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

No comments:

Post a Comment