Wednesday, November 11, 2009

In Remembrance; Afterward

There's a long, long trail a-winding
Into the land of my dreams,
Where the nightingales are singing
And a white moon beams:
There's a long, long night of waiting
Until my dreams all come true;
Till the day when I'll be going down
That long, long trail with you.

First page of the three page letter from Capt. Sharp

Harold and Eva
"Just married."

Harold and his son, Edward,
several years later at home in Springfield, VT.

Helene and Mac's children,
My mother and her brother, "Billy."

It was eveidently about two weeks before the family at home on both sides of Lake Champlain learned that Lawrence had been killed.

On August 8, 1918, seven days after Lawrence's death, Harold and Eva were married. The following appeared in the "Ti" Sentinel's news column for Orwel, VT.

August, 8, 1918: About fifty friends and relatives gathered at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Ross Thursday evening to witness the marriage of their son Harold to Miss Eva Fowler. The ceremony was performed by the Rev. Mr. Kingsbury of Sudbury. The bride was attended by Miss Eletha Murray of Glens Falls. [Lawrence's fiancee.] The young couple received many very pretty and useful gifts, among them a large sum of money. Ice cream and cake were served and a pleasant time was enjoyed by all. After a few days in town, Mr. and Mrs, Ross will return to Springfield.

A note in the same column indicates that Harold's parents, Eddie and Eliza, drove the newlyweds to Springfield the following Sunday. Harold and Eva eventually had four children, two sons and two daughters. Harold spent the rest of his working days at Gear Shapers, becoming a foreman. His younger son, Bob Ross, stayed at the Orwell farm to work one summer when I was a small child. He was a handsome young man, but sulky, and I think my Grampa Mac tolerated his presence only in deference to Eliza, who was, after all, Bob's grandmother. After her death in 1949, Harold's relationship with his remaining family fell apart over his demands as to what he considered his "inheritance" from the farm. I've wondered: if Lawrence had survived, he might have been the peacemaker in this situation.

The Ticonderoga Sentinal published this notice on Thursday, August 29, 1918:

The Methodist church, which has been closed Sunday evenings during the month of August, will be open next Sunday evening for service at the usual time. The service next Sabbath evening will take the form of a memorial service for Lawrence Ross who was killed in action in France on the first of August. He was a much loved and useful member and official of this church. He gave his life for the cause of human liberty, dying a brave soldier, a good citizen, and a consecrated follower of Christ. We invite all who wish to show their appreciation of his supreme sacrifice and can make it convenient, to unite with us in this service on Sunday evening.

The chores of running a farm do not allow "time out" for grief. At the Ross and Lewis "Elm Row Farm" in Orwell, Vermont and on the New York side of the lake, at the farms of Amos and Wilford Ross's family, and Les and Minnie Hayes, the seasonal patterns of the days and weeks unfolded in familiar manner. Perhaps a bundle of Lawrence's belongings was returned, although I never saw them or heard that was the case. Obviously too many letters and packages went astray in the muddle of wartime.

In answer to Eddie's query regarding his son Lawrence's death, the following was received and preserved along with Lawrence's letters. It was hand written on three small sheets of unlined paper. I think of this unknown Capt. Sharp, whose duty it likely was to write many such letters. His courtesy and compassion shine through his simple words.

How Another Ticonderoga Soldier Died
Dec, 16, 1918
Mr. Edward S. Ross
Orwell, VT, USA

Dear Mr. Ross,
I am in receipt of your letter of Sept. 8, 1918 regarding the death of your son, Lawrence H. Ross, who, with six other members of this company, was killed in the second battle of the Marne, Aug 1st, 1918.
I was with Private Ross at the time of his death and will try to give the details as they actually occurred.
We had attacked in the morning and after gaining considerable ground, concealed ourselves in a large shell hole and mounted our machine guns. We remained in this place all day, Ross sitting about twenty feet from me,
About 4 pm the Germans attacked us, shelling as they came. As a general rule, a hole in the ground is as safe a place as one can select, and, although we considered ourselves comparatively out of danger, three shells broke directly in the hole. Private Ross was killed instantly.
Permit me, Mr. Ross, to offer you my heartfelt sympathy in your bereavement. All of your son’s comrades felt the blow deeply when he was taken from us, and he was given a military burial on the top of Hill 212, between the towns of Cierges and Sergy.
We of this company have lost a true friend and excellent soldier and an American boy who died a hero, as we all hope to die if we are destined to go during this great struggle.
Sincerely Yours,
L. Eugene Sharp
Capt. 120 Machine Gun Bat.

There is an odd postcript to the account of Lawrence's death. About three miles down the dirt road from the Ross and Lewis farm, young Bill Tenzer lived with his mother, sister, stepfather and step-siblings. Bill was the product of a German-born father and a mother who listed her place of birth as Schlesien, later a part of Poland. He was born in 1899 in New York, two years after his parent's arrival in America. Part of the family lore surrounding Lawrence is that this man, Bill, had carried Lawrence's body from the field in France.
Old Bill Tenzer died in 1989. Some months prior to his death, my Mother drove down the dirt road to call on Bill and his wife. She told him she had heard as a child the story of his presence in the same company as her Uncle Lawrence. Bill Tenzer remembered "as though it was yesterday." Tears streamed from his blue eyes as he related the incident. From his telling, it seems possible that Lawrence may not have died "instantly" but instead died as his young neighbor struggled toward the first aid station carrying his slender, bloodied form. My nephew the history teacher, and I have speculated that perhaps Captain Sharp, if indeed he knew that Lawrence's death was not quite instant, wished to spare the family the added grief of thinking that their son lingered in great anguish.

Bill Tenzer's only child, his son Bobby, admired my father deeply, as Larry took time to invite a lonely young man to hunt with him. Bobby was one of those who stopped to visit my Dad on his last day of life. Bobby's mother, the same age as my Dad, had passed away two weeks previously.

As my brother-in-law and I walked across the yard during my first morning back at my Dad's home, Bobby, driving past, haulted his truck on the dirt road to speak with us. I made the proper references to his mother's passing and remarked that I had heard the story of his father's involvement in Lawrence's death so many years ago. I added that his father's age listed in the census didn't tally with his being a soldier in WWI.
"Oh hell," said Bobby, "He lied about his age, said he was 18 and nobody ever questioned him or asked for proof. He was 16 when he enlisted." Bobby went on to state that he many times heard his father tell of carrying Lawrence from the shell hole.

In 1921, when Lawrence's family had likely come to some terms with his loss, they received word that as part of a general project [Red Cross?] his body could be retrieved and sent "home" for burial. From the Thursday, March 31, 1921 edition of the Ticonderoga Sentinel.

The body of Lawrence Ross of Ticonderoga, the first Essex county soldier to fall, is to be brought back from France. It was the wish of his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Ross of N. Orwell, VT, that the body be left in French soil, but their notice to goverment authorities to that effect arrived too late, as arrangements for shipping his body to this country had gone too far to be stopped. Private Ross, a member of a machine gun battalion, was instantly killed on August 1, 1918.

July 20, 1922
The body of Lawrence H. Ross, the first Essex county soldier to die in battle in the World War, now reposes in the soil of the town that sent him forth to drive back the German hordes that threated world peace and democracy. The body of the valient soldier arrived on a transport at Hoboken [New Jersey] on July 3rd and on a Saturday morning accompanied by a military escort of one soldier, arrived in Ticonderoga and was taken to the Methodist church. On Sunday afternoon at 2:30 o'clock services were held in the Methodist church, the pastor, Rev. E.R. Stone, who served with the YMCA oversees delivering a sermon that held much and was thoroughly in keeping with the sad occasion.

I cringe a bit reading this floridly dramatic account, and I ache for my g-grandparents and the rest of the family who were duty bound to attend this second memorial service and follow the flag-wrapped casket to the Valley View Cemetery.

Mac and Helene's second child [my mother] conceived during those sorrowing weeks after notice of Lawrence's death reached the family, was now a toddler of three years. Helene kept a diary for a number of years, the entries a sparse and impersonal account of trivial happenings. On December 31st of 1918, referring to her brother's death in France, she scrawled, "A dreadful year."

Letha, Lawrence's fiancee, had by 1920 married Grant Denton and they lived in Springfield, Vermont where Grant worked in one of the machine and tool factories. Grant served in the army in WWI. He may be one of the unknown men pictured with Harold or with Lawrence at Camp Devens. I suspect that Letha and Grant may have met, at least casually, prior to Lawrence's death. Letha and Grant Denton resided in Springfield, near Harold and Eva Ross, for the next 30 years. Letha's son was born in 1922, her daughter a few years later. It seems clear that Letha stayed in touch with Lawrence's sister, Minnie. Mrs. Grant Denton is listed among the guests present at several Hayes weddings. Letha's younger brother, Clarence Murray, later became pastor of the Weslyan Methodist church in Hague, NY, where Lawrence was raised. The Dentons moved to California in the early 1950's and remained there until their deaths.

My mother, born 10 months after Lawrence's passing always spoke wistfully of him as someone who was so lovingly remembered. His portrait, in full military rig, hung in an oval bronzed frame on the parlor wall. My Uncle Bill years later hid away Lawrence's violin, refusing to acknowledge its where-abouts to Minnie who wished to have it. Helene bundled away her sheet music of popular WWI songs and my mother, already a competant pianist was not allowed to play them even after Helene's death at age 44, when Mother was just short of her 10th birthday. She later resurrected the dog-eared folios and I learned to sing the songs growing up.

Minnie and Les remained on his family farm in Hague until old age sent them to live with their daughter up near the Canadian border. They raised six children, several of whom had the Ross musical genes in full measure and passed them along.
Lawrence's cousin Wilford, whose wife Julia was Mac's sister, likewise remained on the small hill farm in West Hague.

We wonder, as do all families who lose a loved one to war, how different things might have been if Lawrence had lived, come home to marry Letha, raise children, go on singing and playing his fiddle. In one of his final letters he declared that he would "Come home a man!" He didn't come home, but I beleive that before he died, he had come to terms with himself and with his role as a soldier. He left home for Camp Devens a rather self-absorbed and sheltered young man; his dreams for his life couldn't be fulfilled. One of too many thousands, he was a man who didn't come home.


  1. Hullo MM,

    Thanks so much for sharing Lawrences story over the past week. It must have been difficult to write even with the distance of years between.

    It goes to show that in reality no one is ordinary and all deserve as much love and protection as a family can give. Like many of his generation and the ones that shortly followed he did something that he believed in, something for the betterment of society and its future.

    Not many people these days can say that they are actually doing something which is trying to make life better for the rest and I think our generations are all the poorer for it.

    Thanks once again.

    Kind regards.....Al.

  2. Thank you for sharing these amazing letters and filling in the family relationships around them.
    I felt that in the June letters he was trying to protect the family from what it was like but there was a dispare in the July ones that tugged at my heart ...he didnt hide how desolate he felt ...not that he really said it in so many words ...but I really felt he was past covering it all up yet not really wanting to upset them.

    I believe it was common for the Officers, certainly in WWI, to bend the truth in the letters to the grieving parents. It was to soften the loss ... no one really wants to know that they might have suffered.
    Again I have to say it was an amazing read ...a window on to his life and the war. So glad these are being preserved and the contents shared.xx

  3. Thank heavens for the Internet, and intelligent blog-writers say I. This has been the most wonderful, if heart-rending at the end, story to follow. Thank you for filling us in on the "afterwards" and the family relationships. Lawrence was a fine man and overcome his loneliness at the training camp to become a brave soldier. What a strange coincidence that his body had been carried by Bill Tenzer . . .

    Al - How strange, I was going to start writing a blog entry yesterday called "Ordinary people" as a result of looking at two books a friend gave me called "Dorset Men" and "Dorset Women". Ordinary folk to some, but people who were and are deeply in touch with the land and crafts and old skills.

    Angie - I think the common tag used was "shot through the heart", to spare the grieving parents.

  4. What an amazing tribute to Lawerence. So many soldiers are not remembered. Thank you for doing so.