Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Military Memories: Uncle Jimmy Whetstone and WWI

James Franklin Whetstone (1889-1960)

I knew that Mom's Uncle Jimmy, who was James Franklin Whetstone (1889-1960), had served in the First World War but not much more, so I asked her recently. He was, as she remembered, the only one of the family to have served in that war. We mused about that for a while and thought that it was due to the way the generations broke out, more or less, and that the men were either too young or too old and supporting families. But Uncle Jimmy went. And Uncle Jimmy got "gassed." But we'll get to that in a while.

I found Uncle Jimmy's draft registration card and gave it a cursory glance. Mom, who is 95 and an avid genealogist, was on the phone with me when I was doing this and we chatted about the times and the place. Jimmy was born in the little Western Maryland mountain town of Frostburg, Allegany, in 1889, and that's where he died. Some of his brothers moved to Akron to work in the rubber plants and Jimmy went there from time to time as well. In the 1910 census he and two of his brothers, Charlie and Tuck, were working in one of the numerous coal mines that dot the hills around Frostburg. The times were prosperous and in 1912 the population of the villages around Frostburg ballooned to over 15,000 and everyone came to Frostburg to shop. The price of coal was rising and the mines were hiring. But after WWI the demand for coal dropped as did employment. The local tire and rubber plant hired as demand for cars and the tires they ran on increased. It made a lot of sense for the men to seek employment in Akron where there were a number of tire and rubber plants.

Here's a look at Uncle Jimmy's draft card, below. So what are we looking at? I checked the source info on just below the overview box and clicked through to see this about the First Registration cards:

First Registration. The registration on 5 June 1917, was for men aged twenty-one to thirty-one—men born between 6 June 1886 and 5 June 1896.

It was called the 12 question card and there is a graphic view of the card's questions which was a big help because the image I saw for Uncle Jimmy's card was pretty rough and I couldn't make out the questions.

As we chatted, Mom asked me to check the 1910 census and see if Jimmy was married and he wasn't, and then she quickly asked about the 1920 census and he was single there too. Now this jogged Mom's memory a bit and she mentioned that she thought Uncle Jimmy had been married twice, first to a woman who might be named Verona, and then to the wife they all knew, Madge Cornu. But the records weren't yielding anything about a first marriage. We looked in all the usual places and the mysterious "Verona" was not to be found. And just for fun I looked at other trees on and there was no first wife for Uncle Jimmy there. Maybe he wasn't married before he married Madge Cornu.

Back to Jimmy's military service. I also found a record of his service in this index: Maryland Military Men, 1917-18 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2000.
Original data: Maryland in the World War, 1917-1919; Military and Naval Service Records. Vol. I-II. Baltimore, MD, USA: Twentieth Century Press, 1933.
The box below the source info has this to say:
Considered by many as the first "modern" war, World War One involved United States military units from 1917 to 1918. This database is a massive collection of military records for men who served in the war from Maryland. Originally compiled in 1933, it provides the names for men who served in the army, navy, and marines. In addition to providing the individual's name, it reveals city of residence, unit of service, birth date or age, and other helpful facts. It also contains the location and date of enlistment and discharge information. The names of over 67,900 men are included in the collection. For researchers of Maryland ancestors who may have served in the "Great War," this can be an informative database.

And here's the listing for Uncle Jimmy:
Name: James Franklin Whetstone
Race: white
Address: Frostburg, Allegany Co.
Birth Place: Frostburg, Md.
Birth Date: 17 Sep 1889
Comment: Ind 8/6/18 pvt, Co K 4 Pion Inf; 9 Evac Hosp 8/21/18, Hon disch 7/8/19, Overseas 9/15/18 to 6/27/19, Meuse-Argonne

OK, that's some good info right there but I had to break it down and do a bit of searching. He was inducted into service on August 6th, 1918 and was a private. Look, it says that he served in Company K of the 4th "Pion Inf." What's that? Found out that it's short for Pioneer Infantry. What's that? The pioneers go ahead of each battalion to clear the way and assure smooth passage. They were recruited from men who were described by the Personnel Bureau of the War Department as:
"Men experienced in life in the open, skilled in woodcraft and simple carpentry — substitute
occupations, rancher, prospector, hunter, scout."

The Whetstones were that. They were skilled in life in the open and were handy as hunters and knew their way around the woods. It was Jimmy's brother Tuck who showed Mom how to find edible and safe mushrooms in the woods, and you can read about that here. Jimmy's father was a stone mason so he had intimate knowledge of that craft and building in general. He had worked as a coal miner and needed to be physically strong. I'm thinking that Jimmy would fit right in.

I won't even try to explain the battle of the Argonne and if you want to read about it visit the listing on Wikipedia here. War history buffs will know right away that it was the 47-day battle that helped bring the war to an end and that it was the largest battle in US military history because it employed 1.2 million troops.

He was gassed and I heard it from Mom. Mustard gas, and all the relatives knew about it. If it was mustard gas he would have had scarred air passages and difficulty breathing and Mom confirmed that he had difficulty the rest of his life. He was taken to the 9th Evac Hospital on August 8, 1918 and then received his Honorable Discharge on July 8, 1919. It was probably the great adventure of his life.

Uncle Jimmy was in Frostburg for the 1920 census, and probably real glad to be home. On September 19th, 1921, Jimmy married Madge Cornu in Summit County, Ohio. He was 32 and she was 21 and worked as a rubber worker in one of the Akron plants. He lived and worked in Frostburg, the record shows.

And that brings me to an interesting point here.  Let's go back to the idea of Jimmy being married twice. Look at his draft card, above. It says that he's married but gives no wife's name as so many other draft cards in this record set do. Then take a look at Jimmy and Madge's marriage record below. It says they are both single.

Now what's up with that? Was he actually married to this mystery woman Mom remembered as Verona? Or was it just a romance that never worked out? Was it a secret marriage that just ended without going public, and they both just walked away? Or did she die? Mom thinks she might have.

Why are there always more mysteries and questions than we have time to explore? I'll leave the two marriages issue to his descendants, if they care to go looking. A person only has so may hours in the day, sad to say.

Uncle Jimmy and Madge lived in Frostburg the rest of their lives in a nice little brick house on Midlothian Road, later renamed Braddock Road. They had three sons, Joseph James who everyone called JJ, John Robert, and Raymond. Mom seems to remember something about one of the boys accidentally shooting the other, not seriously or anything, just boys being boys in the country, she said.

I'm glad that I got to know Mom's Uncle Jimmy like this. I've looked at that photo, up top, of him in his WWI uniform and wondered about him. I knew from Mom that he'd been gassed in the war and that he was different when he came back home. Now I know more about that. In some way, he's become my Uncle Jimmy too.

Uncle Jimmy seated with two of his sons.

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