Above: Local newspapers like the Gratiot County Herald and the Alma Record regularly published lists of those Gratiot County men who died as the war went on.
By the end of the World War in Europe a total of 116, 708 Americans had died. Along with these came another 204,000 who were wounded. From Gratiot County, at least thirty men gave their lives in service to their country and our county.
When I first considered doing these stories over four years ago, I attempted to find whatever had been written about these thirty men from newspapers like the Gratiot County Herald and the Alma Record. Broader searches into the Detroit Free Press and the Lansing State Journal also occasionally gave tidbits of information. However, most of what we know about these men came from Gratiot County newspapers.
To attempt to broaden the stories, I turned to records in the National Archives, namely personal files that were put together when a soldier died. Most of our Gratiot men had a file, but a few did not.
I hoped that by pulling all of these materials more might be known about each of the veterans – their backgrounds, their families, where they lived, where they went to school, what their hopes and dreams were, as well as how each of them died.
What I did learn was that many of the men were single and unmarried. A few of them married and a couple of them had children. Almost half of those who died did so in combat in Europe. Several died as a result of the Influenza Epidemic, a few as the result of accidents. One came home severely wounded, only to die a few months later. One was a boy, barely sixteen years old. In one case there is still one soldier whose death is as mysterious as his brief service record.
Still, there are other Gratiot County men whose names appeared in the newspapers that also paid the ultimate price. Their names do not appear with the thirty that we have. Possibly family members chose not to come forward with their names – or there was no family member left after the war to do so. Sometimes more than one county claimed a veteran, depending on where they lived, went to school, or where they enlisted. This situation happened to at least two of Gratiot County’s men.
One hundred years later, what we have left are distant memories of America’s first war on European soil, a war that Gratiot County was involved with for only twenty months. Many of these men who died during this time are buried in cemeteries within Gratiot County, in forgotten places, with markers and headstones that may be in disrepair or need cleaning.
We owe them the opportunity to be remembered.
These were the thirty who dared.
Copyright 2018 James M Goodspeed