New Veterans Memorial brings history forward

By Kathleen McGwin
The old ledger is wrapped in faded green paper cut from a Marshall Fields department store bag.  On its cover a handwritten label reads, “Take good care of this book.  It is the Past History of the work done by the Mothers of World War No. 1 1917-1918.”

Mary Lou Campion, who lives now at Joanie’s Home in Montello, can’t remember how the book came to be in her hands, but she knew it had to be important and recently donated it to the Marquette County Historical Society.  The significance of the historical record saved by Mary Lou is amplified by the upcoming August 16 dedication of the newly enhanced Veterans Memorial in front of the county courthouse because it was the women whose work is recorded in this book who took it upon themselves to persuade the Marquette County Board all those years ago to place the first Veterans Memorial on courthouse hill in 1929.

Accordingly, the August 16 dedication in Montello, which begins at 9:30 AM, will include recognition of the American War Mothers, which was organized in 1917 and Incorporated by an Act of Congress on February 4, 1925.   In 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed a bill amending the Charter of the organization to include mothers of WWII military personnel.  The objectives of the American War Mothers were to assist and further all patriotic work, keep alive and develop the spirit that prompted world service, work for the welfare of the armed forces of the Unites States, and assist the men and women who were wounded or incapacitated in conflict.  Membership was limited “to women only who are blood mothers of sons and daughters who are serving in the armed forces of the United States, or holding an honorable discharge from such service.”

The Marquette County Chapter of the American War Mothers was organized on November 29, 1921.  The charter members were Ada Bass, Ada Black, Sena Brown, May Burlingame, Katie Croarken, Nettie Gorsline, Ida Hersey, Emma Mitchell, Verle McAffee, Lucy McNamara and Lena Ritchie.  Ada Bass, wife to Dr. E. A. Bass of Montello, was elected Chairperson.  Her son, Edward, served in France in WWI and his experiences may have been the catalyst for her tireless work for the American War Mothers for many years.

According to Jim Slattery, author of the book Looking Back: the photography of Dr. E. A. Bass, available at the Montello Historic Preservation Society,  “Private Edward C. Bass saw significant action in World War I, notably at Chateau Thierry in the summer of 1918.  In September, he was wounded in the arm.  He described the circumstances in a letter to his sister Everetta, which was published in the Gary (Indiana) Times and reprinted in the Montello Express November 15, 1918:

One morning, with two others crawling from out prairie dug out holes [sic] and racing fifty yards to dig out another “gyreme” who was buried, a shell having caved his dugout in.  We got him out all right (that was the morning that I got my petite wound) – we three were recommended for a French or American cross but it didn’t go through which was right and proper for it wasn’t much to do and little danger, and Kile was killed that morning about the same time, and so decorations didn’t taste good in consequence…
… Edward Cary Bass was awarded the French Croix de Guerre with Bronze Star.  The award confirms that, at the regiment or brigade level, he was mentioned in a dispatch for an act of gallantry or heroism.

One of the first actions taken by the War Mothers was to pack boxes for Veterans in “the sanitarium.”  The second was to take a box to the mother of a son who’d been killed in the war.  These were activities repeated regularly over the years.  They sold poppies, contributed money to the National War Mothers organization, held educational and patriotic events, sewed pajamas for injured soldiers, raised money selling ice cream cones during the band concert held in the gazebo that used to stand at the granite quarry, sent money to help furnish rooms at the new Milwaukee soldier’s sanitarium, held money-raising card parties, sold flowers, purchased patriotic photos for the schools, and supported various veteran causes including the local American Legion, among many other things.

The War Mothers began a push to erect a War Memorial soon after they organized.  In November of 1927 they held a Memory Tree service and placed a granite marker on courthouse hill in commemoration of the “soldier boys of Marquette County who sacrificed their lives in the World War.”   In November of the next year, 1928, they met with the County Board and asked them to appropriate money towards a monument.  The Board appointed a committee to work on the project and appropriated $1500.  Charles Richter, owner of the Montello Granite Company at that time, “threw off from the established price.”

It was the War Mothers who decided on the inscription of the monument and planned the program for the dedication on Memorial Day of 1929.  Hundreds of people attended the service.  Participants marched from the American Legion Hall, located downtown at the time.  There were bands from Montello and Westfield, Grand Army of the Republic (Civil War) Veterans, Spanish American War Veterans, and American Legion members in the parade.  The bands played the Star Spangled Banner and the male chorus of Montello sang Beautiful Isle of Somewhere.  Reverend Anderson of Westfield gave the invocation and Harry Churchill of Endeavor represented the County Board and unveiled the monument as the bands played On Wisconsin.   The Montello George Weiske American Legion Post and the Westfield Metz Mosher Post were represented.  The National President of the American War Mothers was present and gave an address.  The service finished with the singing of America and with Taps played by Walter Nickel. 

On August 16, the enhanced Veterans Memorial will be dedicated in Montello.  Its centerpiece will be the monument that was dedicated in 1929 because of the work of the Marquette County Chapter of the American War Mothers.  In honor of the newly enhanced memorial and in recognition of the Veterans of Marquette County, the Marquette County Historical Society has created a special brochure that highlights Veterans Memorials around Marquette County.  It recognizes the memorials as important pieces of history and honors the service of all military men and women. 

History tells us who we are and reminds us what was and is important to us as a community and nation.   Mary Lou Campion knew she had something important that had to be saved so she passed it on to the historical society.  The ledger tells the story of those whose sons had served in WWI and their tireless work to honor the soldiers, sailors, and marines of Marquette County as well as their work through the 1970s.  That story continues today in the dedication of an enhanced Marquette County Veterans Memorial on August 16 at 9:30 AM. 

The words to this popular WWI song that would have been on the minds of American soldiers in the fields of France all those years ago echo today in our honoring of them and those who came after them. 

Somewhere the sun is shining,
Somewhere the songbirds dwell;
Hush, then, thy sad repining,
God lives, and all is well.

Somewhere the load is lifted,
Close by an open gate;
Somewhere the clouds are rifted,
Somewhere the angels wait.
Somewhere, somewhere,
Beautiful Isle of Somewhere!
Land of the true, where we live anew,
Beautiful Isle of Somewhere!