Fantastic Photo Share: Armory and Co. E, 1917

On a regular day near the beginning of March, one of our members, Josh Densmore, called me to see if I was at work. He was just leaving an antique shop with an awesome find and he wanted us to see it. He was so excited to show us a panoramic photo, measuring 10”x32.5”, of the Jamestown Armory in Brooklyn Square. It was located in the Rite Aid area and shows the enlisted men all lined up in front of the Armory, as they were going off for training in the US Army, at the beginning of the US involvement in WWI. Many of these young men enlisted in Co E in 1916, then were called to federal service on the Mexican Border for nearly one year, coming home in March 1917. They were discharged from federal service and reenlisted in the National Guard, but very shortly they were discharged from Co E and enlisted again in the US Army, Co E, 108th Infantry, 27th Division. All of this taking place in less than a month!In the background of the left side of the photo, there is a Willard St Trolley car, and behind many trees the Fenton Mansion roof and the porch of the previous Gilbert Home (where Jeanette Fenton and her husband Albert Gilbert had lived) are barely visible.

The back of the framed photo had 2 names and addresses on it. Jennie Anderson and Albert Anderson, another name listed separately was Paul W. Anderson. A bit later I looked up my photo of the WWI Memorial plaque at the Armory. Then when I looked back at the names I realized that Paul W Anderson had died in action. While looking his name up in online newspapers, ( I soon discovered that Paul’s widowed mother was Jennie and Albert was his brother. Paul was listed in the articles with 12 other Jamestown men who had fallen on the Hindenburg Line in France on Sept. 29, 1918. He was one of the men who was wounded and died just days later. Newspaper articles during this search showed that the 27th Division was highly acclaimed for breaking the Hindenburg Line on Sept. 27. Small consolation for the many families, not just our own, who lost those cherished sons, fathers, husbands, uncles, nephews and boyfriends.

When I sent Josh info about who the photo had belonged to, on Mar. 4th, and mentioned that Paul Anderson was one of 12 others from Co E who were killed or mortally wounded on Sept. 29, 1918, he replied that his GG Uncle, Elmer A. Nelson, had also died on Sept. 29th. What? Another newspaper search turned up an excerpt of a letter that Elmer had written on Aug. 11, 1918: “Well, mother and father, this war can’t last forever and I think it won’t be long now before we are on our way back home to the best place in the world.”

I was eager to delve into the Armory Enlistments. During the COVID-19 slow down, I was able to document the early enlistments stored at the Armory. When I looked up Paul Anderson’s enlistment, I realized that he enlisted on Mar 4th, 1918. Then I realized that the day I was sending Josh the bulk of the info was Mar. 4th. So, I was very eager to look up Ernest A Nelson, to check on his enlistment date or other date, but unfortunately, his enlistment was not included among those available to me. Too bad.

Another amazing find in these articles begins with the devastating news coming to Jamestown through telegrams. Families were being notified that their worst fears were true, including Mrs. Anderson. Then Mrs. Anderson was notified that her son was alive but in the hospital, then she received a third notice that indeed, her son had died. Often, the soldiers who died in a hospital had time to ask their nurse to write to their family if they succumbed to their injuries. Included in the article about Poor Mrs. Anderson was a really sweet letter from the Red Cross Nurse who did her best to soften the blow. It must have also helped the other families who didn’t have correspondence with a nurse as they read her reassuring letter.

I asked Josh if he was able to find Elmer Nelson in the photo. He replied that he did, but only with patience and a powerful magnifying glass!

The scan that was made from Josh’s photo now hangs in the Military Exhibit Room which has been undergoing changes in order to update and include more of the items in the collection. The simple sharing of a photo, which must have been the last photo taken of Co E all together as they ventured off to war, has furnished so much more information than we knew before and I’m sure there is so much more to find.

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