I always knew I had a great Uncle Frank (my grandmother Olson's brother) who died in World War I. It was a great family tragedy as he was the only boy in the family at time when parent's hopes and dreams for the future were focused on the son. I never knew my great-grandparents but I was told that they never emotionally recovered from Frank's death.
Always anti-war, growing up with school friends obsessed with Vietnam POW bracelets and anti-war protests in the news, my pacifism was clinched when my grandmother told me how her beautiful horse was sold to the cavalry during the war. As a horse-crazy youngster, I could not imagine a greater tragedy. She did not speak of her greater loss--her brother who nicknamed her "Jack" because he wanted a brother.
In school and University it seemed that the first World War was always quickly passed over to spend more time on World War II. As I prepared for the Tour de France adventure and looked at the route, I realized we will pass through many of the battle sites from the War to End All Wars.
I also realized that my knowledge of WWI and specifically my Uncle Frank's part in the conflict was embarrassingly slack . So I have begun a project to rectify this ignorance on my part. First I enlisted the aid of my mother and brother to help find any information we can about Uncle Frank. I also asked my brother (the history professor) to give me some reading assignments.
Ancestry.com is very helpful with documents. This is the information I have been able to piece together so far from various sources:
Frank Estel Denham
Born October 6, 1891 in Norman,Oklahoma
to parents Lizzie Denison and Albert Denham (both born in Carroll County, MO)
Sisters Bertha, Ada, Hazel (my Grandmother)
Blue eyes, medium height, slender build (Handsome and popular)
Farmer. Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, CA
Registered in Army October 2, 1917 and assigned to Camp Kearney, CA
Private, U.S. Army (Photo in uniform) Company D 159, Infantry
Killed in action July 29 (circumstances unknown). World War I
Buried in Oddfellows Cemetery, Santa Rosa, CA.
From Press Democrat October 13, 1918: The young man served with Company E on the Mexican border and was sent to Camp Lewis in one of the early draft calls last fall from where he was forwarded to Camp Kearney and assigned to his old regiment, which had then become the 159th U.S. Infantry. He went overseas the last of June, as the family received a brief letter, dated July 12, from England, telling of his arrival safely. Nothing more was heard until the telegram of ...The fact that the 159th Regiment did not arrive in England until July 12, and was in action July 29, shows it was brigaded with the British for training and would seem to account for the delay in getting news of the casualty through to the parents as the reports would have to pass through English headquarters, be transmitted to the American headquarters and then forwarded to Washington, all causing delay in face of the heavy demands in clerical help as the result of such heavy fighting on all fronts for weeks past.
My mom, Karen Olson Tognotti, remembers her mother Hazel telling her that she learned about Frank’s death and had to drive the car into Santa Rosa to tell her sister Ada the news. Some men were working on a bridge and she stopped and told them that Frank was killed. They all stopped work and cried.
My goal is to learn where he most likely fell in battle and pay my respects while I am in France. Please share if you have any tips on how to find this information about where Company D, 159th Battalion might have been assigned in the end of July 2018.
Meanwhile I have read All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. It is incredibly moving. I am not surprised it was never assigned in school since it by "our enemy" a German, and yet that is why it should be required reading. Everyone suffered in the war. Poison gas was used by both sides. It was all so pointless.
Professor Dean Pieper’s suggestions for understanding WWI:
"The BBC has a centenary remembrance on World War I. http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww1
There are two novels that would be great Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms and Erich Maria Remarque's All Quite on the Western Front.
John Keegan's The First World War and Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August are two non-fiction reads that are worth the time.
What Price Glory 1926
The Lost Patrol 1934
Sergeant York 1941
A Farewell to Arms 1957
Paths to Glory 1957
The Trench 1999
There are many more films but this gives you a retrospective of some of the better ones."
Please share if you have any WWI books, films or other resources to help my understanding of this war.