Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Lois E. Johnson
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Remembering a veteran


November 7, 2019

Provided Photo

Walter Brown in later years.

Lois E. Johnson

Veterans Day, or Armistice Day as it was originally called, began on November 11, 1918, when the fighting in The Great War, later to become World War I, ended. The Armistice was signed and peace talks were held in December in Paris.

However, America's decision to get into the conflagration that had been raging between the Great Powers of Europe for two and a half years didn't come until April 1917. The war had begun in Austria in 1914 when it had invaded Serbia.

According to information in American History: A Survey, the countries involved in the war had tremendous losses.

"An entire generation of European youth was decimated," it was stated.

Woodrow Wilson was president and had been re-elected in 1916 by a narrow margin because of the slogan, "He kept us out of the war."

But that changed in 1917. He saw that the United States should get into the "war to end all wars," to make the world safe for democracy. The U. S. entered the war in April. The U. S. was committed to using the war as a vehicle for maintaining a new world order.

In Gliddon, Iowa, eight men joined the army, one of whom was later to come and work at the state hospital in Moose Lake. Walter Brown, a wrestler, joined with seven other young men, and went off to war, according to the account in the book The Fierce Lambs, a story about young American men that joined to fight in the Great War.

Merle Hay was a friend of Walter's. He was hesitant to board the train in Gliddon, and it was Walter who yelled, "Come on, Jack." Jack was Hay's nickname.

"Hay ran down the track and, clutching his suitcase, jumped on the rear car," it stated in the book.

The young men were assigned to the 16th Infantry, along with hundreds of other young men from other states, leaving their families to worry about their fate.

On May 28, the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, General John J. Pershing, and staff sailed to Europe on May 28. Pershing had come from just commanding a conflict between the United States and Mexico.

During training, Hay became friends with Tom Enright, another man who preferred to spend his off-duty hours on the post. Another soldier, a corporal, Bethel Gresham joined them on the train to the east coast.

The troops departed on a ship from Hoboken, New York, in mid-June, having been hastily and poorly trained to convert farm boys and mill workers into soldiers, it stated in the book.

Walter Brown was one of the contingent that lined up when General Pershing came by on his way to a new headquarters.

"Walking past the 16th Infantry, Pershing paused in front of Walter Brown," it was stated in the book. "The young man from Glidden had pushed his cap back on his head at a cocky angle. The Commander-in-Chief surveyed Walter, then 'with a bare trace of a smile,' personally adjusted the headgear.

"'There, son,' remarked the General, 'That may not be as comfortable - but you look more like a soldier now.'

"Brown, who had been ready to duck a blow in the face, at once decided that Pershing was the 'kindest and greatest man' he had ever encountered."

The troops, including Brown, Hay, Enright and Gresham, marched to the front lines when the chills winds and cold rains of winter came in October. Hay contracted a bad cold to add to his homesickness. But a cigar box of things from home arrived from his mother, and his mood brightened.

The "big parade" of troops started the march to the front. They took refuge in trenches, facing several German-held towns. No man's land was bordered by coils of barbed wire.

On November 3, Walter Brown was in a trench about a block away from Hay during a dark night.

It was around 3 in the morning when the enemy swarmed into the trench, and the Americans engaged in hand-to-hand combat.

After it was over, Brown was informed by one of the privates that the Germans had gotten Merle Hay. A few yards farther away lay Bethel Gresham and Tom Enright.

"Brown viewed the three bodies before him, shaken, and returned to his own position," it was stated in the book. "He had learned, this bitter dawn in Lorraine, why Merle 'had the hunch (that he would not make it).'"

The three soldiers were buried in France until they were bought home on July 10, 1921, to be buried in native soil. Thousands turned out for the services in the three towns were the men had come from just a few short years before.

Walter Brown, carrying 23 pieces of shrapnel in his body from being wounded in Belleau Woods, attended the service for Merle Hay. He was newly married to Jo Beattie, a telephone operator and school teacher. Brown and one other man were the only men of the original eight from Glidden to survive the war.

Jon Brown, Walter's grandson, wrote in an email, "He was the Superintendent of Male Nurses when the state hospital opened around 1936-1937 in Moose Lake," he wrote. "That's when the Browns initially moved to Moose Lake. They moved from and back to Moose Lake later again.

"Our family was visiting him when he lived in Owatonna around 1960. He and my grandmother were being interviewed for a book called The Fierce Lambs. I remember listening to part of the interview by A. A. Hoehling, the author, who was providing an account of 1917, the year that America went 'over there.' That was the first time that I had heard of Grandpa Brown's World War I service.

"My grandfather had first been awarded the Purple Heart, being wounded in the left arm in action near Cantigny, France on May 8, 1918. The unit was cited for Gallantry in Action and Especially Meritorious Service. On July 19, 1918, he suffered shrapnel to the chin in combat and, after being severely wounded with 23 pieces of shrapnel at Belleau Wood, Grandpa should have had three Purple Hearts. He was also awarded the Croix Deguerre (French military decoration created in 1915 to reward feats of bravery either by individuals or groups in the course of two World Wars.)

"Grandpa Brown's grandfather, Henry Brown, served in the Union infantry for four years during the Civil War and ultimately marched to the sea with Sherman.

"Grandpa Brown's son, my dad, Robert B. Brown, served as a second-class petty officer ordinance man aboard a baby flattop in the Pacific and participated in the largest Naval battle in history, the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippine Sea.

"Grandpa Brown's grandson, Rick Brown, served in the army in Vietnam. Interestingly, my brother Rick, who served in the Army in Vietnam in 1969, served in the same division as our Grandfather Walter Brown, The First Division."


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