Local historian Paul LaRue — working with the Ohio World War I Centennial Committee — recently published an article featuring Fayette County ties aimed at helping other communities honor their WWI service members.
LaRue has worked for years to help soliders from Fayette County and Ohio receive the recognition and respect they deserved in death following their service. Whether that is working on articles to honor Homer Lawson — a local African-American who served in the military during World War I — or helping to restore gravestones of fallen soldiers in the Washington Cemetery Soldier’s Row. These efforts culminated in another important lesson published on worldwar1centennial.org by LaRue. The article (which follows) outlines how LaRue approaches his work of preserving the history of local veterans and how others can apply this in their own community:
Most Ohio counties honor their community’s World War I service members with a list of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. My county, Fayette, is no different. On the Fayette County Courthouse lawn is a monument with two plaques containing the names of Fayette County’s World War I dead.
The United States number of deaths in World War I was approximately 116,000. Ohio’s eighty-eight counties contributed more than 260,000 soldiers, sailors, and marines to the war effort. Sadly, more than 6500 of these service members never made it home. I became curious about the sources available to locate or identify my community’s WWI deaths in service. These sources and data will vary from county to county. Here are the sources I used to develop a database of Fayette County’s WWI deaths in service.
First, I started with the names on our local WWI memorial. Consult your county’s veteran organizations and County Veterans Services for plaques and lists of WWI service members. Your local historical society can be helpful in locating local plaques, and/or memorials. Our local plaques (Fayette County) were dedicated May 27, 1919 and list the names of forty-four service members from our county that died in service. These names would have been collected from available local sources.
Second, local period newspapers are extremely helpful. Your local library or genealogical society can be an excellent source of local newspapers. The Ohio History Connection has an excellent collection of Ohio newspapers (Link: http://catalog.ohiohistory.org/Presto/home/home.aspx?ssid=Newspapers ). I used Fayette County’s weekly newspaper of the time, the Ohio State Register. The paper contained an article listing the names of the local deaths in service as of December 6, 1918. The newspaper listed twenty-six names as deaths in WWI service. If you have been following my data, you should quickly see a problem. There are eighteen more names on the memorial plaques than listed in the newspaper. Following World War I, the United States government went to great lengths to identify and recover the dead in Europe. Initially, a large number of soldiers were classified as missing in action. The December 6, 1918 issue of the Ohio State Register reflects this fact. Lieutenant Paul Hughey, the namesake of Washington Court House American Legion Post 25 was shot down over Tronville, France on September 14, 1918. At the end of the war his death was classified as missing in action. Lt. Hughey’s body was later recovered and buried in France before ultimately being returned to our community for burial in 1921. So, don’t be surprised if the number of war dead from your community will vary from source to source.
My third source was shared with me by the Manuscript Curator for The Ohio History Connection, John Haas. In the source, Charles Galbreath’s History of Ohio, Volume #1, Ohio’s WWI dead are listed by county beginning on page 699. The listing includes both the date of death and the town or community the service member was from. Galbreath lists thirty-three names of deaths in service from Fayette County. Still, this number does not match either the plaques or local newspapers.
Next, I cross referenced the names from the three sources – local WWI War Deaths in service plaques, the local newspaper article, and Galbreath’s Vol. 1 – against two other sources. The first additional source was the Ohio Roster of Soldiers, Sailors and Marines of the World War 1917-1918. The Ohio Rosters are extremely useful. The twenty-two-volume series contains the names and key data on the more than 260,000 Ohioans who served in the Army, Navy, and Marines. The names are arranged alphabetically, and contain information on the regiment, place and date of enlistment, race, and birth. Death in service information is also provided—the date, place, and next of kin notified. Volumes 1 – 19 contain the names of soldiers, volumes 20 – 21 contain the names of sailors, and volume 22 contains the names of Marines. These volumes can be found in most public libraries genealogy section, as well as online.
Finally, I used the database by the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) ( https://www.abmc.gov ). The ABMC was established by Congress in 1923. It operates and maintains twenty-six American Military Cemeteries and twenty-seven Memorials in sixteen countries. The ABMC maintains a database of more than 200,000 names of United States service members from World War I through the Vietnam War. More than 35,000 names are of WWI Soldiers and Sailors. The database provides name, rank, regiment, state, and location of burial in an ABMC Cemetery. Roughly 30% of American Service members from WWI whom died in service never returned to the United States for burial. This makes the ABMC database extremely useful.
Once I had cross referenced the names, I was left with three names I could not verify in the Ohio Rosters, which bothered me. I reached out to an excellent genealogist in Cincinnati to get his thoughts. He suggested I look at the local death indexes, then check the local newspapers. I located two of the names this way. One soldier’s name was misspelled on the memorial plaque and actually was in the Ohio Rosters. The second soldier’s death was chronicled in our local newspaper. The newspaper article described his enlisting in Michigan, which would explain his not being listed in the Ohio Rosters. Only one name listed in the Galbreath records went undocumented. The service member served in the Navy, and I never could find a direct connection to our county.
I also added several names to the database. Homer Lawson served in the 372nd, and was killed in action. He is the namesake of American Legion Post 653 in Washington Court House. Lawson’s name was omitted, (I speculate) because his mother had moved her young family (including Homer) to Columbus long before the outbreak of the war. Homer Lawson’s service is documented in Galbreath, listed from Franklin County. The Fayette County African American community claim Homer Lawson as a local son whom made the ultimate sacrifice. Private Lawson is also profiled in a book, The Gold Star of Victory Memorial. The text honors Franklin County’s war dead, and can be found through the Columbus Metropolitan Library. This also highlights the value of seeking out local history sources.
I also included two names from the Village of New Holland. New Holland, like numerous towns and villages in Ohio, straddles two counties. Three quarters of New Holland is located in Pickaway County, and one quarter is located in Fayette County. The New Holland community lost four of its sons in the war. Following WWI the ARCH Post #477 American Legion was organized in New Holland. The name ARCH was an acronym created by taking first letter from the first names of the four fallen soldiers. Two of the four names appear in the Fayette County data. I chose to include the other two names, though technically they are from Pickaway County. I wanted a comprehensive list to honor as many service members sacrifice as possible.
My final database of Fayette County deaths in service lists forty-eight names. Eighteen of the forty-eight names list pneumonia as the cause of death. Fourteen of the forty-eight were killed in action. Two never left Ohio, dying at Camp Sherman and the Wilbur Wright Field. Ten of the forty-eight are buried in ABMC Cemeteries overseas, including four names listed on the tablets of the missing. The earliest death was in April 1917, the latest death was in July 1919. One death was of a soldier killed in a railroad accident in France, and one death was a sailor drowned in the North Sea when his ship hit a mine and sank. Each service member’s story demonstrates incredible personal sacrifice.
My hope is that my trail of resources can assist you with your own research. Help Ohio commemorate the World War I Centennial by documenting and recognizing the service members that made the ultimate sacrifice from your community.