Thirty Who Dared to Serve Gratiot County in the Great War, Part 14 – George Washington Myers: He had Character, a Good Reputation and Alma’s Respect

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Above: the only existing picture of George Washington Myers; the Myers funeral procession goes through Alma in 1921; Myers’ headstone in Alma’s Riverside Cemetery

       George Washington Myers was born in Edmore, Michigan on March 28, 1883, to Charles and Martha (Jennie) Myers. George was the eldest of six children. In 1900, his family lived in Arcada Township where his father rented a farm and served as an overseer. George attended the Alma schools, graduated from Alma High School and then he first worked for the Swift and Company. Later Myers worked for the Republic Motor Truck Company for nine years as a head shipper until he resigned this position to enlist in the Army. Myers had gained a good reputation, respect from his fellow workers and he was known for his excellent character.

         Myers served in the Quartermaster’s Office while at Camp Custer in Battle Creek, Michigan, but prior to this, he had also served in the National Guard.  During his training at Camp Custer Myers became a Corporal in K Company of the 125th Infantry. In late January 1918, he made what was probably his last trip home to Gratiot County when he visited his family while on leave. After being sent overseas in late July 1918, Myers was a part of the great Allied Drive that was made against the Germans in France. Tragedy came when he was killed early in that operation, but it was never exactly clear when he died. One newspaper report said late July, another August 1, and another August 5.  His request that he made to his mother before he went to France was that he wanted to be brought home if anything ever happened to him.

        After the news of his death reached the Myers family late that summer, a short service was held at his parents’ home with the immediate family present. In reflecting about its loss,  Alma thought stated that it thought very highly of this fallen soldier. The Alma Record stated, “Mr. Myers won for himself the friendship and deep respect of all with whom he became acquainted. His excellent character and manly bearing marked him as one of the finest examples of Alma youth…” A Gold Star was placed in his honor on the Republic Truck Company’s Service Flag.

          It would take almost three years before George Washington Myers returned home to Gratiot County.  His burial file tells a little about this process. First, his date of death was officially listed as August 2, 1918, when a Claude F. Acree signed a statement that Myers was “Killed in action in advance from Ourcq River towards the Vesle. (He was) Buried on the South side of a hill from Cierges, about Aug. 5, 1918.”  The report also noted that one of Myers’ identity discs (identity badges) had been placed on a cross at his grave. Jennie Myers wrote to the government in early 1921 pleading that her son be sent home (“Send his body to Alma”), even though she and her husband lived in East Onondaga, Michigan. On July 4, 1921, the family received a telegram stating that their son’s body had arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey. When George’s body was shipped to Michigan he came with twenty-three other men (four other members of the 125th Infantry were also part of the group).

        The Alma American Legion Post Number 132 helped to plan for an impressive funeral for George Washington Myers.  On a warm, Sunday afternoon over 1,000 people turned out to honor him. The service was held at the First Methodist Episcopal Church because it had one of the largest auditoriums in the city. Those who could not fit into the church waited for the caisson, pulled by four black horses, as it made its way along the route to Alma’s Riverside Cemetery.

         George Washington Myers was 35 years old when he died serving his country and Gratiot County on the battlefields of France. The Alma American Legion Post was named in his memory.

Copyright 2018 James M Goodspeed

Thirty Who Dared to Serve Gratiot County in the Great War – Part 13: Eliud B. Sanchez, “I was an Alma College Student and I Wanted to be an Officer”

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Above: Eliud Sanchez in Alma College Oratory picture; Sanchez’s registration card; picture of Sanchez that appeared in the Alma College newspaper when he died; marker of Eliud Sanchez in Alma’s Riverside Cemetery

         Of the thirty men who died while serving Gratiot County during World War I, Eliud Sanchez was unique: Sanchez was the only Mexican American soldier.

        Eliud B. Sanchez was born October 27, 1893, in Pajarito, New Mexico. He did have one brother, Patricio B. Sanchez, and that is all that is known about his family. How Eliud got to Gratiot County, why he came, and how he enrolled at Alma College is a mystery. Did he come north to work in the fields? Did he have a family with him or did he come alone? We simply do not know.

         In a sense, Sanchez represented a problem that was encountered during the war. Mexicans, Indians, and Blacks all saw their military service as a way to prove that they were loyal Americans and that they deserved equal rights. Many in these groups volunteered to join the Army to prove that they too wanted to be treated fairly as Americans. As a Mexican, Eliud Sanchez came to Gratiot County at a time when the United States and Mexico had experienced intense border disputes, invasions and the threat of war. Because of this, many Americans in the North (like Michigan) looked down upon these immigrants. On the other hand, Mexicans started a pattern in the 1910s because Gratiot County needed seasonal laborers who did the hard work in the beet fields.

         Somehow, Sanchez found a way to enroll for studies at Alma College before the United States entered the war in 1917. While he was there, he became a part of the Phi Phi Alpha Literary Society, which was made up of 35 students. Eliud did not have high grades in any of the classes that he took, however, he was very interested in oratory (public speaking).  His oratorical speech, “The City with the Soul,” was entered into state competition, along with seven other Alma College students. He also appears listed as a junior in the college yearbook.

         On May 13, 1917, Eliud Sanchez left Alma College, along with another student, for service in the Army. He was sent to Fort Sheridan, Illinois with his hope of becoming a candidate for the Officers Reserve Corps. On his registration card, he listed his home as being Pioneer Hall at Alma College, that he was Spanish American (someone wrote “Caucasian” above it), that he had been in the Student Reserve Officer Training Corps for three weeks, and that he had been employed by the United States government. Sanchez also stated that he was short, with a medium build, brown eyes and dark hair.

         While he had hopes of receiving an officer’s rank in the Army, he failed to obtain it. Sanchez returned to Alma and then worked at the Republic Truck Company until being drafted in early 1918. Because of his prior training, he became a corporal and was assigned to Company E, 334th Field Artillery.

           Tragedy struck on August 22, 1918, when Eliud Sanchez died as the result of a drowning incident at Camp Dix. It was never explained how or why he died the way that he did. It was stated that there was a plan for a military service in Alma once his body returned home. It was said of Sanchez in the newspaper that he “came to Alma four years ago from New Mexico, and penniless worked his way through college, representing (Alma College) at the Michigan Intercollegiate Conference.”  The college newspaper wrote that Sanchez was “earnest, smiling, (and) simple-hearted.” The name of the person who signed for his body to be returned to Alma was Dr. William H. Mason of Saginaw, Michigan. A Gold Star was also placed on the Alma College flag to represent his death.

          Today, the only memory of Eliud B. Sanchez is his marker which is in Alma’s Riverside Cemetery, pictures from Alma College yearbook and newspaper, and his registration card.

          Eliud Sanchez was a  man who died serving the county during the Great War because he hoped to show that he was a member of the Alma community. He was twenty-four years old when he died.

Copyright 2018 James M Goodspeed

Thirty Who Dared to Serve Gratiot County in the Great War- Part 12: William Fields of St. Louis, He Died “Doing his Duty, Faithfully, and Bravely for his Country”

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Above: The only known photograph of William Fields, August 19, 1918 issue of the Alma Record; his draft registration card; Fields’ resting place in Oak Grove Cemetery in St. Louis.

        William Fields was born August 11, 1886, in St. Louis, Michigan to Marshall and Hattie Fields. He also had two sisters, Helen and Mabel.  William’s father, Marsh Fields, was well known in St. Louis because he was the proprietor of the Marshall Fields Grocery Store in town. The Fields Grocery was known as a tidy place which used a delivery cart which was pulled by a white horse. It was said in St. Louis that the white horse was sent to France during the war and was killed there.

       William Fields married his wife, Helen Montey, on August 1, 1916 in St. Louis. He worked as a grocer for his father before entering Camp Custer on September 5, 1917. A month later, he was transferred to Camp McArthur in Waco, Texas where he joined Company D of the 125th Infantry, 32nd Division.  On July 31, 1917, William Fields was killed in France at the Battle of the Marne (although newspapers reported that he died August 1). Fields was killed by shell fire in the Bois de Crimpettes, near Cierges, France.

       Soon, news reached his wife Helen in St. Louis about his death.  Sergeant Walter Johnson, a soldier who served with Fields, oversaw the burial in France and he wrote a letter home to Helen.  Johnson explained that Fields “volunteered to locate a machine gun nest, which he did successfully; but was killed on his way back to his platoon, as were many of our boys on that day.” Johnson placed Fields’ identification tag on his cross and he gave one to the chaplain who performed the burial.  The letter continued, “Mr. Fields was one of our best soldiers and also one of our most faithful and bravest men. He was to have been promoted that day he was killed. He was recommended by his Captain for bravery in doing what he did. His death was caused by the bursting of a shell. He died instantly, about 10 a.m…Your husband died doing his duty, faithfully and bravely for his country.”

        In February 1919  Helen Fields wrote to the War Department requesting information about when her husband would be returned to her in St. Louis.  It would not be until January 1921 that the government wrote back to tell her that William was on his way home. In late July, Fields was one of 86 Michigan men who came home aboard the SS Wheaton. A funeral service was held in St. Louis and William Fields was buried in Oak Grove Cemetery.

       William Fields left behind a widow, his parents, and two sisters. William Fields was 31 years old when he died serving Gratiot County in the Great War. The American Legion Post in St. Louis was named after him in his honor.

Copyright 2018 James M Goodspeed

Gratiot County in the Great War – August, 1918: Continued Enthusiasm and Excitement at Home; Loss of Lives Abroad


Above: Advertisements from the Gratiot County Herald and Alma Reminder from August 1918.

        During the late summer of 1918, Gratiot County continued to be deeply involved in its commitment to winning the Great War in Europe. Local movie theatres, like the Ideal in Ithaca, played movies like “The Unbeliever,” a story of an American soldier who found his faith while fighting in Belgium. Other stories with themes about the World War could be seen in Alma and St. Louis.

        Early in the month, county newspapers showed just how wild things became when an announcement was heard in Alma and Ithaca that a large German army had been captured and that the war appeared to be over.    In downtown Alma, people celebrated the Allied capture of 480,000 German soldiers. Main Street was a scene filled with hundreds of automobiles decorated with flags. A demonstration took place when someone set up a barrel for speaker after speaker who spoke about the victorious Americans. Church bells could be heard and telephone lines were jammed with callers who shared the news. In Ithaca, a similar thing happened as people celebrated until ten o’clock that night. One man drove up and down the street with a wash tub and two coal scuttles attached to his car to make noise. Children beat on tin pans and pails. After the whistle went off at the fire department,  fire trucks drove up and down the street in celebration. An effigy of the Kaiser was also burned, then came the announcement from a state newspaper that all of this was premature and the war was still very much on, with no end in sight.

       Still, other signs of continued patriotism in support of the war effort could be found in many places. On Saturday, August 3, a patriotic meeting and flag raising took place at Beebe which drew 600 citizens.  The Ithaca band played and a group of National Guard soldiers was all present. Little Lawrence Knapp, six years old, gave one of his well received patriotic messages. The Red Cross raised $40 from selling ice cream. Out at Newark Township, a group of patriotic men raised a new flag in front of the Mennonite church. Gratiot County was looking for twenty girls to enroll in the students’ nurses reserve. Training lasted two to three years, however, girls received board, lodging “and a small remuneration” to pay for their books and uniforms. Anyone in the county could donate lead pencils for the YMCA to give to soldiers. It was announced that if you had a service flag in front of your home or business then the Alma Record would print stationery for you that had a red, white and blue flag on it, along with your name.

     The level of commitment that all Gratiot County residents were expected to demonstrate that summer could best be summed up in a command from the government: “Live Like a Miser, Work Like a Horse.” Other headlines blared “Rigid Saving in Food Asked” and “Our Saved Food Fed the Allies.” Everyone was warned that there was an impending shortage of beet sugar. By the end of August, all were expected to limit sugar rations to two pounds per month until January 1, 1919.  Food Administrator Herbert Hoover called off Wheatless days, however, people soon learned that they were expected to continue to use Victory Bread as it did not mean that pure wheat bread was back yet. Then the public was told that the flour rationing would continue at least until November. Farmers in the county were offered several lectures about how to eliminate wheat smut, which would increase the yield of their wheat harvest. The United States Department of Agriculture sent Dr. A.E. Waller to Ithaca to address the Gratiot War Board. The War Board attempted to bring every war-related activity together under its direction in order to maximize work for the war effort. While boys and girls had been keeping gardens in various areas of each town, now came a call to pitch in and help with canning. Children from ages ten to eighteen were asked to bring their vegetables down to the high school to learn how to can food for the winter. Youth were warned that they were “To assist in the work is a part of your patriotic duty, as being a part and as necessary as the Red Cross and other war activities.” At the end of August, all states east of the Mississippi River abolished pleasure riding on Sundays in order to save on gasoline. Cars, motorcycles, and motorboats were affected by the order. Again, patriotic citizens in the county were expected to make the same sacrifice.

       Organizations like the YMCA and the Red Cross continued their work. Arthur Krueger, who was stationed at the Naval Operating Base in Norfolk, Virginia, wrote home to thank the Ashley Red Cross for the package that he had received. Inside he found a new sweater and a Red Cross kit. A French officer, Lieutenant J.A. Picard, spoke to the Alma Presbyterian Church about his experiences in the battlefields of the Marne, Ypres, and Alsace. Picard was a disabled soldier who was sponsored by the Alma Red Cross who spoke to raise Morale – and no collection or appeal for money was made at the meeting. The YMCA still had members in Russia who were caring for Russian prisoners and who were trying to help the Russian people. The Alma Red Cross received support from the “Busy Bees Garden Club” that was keeping a small field of beans. That fall the “Bees” were going to turn over their harvest to the Red Cross. The Alma chapter met its quota in August of 150 pairs of Belgian boys underdrawers and prepared them for shipment. However, the chapter was going to be closed during the local Chautauqua meetings so as not to offer competition. There was one last comforter for sale that the Alma chapter had and it was hoped that someone in Alma would purchase it for the upcoming winter. The Red Cross did plan on having an auction sale during the upcoming five-day county fair. Some farmers were selling hogs and sheep and planned on donating the proceeds of their sales.

       When it came to fighting the war, the Gratiot County draft board continued to call men to the service. Seven men volunteered to enlist from Alma in mid- August. Among them were Howard Walker, Merlin Richards, Verne Welch, Thomas Devarmond, Morris Aldrich Arthur Dumas, and Horace Cummings. A new draft bill was passed that said that all men who turned age twenty one since June 5, 1918, had to register with the draft board.  It was also made known that any men between the ages of 45 and 55 could enlist and work in the quartermaster department. On August 28, fourteen men left for Camp Custer on a rainy morning in Alma. An abundance of whistles and bells went off near the train depot and a fairly large crowd said goodbye. Even local Company 87 of the Michigan state troops showed up. The guards had just received new uniforms, hats, and guns for public demonstrations and drills. Young men at Alma College and Central Michigan Normal School could take military training while attending school. Presidents from both institutions encouraged these students to stay at the schools, complete their training, and then fulfill their military commitment as potential officers. Several Gratiot County men became part of this program which was known as the Students Army Training Corps (SATC). When six young Ithaca men who enlisted in the Navy in 1917 made a surprise visit home on furlough earlier in the month, a crowd of 3,000 people flocked to Ithaca’s courthouse lawn to greet them. This group was originally placed on the Montana, a cruiser, and were stationed in New Hampshire.

        As Gratiot’s men went off to camps, or “over there” to France, they sent letters home to family and friends. Mothers of boys sent to Camp Custer were told that their sons would be well fed and taken care of. A school of bakers and chefs even went so far as to publish sample menus in local newspapers. Rex Allen wrote to his family that he was disappointed in his first experience in visiting New York City. He lamented the absence of good water and no light at his camp on Long Island. He closed his letter, “Give me Camp Custer and old Michigan.” He also planned on being in France by the time that his letter reached home.  Sergeant Fred Wirebaugh wrote to the Gratiot County Herald “From Somewhere in Germany” about the countryside. He gave a description of the difference between “Whizbangs” and “Jack Johnsons” – the type of shells that the Germans fired at American troops. Jesse First, a Perrinton native who made it to England, lamented the different types of currency that the English used. He also wanted to know what his family did on the Fourth of July. If any reader wanted to know how to contact a soldier then they were invited to write to names under “Soldier’s Addresses” that appeared in the paper. Another heading ran “On the Other Side” and kept a tally of those Gratiot men who had made it to France.

       The hardest news involved the growing number of Gratiot men who were being killed in France. A “Roll of Honor” was regularly published and updated in the Herald, along with the news stories telling readers about the deaths. William Field of St. Louis was killed August 1. One of the bigger shocks was the loss of the county’s youngest soldier, sixteen-year-old Leslie McLean from Alma. His death was announced just after a letter that he wrote was published in the Alma Record.  Others were also killed in combat: Harry Leonard and George W. Myers of Alma, and Allen Pinkston of St. Louis.  Then came the news that Elind Sanchez drowned in an exercise at Camp Dix. Sanchez was an Alma College student who dreamed of becoming an Army officer.

       As fall approached, the times would only become bloodier, even when the news said that the Germans were on the retreat.

Copyright 2018 James M Goodspeed