Above: Clarence Ludwick’s picture upon entering Camp Custer; his grave in Ridgelawn Cemetery in Breckenridge.
Clarence Ludwick’s story of service for Gratiot County in World War I was memorable as he was among the first of Gratiot County’s men to die of repercussions of the Influenza Epidemic while serving overseas. Up until his death, most of the young men from Gratiot who died from the flu did so at Camp Custer or some other camp inside the United States.
Ludwick was born in 1896 to Carson and Nora Ludwig in Breckenridge, Michigan. Clarence was the youngest of seven children, and his father was a farmer in Breckenridge. While Clarence answered the call to register for the draft on June 5, 1917, he was not called to serve until May 29, 1918. It is possible that his status as the youngest son of a farmer, who probably did not have other children at home to help with the farm, kept Clarence from going off to the Army any earlier.
On February 9, 1918, Clarence married his wife, Nona, in Breckenridge. He was married for barely four months when called to the service. A note in the Alma Record that “rumors here are to the effect that several of the men drafted from this county last month have been made members of the 85th Division to fill vacancies and that they will be going overseas within a few days. One of these men is Clarence Ludwick.” Clarence entered Camp Custer and became part of Company C of the 85th Division. On July 23 he left from Brooklyn, New York aboard the SS Vestris. His papers showed that he became part of the 340th Infantry.
Soon after arriving in France, Clarence wrote a letter home to his wife. Dated August 28, 1918, he told his wife that he was fine and having a good time. He also said that he had been transferred to the Pioneer Platoon. The way houses and barns were attached seemed strange, and some of the buildings looked like they had built in ancient times. Also, the streets were crooked and narrow, and a nearby castle covered a city block. There were no buggies, only two-wheeled carts in operation. Strangely, French women went out to work along with men. Here in France, he drilled two hours less each day than he did while in Camp Custer, Ludwick lamented that he had been separated from other Breckenridge boys that came with him to France and this made him feel lonely. It also appeared, even in early August 1918, that the war with Germany could not last much longer, or so Ludwick believed. The letter was probably the last contact that he had with his wife and family in Breckenridge.
Tragedy came on October 17 when he succumbed to pneumonia at Base Hospital #56 in the Marne. While Ludwick’s death was listed as pneumonia, many American men in France at this time contracted Influenza, then frequently stabilized or recovered. After this, they experienced a secondary infection and died from attacks of pneumonia. This may have happened to Clarence Ludwick.
Because Clarence had recently married and listed his wife as the one to be notified if he died, Nona Ludwick was the one who corresponded with the War Department. After the war ended, in January and then again in March 1919, Nona Ludwick asked for a picture of her husband’s grave. She also wanted to know if his body could be sent back home because she had heard that the Army was burning the bodies. If so, she wanted Clarence to remain there.
It would over two years later, however, that Clarence Ludwick did come home to his wife. On February 14, 1921 (Valentine’s Day) the War Department informed Nona that her husband’s body was being sent to Breckenridge. Within four days of notification, Clarence Ludwick returned home and was laid to rest in Breckenridge’s Ridgelawn Cemetery.
Clarence Ludwick was 22 years, 11 months and 7 days old when he died in France.
Copyright 2018 James M Goodspeed