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“We Will Remember Them”: Eleven Virginians in the Great War

One hundred years ago, on “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month,” representatives of Germany and the Allied forces met in a railway carriage in the Forest of Compiègne to sign the armistice that would end the First World War. The conflict, which lasted from 1914 to 1918, was called in its own time “the war to end all wars,” and today is often overshadowed by the Second World War that it spawned twenty years later, although its impact on the world we know today can hardly be overstated. The United States officially entered the war in 1917, and Virginians made many contributions on the battlefields and on the home front. Over 100,000 Virginians would serve in the war, and over 4,000 would die from disease or injury.

Today, in honor of the centennial of the end of World War I, we will be spotlighting eleven Virginians from the World War I History Commission Questionnaires Collection.

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John Francis Barnett was born in Richmond in 1888. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in April 1917 as a Machinist’s Mate, serving on the USS Parker and the USS Melville. After the war, Barnett was unable to work, and declared on his questionnaire that “under the strain I am suffering mentally and am confined to the Western State Hospital Staunton Va.” He was admitted to Western State in 1919, and remained there at least until April 1930, when he was listed as an inmate in the Federal Census. He died in the VA Hospital in Pittsburgh in 1956. World War I had a devastating effect on the mental health of many participants, although this was often ignored or stigmatized in the years following the war.

 

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Robert Bolton Hale was born in Pearisburg, Virginia, in 1890. He served in France with the 363 Infantry Regiment, under 1st Lt. James Boyd, Jr., who later wrote Robert’s father a long letter describing the circumstances of his death. He became ill shortly after the armistice was signed, and died on 28 November 1918. His lieutenant attributed this in part to the fact that “he had stayed on the job too long before reporting sick.” Disease was responsible for more fatalities among American troops than enemy action; the end of the war coincided with the outbreak of the Spanish flu, which killed at least 50 million people worldwide.

 

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Harry Calvin Harden was born in Woodstock, Shenandoah County, in 1892. He enlisted in October 1917, serving in the 372nd Infantry Regiment; this African American regiment served under French Army command. Harden attached a letter describing his experiences in France. His photograph was featured in the Library’s True Sons of Freedom exhibit. Immediately after the war he was working as a waiter in the Belvoir Hotel in Alexandria. He died in 1954 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

 

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Clarence Miles Edwards was born in Richmond in 1898. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in November 1917 as an apprentice seaman. He stated that while he had been treated well on some of the ships he served on, he and the rest of the crew had undergone “severe and unjust treatment” while on the USS Cleveland. He did find time, however, to visit the Los Angeles Ostrich Farm.

 

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Arlie Martin Jack was born in Highland County in 1886. He enlisted in the infantry in September 1917, participating in the St. Mihiel and the Meuse Argonne Offensives. Along with the questionnaire, he sent the Virginia War History Commission a four-page diary documenting his experiences from May to December 1918.

 

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Adolph Louis Lowe was born in 1840 in Prussia. He served in the Argentine navy and then the U.S. Navy during the American Civil War. He reenlisted in 1917, and a newspaper account claimed he was the oldest man in the navy.

 

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Benjamin Franklin Smith did not submit a questionnaire, but did send the commission a typed transcript of his military record. Smith was born in Allwood in 1889. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in December 1917. He received several citations, including the Croix de Guerre. In 1921, he represented Virginia’s American Legion at the burial of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.

 

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Charles Lawrence Locher was born in Lynchburg in 1897. He enlisted in the 23rd Engineer Battalion in October 1917, and departed for France the following March. He served at St. Mihiel and Meuse Argonne. On 12 November 1918, the day after the armistice was declared, he was killed instantly “by the accidental explosion of a shell the working of which he was explaining to his comrades.”

 

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Verna Mae Smith was born in Clifton Forge in 1889. She studied nursing at the Lynchburg Sanatorium. In 1917 she was accepted for service, and spent nine months stationed at Walter Reed Hospital in Maryland before departing for France in March 1918. With her questionnaire she also included a long letter describing her experiences in France and in postwar Germany.

 

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George Edmond Pannill, born 1896, and Jeb Stuart Pannill, born 1897, were brothers from Henry County. They enlisted together in June 1917, serving in K Company of the 9th Infantry Regiment. Both saw action at Coralie, Chateau-Thierry, and Soissons. George was killed on 18 July 1918; his last words were “They got me.” Jeb was wounded the same day and died on 4 August. Jeb was buried in the American cemetery at Suresnes, while George’s grave is unknown. Their mother, Eliza Pannill, erected a memorial to them in their hometown, and in 1930 she attended one of the Gold Star Mother Pilgrimages.

 

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To learn more about Virginians during the Great War, click on the WWI tag for more Out of the Box entries, check out the online version of our True Sons of Freedom exhibit, or see digitized collections from The World at War.

Posted by in World War I Centennial.

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