On July 26, 1918, Private Loren O’Neil Hollister was killed in action at Sergy, near Rheims, France. Less than one month later, on August 13, 1918, Private Ralph Elliot Holcomb was badly wounded at Chateau Thierry. He would die a few months later en-route home. It is unclear if these two men knew each very well or ever even met. Their paths may have crossed as Loren’s sister, Stella Hollister would marry Ralph’s father, Reuben Holcomb, after Ralph’s mother had died (and when Ralph was only about eight years old).
Loren grew up in far west Monona County, Iowa and Ralph came of age in south-central Monroe, Wisconsin. Though one was technically the uncle of the other (by marriage), they were only four years apart in age. Ralph was assigned to the 4th Division, 13th Field Artillery, Battery ‘C’. His unit would see plenty of action in July and August of 1918 at Noiroy, Hautevesnes and Chateau Thierry. Loren, on the other hand, served with the Headquarters Company of 168th Regiment, a unit of the Iowa National Guard. His Platoon’s job was keeping communications open. It would seem that his duties might keep him out of harm’s way but that was not the case. He was killed taking equipment to the advanced battalion when “a shell burst in the midst of the men of the telephone platoon.”
Loren Hollister was buried in grave 3-A at Conde-en-brie, a temporary cemetery. Later his remains were returned to Iowa and he was buried at Mount Hope Cemetery located in the countryside on the outskirts of Mapleton, Iowa. Ralph Holcomb seemed to be recovering from his wounds and was on his way home when he developed influenza. He died of pneumonia aboard the USS Kansas on January 5, 1919. He was buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Monroe, Wisconsin.
On January 14, 1919, there was a large and very public funeral for Ralph Holcomb. Because he had already been on his way home, his was actually the first casualty to be returned to Monroe and thus the town’s first war funeral. Thanks to an article in the “Monroe Evening Times,” the events of that day have been recorded. In Mapleton Iowa, Loren Hollister was also honored. The Loren Hollister Post #496 of the American Legion was formed and that post still honors his memory to this day.
Some of the words that were spoken at Ralph Holcomb’s funeral . . .
For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day. (Paul’s Letter to Timothy)
Oh, there’s sometimes I am lonely and I’m weary a’ the day,To see the face and clasp the hand of him who is away. The only one God gave me, my one and only joy, My life and love were centered on my one and only boy. I saw him in his infant days, grow up from year to year. That he would some day be a man, I never had a fear. His mother watched his every step, ‘twas our united joy .To think that he might be one day, my one and only boy. When war broke out he buckled on, his sword and said “Good-bye, for I must do my duty, Dad, tell mother not to cry. Tell her that I’ll come back again.” What happiness and joy, But no, he died for Liberty, my one and only boy. The days are long, the nights are drear, the anguish breaks my heart, But oh! I’m proud my one and only laddie played his part. For God knows best, His will be done, his grace does me employ. I do believe I’ll meet again, my one and only boy. (A poem by Harry Lauder, a British entertainer who lost his son in WWI).
Veteran’s Day was first created by President Woodrow Wilson to commemorate those served in World War I. At that time it was called “Armistice Day” which was the day the “Great War” ended. After World War II, it became what we know as Veteran’s Day and it changed a bit. Its new purpose is to celebrate all veterans, living and dead. The shear size and impact of World War II plus the passing of time has obscured the first World War’s impact and legacy on this country. So, on this Veteran’s Day, I have turned the clock back a bit. I will think of Armistice Day and remember two who died for their country 94 years ago.
You can read more about the funeral and memorial service of Ralph Holcomb here.
More general genealogy and family history stories can be found at My Other Blog, here.