Tag Archives: military

Military Monday: A Duty to His Family

Today marks the World War I centenary, although it would be a few more years before Ole James Nelson, a young farmer from rural Yankton County, South Dakota, would make his way overseas as a mechanic with the U.S. Navy Aviation Section.

Ole enlisted on 3 May 1917 at the age of twenty-two, within a month of the United States entering the war.1 According to a county history, he served in Eastleigh, Hampshire, England.2 His journey to Eastleigh, however, may have been a roundabout one; in fact, he may not have left American soil for at least a year after his enlistment. One photograph suggests that he completed his training in Buffalo, New York;3 another photograph was sent to his family from Charleston, South Carolina, in May of 1918.4 That October, his sister wrote to him, commenting, “Wonder if you are still at Quebec.”5

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Ole Nelson, Charleston, South Carolina, 1918; digital image 2013, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

Ole’s time in Eastleigh was likely brief. The United States Navy established a naval air station in Eastleigh in July of 1918 to assemble and repair aircraft, including Caproni Ca.5 and Airco DH.4 and DH.9 bombers.6 This, almost certainly, is how Ole made use of his time as a mechanic. The base was in operation, however, for only a matter of months, as it closed following the armistice later that year.7

As it turned out, Ole’s days in the service were numbered, although not because the “war to end all wars” was winding down. After receiving notification of his father’s unexpected death, which had taken place a matter of days before the armistice,8 Ole applied for an honorable discharge, which was granted on 29 January 1919.9 As the eldest son, Ole was to return home to manage his family’s farm and to care for his mother and younger siblings; what he did not learn until his return, however, was that one of his sisters had also passed away in his absence, having succumbed to what was said to be a combination of Spanish Influenza and shock at the death of her father.10

A return to the farm, following what must have been an exciting time in this young man’s life, was perhaps not what Ole had initially had in mind for his future, but after duty to his country, he had a duty to his family.

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Military Monday: “Although he was on his Dieing Bed”

Compiled service record, John Fenton, Pvt. Co. M, 3 Illinois Inf.; Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations, Civil War; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780s-1917, Record Group 94; National Archives, Washington, D.C. Color edited for clarity.

Compiled service record, John Fenton, Pvt. Co. M, 3 Illinois Inf.; Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations, Civil War; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780s-1917, Record Group 94; National Archives, Washington, D.C. Image color edited for clarity.

As spring turned to summer in the year 1862, John Fenton of Company M of the 3rd Illinois U.S. Cavalry lay dying in a hospital bed in Lebanon, Laclede County, Missouri. He had enlisted the previous autumn, eager to do his part for the Union, but in April, following the Battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas, he was hospitalized with typhoid pneumonia.1

At the time of his enlistment, John, a native of Bole, Nottinghamshire, England, was a widower with four children at home in Pana, Christian County, Illinois.2 After his death on 7 June 1862, A. W. Bingham, a hospital steward, penned a sympathetic but hurried letter to John’s eldest daughter, Sarah Alice Fenton, informing her of her father’s passing:3

“Lebanon, MO
June 7th 1862

Miss Fenton

You will be of course Serprised in Receiving a letter from one that never beheld your face or eaven had the honor of knowing your nam but through one that is or has been Dear to you your Father, he was admitted in this Hospital on the 22d day of April Sinse then he has been leaberin under Tyford Pneumonia which at last terminated in his death, which was at 7 Oclock this evening June the 7th he was a long time dieing and told me he wished me to write to you and all for him to put your confidence in christ and he hoped to meet you in the world to come he talked of and would of liked very much to see you but when god comes there is no alternative but to resign our will so he done so and diese in piece, you must not take it hard for we as soldiers have no limited time for our lives and when we enlist in our Countrys call we make up our mind to meet death when god thinks proper to call us away, your Father requests me to tell you also to collect what money was due him and put it to as good use as you thought people he wished you to see to the small children and bring them up in his fear and love of God which no doubt you will and he felt satisfyed you would do so, remembering he was your Father although he was on his dieing bed.

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A Prayer Book from Home

Before Joseph Lutz left his home village, he carefully inscribed his name inside a leather-bound prayer book, small enough to be tucked inside a coat pocket. “This book belongs to me, Joseph Lutz of Sondersdorf,” he penned in French. The book, however, was printed in German; Joseph spoke both languages, having grown up in an area that was the subject of dispute between France and Germany.1

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Joseph Lutz prayer book, Adam Family Collection; privately held by Brian Adam (personal information withheld), 2014.

Joseph Lutz of Sondersdorf, Haut Rhin, Alsace, France, the son of François Joseph and Marguerite (Meister) Lutz, was baptized on 31 May 1844.2 He left his homeland following  the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. It was said that he had been injured during his time of service, which may have limited his opportunities for occupation, and, furthermore, he did not wish to live under Prussian rule.3 Thus, like many of his relatives, he set his sights on Minnesota.

Once settled, Joseph may have read from his prayer book with his wife, a Polish immigrant who also spoke German, as they began their life together.4 Perhaps it inspired his generosity during his career as a butcher, when he was said to have provided gifts of meat to struggling immigrants. When he later became a saloon keeper, it may have given him the strength to avoid the temptation of alcohol, a quality appreciated by his wife.5 Perhaps the prayer book brought him peace as he suffered from tuberculosis, an illness that claimed his life on 3 May 1887 when he was forty-two years old.6

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Joseph Lutz prayer book, Adam Family Collection; privately held by Brian Adam (personal information withheld), 2014.

Joseph was said to have been buried in Danville, Blue Earth County, Minnesota, and though a wooden cross once marked his grave, it is no more.7 His well-worn prayer book was passed down to his daughters, who kept his tintype – his only known photograph – tucked inside to ensure its safety. These items may have been their sole mementos of their father, a slim man with a handlebar mustache, a Catholic, a veteran, and a businessman who hailed from the border of France and Switzerland.

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