Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Great War

It was called the Great War and the War to End All Wars. But that was before we started numbering "The Great Wars". Now it is known as World War I. And it gave birth to Veterans Day, originally known as Armistice Day, when at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, all the guns went silent.

Courtney Lawrence

And Medina sent its share of boys to that war, to the trenches in France, and the gas bombed fields of Europe. Courtney Lawrence was the first to fall. Medina's American Legion Post is called the Courtney Lawrence Post in his honor. A residential street in Medina is named for him. But he was just the first.

In all, almost 500 Medina boys and men went into World War I. 42 never came back.

They wrote letters back home, some of which were published in the Medina Gazette. Boys like Lawrence Dole who wrote about arriving in England, Clarence Gardner  who was in the signal corps at Wright Aviation Field, or  Franklin Clark who went to flying school in Wichita Falls, Texas.

Today, we are going to talk about one of the heroes of the war, a young 17 year old boy from Leroy, named Leland Wright. I happened across an editorial on his service, entitled "A Real Hero. Leroy Lad in Rainbow Division Fought on Six Fronts" in the June 6th 1919 Medina Gazette on page 4. The names of the battles he fought in are meaningless to me, as they probably would be to most of you. He talks about seeing hard fighting at Champagne and losing 150 men "under the fire of the fiendish Germans" Next they moved to Chateau Thierry and lost 100 more men. He was wounded here, but they were so short of men that he "endured the pain, fixed himself up and so avoid reporting for a sick or wounded call." The need was so great.

Next, at Oureq, they lost 50 men. The spent their furlough (leave or vacation) at the St. Mihiel front with "the loss of only 50 men." At the Argonne-Meuse front they lost 25 men. They then went to the Sedan front and they lost 175 men.

He relates, "Our numbers were becoming less each day and the horror of it all was but a passing thought then -- we were too busy to grieve."

Leland, or Lee, as he was sometimes known, came home and restarted his life. In the 1920 census, he is listed as still living with his parents and was a farmer. He married and started having a family. In the 1930 census he is listed as a "junk dealer" at a wrecking yard. By the time the next census came around, Leland was dead, having succumbed in March of 1940. His death notice is extremely brief and to the point "Died -- at his home in Creston, on Saturday, March 9, Lee Wright, aged 40 years."

I'd like to know what he died of at the age of 40. Was it related to the wound he received in WWI? Had he been gassed, as so many were? Was it related to post-traumatic stress, that wasn't really recognized yet? Or was it some more "natural" cause?

His tombstone is listed here; Tombstone Listing
A simple plaque marks Leland's grave

My co-worker Lisa was able to find Leland's death certificate on the FamilySearch web site by looking under his nickname, Lee Wright.

He died of a pulmonary abscess with acute pulmonary hemorrhage.
He had been treated at a Veteran's hospital which could indicate it
was related to  his service.
It was NOT tuberculosis.

Leland was not the only Wright in the area that was called up for World War I. Milton Wright, nephew of the famous Wright brothers, was drafted from the Akron area. Orville felt so strongly about his nephew not serving that he appeared in front of the draft board pleading that his nephew be exempted from serving. He is reported to have said, "If he is not exempted, I will find a place for him where he will not have to serve in a military capacity."

At first, the request for exemption succeeded on the grounds that young Milton was a married man, having married since registration day. But it caused quite a stir with "200 men and women stormed the headquarters of local draft board" in protest. After the protest the chairman of the draft board said he did not understand the action of the board and said "he would send no more married men to camp from his board until Wright has been certified for service." The decision was reversed a few days later.

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