in the fight until his machine gun battalion was relieved by another supporting division on November 8, 1918, with the battle eventually ending with the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918.  The grandson of Private Capets, Andrew J. Capets, was invited to participate in Liberty Hall Museum’s lecture series to discuss his book, Good War, Great Men, that features the writings of Captain John Kean along with the detailed accounts of more than a dozen soldiers who served with Kean in the 313th Machine Gun Battalion.  

Photo of Captain John Kean located in the foyer of Liberty Hall Museum, Union, New Jersey.
The lecture series, funded by a grant from the Union County Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs, will feature two more World War I historians in the coming months before the ‘Brothers-in-Arms’ exhibition comes to a close on November 15, 2018.
More information about the Liberty Hall Museum exhibit and lectures can be found here:
Brothers in Arms: Memories of the Great War exhibit running until November 15, 1918.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Pitt Football Head Coach Leads Machine Guns

Joseph "Joe" Miller Duff Jr. was destined to lead men. Unfortunately, like so many brilliant young men of their time, his life was cut short in the killing fields of the Meusue-Argonne. Duff was an Ivy League graduate, the Head Football Coach for the University of Pittsburgh, an attorney for the Allegheny County Bar in Pittsburgh, and a World War I machine gunner. Joe Duff was an American hero. Despite being rejected by the Army on three different occasions for medical reasons, Duff was determined to serve his country and was eventually able to convince the local draft board to overlook his vision problems.

Coach Joe Duff, "The Owl" 1915

Duff was a 1912 graduate of Princeton University. As a standout player on their varsity football team, he was named a 1911 ‘All-American’ and proclaimed to be one of the ‘greatest guards in football history’ according to a 1913 Pittsburgh Press newspaper article.  After graduation he was asked to stay on at Princeton to serves as an assistant football coach. The following year he received an offer to become head football coach at the University of Pittsburgh. Duff delivered two winning seasons for Pittsburgh in 1913 and 1914. Following the 1914 season, Pitt found an opportunity to hire legendary coach Glenn Scobey "Pop" Warner. Coach Warner helped Pitt win the College Football National Championship in 1915. That same year, Duff obtained his Law Degree from the University of Pittsburgh and went on to work in his brother James Duff's law firm.

At the time of the national draft registration, Duff was already a college graduate. He enlisted in the Military Training Association, and was situated at the Reserve Officers Training Camp at Fort Niagara in June 1917. At the end of his training at Fort Niagara, NY, he was not assigned to a specialized unit as many of the other candidates listed on the roster. His vision problems likely kept the Army from granting him a commission.

June 5, 1917 Draft Registration R.O.T.C. Fort Niagara NY
In December 1917, Duff worked as an attorney for the United States Justice Department and was responsible for prosecuting men who attempted to evade the draft, the so called "slackers" as they were often called in the newspapers of the time. 
Pittsburgh Daily Post, March 5, 1918
However, this role as a government prosecutor did not protect him from being called up under the terms of the Selective Service Draft. When his draft number was called in Carnegie, PA, he took the opportunity to persuade the draft board to waive his medical condition and allow him to be inducted into the Army. He was sent to Camp Lee, Virginia in March 1918 and joined with Company D of the 313th Machine Gun Battalion, 80th Division.

Members of the 313th Machine Gun Battalion at Camp Lee, VA (Fred C. DeVore collection.)
Duff set sail with the Battalion aboard the USS Mercury in May 1918 as a Private. In less than one month he was promoted to Corporal. His prior military training to become an officer at Fort Niagara surely made Duff stand out among the other men. Duff was soon promoted to the rank of Sergeant as part of his machine gun battalion.

His tenure with the 313th Machine Gun Battalion took him into action in part of the Artois Sector of France from July 23 to August 18, 1918, and in the Saint Mihiel Offensive Corps Reserve from September 12 to 16, 1918. During my research for the book "Good War, Great Men." I uncovered letters written by Duff's commanding officer that revealed this officer's fondness for Sergeant Duff.

Commanding Company D was Captain William George Thomas, a 1909 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Thomas was the former captain of their UNC varsity football team and recognized Duff within the ranks of D Company. Thomas wrote letters home recalling that Duff was once hired by UNC to coach their football team (1915 season).
The Pittsburgh Press, November 16, 1915

The officers of the A.E.F. were frequently being asked to provide recommendations for men within their ranks who could be sent to officers training camps in France to lead other men. Captain Thomas recommended Duff for officers training, and on September 30, 1918, Joe Duff accepted his commission as a Second Lieutenant and was assigned to lead a machine gun company in the 32nd Division, 125th Infantry.

32nd Division "Red Arrow" 

After only ten days with his new unit, Duff was killed while fighting at Gesnes-en-Argonne, part of the Meuse-Argonne offensive. His 'Red Arrow Division' engaged German troops east of the Meuse River until the Armistice was signed. The 32nd Division suffered a total of 13,261 casualties, including 2,250 men killed in action during the war, making it third in total number of battle deaths among all U.S. Army Divisions. Duff's body was buried in a temporary gravesite in Dur-sur-Meuse, France.

Reading News-Times, November 26, 1918

Lieutenant Duff's brother, Captain George M. Duff, a Chaplain serving in France with the 305th Infantry, sent a telegram back home to his brother James to notify the family of Joseph’s death. The remains of Lieutenant Duff were returned to the family about three years after his death and a funeral service was held on September 9, 1921 at the First Presbyterian Church in Carnegie, Pennsylvania. Duff’s brother George, then pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Elwood City, presided over the funeral and his remains were interred in the Chartiers Cemetery in Carnegie, Pennsylvania.
Photo from (courtesy Gordon Hunter)

His brother James H. Duff later become a prominent figure in Pennsylvania politics and served as the 34th Governor of Pennsylvania from 1947-1951 and also a United States Senator from Pennsylvania 1951-1957. Joe Duff was truly an 'All American' in every respect, and it is with great honor that we remember his sacrifice during this Centennial Anniversary.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The book: Good War, Great Men.

I am proud to release my new book that honors the history and service of this World War I Battalion.
Our Nation is in the midst of building a National Memorial in Washington DC to honor more than 4 million American families that sent their sons and daughters to serve in uniform during the Great War. This book follows the story of of the 313th Machine Gun Battalion through many unpublished letters and journals with over 1,000 men listed on the rolls.
Read about Coach Joe Duff, the head football coach from Pitt who was drafted into this battalion and later killed in battle. Captain John Kean, a Harvard graduate who led my grandfather's Company and was wounded during the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne, the deadliest battle in American History with over 26,000 Americans killed. Read about Alex MacWilliam badly gassed in the attack and recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross. Joseph Harold Parsons, a dentist who was killed at the front trying to treat the wounded. His buddies from Erie were in the thick of fighting, and he put himself in harm's way to help his friends.

Amazon Books: Good War, Great Men

BACK COVER: This is a compilation of the ranks of a World War I Machine Gun Battalion through first-hand accounts of more than a dozen soldiers who served together during the War. Their stories have been rediscovered by compiling unpublished letters and journals with historical insights to provide a compelling history of the men of the 313th Machine Gun Battalion. A young Private colorfully describes the antics of his fellow draftees from Erie, Pennsylvania while they trained at Camp Lee preparing for war. An idealistic officer provides vivid details of the simple pleasures and the aggravating moments as the battalion travels through the French countryside on their way to the front. The na├»ve desires of one officer, hoping he can get into a ‘real show’ are later extinguished when the unit takes on multiple casualties from a gas attack. After escaping an incessant shelling, the honest prose of one officer reveals a mistake that was made, that cost the lives of men during a harrowing event in the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne. The miserable days of long marches, muddy trenches and soaking wet uniforms were common. Being able to laugh through the misery, sharing a bottle of French wine, finding a swimming hole for the men, or sleeping in late under the warmth of the sun occasionally made it a good war. This book was released to commemorate the Centennial Anniversary of World War I and to honor the men of the 313th Machine Gun Battalion, 80th Division.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Centennial Commemoration

I had the distinct honor of attending the Centennial Commemoration of the US entry into World War One. The event took place on April 6, 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri.  I feel the need to write about this experience, for a couple of reasons. First, I want to mention a few of the people I met that day and express how grateful I was to share this very special event with them. Secondly, I want my family to know how grateful I am to them for sending me out to Kansas City as an early 50th Birthday gift. They know my passion for this history, and having my kids miss three days of school would not have been practical at this time of the year. Thank you Mariann, Joshua, and Jacob for this gift.

Curtis V. Smith
I arrived early at the event to make sure I got a good seat. Score! One of the best seats in the house. Another gentleman arrived early for the same reason. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Curtis V. Smith, a professor at the Kansas City Kansas Community College. He was wearing a medal that his grandfather was awarded in the Italian Army during World War I. Curtis was an absolute delight to spend time with during the event. We were both present to honor our grandfathers who had survived the horrors of this war and we were both very much in tune with why it was important for us to be there for the commemoration.

International Guests
While Curtis and I were chatting, we were approached by Chris Isleib, Director of Public Affairs for the Centennial Commission. The first words out of his mouth were, “Here’s a couple of historians.” Chris certainly knows his audience and was a gracious in welcoming us to the event and genuinely interested in learning about or WWI ancestors.

The event was first class in every respect. I enjoyed “people watching” as the honored guests and dignitaries arrived to take their seats. I’ve never been to an event where so many notable representatives from foreign countries, elected officials, or high-level military officers were gathered.   
The colors were presented by men in period uniforms and the 1st Infantry Division Band played the National Anthem. Wotko Long, a Muscogee Creek spiritual leader and Vietnam Veteran, provided a beautiful prayer and song spoken in his native language.  Later that day, I had the fortune to talk with Mr. Wotko at lunch and thank him for his song.

Great-grandaughter to Sgt. Alvin York
Some of the honored guests were also the descendants of World War One veterans, including Helen Patton, the granddaughter of George Patton, who led a tank squadron during WWI. Also present were the grandson and great-granddaughter of Sergeant Alvin York, Medal of Honor recipient and one of the most recognizable names WWI history.

The program included a vast array of elected officials and dignitaries that welcomed the guests to the ceremony.  The main program centered on a multimedia presentation that walked us through the events of the war as various speakers read from the text written during the day, accompanied by an amazing group of talented musicians. Actors took on the roles of historic figures of the time, reading the script to help tell the story of the Great War.  Highlights also included a flyover by the French Air Force Patrouille de France, as well as a flyover by a B2 stealth bomber. Cannons were fired by the artillery regiment from which Harry Truman was a member during the war, the 129th Field Artillery Regiment.

Purple Hearts Reunited
Purple Hearts Reunited founder Zac Fike presented a Purple Heart to the great nephew of Leo George Rauf who was killed in battle during WWI. This non-profit is on a mission to return 100 Purple Hearts that have been lost or stolen back to the veterans or military families. I met Zac and thanked him for the honorable work of his organization. An impressive guy. This is research I can certainly get behind.

Pershing and Roosevelt
I met David Wayne Shuey, aka “General Pershing” and I felt like I traveled back in time when “Teddy Roosevelt” came up, in character, and gave Pershing a great big bear hug! Those guys were great.

I was about to leave the event, but filled with my grandfather’s spirit, I asked one of the event coordinators about my chances of getting to hear the colloquium to be held later in the day.  In true fashion, the hosts were quite gracious and upgraded my status from “Guest” to “Special Guest.” In extending me a ticket to the lectures they said, “Here, please enjoy the luncheon as well.” Wow, grandpap pulled some strings.

Add caption
I spotted an open seat at a table and sat down next to Chris Bell, a Vietnam Veteran and a member of VFW Post 5789. We chatted and I discovered that Chris was celebrating an anniversary of his own that month. Fifty-years ago, April 1967, Chris was sent to Vietnam.  I enjoyed listening to his stories.

Ambassador Dirk Wouters on the left
After lunch, I mingled with the crowd in the hall and was privileged to meet Dirk Wouters, the Ambassador of Belgium. I shared with him a story about being contacted by Patrick Lemount, a Belgium author, who wrote about those buried in Flanders Field American cemetery in Belgium.  We talked about Nicola Elmo from Trafford and how Lemount helped to unite distant cousins. He was pleased that I shared this story with him and we had this picture taken.

While exploring the museum I had a chance meeting with Dr. Reka Szermerkenyi, the Ambassador of Hungary, and Derd Matkovic, the Ambassador of the Republic of Serbia. This was surreal. Think about this for a moment. The two countries they represented, a hundred years ago, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Serbia, the two countries at the epicenter of this war.  I asked if I could take their picture next to a historic document. In the display case to the right is the actual cease-fire telegram that was transmitted from the Eiffel tower on November 11, 1918, sent by Marshall Foch to General Pershing. This message ended the hostilities. Dr. Szermerkenyi read the entire telegram aloud.

Derd Matkovic and Reka Szermerkenyi
November 11, 1918 cease-fire telegram
I was given one final tour of the new exhibit that just opened in the museum that day. The museum volunteers were so hospitable and gracious as they showed me around the premises. They are a dedicated and passionate group of people interested in telling the story of this war. I was utterly impressed by these people. 

Finally, I have to mention two people from the National Archives. With plans to travel to Kansas City, I wanted to do some research at the Archives. Pamela Anderson arranged for the material I wanted to explore, and Wade Popp made sure I had everything I needed while I was at their facility. They were truly gracious hosts at NARA.

I wore a photo of my grandfather during the event but felt as though I represented all of the families who are connected to the 313th Machine Gun Battalion. I was blessed to attend the event, and I never forgot why I was there. I am eternally grateful for the Sacrifice so many gave for Liberty and Peace. 

World War I MMemorial dedicated in 1921

Private Andrew A. Capets
More photos from the event:
Andrew Capets and David Wayne Shuey aka General Pershing
The stage is set for the colloquium. 
1st Division presenting the colors.
Robert M. Speer, Acting Secretary of the Army
Flyover by the French Air Force Patrouille de France

Vickers Machine Gun. Type used by the 313th Machine Gun Battalion

Retreat? Hell, we just got here!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The death of First Lieutenant Parsons

I had the opportunity this week to meet with Molly Lundquist and Chris Thomas. Their great uncle, Joseph Harold Parsons, was the Dental Officer in the 313th Machine Gun Battalion.  My research into several first-hand accounts of this Battalion in France revealed the story of their great uncle who put himself in harm's way to help his fellow soldiers.  Parsons was killed on October 4, 1918, during the Meuse-Argonne Battle. He volunteered to follow a medical officer into the front lines in order to help dress wounds or give any medical attention he could provide to the wounded.
The area was under continuous enemy fire and artillery shelling that included both explosives and gas shells. Additional accounts of Parson's story will be included in my upcoming compilation of the Battalion. However, I wanted to share this particular story with the family, and especially allow them to see in person a battlefield relic that was present at the moment their Uncle Harold was killed.

The first photo shows the names of the two medical officers attached to the 313th Machine Gun Battalion of the 80th Division. Dr. Bernard L. Jarman (Medical Corps) and Dr. Joseph H. Parsons (Dental Reserve Corps). Their names appear on the muster rolls of the Battalion serving in France. (source: National Archives College Park MD).
1st Lt. Bernard L Jarman and 1st Lt. Joseph H. Parsons (Medical Officers)
Joseph Harold Parsons was married and living in Erie, PA when he was drafted into the Army. He was a 1916 graduate of the University of Penn. This was his class photo (courtesy Chris Thomas).
Joseph Harold Parsons (1894-1918)
The Medical Officer in the unit was Dr. Bernard L. Jarman.  During my research of the Battalion, I was able to track down a relative that could give me additional insight into Dr. Jarman's military service.  John Armstrong, the great nephew of Dr. Jarman, was gracious enough to provide this photo, a letter written by Dr. Jarman, as well as a Diagnosis Tag Book, mentioned in the letter to follow. (Photo courtesy John Armstrong)

Bernard Lipscomb Jarman (1889-1962)
Dr. Jarman wrote this letter to his father about 20 years after the war ended. The letter recalled the story of Jarman's time in the Meuse-Argonne, but specifically, he recalls the moment that Harold Parsons' was killed.  The letter reads in part:
While dating this letter October 4th, I am carried back 31 years, for it was October 4, 1918 that I suppose I went through one of the most trying days that my young life had to that time experienced. We were at the war front and first my dentist was injured by being shot through the knee, I fixed him up and then I stooped down in a shallow trench partly filled with water contaminated with mustard gas, an enlisted man was on each side of me. A little post was on the edge of this trench for telephone wires.  At first I got behind it but for some reason that I will never know, I moved up just a foot. Then the man below me moved up to where I had been, thus we three were also close together that we just about touched.  Then a shell hit about 2 feet from us making a large hole and fragments of steel scattered in every direction when the shell exploded. The man behind the post, partly protected as he thought, was instantly killed. Had I not moved up I guess this fate would have been my fate, it was just that distance, of less than 2 feet, which has me here today. I have the man's name in my book at home made up of tags. One tag you put on the man and the carbon copy was kept in the book.
Just after this happened, Parsons my dentist was injured as I reported. I lay in a trench with him but left to fix up another injured man, and when I returned, something made me think that if I got beside him that maybe both of us would get it from a direct hit, so I lay down in a trench about 6 inches deep and about 20 feet below him. In a few minutes, a shell made a direct hit and he was killed instantly. I tagged him as killed so no other medical officer would have to stop to administer first aid, thinking that he was only unconscious.

Jarman's tag book
Oct 4, 1918 Jos H Parsons 1st Lt DRC Killed Shrapnel 
The pictures above show the Diagnosis Tag book that was in the possession of Dr. Jarman at the time Parsons was killed.  The book contains the names of many men who were injured during the battle, many of whom suffered the burns of mustard gas. One example is that of Edgar Wilkinson (1895-1972) of Erie PA who suffered from the mustard burns.

Private Edgar Wilkinson, HQ Co, 313th Machine Gun Bn, mustard burns
Note the linen paper that would have been wired to the soldier on the battlefield.

The first entry in Jarman's book was for Parsons, the next was Michael Konik of the 317th Infantry who was also killed that day. Parsons is buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France. Konik's body was returned to the United States and is buried in the Monongahela Cemetery in Braddock, just over the hill from where my own grandfather was buried.
Parsons is buried in Plot A Row 31 Grave 29
Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery (courtesy Chris Thomas).
I plan to donate this Diagnosis Tag Book to an appropriate historical depository where future generations may be able to view it and read the story about the men of the Great War. I especially want people to know about the men of this Battalion, like Harold Parsons, a dentist who could have stayed out of harm's way, but chose to go forward to give aid to his friends from Erie and his fellow comrades. "Uncle Harold" is undoubtedly a hero to the family who never knew him, and our hope is that his story will be told to future generations of Americans who must remember his sacrifice. You are not forgotten.

Thank you, Molly and Chris, for keeping the memory of your Great Uncle Harold as relevant today as your family did nearly 100 years ago.
Dr. Chris Thomas, Andrew Capets, Molly Lundquist