By MICHAEL O’HARA, guest columnist
Most will recognize that line as the title to a 1960s antiwar song. They would be somewhat wrong, as it was written and published in the mid-’50s by Pete Seeger and the last two verses were written and added by Joe Hickerson in Bloomington in May 1960. It was derived from an old Cossack folk song, “Koloda-Duda.”
In those last verses, Hickerson asks, “Where have all the soldiers gone?” Then he answers his own question with, “Gone to graveyards, every one.”
Pete’s uncle, Alan Seeger, had died a hero’s death leading a charge at the Somme in 1916 while serving with the French Foreign Legion. Before he died, he wrote the now famous poem, “I Have a Rendezvous with Death.”
One American who lost his life in France during WWI in the epic struggles of July 1918 was Ray Griffin, a native of Brown County.
He was born and raised just west of town near Jackson Creek. He was the son of Adam and Sarah Griffin. He left for the Army in 1917 with a group of his high school friends and never returned.
One hundred years have passed and still we ask, “Where have all the soldiers gone?”
The next line is more telling, “Long time passing.”
Have we forgotten? Do we not remember the sacrifice our county paid with the lives of our finest sons?
Ray Griffin’s story is a testament to those brave young men who sacrificed everything in the name of freedom. Their names are written on the roster in the old courthouse mounted in the hallways. You might want to stop by some day.
Ray served with “Eye” (I) Company, 3rd Battalion, 16th Infantry. The 16th served as half of the 1st Brigade of the 1st Division, not yet known as the Big Red One.
They were the first Americans to enter combat and suffer casualties in the trenches in November 1917. By July 1918, they were leading the charge in what was termed the Aisne-Marne Offensive.
Their objective: To cut off the neck of the salient and deny the Germans access to the road and railway that went south from Soissons to Chateau Thierry and nearby Belleau Wood. The 3/16th was in brigade reserve on July 18 but was put into the line on the 19th.
Although the initial attack caught the Germans by surprise and made significant gains, the following day of the 19th found the 3/16th in grave danger from incoming heavy artillery and murderous machine gun fire.
The 3/16th would have been right in the middle of the movement when Ray Griffin was mortally wounded. Another Hoosier from Hamilton County, Clifford Ogle, wrote of the heavy machine gun fire, “I can hear those bullets whistling through the wheat.”
The assault was a great success in military terms. The Germans were never able to again go on the offensive, but the price was steep. The 3/16th suffered 338 killed in action, 91 dead of wounds, and nearly 1,100 wounded in less than a week of intense fighting.
When Ray first arrived in France, he made friends with his sergeant, a man named Walter A. Howard. Sgt. Howard was from Lafayette, Indiana, and he and Ray became great friends. They formed a pact, an agreement if you will. If either was killed, the other would, if possible, return home and become a surrogate son to the other’s mother.
When Sgt. Howard returned home, Fort Sill, Oklahoma became his new duty station. Keep in mind it is now 1919. There are no Interstate highways and State Road 135 would not be built for almost another 20 years.
Yet, according to a 1930 article in The Democrat, Sgt. Howard had made good on his promise to his friend and had indeed visited Mrs. Griffin twice every year. The article mentions that Sgt. Howard could not be here for Mother’s Day that year but Mrs. Griffin had received a large bouquet of delphiniums and carnations from Mr. Howard.
These are the unbreakable bonds between men of war.
Back in those times, the government had a program which would provide one-time transportation to the families of the fallen to travel to France to visit their son’s grave. Ray is buried at Oise-Aisne American cemetery, along with 6,013 other Soldiers and Marines.
I have found no evidence Mrs. Griffin ever went to France, as her husband was blind and gravely ill for many years. Sgt. Howard must have provided her a great deal of comfort from the loss of her son.
A Marine who was killed during the battle of Saipan during WWII, GySgt Paul “Shanghai” Pooley, has been famously quoted, “No man is ever really dead until he is forgotten.”
Will we forget Ray Griffin and his fellow warriors from Brown County simply because it was nearly 100 years ago?
I cannot, I will not, let their memory die.
The following are the men Brown County lost in World War I:
1. John M. Crouch, died March 15, 1918, of disease. Buried in Crouch Cemetery.
2. Odie Crouch, died Nov. 22, 1918, of disease. Buried in Greenlawn Cemetery.
3. Donald I. Ford, died Oct. 12, 1918, killed in action. Buried in Meuse-Argonne, France.
4. Ray Griffin, died July 19, 1918, killed in action. Buried in Oise-Aisne, France.
5. Jessie Jones, died Nov. 6, 1918, of disease. Buried in Meuse-Argonne, France.
6. Arthur Moore, died July 21, 1918, killed in action. Buried in Lanam Cemetery.
7. L. Estel Schrock, died Oct. 12, 1918, of wounds. Buried in Oak Hill/Southview Cemetery.
8. Walter Shulz, died Dec. 12, 1918, of disease. Buried in Spring Grove, Wisconsin.
9. Charles D. Sturgeon, died Oct. 11, 1918, of wounds. Buried in Duncan Cemetery.
10. Claude W. Tipton, died Dec. 25, 1918, of disease. Buried in Mt. Zion Cemetery.
11. John R. White, died Sept. 30, 1918, of disease. Buried in Crouch Cemetery.
12. Lawrence G. Brown, died May 23, 1919, murdered. Buried in Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis.
13. Ernie Clyde Hutchings, died July 23, 1918, killed in action. Buried in Arlington, Virginia.
14. David Clarence Miller, died in November 1918 of disease. Buried in Bean Blossom.
Note: Nos. 13 and 14 are not listed on the Brown County Courthouse wall.
Michael O’Hara wrote and researched this column with William Jayne, who was among the people responsible for creating the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. O’Hara is a Brown County resident, Marine Corps veteran, a writer of local military history and the recipient of the Congressional Veterans Commendation.