Above: Picture of Lyle C. Smith taken during the service; Smith’s draft registration paper; a marker in Fulton Center Cemetery.
Lyle Charles Smith was born in Fulton Center on June 12, 1894 to J.D. and Anna Smith. The Smiths, who were a farming family with six children (one of whom died in childhood), experienced a tragedy when Anna died in 1907. Lyle’s father remarried Ella Winsor who became a mother to the children.
When the United States entered World War I, Lyle entered the first draft in Gratiot County. Lyle married his wife, Susie Fraker, just four days before he left for Camp Custer from Alma on November 20, 1917. They had only a short time together before he left.
At Camp Custer, Lyle became a part of the 7th Company, 2nd Battalion Depot Brigade. From here he was sent to Camp Merritt, New Jersey and became a part of Company E, 26th United States Infantry. Upon arrival in France, the Smith family knew little of his whereabouts except for five letters that he wrote, all from June 1918.
Private Lyle Smith met a tragic end when he died in the Battle of the Argonne on October 4, 1918. Although he died October 1, his family and his wife did not know of the confirmation of his death until early December 1918. Even then, the Smiths only learned of his death through names of the dead that appeared in newspaper lists. Lyle Smith was buried on the field of battle and then moved to what became known as the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery in Meuse, France.
Years later, Ella Smith wrote the United States War Department that “Lyle was a good son and I think I have been a good mother to him. Lyle and his father were pals, and his father has never been the same since Lyle’s death. He still mourns his son’s death. He was his father’s right-hand man.”
However, this was not the end of the story of Lyle C. Smith and his family. In the late 1920s during the administration of President Calvin Coolidge, legislation was passed to allow mothers and widows to make the trip to France to visit the graves of their son or husband. Over 17,000 women were eligible for the trip, fully paid by the government, and some 6,693 were selected to do so for those that were considered Gold Star Mothers. Because Susie Fraker Smith, Lyle’s widow, was soon to remarry, she wanted Lyle’s step-mother to go in her place.
Ella Smith was one of 2,026 war widows who traveled to France in early June 1930 aboard the SS Harding. During the trip to France, Ella Smith was able to visit the cemetery and Lyle’s grave. She was given a wreath to place on the grave, and a photographer took a picture of her standing next to Lyle’s marker. Ella Smith was Gratiot County’s only Gold Star Mother to travel to France under this program.
Some years later, a marker as placed in the Fulton Center Cemetery in Fulton Township. Toward the southern part of the cemetery, a significant marker in that section is dedicated to Lyle C. Smith. It reads at its base, “Buried in France.”
Lyle C. Smith was the first Fulton Township man to die in the World War. He was only 24 years old, and he left behind a widow and his family.
Copyright 2018 James M Goodspeed