In Honor of Veteran’s Day

Today, the world remembers the end of World War I. Although no veterans or civilians are with us to recall the atrocities, the record of their experiences lives on through letters, diaries and recordings. I am in possession of a collection of letters and wanted to mark the 100th anniversary by sharing one with you.

With the United States Congress declaring war on Germany on April 6, 1917, 2.8 million American men were soon to be drafted to serve in what was then called “The Great War.” Hoosier born George Bryant Harbaugh, a 22-year-old Deputy Sheriff with the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway in Gary, Lake County, Indiana, was sent to Camp Taylor, Kentucky for basic training. Army Private George left behind his sweetheart, Elsie Wilhelmina Johnson, a 21-year-old Mother’s Helper living in Miller, (now Gary), Indiana.

Elsie saved every letter and postcard received from George. Only 3 letters from Elsie to George survive. The following is a scan and transcript of the letter detailing his experiences when the Armistice was called on November (11) 11th at 11 AM:

ON ACTIVE SERVICE
WITH THE
AMERICAN RED CROSS
AMERICAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCE

NAME
Geo B Harbaugh D

Infantry
U.S. Army.
Dec. 16, 1918
Allerey, France

My Dearest Elsie.-

Your most welcome letter of Nov. 17 received about an hour ago and I can’t tell you how tickled I was to get it. I am expecting a lot more soon for the last one I got before this was dated Aug. 24 so I must have lots more somewhere. I expect though, that they are at Tours at the Central Office and I’ve notified them of where I am so maybe they will reach me after awhile

You ask when you may expect me back. That is hard to tell. We may leave here tomorrow and may be here a month yet. My Division the 28th , is in the Army of Occupation and is in Luxemburg I believe, but they say we can’t get back to our old companies anymore but are to go in Casual Companies and go home but just how soon, we don’t know. But I think I’ll be back before March and when I get to New York, I’ll send you a telegram about when you can expect me.

I’m sure anxious to get back and I’m sure we can be nicely settled in that little cottage of Ours before next winter. I’m glad you got the money all right as I didn’t get to see the chaplain after I gave it to him. You see, we got paid off one day and we went into battle in a couple of days. I didn’t know what might happen so I thought it best to send it to you. I’ve got 5 months’ pay here now and if I get it before coming back, I’ll send it to you as I don’t want to spend it over here. I wanted you to get something for your Xmas, though.

So, you are looking for a house for us, are you? ha. ha. The place below Gertie would be fine. I didn’t suppose you would tell Gertie our happy secret but my only regret is that you haven’t the ring, too. So Gertie was willing to have us for neighbors, was she? Tell her for me that when Bob and I get together there will be some stories to hear. I never heard where any of the other Miller boys were, but Bob was in the 26, or “Yankee Division”, from the New England states and the 28th was from Pa. We relieved the 26 Div. on July 25 and they went to St Mihael, then Argonne Forest so I never got a chance to see Bob. I hope he came through the war all right.

You speak of getting a letter from Ed Lemert. Yes, Dear, he’s an awful good friend of mine and is almost as much as a brother. I wrote to him quite often but I haven’t wrote for several weeks so guess I will write tonight. I expect lots of my letters get lost but there was times it was impossible to write for a week or two at a time. Conditions here are not what you folks imagine they are. I haven’t saw any real American Y.M.C.A. huts and as for a Y.M.C.A entertainment for the Infantry at least, is something unheard of. I believe there is a nice Y.M.C.A.in Paris but we aren’t allowed there.

I haven’t heard from Raymond Clemons since about Aug 1 and I believe I’ll have to write and see if he’s still alive. I’ll have to write to Mrs. Clemons, too, I guess. The 111th Regt. lost lots of men at Chateau Therrey. The Huns used liquid fire on them and that is horrible. We got gas, shells, grenades and machine gun fire but the 112th never got any liquid fires used on us. Did you ever get the letter I sent that had a little pressed pansy in? I picked it in the city of Fismes and the Germans were shelling it to beat the band. We had two companies of our regiment captured there but they sure did pile up the dead Huns before they were overpowered.

Guess you must have had a grand time Nov. 11 from the clippings you sent. We did here. They have a bulletin board and on Nov. 11 it read “At 4 P.M raise H-l and I guess they did. I was in bed yet then but we sure yelled 4 P.M here would be about 6 A.M. back there. Bells all over France rang and everybody was happy, believe me. I’ve only been here 7 months but that seems an awful long time but the other Allies have had 52 months of it so they sure was cause to rejoice.

Well, Pres. Wilson got a big reception when he came here and if it wouldn’t have been for the Yank soldiers. He would never have come to France for it would have all been Germany by now. But that will wait till I get back. I won’t tell you too much else; I can’t tell you anything new when I get back.

Well, I will have to close, Dearest, if I am to write another letter tonight so I’ll close hoping I may get more of your ever welcome letters real soon.

With Oceans of Love and Kisses and hoping I’m back with you by Feb. 22.

Your Own and Always,

George

Convalescent Camp
A.P.O. 785
G .Company

A.J. Bruggeman
(unreadable)

I am currently compiling the letters into an eBook with the working title, Thanks to the Yanks – World War I Letters from a Soldier Boy to his Sweetheart.

Haunted Rose Cemetery

Branch found behind my car between 10-10:45 AM on 11/3/18

I actually planned on writing about an awesome find by using an index that happened to me while I was researching last weekend but an event just occurred that I must get out of my mind.

On this beautiful cool fall morning, a World War 1 Centennial Commemoration service was scheduled at Rose Cemetery in Tarpon Springs, Florida. I typically don’t attend these types of ceremonies because my schedule doesn’t allow it but I got an email message from a neighborhood list that I’m a member of Thursday afternoon apologizing for the late notice and something just made me want to go. I’m not sure if it was because it was an Eagle Scout dedication for installation of a memorial stone and flag pole that piqued my interest since my children had achieved both Eagle and Gold Award in the past. Earning those recognitions are a major accomplishment for a busy teen and I well remember all the work that was involved. I’ve been working on a book about my husband’s grandfather in World War 1 for the last few years and my goal had been to get it epublished this year but life got in the way of that happening; the ceremony’s tie in to a project I’m working on was definitely a draw. I also always wanted to visit historic Rose Cemetery, the African American burial site in my region, but every time there was a clean up planned I had to be elsewhere.

Last evening at dinner I told hubby my plans of attending the event. He was going to be helping out a family member prep for painting. I arrived about 5 minutes before the ceremony was to begin. As it’s an old fashioned cemetery – you drive on the grass and park on the grass, I parked in the closest space next to the table set up for volunteers for a local club who were going to perform some maintenance after the event. I walked a short distance to where others were gathered for the ceremony.

Towards the end, hubby called telling me he needed the garage door opener I had in my car for the family member he was helping as he couldn’t access the house without it. He asked where I was parked and I gave him directions. The ceremony ended minutes later so I quickly called him to make other arrangements for him to get the opener as I didn’t want him to try to pull in when the dignitaries that had just spoken were pulling out. There’s only one path and if someone is driving the “wrong” direction the only way to get out is to drive backwards which I didn’t want anyone to have to do as it’s a curve with stones close to the edge. He told me he hadn’t left home yet so I told him I’d deliver the opener.

I had just hung up and was walking fast when I noticed a late attendee had parked parallel to the road directly behind me. There was room for me to pull out but just barely. As I walked into the dirt drive I noticed the branch pictured above gently laid between my car and the late attendees. Now there are lots of trees and we had a cold front come through yesterday bringing severe weather – a tornado had hit to the north and south of us and 60,000 people had lost power – so a fallen branch was not unusual. What was weird was the faded plastic flowers that appeared to be gently placed adjacent to the limb where it had broken from the tree. This did not look like a random fall of a tree branch. It had landed right smack in the middle of the small dirt drive and the flowers were standing upright as if someone had planted them in the dirt. There were no loose leaves or sticks. There was no obvious place in the tree above where the branch had broken off. In this small space of just a little over the width of a car, the branch had fallen without touching either car. The plastic flowers were not stuck in the leaves so yesterday’s wild winds did not blow them up into the boughs. The flowers were standing straight up as you’d normally see a bouquet with the metal stems stuck in the dirt at the end of the broken limb. It made me shiver.

I looked around and there were two women standing by the table talking. They were oblivious to the limb. How they had not hear it fall was beyond me. I didn’t think to take a picture. I thought to get out of there but I could only do that if I removed the branch. I reached down and picked up the flowers with one hand and dragged the branch over to rest beside my car and the table. Both women watched me but said nothing. I said, “This was weird, the branch and these flowers were right behind my car and I couldn’t back up. At this point, the late attendee and her husband arrived and she asked where the branch was. I pointed to the empty space between our cars. She said, “That wasn’t there a few minutes ago.”

Even stranger, although the marks where I dragged the branch were visible in the dirt, there was no impression made as you would expect when a heavy branch fell onto dirt. It simply looked like it had been gently laid there.

The women at the table just shook their heads. Now it’s a well known story in my town that this place is haunted. You can read about some of the happenings here and here and here. You an also check out YouTube for more info. None of us wanted to say ghost but it was clearly what we were all thinking. I said, “It’s okay, weird things happen to me all the time.” One lady walked away and the other just stared at the branch. I didn’t want to offend anyone as the place I put the branch was the closest empty space but it wasn’t a good location since many of those who had been at the ceremony were going to be arriving at the table and the branch would be in the way. There just wasn’t anywhere else to put it. The table lady just looked at me and said, “Things happen here.” I replied, “I understand, I’m a genealogist and I’ve had many strange things happens to me when I visit cemeteries of my family members.” But I have no family members, to my knowledge, buried in Rose Cemetery and I’ve visited lots of cemeteries over the years and have not had anything odd happen. I have no idea why what I said even popped out of my mouth. I was blabbering. “I’m just going to leave the branch there,” I said. She nodded a yes.

I got in my car and took the picture as I drove away. All I wanted to do was go home and take a shower. I’m thinking that comes from an old family tradition; my grandmother always entered the house after a cemetery visit refusing to speak to anyone until she went to the kitchen sink and washed her hands. I asked her about it once and she said it was just a family custom to wash the spirits away. I’ve never felt the need to do that but today I did.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever go back to Rose Cemetery. Maybe my mind is just making a mountain out of a mole hill. This past week was Halloween, All Saints and All Soul’s days. I’d like to think that perhaps those holidays were influential and made me lose my rational side.

I just would like to understand how a large branch can suddenly appear on the ground with plastic flowers upright and no one saw or heard anything. Strange, indeed.