Gratiot County During the World War – November 1918, Part II: The End of the War


Above: War advertisements the November 14, 1918 issue of the Alma Record.

       Even though the Armistice occurred in early November, Gratiot County continued to learn about and hear from soldiers. Edwin P. Mahr wrote to an Alma woman about being in the fight at the front. He noted that every time the artillery fired on the Germans in his area a large group of the Boches found their way to his position so that they could surrender. Mahr also visited a German prisoner of war camp where the enemy was happy to eat American corn beef, coffee, and hard tack. The terrible, muddy terrain of the front was told by Private Frank Reed to his brother in Alma. Reed noted how the mud was at least six inches deep, but it was not as cold as back home. Reed could not wait to come back to the States.

          Several letters that reached the county were from the sick and wounded. Sergeant George Dolloff wrote from Base Hospital Number 28 in France. Dolloff was on crutches and was slowly recovering from his wounds. Still, he remembered the Battle of Chateau Thierry and the destruction that the 125th Infantry found when it arrived there earlier that fall. “They were not towns,” he recalled,  “just heaps of ruins of stone, brick and mortar with pieces of furniture and clothing and sometimes broken rifles and machine guns (were) lying around…” The Germans had been gone for only four hours when Dolloff managed to capture a German officer. “I want to tell you that I never felt so important in my life as I did when he was standing hands up and I was taking his guns away from him,” Dolloff wrote. Ray Belding of the 6th Infantry wrote to his mother that he was at a rest camp after fighting at the front. He was drawing $44.30 a month in pay, or about 250 francs.  Sergeant Carlos Allen wrote to his mother that during his service with the 125th Infantry he was awarded the Distinguished Service Commendation. Still, he felt lucky to have come out of the war in as good a shape as he did. Floyd Coss kept his family in Ithaca up to date on his injured leg. He had been seriously wounded and had to lay in one position all of the time in a hospital. Private Clarence Hetzman wrote to his family from Base Hospital Number 27 and declared that he did not need much – he only wished that someone would send him some candy as it was very scarce there. He also hoped that the family could read his letter as he had seriously injured his right arm and was writing with his left hand. Other news from soldiers dealt with those who had suffered from gas attacks or the flu epidemic. Lieutenant Colonel Raymond C. Turck was laid up in a hospital in France due to an encounter with mustard gas. Theron Cady, who was in the Marines, wrote to his brother that he was sick and he had been sent to the hospital. Cady was probably one of many men in France who had contracted influenza. Alma received word that Clyde McElfresh, who had been superintendent of the motor division at the Republic Truck Company, died of Spanish Influenza while in a camp. His body was sent to his home in Ohio. Verne Handley described driving trucks near Paris and then he detailed how American soldiers were buried where they fell and then how a few were being moved to the newly created cemeteries. Handley correctly predicted that many Americans would one day come to France to pay respects to these graves. Private Caroll Betts wrote back that his work at a supply base was the same that he did at the Alma Republic Truck Factory. He was lucky to have a nice wooden barracks, straw ticks, heavy blankets and creamery butter to eat – which he discovered was made in Alma, Michigan!

      Early in the month before the Armistice, a total of 57 men were called to report to the Alma draft board where they were told that they were headed to Camp Wardsworth in South Carolina.  However, when the Armistice was announced on November 11 all inductions into the United States service came to a halt. This meant that over 300,000 men who would have been sent to training camps across the United States did not have to go. Still, the Student Army Training Corp continued its program at Alma College. In other news, things did not go well for Private Albert C. Beaudry who was picked up in Alma by Chief of Police Oscar Vibber. Beaudry was listed as a deserter who left the 71st Balloon Detachment  at Langley Field in Hampton, Virginia. When the 9th Motor Supply Train prepared to leave Alma one Sunday afternoon the commanding officer thanked the women who showed up with coffee and doughnuts for the soldiers onboard.

         The Red Cross in Gratiot County that November continued to focus on the war effort, even after the Armistice was announced. Preparing shipments of Christmas packages was important to the Ithaca Red Cross Chapter. They offered assistance and shipping labels to families who were trying to send their veteran a package for Christmas.  Still, attendance levels had dropped off and more workers were needed in the hospital garment room. Over at Alma, workers were urged to come back now that the flu epidemic quarantines had ended in Alma. No official notice had been given by the Red Cross to stop work, so Alma pledged to keep going. After the first Armistice announcement, a big drum was carried through Alma’s streets to ask for donations. It garnered $65.51.  The Alma Chapter hoped that people in town would continue to give their monthly pledges. Headquarters for the winter was initially going to move to the Baptist Church, however, the chapter moved to the second floor of the Pollasky Block. Previously the Alma Red Cross had been meeting at the Alma Masonic Home. One bed comforter was still on hand for $5 and it was hoped someone would buy it, as well as an organ that needed to be sold. The Junior Red Cross also prepared boxes for Belgian and French orphans for Christmas. Over at St. Louis, the Junior Red Cross had a collection just before the Armistice that contained old rags, paper, old iron, brass, and lead. They sold it for $117.05 and donated it for Red Cross work. As November ended, the Gratiot County Red Cross had 4, 821 members and receipts during the war totaled an amount of $28, 872.08.

        And then there was just daily life in Gratiot County that November. Free moving pictures were shown at the Alma Methodist Church and people who attended were asked to pledge for the United War Work Campaign. This organization raised money for the YMCA, Knights of Columbus, Jewish Welfare Board, Salvation Army, and other groups that helped the war effort. The Model Bakery continued to sell its famous Victory Bread. A Farwell woman had been told that her husband, who died from pneumonia in a military camp, had supposedly been killed from poison that the Germans had placed in the aspirin. The rumor went around that a total of 250 men died from the poison and the story was so alarming that the government asked newspapers like the Alma Record to tell readers that no such event actually took place. Governor Sleeper asked Michigan residents to pray in church  and to give thanks on Sunday, November 17 on what he called “Victory Day.”

       Even before the Armistice, there was the continued call to conserve food. Yet, those who lived in beet sugar producing states like Michigan would be able to receive four pounds of sugar per household starting December 1.  Finally, during the November election, the Woman’s Suffrage amendment passed in Gratiot County on a vote of 2349 to 1436.

Copyright 2018 James M Goodspeed


Thirty Who Dared to Serve Gratiot County in the Great War, Part 16: Floyd E. Allen, “I was the First to Die in the Flu Epidemic at Fort Custer”

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Above: Floyd Allen’s draft card; Allen’s burial marker in Illinois; death certificate from Camp Custer

       Floyd Edward Allen was born June 20, 1891, to Charles and Nancy Allen in Champaign County, Illinois. He had one younger brother and one older half-sister.  Although his father was a farmer and the family remained in Illinois, Floyd Allen’s connection to Gratiot County came through his wife, Anna, who was from Alma. On June 13, 1916, the couple married in Wayne County, Michigan.

          On June 5, 1917, Floyd Allen answered the call and registered for the draft in Alma, Michigan. At that time, Floyd and his wife were living north of Elwell where he worked for Charles Catron. Upon induction to the Army at Camp Custer, he became a part of the 40th Infantry, Company A.

          Floyd Allen met a tragic death when he became the first Gratiot County soldier to die in the Influenza Epidemic at Camp Custer. At the very end of September, the flu virus reached the camp. Over 6,000 men became sick there during October and November 1918. Of this group, over 600 died from influenza. Floyd became sick on September 26 and he passed away on October 1, 1918, at 4:40 p.m. from broncho-pneumonia in both lungs, making him among the first to contract and die during the epidemic.

       Allen’s body was returned home to Illinois where he was laid to rest in Craw Cemetery in Sadorus, Illinois. At the time of his death, Floyd Allen was only twenty-seven years old.

Copyright 2018 James M Goodspeed

Gratiot County During the World War, November 1918: “IT’S AN ARMISTICE! The War is Over!”

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Above: an issue of the Alma Record published on November 11, 1918; below is the front page of the issue published one week earlier for “the false peace.”

        “SURRENDERED”  was the title of a local newspaper signifying the events on November 11, 1918, in Gratiot County.  Germany surrendered and the war that Gratiot County had fought for nineteen months was officially over – and people went wild.

        Newspapers initially said the war was over in Europe on November 7, but negotiations between the Allies and Germany would take place for another three days. “The false peace of Thursday last” was the phrase used by many at that time, but people tried to celebrate anyway. When the official peace was declared on November 11 at about 3:00 a.m.  Gratiot time, some people immediately started marking it in bigger ways. This time, schools, stores, and businesses shut down as thousands of people across the county took to the streets wherever they lived. In many places, the celebrating took place at different times throughout the day.

        In Alma, after bells and whistles went off, deserted streets that morning were quickly filled with crowds of people. Piles of boxes were located and quickly stacked on the corner of State and Superior streets to have a bonfire. Hundreds danced around the fire and people who were on their way to work got lost in these masses. Alma College students, many who were in the SATC program, joined in, as well as workers from the Liberty Truck company. An old hearse was converted to a float and then used to carry the Kaiser’s goat. Another float that came behind had the remains of the Kaiser and another went down the streets with the depiction of “the Beast of Berlin.” At noon, another parade was organized and it proved to be three and a half miles long, starting at the Republic Track Factory and wound through the town to Alma College, then it turned east and headed for St. Louis.

        Ithaca held its celebrations early that morning. Henry McCormack set off a collection of fireworks from atop the Gratiot County Herald that he had been saving for two years. Automobiles went through the streets, people shot off all types of guns, church bells pealed, children played horns, and bonfires were made by many in town.  School in Ithaca closed at noon and Mr. Struble, who owned the local movie theatre, set up his projector outside and gave a free show.

         When Breckenridge got the news, people in town could not sleep even if they had wanted to. An observer noted that “everyone was more enthusiastic and mad with joy and more noise was made then during the previous celebration.” Middleton and Perrinton celebrated with “peace parades” through their villages. Twenty-eight automobiles were in line, all decorated with flags, one with a trailer that contained the body of Kaiser and another with a riddled German flag. The Perrinton sharpshooters followed on another float, all making noise with horns, pans, and drums.  After a short program in Middleton, the caravan returned back to Perrinton. Probably this parade was tamer than the one held a week earlier during “the false peace.” Someone in Middleton at that time accidentally shot down the telephone cables and Middleton lost telephone service.

        Many over in Ashley rang bells and fired guns early that morning, but the real fun did not start until 7:00 p.m. that night on the school grounds. People there hoisted an imitation of the Kaiser up a flagpole which was then shot down. The excitement lasted in Ashley for two hours that night.

       Just across the west county line, no one in Vestaburg had witnessed such an outbreak of patriotism in that location’s history. More than one band led people through the streets, stopping at the homes of Civil War veterans along the way. Ben Corder, a Civil War veteran, played in one of the bands, using the drum he played when served during that war. A huge bonfire was held at the bank corners where an effigy of the Kaiser was burned. Rachel Kemmerling, age 87 and the mother of a local pastor, marched from her son’s parsonage down to the Ferris Church where she raised a flag up the flagpole and started ringing a bell.  No Fourth of July celebration in Vestaburg ever compared to the fireworks, dynamite, firecrackers, and guns that went off there late into the night.

      “The Great War”, “The World War” and “The War to End All Wars” was now over for Gratiot County.

Copyright 2018 James M Goodspeed


Thirty Who Dared to Serve Gratiot County in the Great War, Part 15 – Reuben Newton Root: “I came back home to serve and I died in the Flu Epidemic”


Above: Reuben Root’s Report of Death; his marker in Riverside Cemetery in Alma; Root’s Registration Card for Gratiot County.

       Reuben Newton Root was born on August 26, 1895, to Milton and Dora Root in Lincoln Township in Isabella County. His father was a farmer at the time. Sometime prior to 1910 Reuben Root moved to Alma and lived there when his mother remarried.   Root found work as a chemist and he took a trip with a friend to San Juan, Puerto Rico in early January 1918. Shortly before this, Root was called for an exam prior to his trip and then he was called to service only a few months later.

       Records show that Reuben returned home to Gratiot County, via  New York,  in time to enter the Army in May 1918 at Fort Sheridan. He first was a Private in Troop E of the 312th Cavalry, then he was soon promoted to Corporal in the 5th Company at the Central Machine Gun Officers training camp.

       In late September, tragedy struck. Root was at  Camp Hancock, Georgia when he was stricken by influenza and bronchial pneumonia. His date of death was September 27, 1918, and a notice of his death appeared in the Lansing State Journal three days later. He left a $10,000 insurance policy to his mother, Dora Flansburg, and his remains were shipped to Alma for burial where he rests today in Riverside Cemetery.

At his death, Ruben N. Root was only twenty-two years old.

Copyright 2018 James M Goodspeed


Gratiot Count During the Great War – October 1918: “Remaining Patriotic to the End”


Above: Advertisements from October issues of the Alma Record.

        October 1918 in Gratiot County was known as the time of the next big Liberty Loan drive. It was announced that the Fourth Drive was most important to the winning of the war. The County War Board quickly made it known that a list of “non-buyers” of Liberty Bonds would be published in the newspapers. A Vigilance Committee was also formed to “round up slackers” who were “men of means, who are making to hide behind fifty dollar subscriptions when they should take  several times that amount.” A personal, handwritten letter from President Wilson appeared in the Alma Record telling the public why it was important to buy more bonds. Alma mayor Frances King announced that Friday, October 7 was a “Loan Holiday” in town and all businesses were closed to allow bond sellers to circulate around town and out in the countryside.  At times that October speakers appeared in various locations to whip up support. One of these took place at Alma High School’s auditorium where Dr.J.M. Magil, who once been to Germany, addressed a large crowd there. He also gave a similar speech at the Republic Truck Company.

        Advertisements urged Gratiot people to buy bonds with titles like: “There’s a Soldier Facing Death For You…BUY, BUY, BUY A BOND.” Another warned readers that “The Princes of Germany are Shaking Dice for the United States – Buy Bonds.”  Other titles were “How are You Going to Answer Germany’s Peace Terms?” and “The Enemy is Watching: Lend the Way Our Boys Fight-To Your Utmost.”  In Alma, the drive was so successful that by mid-month it was announced that the city would actually double its quota.

        Other county schools remained involved in the Liberty Loan drive as well. Down at Middleton,  a parade took place from the school down to Mertz’s Hall, where a Liberty Loan meeting was held. A similar meeting was held over at the Perrinton School.   Other locations in the county had church sponsored drives, such as in Breckenridge where $5,000 in bonds was sold at three churches. Sales over at St. Louis went so well that the city was the first precinct in the state of Michigan to “go over the top” by meeting its $40,750 goal from 694 people who volunteered to buy bonds. As a result,  St. Louis received an honor flag at a ceremony at the opera house after the thirty-piece Jackie Band from Great Lakes Naval Station entertained the audience.   Other places were also so successful to the bond drive that Alma, Ithaca and Elba Township all received their own Honor Flags as well. While all of these bond sales took place, a new idea was emerging in Gratiot County that happened over the next few years. Car dealers (and later banks) would accept Liberty Bonds and War Savings Stamps as part payment for car sales and loans.

       During that fall people were being asked to think ahead to Christmas and local men who were overseas. In early October, instructions were given regarding sending Christmas packages to the front. In order for the Red Cross to deliver a package from the family, each soldier had to fill out a label telling from whom they would like to receive a package. The Red Cross furnished specially sized boxes to residents and the box then had to be turned into the local Red Cross unit in order to be mailed.

        Five hundred soldiers rolled into Alma aboard the local trains this month in order to drive Liberty trucks overland to the East Coast. At Alma College, induction papers arrived for fifty men and they were then made members of the SATC service. More students on campus were waiting for more induction papers.

       And then there were monthly letters from soldiers abroad. L.Verne Buckborough wrote home from France about the abundance of war souvenirs that could be picked up on the battlefield. German helmets were especially prized. Glen Sergeant of Ithaca wrote home that he had been wounded twice, but he claimed to be okay after wounds to the head and his back. Harvey Brillhart described how French families drank wine like the way Americans drank coffee. However, since it had no sugar in it Brillhart would not drink the wine. E. H. Loudenbeck of Perrinton was satisfied with his $39.50 in monthly pay. Still, too many fellow soldiers were soon broke because they gambled theirs away. Although Floyd Thomas had spent time in the trenches, he had yet to catch “the cooties.” Having two cats in the trenches with his group helped to keep the mice population down. One of the most unusual of letters that month came from Miss Viola Smith, who had a sister in Ashley, and who was a Red Cross nurse in France. She wrote that Base No. 11 was “a long way from Tipperary” but it was safe there.  Working in a tent of fifty soldiers who had been gassed was especially sobering for her.

       The Red Cross kept up its work in Gratiot County. Relief for Belgium was a goal of many of the works that women did. One volunteer in Alma brought in a completely new baby’s outfit consisting of twenty articles made from fine wool. The Red Cross noted that this was donated by “a generous patriotic woman” in the community. As the flu epidemic broke out women were asked to wear face masks when they entered the workroom.  People who attended the Red Cross benefit at North Star voiced their concern about the village having its own Honor Flag and so they pitched in seven dollars toward purchasing one. Over at Newark Township, the Red Cross provided seven comforters and fifty-six articles of clothing for Belgian relief. The comforters were made in just four days with help of children from four schools in that township. Mennonites also contributed one quilt that had a log cabin on it. Attendance was growing at Newark with twenty-four workers at the previous work session.  It was also reported that the Bannister branch of the Red Cross raised nearly $500 the previous month.

        The public continued to be absorbed with the war. A War Exhibit Train arrived in the county to promote Liberty Bond sales. It was estimated that 10,000 people saw the train when it appeared in Alma with its collection of weapons and armaments from the Western Front. A hot movie that drew people to the St. Louis Liberty Theatre was “Over the Top,” a movie which depicted the life of Sergeant Arthur Guy Empey’s story of fighting on the front in France. A Liberty Day Celebration was held at the Ithaca fairgrounds on what was called a national holiday to raise money for the war effort. Farmers were encouraged to build new buildings for hogs, to store grain, or food for livestock only if improvements were necessary. Permits were not needed for construction on farms if it did not exceed $1,000 and if the farmer did not use skilled labor for a building. An Ithaca resident, Aaron Page, told of his stay in Russia before and during the revolution there. Page stated that he had worked as a driver in the Czar’s racing stables.

       October also saw a rise in the movement for women’s suffrage in Gratiot County.  Notices were placed in the newspapers by women who asked readers to vote for suffrage. A total of 280 women from Alma’s Fourth Ward signed one advertisement petitioning for votes in the state’s November 5 election. Several businessmen also donated their space in newspapers at the end of October and urged the public to support the measure.

       As October closed, rumors that the war would soon end circulated through Gratiot County, often creating celebrations that proved to be false alarms. Yet, the war would soon conclude in early November 1918.

Copyright 2018 James M Goodspeed