On Friday I shared with you some of my thoughts after visiting three World War I battlefields, largely focused on the Jewish tombstones found in cemeteries of both the Central and Allied Powers.
But there was another incident that also made a strong impression, and made me realize that I did indeed have connections to this gruesome war — however small or far removed.
So there I was, standing in St. Mihiel American Cemetery, confronted with the many rows of marble headstones, and one stood out: It was adorned with a gold star, representing the Congressional Medal of Honor. As I looked closer, I saw that the soldier came from Colorado!
Of course when I returned home I started researching Wickersham, and it turns out he’s got his own Wikipedia page. He fought — and died — in the Battle of St. Mihiel, the first American-led offensive in the war, which took place from September 12-15, 1918. After being severely wounded on the first day of fighting, Wickersham, a second lieutenant, continued to lead his platoon before, “Collapsing and succumbing to his injuries. For these actions, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 1919,” and indeed is the only soldier buried in the St. Mihiel Cemetery who received that honor.
I admit that this isn’t a close connection to the war, but it did, in that cemetery in France, bring the tragedy a little closer to home. Especially when I read that though he’s buried in France, there’s a marker for him in Fairmount Cemetery, just down the road from my Denver home and where many of my own family are buried.
The day before fighting commenced, Wickersham wrote what turned out to be his last letter to his mother, who was back in Denver. The beautiful, tear-jerking poem his letter included, “The Raindrops on Your Old Tin Hat”, is most appropriate for reprinting on Memorial Day.
The mist hangs low and quiet on a ragged line of hills,
There’s a whispering of wind across the flat,
You’d be feeling kind of lonesome if it wasn’t for one thing—
The patter of the raindrops on your old tin hat.
An’ you can’t help a-figuring—sitting there alone—
About this war and hero stuff and that,
And you wonder if they haven’t sort of got things twisted up,
While the rain keeps up its patter on your old tin hat.
When you step off with the outfit to do your little bit
You’re simply doing what you’re s’posed to do—
And you don’t take time to figure what you gain or lose—
It’s the spirit of the game that brings you through.
But back at home she’s waiting, writing cheerful little notes,
And every night she offers up a prayer
And just keeps on a-hoping that her soldier boy is safe—
The Mother of the boy who’s over there.
And, fellows, she’s the hero of this great, big ugly war,
And her prayer is on the wind across the flat,
And don’t you reckon maybe it’s her tears, and not the rain,
That’s keeping up the patter on your old tin hat?
Lest we forget.
If anyone happens to be visiting Fairmount Cemetery, would you report back on the Wickersham memorial there?