Thirty Who Dared to Serve Gratiot County in the World War – Part 25: Ralph Sawvel from Breckenridge, “I was an Alma College Student Who Chose to Go Off to War”


Above: The resting place in Breckenridge’s Ridgelawn Cemetery for Ralph W. Sawvel.


         Ralph Warren Sawvel was born August 15, 1897, in Breckenridge, Michigan to Robert and Almeda Sawvel. In 1910, Robert and Almeda resided in Bethany Township on a farm along with their five children. Ralph was the middle child and second son in the family. Ralph’s mother died in 1911 and his father soon remarried.

          A graduate of Breckenridge Schools, Ralph went on and attended Alma College from 1916-17.  Because of his personality, fellow students nicknamed him “Smiles.” On  July 24, 1917, Sawvel entered Fort Wayne in Detroit, and he was a Private in Company H of the 125th Medical Department, 32nd Infantry Division. From there, he was sent to Camp McArthur, Texas on October 15, 1917, where he served until January 1918 when the Army sent him to Camp New Jersey. Sawvel sailed for France in early February 1918.

           In the Fall of 1918 word reached Breckenridge that Ralph Sawvel had been severely wounded during fighting that summer. One report stated that he had been injured in late July, another in late August. Another story said that another Breckenridge boy, Ward Doyle, had helped to pick Ralph up and to see that someone cared for his wounds. Although newspapers never explained how severely he was injured, Sawvel was hospitalized. It also said that because of the severity of his injuries, Sawvel was expected to be sent home in October. Tragically, it turned out that he died in a hospital in 1919 in Brest before being transported back to the United States. Newspaper reports read that he died “from wounds received in battle. (Sawvel) carried these wounds for some time and was on his way home at the time of his death.”

          It would not be until late July 1920 that Ralph Sawvel would finally return to Breckenridge. He became the first of all of Gratiot County’s war dead to be brought home. After he arrived in Breckenridge, a short service took place in the home of his grandparents. The Breckenridge American Legion conducted the funeral and Sawvel was laid to rest in Breckenridge’s Ridgelawn Cemetery.

              At the time of this death, Ralph W. Sawvel was twenty-one years old.

Copyright 2018 James M Goodspeed

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s