Thirty Who Dared to Serve Gratiot County in the World War, Part 6: Howard C. Wolverton, “I Was the First from Breckenridge to be Killed”

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Above: Newspaper articles from Gratiot County newspapers in the summer of 1918; Howard C. Wolverton’s burial marker.

         “He was, I can unhesitatingly state, one of the best men and best soldiers under my command. Cheerful, intelligent, ready, willing, and without a trace of personal fear. My highest regards to you who brought him up…”

        These words made up part of the letter that Howard C. Wolverton’s commander wrote to his  parents as he tried to talk to them about the loss of their son. Wolverton had been killed early in the morning at Petit a Beaux, France on July 15, 1918. A witness said that he and a corporal were resting outside their tent near their gun position, awaiting their morning breakfast. Then, a direct hit from the enemy early that morning  killed both soldiers instantly.

        Howard C. Wolverton was born in 1895 in Gaylord, Michigan to Mr. and Mrs. W. G. Wolverton. The family moved different times before settling in Breckenridge. At one point, after moving from Sheridan in Montcalm County, they operated the Pompeii store. Howard then went to work for the Republic Truck Factory in Alma. He was of medium build and height, had blue eyes and brown hair. He also worked at an auto plant in Detroit, got sick but then went and enlisted in the Cavalry on May 6, 1917, shortly after war was declared against Germany. He was sent to Fort Ethan Allen and by January 1918 and he became a sergeant at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. Wolverton sailed from Camp Merritt, New Jersey for France in April. His commanding officer told his parents in his letter of consolation that it was a goal of sending Howard to Officers Training camp in the future. Howard was that good of a soldier.

           In late September 1918, services were held at the Breckenridge Congregational Church, even though Wolverton’s body was in France. The Gratiot County Herald recorded that at the service “There was a large crowd turned out to do honor to our first Breckenridge boy to fall for democracy on the field of battle.” Upon his death, Wolverton was buried near where he was killed, then he was moved in 1919 to the American Cemetery near Belleau Wood.

        At some point either near the time that their son died, or shortly thereafter, the Wolvertons moved to Fenton, Michigan. It was here in 1921 that Mr. Wolverton wrote to the government to ask that his son’s body be sent home for a final burial. After traveling from Antwerp, Belgium to Hoboken, New Jersey, the Grand Trunk Railway brought Howard C. Wolverton’s body to his final resting place in Oakwood Cemetery in Fenton. Records state that there is a marker in Breckenridge’s Ridgelawn Cemetery. Probably the marker was erected shortly after his death in 1918 to commemorate a son who could not come home at that time.

          Regardless, one of Howard C. Wolverton’s legacies is that his name was joined with another Breckenridge native who was lost in the World War. Together they formed the creation of the Wolverton-Sawvel American Legion Post, which still exists today.

Copyright 2018 James M Goodspeed

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