African American World War I Service in Contemporary Newspapers
Paul LaRue, Ohio World War I Centennial Committee
One hundred years ago African American World War I Soldiers returned to a country that did not understand or appreciate their service and sacrifice. Not only was their service unappreciated, the country they returned to was racist and segregated. In 1919 seventy-eight African Americans were lynched. Eleven of the seventy-eight lynched were ex-soldiers, and two of these ex-soldiers were lynched while still wearing their World War I uniforms. It is important that we recognize their selfless service today, especially considering this troubled past.
The World War I Centennial provides an important opportunity for students to examine the service of African Americans in World War I. Approximately 380,000 African American Soldiers served in World War I. 200,000 African American soldiers served in France. The vast majority of these soldiers served in labor regiments. More than 40,000 African American Soldiers served in combat regiments, but half of the African American combat regiments served under French Command. The best known African American World War I regiment, the 369th Infantry, better known as the Harlem Hell Fighters, served under French Command.
Private Anderson Lee's headstone, Meuse Argonne Cemetery, photo courtesy of the American Battlefield Monuments Commission. Private Anderson Lee, 372nd Infantry (native of Dayton) killed in action, his death in combat is described in article by Ralph Tyler titled "Stories of the Daring of Race Troops still come in from France."
The Stars and Stripes is a military newspaper that dates back to the 1860's. Today the Stars and Stripes is authorized by Congress and produced through the Department of Defense. The Stars and Stripes was one of a small number of newspapers that chronicled and recognized the service and contributions of African American Soldiers during and after World War I. The Library of Congress' Stars and Stripes collection is an extremely valuable resource for teachers and can be found at:
One of the best contemporary accounts of African American World War I service appeared in the Stars and Stripes. In the April 4, 1919 issue on page two, within the second column, the story of the service of African American World War I combat troops is told. The article, “Yankee Negroes in Horizon Blue Led Way to Rhine,” outlines the relationship between the French Army and African American troops. It can be found at:
Ohio has an important connection to contemporary newspapers and African American World War I service. Ralph Tyler served as the United States only official African American war correspondent during World War I. Before the war, Mr. Tyler was a newspaper reporter and editor in Columbus, Ohio. Emmett Scott in The American Negro in the World War writes: " ... the Committee on Public Information has designated Ralph W. Tyler, of Columbus, Ohio, former auditor of the Navy Department at Washington, as a regularly- commissioned war correspondent, to specialize on the conditions surrounding the colored troops in France and to make daily reports of the activities and engagements in which the soldiers are prominent...". Tyler's articles appeared in numerous newspapers around the country. Tyler reported on African American World War I service in articles with titles such as: "Dauntless Courage of the 372nd will Make Page in World's History". Ralph Tyler was a contributing editor for The Cleveland Advocate. The Cleveland Advocate carried Tyler's coverage of the service and sacrifice of African American World War I Soldiers. The Cleveland Advocate is available through the Ohio History Connection's, African American Experience in Ohio 1850 - 1920:
African American War Correspondent Paul Ralph Waldo Tyler. Courtesy of the Ohio History Connection.
Volumes four and five contain numerous articles on African American World War I service.
One hundred years ago newspapers helped tell the story of African American World War I service. Today these newspapers are a great resource to help students appreciate the service and sacrifice of these forgotten heroes. The Ohio World War I Centennial's "Ohio in World War I - Readings and Resources" contains lesson plans along with other resources and readings to assist teachers and students better understand African American World War I service:
Ohio in the Army of Occupation
Spring of 2019 marks the centennial of the United States occupation of Germany. Following the Armistice of November 11, 1918, Allied forces entered German territory and established bridgeheads. These bridgeheads were footholds in Germany that would give the Allies a military advantage if peace negotiations broke down and war resumed. The US forces controlled a bridgehead around the city of Coblenz, at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle rivers. US forces in Germany were organized into the Third Army, known as the Army of Occupation. Within the Army of Occupation were many Ohioans, including the 166th Infantry Regiment—part of the 42nd "Rainbow" Division—and the 308th Engineers and 308th Field Signal Battalion serving with the III Corps, as well as the 158th Artillery Brigade, attached to the 32nd Division.
Souvenir poem of the Army of Occupation
The War Department chose highly decorated divisions for the Army of Occupation and treated the men well, especially compared to what they had endured fighting in the trenches. As they crossed into what had been German held territory, soldiers were able to light fires, take baths, and they received fresh new uniforms. The men made the long march into Germany over muddy roads, though the German countryside had been untouched by war. Once the army reached Coblenz, the command established headquarters and various unit took up posts in the city and surrounding villages. To keep morale high, show troupes and lecturers visited the men, keeping them entertained. The men of the 308th Engineers even wrote and put on their own play, which they called “Shell Shock.” Letters and care packages poured in from home. The YMCA stations entertained and provided the men with additional supplies for purchase. German souvenir shops opened up to ensure the Americans were well-supplied with keepsakes. General Headquarters opened areas for leave, which offered officers and men the opportunity to vacation as far away as the south of France.
Coblenz, Germany. Via Ohio Memory.
When the Army of Occupation first took up its position on the bridgehead, the men stayed close to their assigned posts, performing guard mounts and drilling often. By January the commanders deemed the occupied area safe for travel and men were allowed leave their billets and go out among the German population unarmed. The men took the opportunity to tour the German countryside, and found themselves often invited into the homes of locals. Some even made friends with the young women of the area and would sneak out after dark to avoid the MPs. Unit histories remark of the friendliness shown to the US soldiers by Germans, who increasingly grew to trust the occupying Americans.
Members of the 308th Field Signal Battalion on leave in Toul, France. Via Ohio Memory.
To be chosen for the Army of Occupation was certainly an honor felt by the men. Despite this, they had been away from home for months, or over a year for many, and desired to return to the United States. This feeling was only exacerbated when the Germans made it clear they had no inclination to pick up the fight again on the Western Front, owing largely to social turmoil and the Weimar Republic’s struggles against communists. To the men of the Occupation, the Watch on the Rhine, as they called it, became increasingly unnecessary. Politicians in the United States began calling for men’s return. In March, the 158th Artillery Brigade received orders to prepare to to leave Germany. Not long after they boarded trains destined for French ports and ships that would carry them back the US. The 308th Engineers and Field Signal Battalion were not far behind. The last Ohio outfit to leave Germany was the 166th Infantry Regiment. On April 6, 1919, two years after the US entered the war, the men left the Rhineland.
Collaborative Akron Documentary receives State and National Attention
Recently Toivo Motter, Education Director at Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, gave an interview for the National World War I Centennial on the documentary Lost Voices of the Great War: Summit County in the First World War. Lost Voices was a collaborative work that involved historians and archivists from Summit County. The film features letters written by soldiers and civilians, read out to a backdrop of original photos and modern recreations. Though the letters in the video come from Summit County servicemen, the resulting documentary speaks to the national experience during World War I.
The documentary has also been getting attention within Ohio. In April, Lost Voices received an Ohio Museums Association Award of Achievement for Best Community Project. Toivo and Vic Fleischer, University Archivist at the University of Akron, accepted the award at the annual awards ceremony on April 14. The film has also been nominated for a regional Emmy Award.
Toivo Motter and Vic Fleischer accepting an Ohio Museums Association award for Lost Voices
Lost Voices originally aired in October, 2018, and was screened at the Ohio Statehouse on November 11, 2018, as part of the Armistice Day 100 commemoration. You can view the documentary through the link below:
“Little Stories of the Great War”
By Kristen Newby, Projects Coordinator, Ohio History Connection
In 2017, the Ohio History Connection embarked on a two-year digitization project titled Little Stories of the Great War: Ohioans in World War I, generously funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, to commemorate the World War I centennial by bringing Ohioans’ stories to life and sharing their experiences of the war. During an earlier planning phase of the grant, project staff identified World War I collections held by Ohio cultural heritage institutions (which you can search in our WWI Union Bibliography)--14 of these were selected as partners on this project, including local history organizations, university archives, public libraries, and art museums. When the project concludes in April, over 3,000 items from 61 collections representing 16 institutions will be freely available in the World War I in Ohio Collection on Ohio Memory, which include letters and diaries, photographs, posters, published works, cartoons, military records, museum objects, and more.
These primary sources tell the stories of the men who answered the call to arms, as well as the men, women, and children who did their part on the home front to support Allied troops at training camps and serving overseas. Over 154,000 Ohioans were drafted during the war, and a total of 200,293 draftees, volunteers, and Ohio National Guardsmen represented Ohio in the military. To meet the demands of troops mobilized at such a scale, the federal government constructed 16 military training camps across the United States, one of which was built in Chillicothe, Ohio. Camp Sherman, the third largest training camp in the nation, could house 40,000 men and 12,000 horses at any one time, and by the war’s end, over 120,000 soldiers had trained there. Photographs documenting the campus, regiments, camp staff, and candid shots of daily life, as well as letters from soldiers stationed there, provide insights into camp life and a typical training regimen.
Doyen P. Wardwell (back row, 4th from the right) is pictured here at Wilbur Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio, with other pilots in training. He served as a combat pilot with the 103rd Aero Pursuit Squadron. Courtesy of Hocking County Historical and Genealogical Society and Museum via Ohio Memory.
Photographs of soldiers throwing grenades, shooting at ranges, putting on gas masks, and digging trenches show some of the rigorous combat training soldiers completed, alongside physical conditioning and more academic study. Soldiers’ letters to their families often describe their daily routines, training exercises, and places they visit throughout Europe, as well as their experiences fighting on the front lines, which can paint vivid pictures of the horrors of the Western Front and the terrible conditions they survived. Letters from members of the Armco Ambulance Corps to Armco’s president tell the story of a volunteer ambulance unit which retrieved wounded and dying men from the front lines and transported them to base hospitals for treatment, traversing treacherous landscapes and often under a barrage of gun fire. Diaries preserve unique and personal accounts of the soldier experience, as well as those who served beyond the traditional combat role of a soldier, like Chaplain Cecil Smith, or 166th Infantry Band member Burt Moffett who writes about his rehearsal schedule and performing for wounded soldiers at military hospitals and at fallen soldiers’ funerals in his diary.
This lantern slide shows soldiers firing French Chauchat automatic rifles at a shooting range during a training exercise. Via Ohio Memory.
The stories of those who served on the American home front are also well represented in the digital collection. Women and children, as well as men who were not drafted to join the military, were encouraged by federal, state, and local governments and organizations to support the national war effort in a variety of ways. Americans could purchase war bonds, called Liberty Loans during World War I, or war savings stamps to help finance the war and offset the national debt; ration food and other goods, like sugar, wheat, steel, metal, and fuel; grow produce in war gardens or “victory gardens” and can their home-grown foods; or volunteer their time with organizations like the Red Cross, Salvation Army, or Y.M.C.A/Y.W.C.A. Women especially played an important role on the home front, as they were the top war bond sellers, led organized volunteer work to support soldiers, and assumed factory work that allowed wartime manufacturing to continue over the course of the war. Many women served in Europe as nurses, such as Mary Gladwin of Akron, who served in Serbia and Greece, and Mary Miller Hayes, daughter-in-law of President Rutherford B. Hayes, who served with the American Red Cross in France.
Although the Armistice on November 11, 1918, brought a long-awaited end to the war, work didn’t come to a halt to bring our troops home, and the effects of war continued to impact the lives of Ohioans. In 1919, women dedicated much time to selling the Victory Liberty Loan, the fifth and final war bond issue, specifically designed to raise funds to bring soldiers overseas home. The Anti-Saloon League, a national player in the prohibition and temperance movements based in Westerville, Ohio, continued their efforts after the war to secure the dry vote in January 1919. Upon their return, World War I veterans formed most of the national veteran organizations extant today, such as the American Legion and the Disabled American Veterans, which continue to advocate for veterans’ rights and needs.
Illustrated by Frederick Duncan, this poster shows a woman in a Salvation Army uniform raising her hand for help for the men and women at her feet. Courtesy of Sandusky Library via Ohio Memory.
One of the ways we can remember World War I and commemorate those whose dedication and sacrifice supported our nation through the war is to remember their stories, learn from them, and share them with our fellow Ohioans and beyond. These men and women’s stories help us better understand our state’s history and contribution to the war, but also demonstrate Ohio’s important role in the nationwide World War I narrative.
In an effort to make these often untold stories more accessible, the Ohio History Connection developed an online transcription platform called World War I in Ohio Transcriptions (transcribe.ohiohistory.org). Users can help transcribe handwritten documents, primarily letters and diaries, which provides a unique opportunity for the public to engage with these first-hand accounts, while increasing their discoverability online by creating full-text searchable records. Full-text searchability allows Ohio Memory users to easily retrieve records that contain specific terms, such as the names of battles, places, military units, and soldiers. To date, 342 documents have been transcribed as part of this project, and we thank all who have contributed!
One of the goals of the “Little Stories of the Great War” project was to not only create a robust digital collection, but to make its contents easily accessible to teachers. Project staff created three bundles of educational resources, each focusing on a specific theme—American home front, soldier experience, and World War I technology—that put these primary sources at teachers’ fingertips for integration into lesson plans, homework assignments, and short and long-term research projects. These resources are available on our Educational Resources page under the heading For Teachers.
To learn more about Ohio’s role in the Great War, and the fascinating stories of Ohioans who experienced this impactful time in our nation’s history, explore the World War I Collection on Ohio Memory! You can search by format, subject, and place, and look for primary sources related to members of your community by conducting keyword searches to limit your results. New content will be added regularly through the end of April, so check back soon for more Little Stories!
World War I veterans at American Legion Post No. 463 in Waterville, Ohio. Photographs, his uniform, and other items related to Albert Graf's (far right) service in the 325th and 112th Machine Gun Battalions are on Ohio Memory. Courtesy of Waterville Historical Society via Ohio Memory.
A World War I Monument Dedication and its connections to the "Ohio Gang"
By Paul LaRue, Ohio World War I Centennial Committee
Numerous monuments were constructed and dedicated to World War I service members following the Armistice. These monument dedication ceremonies were major community events. The dedications often combined a welcome home ceremony for the troops returning to their communities from service in France, with a somber remembrance of the Soldiers and Sailors whom had lost their lives in the war. Washington Court House, and the surrounding community of Fayette County, held such an event on May 27, 1919. What is fascinating are the connections between the World War I monument dedication and the soon to be elected administration of President Warren G. Harding. These connections bridge the end of World War I with the events of the 1920's, and not without controversy.
The Ohio State Register began its reporting of the Fayette County monument dedication with “... Rousing Welcome Extended Soldiers, Greatest Event of its Kind in County's History was Thorough Success and 15,000 Persons Flock to City and Take Part in Extending Hearty Welcome to Fayette's Brave Soldiers and Sailors ...” The event both welcomed home World War I service men and dedicated the newly constructed Memorial Arch.
Post card of Fayette County Courthouse, circa 1920. Note the WWI Memorial Arch in front of the Courthouse. Courtesy of Kathleen LaRue.
The Memorial Arch had two bronze plaques with the names of forty-four Soldiers and Sailors from Fayette County who made the ultimate sacrifice in World War I. Fayette County historian B.E. Kelley wrote that “... The Arch was largely the suggestion of Jess W. Smith member of the War Work Council...” Jess Smith served as grand Marshall for the accompanying parade while riding a "prancing" horse. Fayette County's returning African American Soldiers received a formal welcome from Mr. Fred Patterson from nearby Greenfield. Fred Patterson, owner of C.R. Patterson and Sons Company, is the first known African American car manufacturer in the United States. The event's keynote speaker was the Honorable H.M. Daughtery. The Ohio State Register described his remarks by saying “... his words were greeted with frequent outbursts of applause ...” The event concluded with a large fireworks display, and a dance that ran until midnight.
Several participants from the World War I welcome home event were later participants in another important chapter in United States history. One year later, Jess Smith served as assistant to Harry Daughtery, who managed the Presidential campaign of Warren G. Harding. Harding's slogan, "Return to Normalcy," referred to getting life back to pre-war conditions. Smith followed Daughtery to Washington D.C. and then served as his unofficial assistant.
Harry Daughtery served President Harding as Attorney General. Daughtery, possibly the most famous of Harding's "Ohio Gang," would draw scrutiny, though never found guilty of any crimes. Jess Smith was accused of influence peddling and committed suicide on May 30, 1923. Smith's World War I Memorial Arch also met a sad ending. The Memorial Arch (which was poorly constructed) was taken down in 1927. The two bronze plaques from the Memorial Arch were removed, then later placed on a new Memorial to Fayette County's World War I dead. This memorial still stands on the lawn of the Fayette County Courthouse. President Harding would die suddenly and unexpectedly, marking an end to this controversial chapter in Ohio and national politics.
Contemporary photo of Fayette County Courthouse. Note no arch; but the plaques on the WWI Memorial are from the earlier Memorial Arch. Courtesy of Kathleen LaRue.
It is striking to read the newspaper account of the welcome home event for the Fayette County's World War I Service members. The event provides a local account of a community ceremony not unlike others across the United States, but also an interesting early look at several members of the “Ohio Gang” – a foreshadowing of the dark days of the President Warren G. Harding administration.
Goodbye Cleveland, Hello France
Video tells the story of an Ohio Major who fell in France
By Claude Humbert, film maker
I could say the film is about the life of Arthur Samuel Houts (1880-1918), but it goes way beyond his individual destiny. It covers many pre-WWI events that prepared the U.S. troops to their arrival in the trenches of north-eastern France in the last year of WWI.
Houts served in the U.S. Army in 1898, during the Spanish-American war. In 1901, he enlisted in the Ohio National Guard. As a National Guardsman, he went to Washington for the inauguration of President Roosevelt, he assisted the population during the Great Dayton Flood, and dealt with the violent strikes of the early 20th century. In 1916, after the attack of Columbus, NM, by Pancho Villa, he was sent, with the whole National Guard, to the Mexican Border.
In 1917, the Ohio National Guard was called under federal service as the 37th U.S. Division. Major Houts trained the troops at Camp Sheridan, in Montgomery, Alabama, then at Camp Lee, Virginia, and Bourmont, France. He was leading his men during the Meuse-
Argonne offensive when he was killed in action. He was survived by his wife Georgina (born 1884), and his son Kenneth (1903-1985).
I did not choose Major Houts, I would rather say he chose me. I was fifteen when I discovered an old trunk in the attic, at my great-aunt’s, in a small French village. That was a few days after my aunt’s death. I had never been allowed to enter the attic before. That trunk bore a red disc, inside a larger white disc. I learned years later that it was a buckeye, the symbol of both Ohio state and the 37th U.S. Division. The trunk also bore the name of Maj. A. S. Houts, 145th Inf.
Major Houts's trunk, discovered by Claude Humbert in his aunt's attic
That was 40 years ago. Finding information proved difficult then. So, for almost two decades, nothing much happened. Then, the Internet happened, and, little by little, I found pieces of information. The heavy death-toll during the Meuse-Argonne offensive decided me to look into the lists of casualties. The American Battle Monuments Commission had the answer: Houts was killed in action on Sept. 29, 1918, and was buried at the Meuse-Argonne cemetery in Romagne-sous-Montfaucon. I visited his grave as soon as I could.
I promised myself that, some day, I would travel in Houts’s footsteps, from Ohio to the Meuse-Argonne battlefield. Valerie and I finally came to the U.S. in 2015, having decided to document our journey with photos and videos. We agreed that, if the videos and the story proved interesting enough, then I would make a film out of it. I already had some experience in filmmaking, but this was a true challenge, especially since the story meant so much to me.
I wanted to tell most of the story in the soldiers’ own words. I read all the diaries, letters, articles, and veterans’ books I could find. Unfortunately, I could find no personnel correspondence or diary of Houts or his family. But he had several articles published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, mostly expressing his concerns about how the U.S.A. was military unprepared.
We came back to the U.S. in 2018 to present our film. It was premiered in Hoboken, New Jersey, the last U.S. town Houts saw before leaving to France. Later, while in Cleveland, we went to the Western Reserve Historical Society. There, after hours of searching through the 37th Division archives, as we were just about to give up, we found… the last message written by Major Houts. I already had a transcription of it, but this was the actual message he sent to General Farnsworth, and, unlike most of the other messages in all those boxes, it was handwritten, and hand-signed! Except for his trunk, it was the only object that could physically connect me to Major Houts. One hundred years ago, he had held this small piece of paper in his hands, and now it was in my hands…
Note written by Major Houts. Courtesy of the Western Reserve Historical Society
Mr. Humbert's video on retracing Major Houts's footsteps can be viewed here: https://vimeo.com/278220140/5500ab95b8
They Shall Not Grow Old
Additional Opportunities to see this Remarkable Film
Peter Jackson's film They Shall Not Grow Old, which features digitally restored original footage from the First World War, will return to theaters in February. The film, which originally showed on two days in December, received highly positive reviews and sold out across the United States, prompting Fathom Events, the film's distributor, to bring it back.
As Jackson explains in the epilogue, They Shall Not Grow Old is directed towards all audiences, not only those with a pre-existing interest in the First World War. Using original footage and excerpts from interviews with veterans, Jackson illustrates what life was like for a soldier serving in the war. Though the film shows the war from the British perspective, it is meant to be universal and the experiences apply to soldiers from any combatant nation. In a process developed for the film, the original footage has been meticulously restored and, after much research, colorized. The result is a beautiful and poignant image of what the war was really for those who served in the trenches.
According to Fathom Events, showtimes depend on location, so check your local theaters.
The Long Road Home
African American WWI Veterans return to their communities
By Paul LaRue, Ohio World War I Centennial Committee
World War I concluded on November 11, 1918, but in many ways, the war never ended for African American Veterans returning home to a segregated, racist America. In 1919 seventy-eight African Americans were lynched in the United States. Eleven of the seventy-eight lynched were ex-soldiers; two were still wearing their World War I uniforms.
In World War I, 380,000 African Americans would answer the call to serve, and 200,000 of these men would travel to France as part of the American Expeditionary Force. While serving in France, African American Soldiers were exposed to poison gas, machine gun fire, and high explosive shells. These soldiers also experienced a paradox while serving; the men received better treatment by French citizens and the French Army than their own Army.
The 372nd Infantry Regiment on parade in Columbus after returning from Europe in 1919. Via Ohio Memory
As soldiers returned to their communities they brought with them the visible and invisible scars of their war. Cincinnatian Lewis Higgins, while serving as a member of the 369th Infantry Regiment (better known as the Harlem Hellfighters), was severely wounded in action, and thus declared as 30% disabled. Sarah Good, of Cleveland, and also a widow of a Civil War soldier, described her son's condition following his World War I service:
“... My son who used to help me, went to the World War and came back, all a total wreck, and no health to do any work scarcely. They gave him eight dollars a month for a few months after his return home and then they taken that away ....”
The examination of data from the Ohio Graves Registration Cards of 165 World War I Veterans, buried in the Historic Union Baptist Cemetery between 1918 and 1940, reveals an interesting narrative. Twenty veterans’ records list tuberculosis as cause of death, while another twenty records list their cause of death as homicide. Two veterans’ cause of death is listed as suicide. It is impossible to know all the challenges these veterans faced in their post war experience, but life for African Americans in the 1920's and 1930's was not easy.
But even with the obstacles facing these returning veterans, many found success. Private Wilber Page of the 317th Engineers returned from France in 1919. Later that year, Private Page would become Reverend Page, Pastor of the Historic Union Baptist Church in Cincinnati. Reverend Page would lead the church for the next sixty-six years. Lieutenant Charles C. Jackson of the 370th Infantry Regiment (better known as the Black Devils) a decorated combat officer, moved his family from Akron to Cincinnati to become a successful independent realtor.
The service and sacrifice of African American World War I servicemen seemed to quickly fade from most Americans’ memory. After the parades welcoming the returning soldiers home were over, the stories of bravery and sacrifice were left to be told at African American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars Posts. Few monuments or memorials were erected to African American World War I Soldiers and Sailors. One of the first monuments erected was by an African American combat regiment to commemorate its dead. The 372nd Infantry Regiment raised more than 10,000 francs before leaving France for home for the construction of a monument. The 372nd asked the monument be erected near a public highway, near the point of farthest advance by the regiment. Today the monument to the 372nd stands by a road near Monthois. The monument is not an official United States memorial, so appropriately it is maintained by the French and private funds.
Monument to the 372nd Infantry Regiment in Monthois, France. Photo credit to Lillian Pfluke, Founder American War Memorials Overseas
We can continue to honor the memory of African American World War I servicemen in our communities and classrooms. The World War I Centennial has provided opportunities for teachers and students to learn more about the service and sacrifice of African American World War I Soldiers. The Ohio World War I Centennial Committee and the Ohio History Connection offer several lesson plans on African American World War I Service:
1.) African American Combat Troops
2.) African American Labor Regiments
3.) Technology and the 325th Field Signal Battalion
4.) Veterans Organizations
Names on a Wall
Documenting Ohio's World War I Deaths in Service
By Paul LaRue, Ohio WWI Centennial Committee
Most Ohio counties honor their community's World War I service members with a list of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. My county, Fayette, is no different. On the Fayette County Courthouse lawn is a monument with two plaques containing the names of Fayette County's World War I dead.
The United States number of deaths in World War I was approximately 116,000. Ohio's eighty-eight counties contributed more than 260,000 soldiers, sailors, and marines to the war effort. Sadly, more than 6500 of these service members never made it home. I became curious about the sources available to locate or identify my community’s WWI deaths in service. These sources and data will vary from county to county. Here are the sources I used to develop a database of Fayette County's WWI deaths in service.
First, I started with the names on our local WWI memorial. Consult your county's veteran organizations and County Veterans Services for plaques and lists of WWI service members. Your local historical society can be helpful in locating local plaques, and/or memorials. Our local plaques (Fayette County) were dedicated May 27, 1919 and list the names of forty-four service members from our county that died in service. These names would have been collected from available local sources.
Second, local period newspapers are extremely helpful. Your local library or genealogical society can be an excellent source of local newspapers. The Ohio History Connection has an excellent collection of Ohio newspapers (Link: http://catalog.ohiohistory.org/Presto/home/home.aspx?ssid=Newspapers ). I used Fayette County's weekly newspaper of the time, the Ohio State Register. The paper contained an article listing the names of the local deaths in service as of December 6, 1918. The newspaper listed twenty-six names as deaths in WWI service. If you have been following my data, you should quickly see a problem. There are eighteen more names on the memorial plaques than listed in the newspaper. Following World War I, the United States government went to great lengths to identify and recover the dead in Europe. Initially, a large number of soldiers were classified as missing in action. The December 6, 1918 issue of the Ohio State Register reflects this fact. Lieutenant Paul Hughey, the namesake of Washington Court House American Legion Post 25 was shot down over Tronville, France on September 14, 1918. At the end of the war his death was classified as missing in action. Lt. Hughey's body was later recovered and buried in France before ultimately being returned to our community for burial in 1921. So, don't be surprised if the number of war dead from your community will vary from source to source.
Fayette County's War Dead listed in the Ohio State Register
My third source was shared with me by the Manuscript Curator for The Ohio History Connection, John Haas. In the source, Charles Galbreath's History of Ohio, Volume #1, Ohio's WWI dead are listed by county beginning on page 699. The listing includes both the date of death and the town or community the service member was from. Galbreath lists thirty-three names of deaths in service from Fayette County. Still, this number does not match either the plaques or local newspapers.
Next, I cross referenced the names from the three sources – local WWI War Deaths in service plaques, the local newspaper article, and Galbreath's Vol. 1 – against two other sources. The first additional source was the Ohio Roster of Soldiers, Sailors and Marines of the World War 1917-1918. The Ohio Rosters are extremely useful. The twenty-two-volume series contains the names and key data on the more than 260,000 Ohioans who served in the Army, Navy, and Marines. The names are arranged alphabetically, and contain information on the regiment, place and date of enlistment, race, and birth. Death in service information is also provided—the date, place, and next of kin notified. Volumes 1 - 19 contain the names of soldiers, volumes 20 - 21 contain the names of sailors, and volume 22 contains the names of Marines. These volumes can be found in most public libraries genealogy section, as well as online.
Finally, I used the database by the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) ( https://www.abmc.gov ). The ABMC was established by Congress in 1923. It operates and maintains twenty-six American Military Cemeteries and twenty-seven Memorials in sixteen countries. The ABMC maintains a database of more than 200,000 names of United States service members from World War I through the Vietnam War. More than 35,000 names are of WWI Soldiers and Sailors. The database provides name, rank, regiment, state, and location of burial in an ABMC Cemetery. Roughly 30% of American Service members from WWI whom died in service never returned to the United States for burial. This makes the ABMC database extremely useful.
Once I had cross referenced the names, I was left with three names I could not verify in the Ohio Rosters, which bothered me. I reached out to an excellent genealogist in Cincinnati to get his thoughts. He suggested I look at the local death indexes, then check the local newspapers. I located two of the names this way. One soldier's name was misspelled on the memorial plaque and actually was in the Ohio Rosters. The second soldier's death was chronicled in our local newspaper. The newspaper article described his enlisting in Michigan, which would explain his not being listed in the Ohio Rosters. Only one name listed in the Galbreath records went undocumented. The service member served in the Navy, and I never could find a direct connection to our county.
The Fayette County Court House with World War I Memorial in the foreground
I also added several names to the database. Homer Lawson served in the 372nd, and was killed in action. He is the namesake of American Legion Post 653 in Washington Court House. Lawson's name was omitted, (I speculate) because his mother had moved her young family (including Homer) to Columbus long before the outbreak of the war. Homer Lawson's service is documented in Galbreath, listed from Franklin County. The Fayette County African American community claim Homer Lawson as a local son whom made the ultimate sacrifice. Private Lawson is also profiled in a book, The Gold Star of Victory Memorial. The text honors Franklin County's war dead, and can be found through the Columbus Metropolitan Library. This also highlights the value of seeking out local history sources.
I also included two names from the Village of New Holland. New Holland, like numerous towns and villages in Ohio, straddles two counties. Three quarters of New Holland is located in Pickaway County, and one quarter is located in Fayette County. The New Holland community lost four of its sons in the war. Following WWI the ARCH Post #477 American Legion was organized in New Holland. The name ARCH was an acronym created by taking first letter from the first names of the four fallen soldiers. Two of the four names appear in the Fayette County data. I chose to include the other two names, though technically they are from Pickaway County. I wanted a comprehensive list to honor as many service members sacrifice as possible.
My final database of Fayette County deaths in service lists forty-eight names. Eighteen of the forty-eight names list pneumonia as the cause of death. Fourteen of the forty-eight were killed in action. Two never left Ohio, dying at Camp Sherman and the Wilbur Wright Field. Ten of the forty-eight are buried in ABMC Cemeteries overseas, including four names listed on the tablets of the missing. The earliest death was in April 1917, the latest death was in July 1919. One death was of a soldier killed in a railroad accident in France, and one death was a sailor drowned in the North Sea when his ship hit a mine and sank. Each service member's story demonstrates incredible personal sacrifice.
My hope is that my trail of resources can assist you with your own research. Help Ohio commemorate the World War I Centennial by documenting and recognizing the service members that made the ultimate sacrifice from your community.
Teacher Resources Now Available: Technology and World War I
The Ohio History Connection is pleased to announce the third release of free World War I lesson plans, resource guides, and classroom activities as part of the Little Stories of the Great War: Ohioans in World War I project, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Learn about technological advancements during the war, and bring STEM into the history classroom, by engaging students with primary sources focusing on communication, aviation, weapons and artillery, and warships and submarines.
Photograph showing a soldier operating a radio station inside a truck in France, with two observers using binoculars to detect aerial threats. Via Ohio Memory.
Through photographs and letters in the World War I in Ohio Collection on Ohio Memory, the World War I Technology Impacts Ohio lesson plan explores wartime communications, the role of African American soldiers in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, and Ohio’s impact on the growth of wartime aviation. The Technology of the First World War classroom activity includes four activities that require students to think critically about how soldiers’ needs and the new fighting style of trench warfare led to technological developments. The First Modern War resource guide provides sets of primary sources focusing on various aspects of technology that teachers can adapt for a variety of activities and assignments.
If you have any questions, please contact project staff at email@example.com.
Click here to download the lesson plan.
Click here to download the resource guide.
Click here to download the classroom activity.