My great-uncle Linus was born in 1896 in Sherman, CT. The only known picture of him is with his father, Louis, and 2 of his 5 siblings, Erskine (my grandfather) and Loretta. Linus was about 7 at the time and his siblings were 9 and 5. The picture had been taken after the death of his mother and the resultant sending of the youngest siblings to live with relatives.
When WWI broke out the US was not immediately involved, but in 1917 President Wilson requested a declaration of war. Not wanting to go overseas, Linus, then 21 years old, instead enlisted in the Navy. He enlisted on January 19, 1918 at the recruiting station in Buffalo, NY. He was given the rank of Motor Machinist Mate, 2nd class and assigned to the port in Philadelphia. After a month of training, he was assigned to the USS Maine for two months, then transferred to the USS Louisville in New York City for nearly two months. He was discharged for unknown reasons on June 27, 1918, having served for only 159 days. However, his “freedom” did not last long.
Just 5 weeks later, on August 9, 1918, Linus was drafted into the Army and assigned to Company K of the 346th Infantry as a private. After just a few weeks of training at Fort Dix in NJ, he was scheduled to sail out of NY for Europe on August 26, 1918. His name appears on the ship’s roster, but is scratched out in red pen with the letters “AWOL”.
The story picks up again less than two weeks later in the form of an FBI report on September 4th. During a routine investigation looking for German aliens, an FBI agent encountered Linus on a farm in Trenton NJ. He asked whether Linus had registered. Linus said that his registration card was “up at the house”, but he first went into the barn. The agent questioned the farmer’s wife at the house who asked, “Is he a deserter?” The agent did not think so at the time and responded that he just wanted to see his registration. Looking back toward the barn, he spotted Linus heading for the woods and shouted for him to stop, which he did. After a few more lies, Linus eventually showed the agent his bag which contained his soldier’s uniform and admitted escaping from Fort Dix a few days earlier. He attributed his desertion to wanting to see his mother before going abroad (which of course was also a bit of a lie, since that would have been his step-mother).
Linus was returned to Fort Dix, was reassigned to Company G of the 30th Infantry on September 13, 1918, and finally left as part of the AEF on September 25, 1918. Unfortunately, this reassignment turned out to be a bad thing as it put him in “the wrong place at the wrong time.” During his short few months in Europe, his unit was involved in heavy fighting. I have tried to find out what exactly happened to Linus, but there are no definitive answers. One of the family stories I heard growing up was that he was involved in a mustard gas attack.
Linus returned to the US on January 30, 1919 on a hospital ship, the St. Nazaire. After several months of treatment, he was honorably discharged on June 16, 1919 but was 100% disabled. He spent the remainder of his life in various VA mental hospitals in CT and NY. He passed away in 1948, the same year that I was born.
On this Memorial Day in 2017, I remember my great-uncle Linus, whom I never had the opportunity to meet. Despite his two attempts at escaping from service in the Army in WWI, one via enlisting in the Navy, and one via going AWOL, he did serve. Although he was not killed in the sense that his body remained alive for another 29 years, his life was taken from him and he “lived” in a mental hospital for all those years. So, for making that ultimate sacrifice, I honor him as well.