I just read an article stating there are only three living WWI vets left. It seems like they all faded away without receiving the recognition they deserved. I’ve only met one WWI vet in my life. He was my great uncle Benny. Benny served with the 88th Division and told me that he survived the war but nearly died on the troop ship coming home because of a serious flu outbreak. I wished I had been older when Benny was alive, so I could have asked him about his experiences. Sadly, no one else in my family asked him either and now his stories are gone.
Recently, I had the fortune of purchasing a wonderful footlocker group for a 355th M.G. (machine gun), 89th Division veteran directly from the vet’s son. I asked the son to tell me stories about his father. Like most veterans, his father returned from the war, found work, and did not talk about his experiences. The son told me that his father discussed the war with him only once. On this occasion, they both sat in the attic, in front of his footlocker, and his father told him stories of fighting, being wounded and gassed, having his big toe blown off, and Army life in general. Then they returned from the attic and never discussed it again.
The 355th group included:
1. Wool overcoat with 89th Division machine gunner insignia
2. Wool tunic with 89th Division machine gunner insignia and a 3rd Army patch (for German occupation)
3. Fur felt campaign hat
4. Two pairs of wool trousers
5. Footlocker and tray
6. Canvas meat tin pouch (worn on his haversack)
7. Mess kit, utensils, and two canteen cups
8. Trench art ashtray made from brass
9. French-made leather gloves
10. Several sets of puttees (leg wraps)
11. Color copies of the veteran’s wound certificate, tinted photo, and draft cards (the son wanted to keep the originals)
I verified the vet being wounded by gas on 11-4-1918 (during St. Mihiel) in the 89th Division unit history. His wound certificate lists him with the 145th Infantry (37th Div), so he fought with the 145th prior to the 355th. I am researching 145th Infantry records to determine when and how many times he was wounded while serving in the 37th Division.
It was a rare pleasure to acquire this original group from the family and hear details about the veteran that I would have never been known had I found these items at an auction or militaria show. Opportunities like this are few and far between these days!
Chris Hughes is a WorthPoint Worthologist specializing in 20th century militaria and the owner of Rally Point Militaria and Vietnam Uniform – Military Collectibles sites.