A World War I soldier's story turns into a family quest for the Purple Heart
“I was drawing off my mother’s energy,” he said. “She was a family historian as well.”
Anderson turned to Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee’s office, hoping someone with more powerful connections than his would open doors.
He was right.
“He had tried to work with the Army Review Board to get the Purple Heart for his grandfather, but with World War I being so long ago, he had a hard time showing that his grandfather had been gassed,” said Jessica Christopher, Lee’s casework director.
A subsequent Senate inquiry to a national clearinghouse for military records didn't help. No records existed in that archival repository, which was destroyed in a 1973 fire in St. Louis, Mo.
What Anderson and Lee’s staffers lacked was a sessions number — an identification number that would make tracking easier.
“Many World War I records were destroyed in that fire, so everything pointed to that fire being the problem,” Christopher said.
The problem called for brainstorming.
One of the staff members in Lee’s office decided to reach out to another Congressional liaison for veterans’ issues.
“We do try every avenue we can think of, even those out-of-the-box avenues before we close a case or tell a family that we cannot help them anymore," Christopher said.
They soon learned that despite the fire in St. Louis, the records could have been stored at another facility.
“That set her down a different path to an off-site archives office.”
They were hooked up with a records keeper in Maine.
Christopher said when they asked if it was possible to locate the record, the answer was achingly and joyously simple.
“It’s in my hands right now.”
That was a few months back, a discovery the grandson of a soldier describes as a “watershed moment.”
Bradley Anderson traveled down to Lee’s office in Salt Lake City to pick up a box of 324 records.
“I broke down and started crying when I saw the binder,” he said. “It still chokes up me up.”
The application for a Purple Heart now sits before the Army Review Board. There are many more before it, from many wars, involving many veterans and families seeking affirmation of sacrifice, of getting the record straight.
Bradley Anderson hopes the acknowledgement comes — for his own children, his own grandchildren and the others in generations to come who won’t have to go looking for the truth.
He has it in a box of documents, hard fought and hard won. Like so many wars, like the one to end all wars.
“I feel like I know my grandfather, I really know who this man was.”
About the Meuse-Argonne Offensive
The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was the greatest American battle of the First World War. In six weeks the American Expeditionary Forces lost 26,277 killed and 95,786 wounded. Ground forces fought through rough, hilly terrain the German Army had spent four years fortifying. Its objective was the capture of the railroad hub at Sedan which would break the rail net supporting the German Army in France and Flanders and force the enemy's withdrawal from the occupied territories.
The bulk of the forces engaged in the initial onslaught had to be transferred from the St. Mihiel Salient — assaulted less than two weeks earlier — to a new jump off line north and northwest of Verdun. This new section of the front extended 30 miles east to west. The reshifting of forces in such a short period of time was one of the great accomplishments of the Great War. These logistics were planned and directed by Col. George C. Marshall establishing his reputation and preparing him to lead American forces to victory in the Second World War.
Source: The Great War Society, as taken from "The Story of the American Expeditionary Forces." http://www.worldwar1.com
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