My middle name is William, which is my father’s name. He was named after his uncle, a Greek immigrant who fought in the American army in World War 1. When I was home a couple of years ago, my dad showed me a folder of paperwork regarding my great uncle. There was very little family lore about him because he died young on the Western Front. My father said he always wanted to know more, particularly how he died. In the folder I found his unit information and his date of death. I said I’d take to the internet and see what I could find out. My dad scoffed (to say he’s not Mr. Computer is an understatement). “What are you going to find there?” he asked.
My great uncle William had been a private first class in the 3rd Infantry Division. He died on July 15, 1918. Finding out what happened to him was not too difficult as it turned out. July 15 was the first day the Second Battle of the Marne, which was Germany’s last major offensive of the war. The 3rd Division, including William’s 38th Regiment, was posted on the Marne River and here the Germans tried to break through to finally capture Paris. The units on either side of the 3rd Division fell back under the assault of German stormtroopers. The 3rd’s commander, Major General Joseph Dickman, said to his French allies, “Nous resterons la.” “We shall remain here.” The 3rd held the line and earned a name they still bear to this day: the Rock of the Marne Division.
That was the action and the day my great uncle was killed. I also discovered where he’s buried: the Oise-Marne American Cemetery, Plot B, Row 25, Grave 33. No one from my family has ever visited his grave. Included in that folder were letters from the government offering his mother a free trip to France to do so. Apparently in the 1920s this offer was made to the mothers of soldiers who died in the war. She was too grief stricken to take the trip and the letters went unanswered.
So I printed out what I had found online and brought it down to show my dad. He was impressed with what I had been able to dig up in just an hour. “See,” I said, “the internet is good for something.” I was glad my dad could finally find something out about his uncle and how he died. He had been wondering his whole life, but the family didn’t like to talk about PFC Pramas. Too much pain I guess and I can understand that. I’ve since tracked down a history of the 3rd Division in WW1, published by the unit in Germany in 1919. I’m trying to learn more about where William’s company was on that fateful day. Some day I’d also like to visit his grave. I feel that someone from my family should, since over 90 years have passed since his death.
I think of my great uncle when I see the anti-immigration bigots wrapping themselves in the American flag. William was a recent immigrant to the United States. He likely spoke little English and army life couldn’t have been easy for him. But he joined up and he gave his life, as did many immigrants before him and as have many since. His willingness to do so did not diminish America, it enhanced it because we are fundamentally a nation of immigrants. Lets remember that this Veterans Day.