When the 128th, 129th and 130th Machine Gun Battalions of the 35th Division returned to Joplin in 1919, the soldiers were welcomed home with a downtown parade before a crowd of 15,000 people, then led to a reunion with family and loved ones in Schifferdecker Park.
Just not everyone.
"One person watched the parade and anxiously searched the ranks of the Joplin men for a missing face," the Globe reported then. "She knew that the face would not be there ... that when he kissed her good-bye more than a year ago it was the last she would know of him. ... Dressed in a neat blue suit and attempting to be cheerful — though her heart would not permit — she appeared at Schifferdecker Park outside the fence put up to separate the soldiers from the crowd."
The paper identified her as the widow of Lt. Ludwig Everson, who was shot on Sept. 26, 1918, the opening day of the Meuse-Argonnne Offensive. Everson died a few days later and is today interred in Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France, along with thousands of others who died in that war.
Before this column goes where it is going, I thought you should know about him. And her.
I also thought you should know about Capt. Leon Briggs, identified as a resident of Joplin although he had been an engineer for Webb City. He also fell in the offensive.
Likewise for Pvt. Robert Thurman, who had been a 21-year-old University of Kansas student before enlisting. His father, A.W. Thurman, was a well-known Joplin attorney, and the family lived in the Olivia apartments at the time of their son's death. Robert Thurman was with the 110th Engineers, also part of the 35th Division. The American Legion post in Joplin would later be named in his honor. He is today listed as missing in action on a tablet at Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery.
Historians say the offensive that fall helped bring an end to World War I on the Western Front — but at great cost. In all, the United States experienced more than 117,000 casualties during 47 days of fighting, from Sept. 26 to Nov. 11, 1918. That's nearly 2,500 casualties per day.
I thought about these men — and that heartbroken widow looking forlornly at the parade, looking through the fence — when I read a story in The Atlantic last week. According to the story, President Donald Trump canceled a visit to an American cemetery in France in 2018 citing bad weather, but the magazine claims that was not the reason. It says four anonymous sources confirmed that Trump "did not believe it important to honor the American war dead."
"Why I should I go to that cemetery? It's filled with losers," he allegedly said, according to the magazine.
Also according to the article, Trump referred to the 1,800 U.S. men who lost their lives in the July 1918 battle at Belleau Wood as "suckers" for getting killed.
George Call, of Joplin, a U.S. Marine, fought in that battle. He survived. He did not survive the Meuse-Argonne offensive that fall. He also is buried in France.
Two days after Everson was killed, the machine gun battalion was hit near Chaudron Farm by Germans while crossing an open area. The dead included Pvt. Alvin Beasley, 2nd Lt. Corwin Corder, Pfc. Frank Fannon, and Pfc. Ralph Storey, all of Joplin, and Pfc. Lawrence DeWitt, of Carterville.
After the battle, Capt. George Wark, of Caney, Kansas, took photos of temporary graves marked by wooden crosses. He brought those photos to Joplin shortly after he returned home and met with the families of those who died fighting near Chaudron Farm. One of the photos he brought showed 105 crosses — seven of which belonged to Joplin men, he said.
So did the president say it or not?
He denies it. And it's almost incomprehensible that any American, let alone a president, would think it, let alone say it. Such a person would be unfit to lead, unfit to command. Yet it also was unimaginable to me what Trump said about the late U.S. Sen. John McCain as a prisoner of war.
"This report is false. President Trump holds the military in the highest regard,” White House spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said after the Atlantic story broke. “He’s demonstrated his commitment to them (the military) at every turn. ... This has no basis in fact.”
Trump also reportedly said, "I would be willing to swear on anything that I never said that about our fallen heroes."
Fox News quoted sources who said the visit to the American cemetery was canceled because the weather made it unsafe for the president to travel and that Trump's former chief of staff John Kelly actually made the decision, but again, those sources were not identified. Fox also excerpted a passage from John Bolton's book that supports that version.
The Associated Press, however, reported that it had confirmed independently much of what was reported by The Atlantic.
So where does that leave readers? In a no-man's land.
These stories highlight a paradox and reckless habit in modern journalism — overreliance on anonymous sources. The bigger the story, the more important that it be sourced so it can be checked; but the bigger the story, the greater the likelihood that it will be an anonymous source. On the one hand, you could argue the story wouldn't come out unless the magazine had promised to protect the identities of its sources; but journalists have for too long made it too easy for this to happen, allowing public officials with important information to hide behind anonymity and escape accountability.
Twelve years after Everson's death, his mother, Mary Everson, joined other American mothers who had lost their sons on a visit to France, "to kneel at the graves of soldiers who were their sons," the Globe reported. According to the paper, Mary Everson was still carrying with her during the interview a small black-bordered card that identified the section, block and number of her son's grave in France.
The Globe said that during her trip, Mary Everson was given "the signal honor of being chosen as the representative from Missouri to place a wreath upon the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Paris at ceremonies held there Aug. 28 (1930)."
Mary told the paper in 1930, "I am proud he made the sacrifice. He was a soldier, and he died like a soldier."
Whatever you decide to believe, I just thought you should know who we are talking about.
Andy Ostmeyer is the editor of The Joplin Globe.