Friday, April 7, 2017

Lest we forget

Three Kerrville Heroes.
From left to right: Francisco Lemos, Earl Garrett, Sidney Baker
Click on image to enlarge
Last Thursday, April 6th, marked the 100th anniversary of Congress declaring war on Germany, and the United States joining World War I, the "war to end all wars." In Kerr County, that war caused many changes and hardships, and though only a hundred years have passed, many of the sacrifices made here and abroad have been forgotten.
President Woodrow Wilson worked to keep America out of the war, but in early 1917 Germany resumed attacking ships headed to Great Britain, including American ships. In March, 1917, the Zimmerman Telegram was confirmed as genuine, a telegram in which Germany offered to help Mexico regain territories lost to the United States. These events pushed American opinion to support entering the war.
Even though many of our neighboring communities were founded by German settlers, and German was a common language spoken here, local sentiment in Kerr County favored entering the war against Germany. Surviving newspapers from April 1917 have stories in support of the declaration of war.
In Kerr County, when we remember World War I, we tend to think of three young men, Francisco Lemos, Victor Earl Garrett, and Sidney Baker, because they each were honored by having a street named after them. Visiting the Kerr County War Memorial, found on the grounds of the county courthouse, you'll discover the names of nineteen local men who died in that war, including the three we remember.
Consider William Edmond Caddell, whose name is listed on the memorial. He was 22 when war was declared, and was described as tall and slender, with light blue eyes and light colored hair. He was single, a farmer, and registered for the military from Ingram on June 5, 1917. He died in France on October 20, 1918, reportedly of emphysema.
Or Harvey Merritt, who hailed from Pebble, Texas, a little community on the south fork of the Guadalupe in Kerr County, west of Hunt. He was a stock-farmer with gray eyes and black hair, who was tall and of medium build. He registered in June of 1917, married Lillian Blevins in October 1917. He was 25 when he died in France on October 10, 1918, having been in France for only a few weeks. The war ended 31 days later.
In 1920, Merritt's body was shipped back to Kerr County, along with the body of another Kerr County man, Grover Holloman. Both are buried at Nichols Cemetery between Kerrville and Ingram.
Grover Holloman died in France eight days before Merritt. Before the war he farmed with his father. He registered his home address as Kerrville, and was 28 when he died in France.
I've looked at many of the fallen soldiers' registration cards. They were so very young when they registered. I noticed something on Francisco Lemos's registration card: he signed with an 'X,' meaning he could not write his name.
Almost all of the draft registration cards were dated June 5, 1917, about 2 months after war was declared.
By early September, 1917, Company D, First Texas Infantry had been organized. The men of Company D had been recruited by Capt. Charles S. Seeber, and came from Kerr and surrounding counties.
A news account exists of Company D leaving Kerrville; it was written by Rev. S. W. Kemerer, who was the pastor of Kerrville's Methodist church.
"Probably the largest number of people that ever assembled at the Aransas Pass depot in Kerrville gathered Wednesday afternoon to bid farewell to Company D, which departed for new training quarters at Camp Bowie, Fort Worth."
Three of the men listed on the Kerr County War Memorial, Francisco Lemos, Sidney Baker, and Leonard Denton, found themselves at Camp Bowie near Fort Worth were among those who left Kerrville that day. I have an old poster listing the members of Company D of the First Texas Infantry, including these three. Its headline reads "German-American War, 1917." Leonard Denton never left Camp Bowie; he died there in April, 1918, and is buried in the Turtle Creek Cemetery.
Rev. Kemerer writes: "As Company D goes forth from our midst to fight for country and humanity, the heart of Kerrville and entire surroundings is with them."
One hundred three men answered roll call at the train depot, which today is the home of Rails, a popular restarant on Schreiner Street between Clay and Sidney Baker streets.
"That was a memorable sight at the station," Rev. Kemerer writes, "when Kerrville gathered to tell the boys good-bye, and bid them God-speed on their first lap to the front -- to Somewhere in France.
"The train was making up, and the engine puffed and rang its bell sharply while performing its indispensable part in this gigantic tragedy of all time. A great throng was grouped about the station and lined up along the tracks. There were fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sweethearts and loved ones, friends and neighbors... We heard kindly greetings and brief jokes and repartee, but somehow they sounded a little forced and lacked spontaneity. There were no loud calls or shouts. A deeper note was sweeping the hearts of both the soldiers and the gathered throng. But there was the warm handclasp and low spoken well wishes, and sometimes only a look of blessing and farewell. God knew that many mothers' hearts were torn, that many fathers' hearts were too full for words, and that tears streamed from many eyes, so God also wept in the tender rain that fell, for He looked on and understood and loved.
"Then the bugle sounded, and the boys lined up. Captain Seeber uttered brief short orders. Each line became straight, every form erect. An orderly called the names crisply. What a response! It sounded short and sharp like the crack of a gun -- 'Here,' 'Here,' 'Here,' -- until every man had made answer....
"They were a noble company. They answered like men who had measured the task and were eager to engage in its accomplishment.
"So the train moved away, the engine with two flags fluttering at its headlight, the bell sounding ceaselessly, the soldier boys leaning far from the windows waving farewell. And the great throng waved farewell, and the lovely hills of Kerrville threw farewell kisses, and the clouds wept farewell."
Francisco Lemos died September 15, 1918. His friend from Kerrville, Emmitt Rodriguez, was injured by the same shell that killed Lemos. Lemos was 30. Before the war, Lemos was a farm and ranch laborer, and worked for the Schreiner Cattle & Sheep Comany.
Sidney Baker died October 16, 1918, in the Argonne Forest in France. "Private Baker was crossing an open space and was directly exposed to the enemy's fire," according to a history by his regiment. He died about a month after his 22nd birthday, and is buried at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial in Lorraine, France.
First Lieutenant Victor Earl Garrett died November 4, 1918, a week before the war ended. He is buried in the same cemetery as Sidney Baker, the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial. Before the war he was a law student, and volunteered as a student for officer training Camp Funston in Leon Springs. He was 24 when he was killed.
The other sixteen men listed on the Kerr County War Memorial are Eddie Burleson, Edmund Caddell, J. A. Cowden, Randolph Davis, Leonard Denton, Monroe Dowdy, Albert Feller, Louis Floyd, Grover Hollomon, Randolph D. Johanessen, Edwin Kaiser, Jeff Leavell, Harvey Merritt, William M. Reeves, Robert Spicer, and George Wells.

This story appeared on the front page of the Kerrville Daily Times April 6, 2017. I'm thankful to Lisa Walter, the managing editor of the newspaper, for asking me to write this story.

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