When he was very young, my older brother was in danger of getting drafted when he turned eighteen. Much to our mother’s relief, Nixon ended the draft in 1973, and I never had to worry about a sibling going off to war.
My grandpa wasn’t so lucky. While his seventh grade class was busy knitting vests for soldiers overseas, his own big brother, Howard, was caught up in the fervor to fight The War to End All Wars, and enlisted in the infantry. In May 1918, after seven months of training at Camp Hancock, he departed for France. Two months later, on the first day of his regiment’s confrontation with the enemy, Howard was killed by machine gun fire in the Conde Woods.
A comrade reported seeing him lying wounded a few hours after the attack, asking for water, but the man had none and knew that the enemy was returning, so he left without helping. A few days later, a patrol looking for bodies found Howard’s about 200 yards from where he had last been seen, and buried him with twelve other soldiers in a grave near Marne. Two years later, his body was disinterred and shipped back to Pennsylvania, where he received full military honors.
My grandfather said that his parents were in denial when they got the news of Howard’s death. When the remains were finally returned home, the family was offered the opportunity to identify the body, but declined. As a result, his father was able to hope until the end of his days that there had been a mix-up, and that Howard might someday return.
This post is dedicated to brave men long forgotten, and to the families that had to go on without them.
References: History of the 110th Infantry (10th Pa.) of the 28th Division, U. S. A. (Published by The Association of the 110th Infantry, 1920); Personal recollections of Clair H. Brewer, Sr.