Gilbert Nelson Jerome
Submitted by: Laura A. Macaluso
Gilbert Nelson Jerome served in World War 1 with the United States Army Air Corps. The dates of service are: Known June 16, 1917-July 11, 1918.
Gilbert Nelson Jerome's Military Service Record, State of Connecticut is mostly blank. His mother neatly typed up answers as she could, but page three, in which the state asks questions like, "what was your attitude toward military service?" and "what were the effects upon yourself of your overseas experience?' would not be answered, since her son was killed in his bi-plane on July 11, 1918 in France.
Although twenty-nine year old Gilbert wasn't able to answer those questions, he wrote often to his mother while serving, and it's safe to say that his experiences in WWI were similar to many others, infantry and airmen alike. During training and later, in between sorties, Gilbert and his cohort experienced long periods of down-time, when they would try to keep themselves busy reading, writing letters home or playing games. These quiet periods were often shattered with bad news--such as the day when Gilbert learned his bunkmate Ernest Leach, a minster's son from Cape Cod, was shot down in the same plane Gilbert had flown earlier in the day.
Certainly no one was safe in the Great War years, civilians or those in service were all under siege from the Spanish flu and other diseases, as well attacks from the enemy. But, those who flew--in paper thin airplanes with mounted machine guns--had high rates of casualties. It didn't matter if you were the son of a president (Quentin Roosevelt was killed in action) or the son of a minister. Many of them died, and as was the custom during war, each was buried where they fell--overseas and far away from their homes and families.
Gilbert's mother Elizabeth Maude Jerome wasn't going to accept her son's death until she saw things with her own eyes--and documented everything she saw, both for herself and for posterity. In 1919--barely had the Great War ended--she and her daughter Jennie Gilbert Jerome left their house in New Haven, Connecticut and traveled to France to find Gilbert, and to see every single place associated to his training and work for the U.S. Army Aviation Section, Signal Officer's Reserve Corps.
Most American mothers would have to wait another ten years before they could visit their sons in overseas cemeteries, as Congress didn't enact legislation providing funds for mother to travel to Europe until 1929. The Jeromes, from an old New England family, didn't live extravagantly--Gilbert went to the public high school--but, they did have enough extra funds to build a new house in 1914, likely staffed by one or two servants. Thus, when her son was killed and she and Jennie received the Red Cross telegram, Elizabeth started a letter writing campaign to learn everything she could about Gilbert's death, eventually receiving a first-hand account with photographic images of the day of his death and his funeral service in Blamont, France, held by the German Army and the occupied French villagers.
This was highly unusual, and was noted as being so by one Red Cross official, but, it wasn't enough for Elizabeth, hence the trip in 1919 where she found his grave in the Argonne Military Cemetery (it had been moved there from Blamont after the Armistice). And, finally, Elizabeth was able to make plans to have Gilbert's body returned to the United States. After a service in the living room of their home in New Haven, a procession traveled to Evergreen Cemetery, where aviator Gilbert was buried in the family plot. Elizabeth and sister Jennie now lay together with Gilbert under a shady growth of trees.