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Lodi soldiers: All gave some; some gave all

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Posted: Friday, January 31, 2003 10:00 pm

By April 1917 "The Great War" - as it was known then, for there hadn't been a second one to give it a number - had been raging for more than two-and-a-half years and had engulfed most of Europe in a holocaust of unprecedented slaughter in which hundreds of thousands of men had died on hundreds of battlefields.

Millions of civilians had been made refugees as they fled the carnage.

From the opening guns, the United States had remained neutral in policy, but not in thought.

Editor's Note

James B Anderson, Orville L. Anderson, Harold E. Cary, David C. Cottrel, Joseph Drabkin, August Frey, Ralph Gillespie, Herbert Hovard, Thomas Wilbur Hugill, Alexander Linde, George Lippi, George Mauch, James R. Miller, Clyde W. Needham, Charles A. Patten, Virgil Pierce, William Rossi, Roy Setzer, Joseph Smith, Arthur Spencer, Clyde Stamper, W.I. Tredway, Henry Trimberger Jr., Martin Troy, Arthur Vincent, Charles E. Walther, William Vernon White, Henry Wittmeier, Charles W. Wisthoff and Ora Wynn.

In a war, it is always the names that matter most and the names above are those young men from the Lodi area who marched off to war in 1917, never to return. Scores of others - luckier ones - went with them, but returned from "Over There" either whole or bearing the wounds of combat.

They volunteered, or were drafted, to fight in "the war to end all wars" and the small town that was Lodi took a great, fierce patriotic pride in them. Collectively they were the "Lodi Liberty Lads," but each of them was also someone's son, husband or father.

In part, this package of stories was inspired by a recent letter to the News-Sentinel from Patrick Lemout, of Waregem, Belgium. He lives only about a mile from the Flanders Field U.S. Military Cemetery where nearly 500 World War I American soldiers are buried. Lemout was seeking information about Thomas Wilbur Hugill - a Lodian who along with other members of the 91st Infantry Division "gave their lives for the freedom of my country."

Another factor that led to today's stories is that the clouds of war are once again darkening the nation's horizon and a new generation of Lodians - both men and women - are ready to march off to war. So, it would seem an appropriate time to look back 85 years at those young Lodians who answered their country's call and gave everything they had for a cause they believed in.

There was an steady drift toward war fueled by a combination of German submarine attacks on American shipping, wild-eyed Allied propaganda concerning alleged German atrocities and the fiery rhetoric of the interventionists, led by former President Theodore Roosevelt, who wanted America in it on the side of Great Britain and France. Finally, in early 1917 Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare - meaning any ship found in the war zone surrounding Britain would be sunk regardless of nationality - and war became America's only recourse.

On the evening of April 2, 1917 President Woodrow Wilson - who had been re-elected only five months before on the slogan "He kept us out of war" - was scheduled to deliver the most important speech of his life: He would ask the Congress to declare war against Germany.

Walking towards the chamber of the House of Representatives, Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge, R-Mass., was confronted by a youthful anti-war protester. Lodge, 67, was one of the leaders of the interventionist movement.

In heated words, the peace activist shouted at Lodge, "Anyone who wants to go to war is a coward. You're a damned coward!"

The elderly Lodge roared back, "You're a damned liar" and followed words with a swift right to the young man's jaw. All remnants of pacifism faded as the youth swung back and the two scuffled until bystanders jumped in, dragged the protester away and beat him severely.

Lodge, bruised but unruffled, walked in to the House chamber with Democratic Majority Leader, Sen. Thomas S. Martin of Virginia, who as a teenager had fought for the South in the Civil War.

Four days later, April 6, 1917, the United States declared war by 82 to 6 in the Senate and 373 to 50 in the House. The declaration was quickly followed by bills expanding the Army and Navy, making plans to send a million man army to France and enacting conscription making every man between 21 and 30 subject to being drafted, thus guaranteeing enough bodies to fill the ranks

War comes to Lodi

With the declaration of war, Lodi suddenly found itself a city in a nation at war. And Lodians, urged on in no small part by the hawkish tenor of the Sentinel, responded to the situation with wartime patriotism.

  • Within a week at least 50 young men had enlisted. Promptly dubbed "Lodi Liberty Lads," they could be seen drilling in the downtown area.
  • Mayor Frank O. Hale ordered the American flag at City Hall illuminated and urged citizens to conserve such food items as sugar and flour since prices were already skyrocketing.
  • The high school began releasing the older boys so they could help harvest the crops.
  • The local Red Cross formed first aid classes, sponsored by a large donation from the city's Japanese-American community.

The 117th and the 363rd

Lodi's youth would serve in every branch of the armed services - Army, Navy and Marines - but the largest concentrations were in two Army regiments - the 117th Engineers and the 363rd Infantry.

The 2nd Battalion, 117th Engineers was a National Guard outfit - California to the core (Company D was mostly Lodi and Stockton men) - formed in Sacramento on July 16, 1916 as the 1st Separate Battalion of California Engineers. Within a week, the unit was called into federal service on the Arizona-Mexico border supporting Gen. John J. Pershing's punitive expedition which was trying to run the Mexican revolutionary Poncho Villa to ground after he had raided Columbus, N.M. On March 6, 1917 the engineers returned home. One month later, the United States was at war and so were the engineers.

In a frenetic military scramble, states suddenly found themselves in a macabre competition to make sure their National Guard units got to France first. To block both the competition and the bloody impact combat could have on any one state, the War Department created a division composed of hand-picked National Guard units from 26 states and the District of Columbia - including the California engineers. The result was the 42nd Infantry Division.

The unit's fast-rising young chief of staff, Col. Douglas MacArthur, noted that "the 42nd Division stretched like a rainbow from one end of America to the other." The nickname stuck and the Rainbow Division in 174 days of combat from March 1918 to the Armistice on Nov. 11 suffered one out of every 16 of the 257,000 U.S. battle casualties, but wrote a combat record seldom equaled and never surpassed in American military history.

The 363rd Infantry Regiment - nicknamed "San Francisco's Own" given the number of men from that city in its ranks - was recruited from all over Northern California with Company G. being filled with men from San Joaquin County.

In August 1917, the regiment was shipped to then Camp (now Fort) Lewis, Wash., where it formed one of the four infantry regiments of the 91st Division. With units coming from California, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Montana and Alaska, the 91st was nicknamed the "Wild West Division," had a pine tree as its division patch and "Everybody fights - nobody quits!" as a battle cry.

Arriving in France in July 1918, the division entered the frontlines that September and fought until the end of the war which found it in Belgium under command of King Albert. The division suffered 5,838 combat casualties, had only 23 men taken prisoner, but captured 2,412.

The killing season

Armies traditionally begin campaigning in the spring, when the weather is better and the days begin to stretch out. And in the spring of 1918, with nearly a million American fighting men in France and hundred of thousands of more on the way, everyone knew that it was only a matter of time before American troops were committed to battles of the killing season and the casualties would begin to mount.

But death first touched Lodi soldiers not on battlefields but in hospital beds. David C. Cottrel, of Woodbridge died of pneumonia on April 19 "somewhere in France." But given the slowness of communications, his family wasn't notified until May 7.

Raised by his aunt and uncle, Cottrel was described as a "likable youth" with a "host of friends." He had joined the military soon after war was declared and was assigned to the artillery. And in the end, it was of small concern to his family and friends whether he died of a disease or a bullet.

Perhaps there were some Lodians who saw a dark omen in what happened during the city's Memorial Day services on Thursday, May 30.

The keynote speaker - Franklin Burns, an attorney from Auburn - delivered a "great patriotic plea" on Americanism and the need to sacrifice. A famed orator, Burns held the huge crowd "spellbound for more than an hour" when he suddenly put his hand to his forehead, toppled off the platform and landed dead, speech still clutched in his hand.

The Lodi Sentinel for June 1 described him as a "true patriot" who had "died for his country as well as any soldier at the battle front."

If there was irony in the newspaper's tribute to Burns, it wasn't long in revealing itself for on June 8 Lodians woke up to read that "The War God has taken his toll of Lodi's population. The first Lodi man has been killed on the field of battle."

Cpl. Joseph Drabkin, who had left the Lodi train station only eight months before, had been killed June 6 near the Marne River, some 50 miles east of Paris.

Drabkin, 24, wasn't a native Lodian - wasn't even a native American. Drabkin and his older brother, Maurice, had come to the United States from Russia only four years before to escape the tyranny of Czar Nicholas II. After landing in New York, the brothers headed West finally landing in Lodi in late 1915 where they opened up the Lodi Junk Company

Both brothers joined the Army to fight for their adopted homeland shortly after the declaration of war. Thus, in a small everyone-knows-everyone-else community, the first to fall in battle was little known to Lodians.

But Lodians were getting to know plenty about the war in a lot of different ways:

  • They learned about it through letters from soldiers to their families and friends which, in turn, were published in the Sentinel.
  • They learned about the war as more and more young men - volunteers and draftees - left Lodi for military service.
  • They learned about the war on June 16 when a telegram arrived from Jacob Schenkenberger at Camp Lewis that the 91st Division was preparing to go overseas within the week. With him would go dozens of other "Lodi Liberty Lads."
  • But no one had to tell Luce Perrin, a native of France who lived on Oak Street, about the war for seven of her grandsons - Albert, Alfred, Charles, Eddie, Joseph, Orville and Ted - were all in the military.

Death again visited Lodi via telegram on Wednesday, July 10, when Mr. and Mrs. Henry Trimberger Sr. received word that their son, Pvt. Henry Trimberger Jr., 21, had died from "heart failure" at Camp Kearney near San Diego. The Sentinel noted how Trimberger "was very popular with the young people of this place" and lamented that he had died without having the chance to do his part "toward stamping out the terrible Hun."

Henry Trimberger Jr. came home for the last time on the 11:26 a.m. train on Friday, July 13, in a pine box. His funeral was held Saturday morning at St. Anne's Catholic Church after which he took a final train ride - this time to an Oakland cemetery. The Trimbergers would be one of the few Lodi families able to bury their loved one.

The town was still mourning Trimberger when news came on July 18 that still more "Lodi Liberty Lads" were headed for France and would battle to "push the Hun back to the River Rhine."

But pushing the Germans back anywhere could only come at the terrible price of dead American soldiers, including some of Lodi's own. Every family with someone "Over There" couldn't help wonder if it would be … .

No wonder everyone held their breath when the telegram delivery boy swung his bike down their street.

And on Sunday, July 28, his bike came down West Locust Street to the home of Mrs. M.F. Fuqua, grandmother of Cpl. Clyde Needham, of Company D, 117th Engineers.

In Spartan language, the telegram read:

Mrs. M.F. Fuqua

Lodi, California

Sorry to inform you that Corporal Clyde Needham was killed in action on Saturday, July 27.

Gen. J.J. Pershing

Needham, 22, had been raised by his grandmother on the family's ranch near Acampo after his mother died when he was only a few months old. His father lived in Florin. Young Needham had been a deliveryman for a local meat market before enlisting.

But enlisting wasn't all that easy. In fact, Needham had to fight to get in. It seemed that Needham simply didn't measure up to Army standards - by at least half an inch.

When he went to Sacramento for his physical, Needham failed to meet the Army's minimum height requirement. But Needham wouldn't be deterred and talked the induction center brass into sending a telegram to the War Department in Washington, D.C., asking for a waiver. It was granted, Needham was enlisted and in November 1917 found himself in France with Company D, 117th Engineers.

James Burlington, an attorney with the San Joaquin County Public Defenders Office, displays some of the World War I memorabilia that belonged to his late grandfather, Earl E. Burlington Sr., who served in the 363rd Infantry Regiment with many Lodi-area soldiers. (Jerry Tyson/News-Sentinel)

When he died, Needham was with fellow Lodian Sgt. Earl E. Burlington Sr. and another soldier. Burlington was between them, laying down, while the others were sitting up. A German shell hit the top of the trench killing both Needham and the other soldier. Burlington, 26, wasn't scratched.

At the end of August, Cpl. Creede McArthur, of Acampo, wrote his mother, Nellie McArthur, about Needham being killed and how "Clyde was a favorite of all in his company."

The next telegram didn't arrive until Aug. 1, but it brought news of the death of a soldier who was killed nearly two months before Needham. The cause of the delay was never explained.

A misdated letter

It was by telegram that Myrtle Miller learned she was a widow, her husband of less than a year, James R. Miller, of Woodbridge, had fallen on May 20 while helping to repel a German counterattack near the village of Cantigny while fighting with the 1st Infantry Division.

The Sentinel described Miller as a "young man of fine character and many friends" who had been drafted into the Army the previous November.

The young widow told the Sentinel that she had been apprehensive for some time because the last letter she had received was dated May 17.

Yet, the saga of the death of James Miller did not end with that first telegram - at least not for his mother, Mrs. R.B. Miller, who was convinced he was still alive because she had received a letter dated May 28, eight days after he was supposedly killed. In his letter Miller wrote:

May 28, 1918

Dear Mother and folks at home:

Just a few lines to let you know I am well and happy. I have been transferred to the First Division of the 18th Infantry, Co. G and like it fine. This is altogether different than being in the Supply Company and I like it much better. Some of the Stockton boys are in the same company, so I am not all alone.

It is almost dark and I can't see to write much longer. If you do not get a letter for a while longer than you expect, don't worry as I may not get a chance to write as often as I would like to, but will write as often as I can.

Give my love to all and keep plenty for yourself, Mother, dear. I am as ever your loving boy in France.

Pvt. James Richard Miller

1st Div., 18th Inf., Co. G, AEF

The hopes of the Miller family that it all was some ghastly mistake were short lived. Within days Myrtle Votaw, of Lockeford, received a letter from her friend Clyde Stamper, who had been raised in Lockeford before moving to San Francisco. Stamper and Miller were in the same supply company, but wanting to see more action, transferred together to the infantry.

In his letter, Stamper wrote "I have put in 20 days in the trenches and got one German already. There was a young fellow from Lodi by the name of James R. Miller who was killed about 40 feet from me. Ask my aunt if she knows the Millers near Woodbridge."

With Stamper's letter there could be no doubt that James Miller - husband and son - was dead. His letter of May 28th must simply have been misdated.

Shortly thereafter, Mytle Votaw received word that her friend Clyde Stamper had also been killed.

No lingering doubts

But there were no lingering doubts for the family of Sgt. William Vernon White.

Vernon White

Their telegram came at the end of July from Hoboken, N.J. telling them that Vernon had died at sea on his way to France from the Spanish Influenza. His body had been transferred to an homeward bound ship and would be shipped home for burial.

Death, or its nearness, continued to haunt the families of soldier with each passing day. It was, for the entire town, a psychological waiting for the other shoe to drop.

It did drop in early August for Charles Costa with a letter from his son, Angelus, written out of fear that his father would be "greatly worried" by reports of his wounding from the War Department and in the Sentinel.

But there hadn't been any reports in the Sentinel or government telegram even though young Costa had been wounded more than a month before.

In his letter, Costa told his father how a shell burst had wounded him in the arms, legs and eyes. But added, "Now, don't worry, Dad, although they shot me up pretty badly I am going to come out of it all right, and will be right back after those cussed Huns as soon as I can get my fighting legs again."

Little more than a month later, the Costas received word from the War Department that Angelus had died from his wounds.

The next telegram came Aug. 23 to the home of Mr. and Mrs. J.W. Wisthoff - their only son, Charley, 23, had died of wounds. The Wisthoffs had been notified Aug. 1 of his being wounded on July 28, but more than three weeks passed before they found out he had died less than 24 hours later.

September was a new month, but the news was the same. Former Lodian, Capt. Orville L. Anderson, who had attended local schools before moving to Montana, was killed in action on Aug. 1 - one day after his 25th birthday. In his Sept. 3 Page One obituary, the Sentinel wrote that Anderson was well remembered and "liked by all who knew him."

The honor roll

Patriotism - darkened by knowledge of what the war was costing in human terms - was on full display as thousands of county residents turned out on Friday night, Sept. 3, for the Lafayette-Marne-American Defense Day celebration at the county courthouse.

During ceremonies "in conformity with the patriotic impulse of the land," a service flag was dedicated along with "a roster of the young men from San Joaquin County who have already laid down their lives for their country on the battlefields of France."

By Sept. 3, 1918, the "County's Honor Roll" already contained the following names:

William C. Rossi, Lodi

Joseph Drabkin, Lodi

Charles Wisthoff, Acampo

James R. Miller, Woodbridge

Clyde Needham, Lodi

Wesley Allen Stone, Stockton

David C. Cottrel, Stockton

Herbert Boyer, Stockton

Walter Piggins, Stockton

Earl D. Hicke, Stockton

Louis Beauman, Stockton

But everyone in the crowd that night knew more names would soon be added.

On Sept. 24, a little blue star - indicating that a member of that household was in the military - hung in John and Helen Linde's window. By Sept. 25, that little blue star had been replaced by a gold one, which meant a father, son or husband had died in the war, for the Lindes eldest son, Alexander, 27, had been mortally wounded by a German shell on Aug. 25 while crossing "No-man's-land" in a trench raid. He left behind three brothers and five sisters.

Alex Linde

Born in Russia, Linde had worked himself up from common laborer to head wine maker at George West & Son winery and was described by the Sentinel as being a "big, upstanding, two-fisted lad &ellipsis; well-liked by all who knew him."

That same day, the Lindes received a letter from their son's commanding officer:

Co. I, 47th Inf. (Reg). A.E.F.

France, Aug. 25

Mr. John Linde, Lodi, Cal.

Dear sir: The officers, non-commissioned officers and men of Co. I, 47th Inf. join with me in expressing sincere and deepest sympathy for the loss of your son, our comrade, who died bravely fighting for the cause which mean so much to all peace-loving people.

J. Frank Beale

1st Lieutenant

A father's grief

Death came to a former Lodian, Cpl. Harold E. Cary, 363rd Infantry, from a sniper's bullet on Sept. 26 during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Born in Lodi but living in San Francisco, Cary, 23, had joined the Army on Oct. 6, 1917 and had arrived in France in July 1918.

Harold Cary

In a letter to his mother, Cary's company commander, Capt. E.B. Callahan, wrote that he was "one of the most popular men of his company and showed great courage and leadership up to the moment of his death."

In a letter written early in September, Cary said that the war couldn't last much longer and expressed his joy at the thought of coming home.

Back in Lodi, his father, Ed Cary, who with his twin brother, Fred, owned the local water and electrical works at one point and then became prominent contractors, received the news. Ed and Harold's mother had divorced and his son had gone to live with her in San Francisco. Since remarried, he had a 3-year-old daughter, Evelyn.

Evelyn Cary Hassbraum still lives in Lodi and her very first childhood memory is of her father sitting in front of the fireplace crying at the news of his only son's death. And 85 years later, she still feels the pain of her father's sorrow at the death of the handsome young man who had such a bright future.

The losses kept mounting, but not all deaths came on the battlefield or even overseas.

It was Oct. 17, when the sisters of Lt. Charles A Patten found out that their brother had died of pneumonia at Fort Omaha, Neb. and was being brought home for burial.

On Oct. 24, Lodians said farewell to Patten with city flags at half staff, all business was suspended as the town turned out to witness "Lodi's first military funeral" complete with an honor guard from both the Army and Navy, local bands and even the Civil War veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic. With "Taps" sounding over his grave, he was buried next to his mother in Lodi Cemetery. Oct. 24 was also the day that Lodians Carl Blohm Cullen Corson, David Perrin, Austin Mahoney, John Posey Joseph Souci along with Jesse Coffman, of Acampo, and Mervyn Wilson, of Clements, all left town for basic training. Perrin was the eighth grandson of Luce Perrin in the military.

Fall leaves, fallen men

Summer passed and so did most of the fall, but the war continued and so did the telegrams.

On the last day of October, Mr. and Mrs. W.W. Gillespie received word that their son, Ralph, had been killed on Sept. 30. Gillespie, 24, was a sergeant with the 363rd's Company G.

Ralph Gillespie

Gillespie wrote regularly and in a letter nine days before his death said he was "fine and dandy" and he and the other Lodi boys were "licking the Huns."

After calling Gillespie "very popular" with "many friends who will mourn his demise," the Sentinel noted in a cross between fatalism and prophecy that since Gillespie's death "was reported a month after it happened, it is feared that other Lodi boys were also killed."

It now seemed almost a daily occurrence that a telegram or letter would arrive at a Lodi home bringing bad news or worse.

Between Friday, Nov. 1 and Monday, Nov. 4 came news that four Lodians - all with the 363rd - had been wounded between Sept. 26 and 30 during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive west of Verdun.

Charles Periano wrote his parents that he was in a hospital in France recovering from a gunshot wound to his left arm received when he and nine others overran a heavily fortified German machine gun nest and captured nearly 100 prisoners.

Mr. and Mrs. Henry Perrin received a letter on Friday from their son Joseph - one of the eight Luce Perrin grandsons in the service. Joseph, who was in the same company as Periano, wrote his letter while sitting in a wheelchair.

On Sunday, David Baumbach's parents, Mr. and Mrs. George Baumbach, along with his wife learned that he had been wounded, but was expected to make a full recovery.

Finally, on Monday the family of Cpl. Peter F. Sievers learned he had been wounded on Sept. 30, but should be out of the hospital shortly.

The old saying that "trouble comes double" proved true at the Elm Street home of Mr. and Mrs. Adam Russell on Nov. 6. Both their sons - Louis and Olwell - had been severely wounded. Louis had been hit in the right leg by shrapnel which caused such a "ghastly" wound that surgeons were required to take several square inches of skin from his right arm and graph it onto his leg. Meanwhile, Olwell had taken a piece of shrapnel in the right hip on Oct. 6 which landed him in the hospital for three weeks.


La guerre finis! The war is over!

The news came at last: At the 11th hour, of the 11th day of the 11th month - 11 a.m. on Nov. 11 - an armistice would take affect and the guns would fall silent and all would be quiet on the Western Front.

But it was anything but quiet in Lodi, or anywhere in the nation for that matter. Everyone simply went "joy-mad" with a mishmash of flags and a babel of sounds ranging from spoons on pans to car horns to every noise maker imaginable. Lodians crowded downtown streets - marching, cheering, singing, kissing - commandeering every vehicle in sight regardless of horsepower. Roofs and windows were solid walls of spectators as on-the-spot made confetti showered down on the carousing thong below. Business stood still - forgotten, unlocked, abandoned - as all ran to join the impromptu revelry.

But the dawn of peace couldn't halt the flow of casualty lists - at least immediately. Even on Nov. 11 came the news that two more had been wounded.

Private George W. Stemler wrote his parents, Mr. and Mrs. G.E. Stemler, that he has been shot in the head, but not too seriously, and should be able to be back with his buddies in no time. He closed his letter with: "We are surely giving the Huns hell."

However, the news was darker for Mr. and Mrs. William Daniels who learned that their son, Albert, had been severely wounded in the left leg.

The Sentinel noted that this made two Lodi men killed and nine wounded in the last great Allied push against the Germans - and more names were sure to come.

Twilight time

The war was over, but only in some bizarre twilight fashion. Families still waited for news of loved ones overseas. Had they survived? Were they unharmed? Were they wounded in some hospital? Shot? Mangled by artillery? Gassed? No one knew and everyone was too afraid to voice guesses.

And letters from now battle-hardened veterans gave families and friends often frightening glimpses into the real war. Many were reprinted in the Sentinel.

In an extraordinary letter, Pvt. Clair Fletcher, the son of Mr. and Mrs. J.N. Fletcher, wrote of the 91st Division's drive across the "Flanders Fields" of Belgium in the closing days of the war:

We were under shell and bullet fire for eight days and lived through a regular hell. From now on Hades has no terrors for me, as we have witnessed the worst that life can offer. During all this time there was not a bite of hot food, but we lived on bully beef (called monkey meat over here) and hardtack. I have a flesh wound in the right shoulder where bursting shrapnel cut my case knife in two, but the first aid station fixed it up OK.

We do not know the number of dead and wounded that occurred in our company, as it takes quite a while to verify them. It was quite large though and our 91st Division received a bit of praise from Gen. Pershing for our gallant behavior under fire.

We are still in the woods and haven't taken a bath nor changed clothes for so long that I am ashamed to tell you the length of time. We accept all these conditions good naturally as they are part of the price of freedom. Every one of us is anxiously looking forward to the day when we can return to our loved one again, and I guess the Boche wonders why we fight like tigers.

We charged machine guns like they were toys and swept forward under a terrible shell fire. At first it made one deadly sick to see men shot, or worse than that, blown into small pieces, but all you think of later on is to have revenge.

All this probably sounds very melodramatic to you at home, but to us, who have experienced it, it is very realistic. I can relate enough incidents that happened during those eight days to fill a book. Those of us who survived it wonder how we came out of it without a serious wound or so.

The holidays

There was no Thanksgiving celebration in 1918 for the Lippi family in Galt for their son, George, had been killed on Oct. 4 while fighting with the 363rd. Before joining up on Oct. 15, 1917, Lippi, 31, had been a go-get-'em traveling salesman.

And as one holiday passed and another approached, Mary Rebecca Hugill received a telegram on Dec. 5 informing her that her son, Cpl. Thomas Wilbur Hugill, 25, had been killed in Belgium on Oct. 31 - just 11 days short of the Armistice. Hugill was another Lodian in the 363rd.

The shock, as the Sentinel reported, was almost too much for the widow mother to bear. In his last letter, dated Oct. 22, he wrote his mother of his plans for when he came home and begged her not to worry about him as he was "feeling fine and getting along famously."

On Dec. 13, under a story about Lodi parents sending Christmas boxes overseas, the Sentinel ran a boxed story on San Joaquin County's "Gold Star Record" - tallying the butcher's bill, as it were, thus far. Total casualties were 35 divided as follows:

  • Killed in action: 15
  • Died of wounds: 1
  • Died of disease: 5
  • Died of accidents and other causes: 14

Statewide, 1,033 service men had died with 421 being killed in action, 139 from wounds and the remainder from other causes. In term of losses, the top three counties were: Los Angeles, 315; San Francisco, 134; and Alameda, 102. These figures, it was prominently noted, were both preliminary and unofficial.

Indeed, the final tally was anything but done for on Dec. 11, Philip Frey, of Victor, received a telegram from Hoboken, N.J. which read, "Regret to advise you that Pvt. August Frey died at sea on Dec. 6 of tuberculosis."

Frey had been born in Odessa, Russia (now Ukraine) and came to America as a youth, settling in the Lodi area with his mother, father, five brothers and six sisters.

The telegram was addressed to the young soldier's mother, but she had died on Nov. 9. The 26-year-old soldier never knew of his loss.

Thus, the burden of sending the necessary return telegram requesting that his son's remains be sent back home for burial was Philip Frey's alone.

On Christmas Eve in a front page editorial headlined "The Christmas Spirit," the Sentinel noted that:

"The Christmas celebration of 1918 will not be quite the ordinary one of cheerful but sometimes superficial merriment.

"There are many, many homes where there will be an empty chair for the boy who lies under the soil in France."

That was certainly true in the Costa home where word had been received in September that their son, Angelus, had died from wounds he had received in July. But sadness suddenly turned to indescribable joy when two days before Christmas a letter arrived from Angelus. It was dated Nov. 23. He was alive, well and coming home in two or three months.

There is no record of the celebration that took place in the Costa household that Christmas, but it must have been of Homeric proportions.


Thus ended the First World War.

And the "Lodi Liberty Lads" - those in the 117th Engineers, the 363rd Infantry and scores of other Army, Navy and Marine outfits - would return home, changed in so many ways by what they had experienced, to a town changed in so many ways by what its citizens had experienced.

For the dead, there would be the sorrow families carried for lives lost and dreams unfulfilled. For some there would be public honors. Clyde Needham would have a school named after him and William White would have a tree planted in his name in the Woodbridge Masonic Cemetery at the foot of which rested a bronze tablet with a tale in simple words: "This tree dedicated to the memory of William Vernon White who died in the service of his country, 1918."

And the rest - those who left Lodi only to fall at Cantigny, Belleau Woods, Chateau Thierry, along the Marne and the Ourcq, St. Mihiel, Exermont Massif, the Meuse-Argonne and in Flanders Fields - would remain "Over There" in American Military Cemeteries in France and Belgium with orderly formations of crosses and Stars of David and the flag they fought and died for flying overhead.

Comments about this story? Send mail to the News-Sentinel newsroom.


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