Above: the only known picture of Paul M.Srodes from the Gratiot County Herald; the Srodes family plot in Ithaca Cemetery; All Wars Memorial in Ithaca.
There were many young men who eagerly went off to war from Gratiot County and who wanted to do their best. Paul M. Srodes, who was from Ithaca, was one soldier who wanted to fight, but in the end, his own health failed him.
Born April 28, 1896, in Chicago, Illinois to John and Eunice Srodes, Paul was a telegraph operator before he entered the war. Not much is known about the Srodes family, however, his father came to Ithaca in 1886 and purchased two lots on North Main Street. The nice home there became known to many in Ithaca as “The Srodes Home.”
Paul Srodes entered Fort Leavenworth in Kansas on December 12, 1917, as a telegraph operator. In January 1918 he wrote home to his family, thanking them for the sweater that they had mailed to him. He now had four sweaters, but he needed them all to combat the cold weather in Kansas. Paul was only in need of more gloves to wear, however, he knew that his family was preparing to send him more. He also told his mother that his unit was hiking twenty to thirty miles a day in order to practice how to string telegraph wires and set up telegraph posts. His letter ended with a detailed account of the death of fellow soldiers. He wrote, “We buried one of my best friends here Sunday. He died of pneumonia. He and I used to make our beds up together to keep warm. We took another fellow to the depot today, a man from our section of the company. He also died of pneumonia.” Srodes explained how a funeral march followed the bodies to the train depot, playing songs at the station like “Nearer My God to Thee” as the train pulled out of the station. All of the men stood at parade rest as the bodies departed for their homes. “It is a beautiful site and believe me that band can make wonderful music,” he said in closing.
Paul Srodes left with his unit, the 5th Field Artillery Signal Corps, for France in February 1918. He was in France for just about one month when disaster struck – Srodes was diagnosed with tuberculosis. In March 1918 he was sent back to the United States, entering through Ellis Island, then to Baltimore and then to an Army hospital in West Haven, Connecticut. On July 15, Paul Srodes died. He was only 22 years old.
Newspaper accounts of his death said that several years before the war started, he moved to Colorado and then Arizona to live because he feared he had contracted “consumption.” Over time, Srodes seemingly recovered his health. When the war broke out, Srodes enlisted from Ithaca. One thing that his Fort Leavenworth letter did not tell readers was that he too eventually contracted pneumonia, had recovered and then was sent to France. Did this bout with pneumonia trigger his next encounter with tuberculosis?
Once Srodes’ body returned to Ithaca it was the first military funeral to take place in the town during the war -and a big funeral it was. The State Troops of Ithaca led the service and the burial service had full military honors. The funeral assembly started at the home of his mother and walked all the way to the Ithaca Methodist Church. from the Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian churches all participated in the funeral service. The Gratiot County Herald recorded that at the church “the company of six hundred (people) were permitted to look for the last time on the form of Ithaca’s first sacrifice to the cause of human liberty.” After the conclusion of the service, the Ithaca band led the Bearer Sergeants, which was followed by the funeral car that was decorated with a United States shield and flags of the United States and her allies. Following the funeral, car were the ministers, family and friends, all on foot. Others followed behind this group in their cars. The procession from the church to the cemetery was a distance of roughly eight city blocks.
The State Troops and their leaders formed perfect lines around the grave as the body was laid to rest. After the final spoken words and funeral dirge, a firing squad fired three volleys. And then it was over, Ithaca had buried its first man to die in the Great War.
Today, all that is left of the story of Paul Srodes is his cemetery marker, two newspaper articles and one very short page in his military burial record about the story of an Ithaca boy who wanted to serve his country and who did the best that he could.
Copyright 2018 James M. Goodspeed