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