Friday, March 14, 2008


Came across and the photo from today was
about Lazare Ponticelli, the last French veteran from WW I passing away and how he will receive a State Funeral. I recalled an NYT article sometime during the last 2 months about the 3 remaining American veterans, the oldest being 107.
Two and 1/2 years ago I knew two things about my grandfathers service in the war. I knew that he had fought in France in WW I and I knew he had been injured in the Battle of the Argonne forest.

Within 2 months this is what I learned:

He took the train from Provo, Utah to Ft. Lewis, Washington for his training, and was able to see his brother in Shoshone, Idaho when the train stopped there. He was 26 and had never been away from home before.
He was so homesick that he was actually ill a couple of days, but that didn’t stop him and his company from taking first place for their parade marching.
The division traveled by train across Canada and down to Camp Merritt in New Jersey, and the Canadian people were warm and kind to the soldiers.
And he loved traveling on the train.
At Camp Merritt the army did a final inspection of the soldiers going overseas to make sure they had the strongest and most able and my grandfather passed the test, and he states that even though he isn’t sure he will come home, he knows he wants to be over where the battle is.
The 91st division landed in 3 different places, 2 in England and one in France. Granddad landed in Liverpool and went across the channel a few days later.
They shipped them to the front in train cars that would hold 30 men and 8 horses.
He was near the front for about 4 weeks as the division prepared the offensive that would be a major turning point in the war.

He was a machine gun runner in the infantry and he would take messages from the officers to the machine gunners. It was returning from one of these runs and trying to get into a foxhole that was already full, that his mess kit, which was on his shoulder, was hit by a bullet and sent shrapnel into his face. He says that when he woke up he thought that both his legs were gone because he couldn’t feel them.
I know that shortly before he was injured he held his best friend in his arms and watched him die.
I know that he was injured within the first 24 hours of the offensive and that he was transported to the hospital in a truck or wagon because they couldn’t get ambulances to the front. I know that the men fighting at the front had no blankets or warm food for the first 3 days. I know that it was raining and muddy and cold.
I know he was at Base hospital 67, somewhere in France and with many thanks to the Internet I know that base hospital 67 was located in Meaves and it was a Type A field hospital and I now know what a Type A field hospital looks like.
I know he continued to write faithfully to his parents and my grandmother who was then his sweetheart and I know his letters were getting through but theirs were not, and he went over 2 months without word from home while he was in the hospital.
I know that the telegram telling my great-grandmother that he had been injured arrived on November 10th and he had been injured on the 27th of September.
I know his injuries healed and he returned to his company shortly after Christmas. The armistice had been signed in November and the troops were preparing to return home. He didn’t take a troop train back across France, he walked most of the way. It was January, and rainy and cold. I know some of the towns he was billeted in and I know the approximate date he shipped out to come home.
I know he was very seasick coming back but he made up for it once he was again at Camp Merritt. He made one trip into New York City and thought it was “sure some place”.
He went by train to Fort Russell in Wyoming to be discharged and from there made his way to Provo a few days later. We have a first hand account of the first time he saw my grandmother after he returned.

Other things I discovered in the past two months are.

Even though my grandfather had an only an 8th grade education he had beautiful handwriting and good spelling, the punctuation was a little sketchy—I’m not sure if that was because he didn’t know how or just because he tried to write so much into such small spaces.
I discovered his deep love for his Mother. In his letters he never refers to her just as mother, it’s always “my dearest mother”. He tells his Sweetheart in one letter that he has the most wonderful mother in the world and hopes he will never disappoint her.
I discovered that he was basically shy and maybe a little unsure of himself at this time of his life- unlike the self-assured, confident and rather austere grandfather I knew and loved in the 40’s and 50’s.

Now the rest of the story:
There are 15 first cousins on this side of the family and I am the second oldest. My cousin Norman just older than myself passed away a year and a half ago and we very close growing up. Shortly after he died I began to get promptings about WW I., and I would get fleeting little nudges about “Gee I wish I knew more about Granddad in the War”. I would see a movie or be reading a book and there would be references to WW I. The nudgings became much more than nudgings and I decided to ask my Aunt Myrleen if there was any information about this that I didn’t know about. After about a month of not finding her home, one day her car was there.
I went in and ask her if she had any information about Granddad in the war. She looked at me, sat down at the kitchen table and said “I can’t believe you’ve ask me that.” She said “I have been so worried about those boxes and didn't know what to do with them." She then delivered to me 3 boxes from the top of a closet that had letters, postcards, memento’s and photographs of my grandfathers service.
I took everything home and in 10 days I had 107 pages of a rough draft.
I refined, added and edited and ended up with 137 pages of history, letters and photo’s. Once I started on this project the doors just flew open.
My granddad on the other side probably didn’t think it was a big deal and he probably told my Dad (also on the other side) not to bother me with it, but when my cousin got up there his reply was “Granddad, this is a big deal.”
Shortly after this we were able to go to Holland on our Home Exchange and went to the valley where my Grandfather had fought. It was an incredible experience.

1 comment:

andi said...

I love this story. I remember just a couple of months ago, you talked about putting this story together in the form of a blog.

I would love to see more pictures.