SALT LAKE CITY — Edward C. Peterson's family doesn't know how he died.
All they know is the Mormon soldier from the rural central Utah community of Scipio was killed in the Battle of the Argonne Forest in France on Nov. 11, 1918, the last day of World War I.
Shortly after news reached the family, his father Carl Peterson went out into the hills near their home to find a long, straight tree to make into a flagpole. For many decades, the flagpole, a memorial plaque and a tree planted by the family have been preserved in a Scipio park to honor the memory of their son.
"Sacred to the memory of Edward C. Peterson, Company H. 18th Infantry First Division, Killed in the Argonne, Nov. 11, 1918," the words on the plaque read.
Nearly 100 years later, the Scipio soldier killed on Armistice Day, now celebrated by Americans as Veterans Day, is still remembered by his family.
Dick Probert, 91, a nephew of Peterson and resident of Scipio, is the oldest living family member. Probert's wife, Thelma, said the family takes pride in seeing the memorial in the park.
"It's very special to the family," Thelma Probert said.
In July 1918, Peterson wrote to this family from the hospital. He had fought in the trenches and was wounded by a shell splinter in the right leg. He was bruised but recovering.
In a newspaper article dated Aug. 26, 1918, Peterson's parents received a telegram indicating their 26-year-old son was missing in action.
Rosalie Noland, 70, another relative living in Taylorsville, has a copy of a 6-page letter that Peterson's mother, Elisabeth, mailed on Sept. 22, 1918. It never reached her son and was returned to sender, Noland said.
With all the affection of a tender parent, Elisabeth wrote about current happenings in community, its people and shared other news about the farm and family. She expressed concern for his health and safety, writing, "I hope that God hears the prayers of the mothers." She ends the letter, "Dear Edward, I will close for this time hoping to soon hear from you. We all join in lots of love and good wishes. God bless you is the prayer of your loving mother."
Robert C. Freeman, a BYU professor of Church History, author and director of the Saints at War Project, has a copy of a letter sent from Sen. Reed Smoot to Carl Peterson, dated Oct. 23, 1918, asking for an update on the condition of Edward's injuries.
Two days after his death — Nov. 13, 1918 — Edward's sister Anna wrote another letter inquiring about his whereabouts.
"Everybody is looking forward to the day when you boys will return," the letter reads.
In time, the family received word of his death and hung a gold star in the window of their home, Noland said.
On Nov. 20, 1923, the war department sent a letter informing the family of Edward's burial in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France. He is one of thousands of Americans with a white marble headstone in that hallowed place, according to findagrave.com.
It's a sad story, but that's his story, Noland said.
"I don't know the real story of what happened," Noland said. "But going to the park and seeing the memorial has given us a feeling of pride and love, strong family ties. ... We always try and keep the tree trimmed, but I don't know how much longer it's going to last. But it's been a good reminder to people of the sacrifices of their boys made in that first world war."
Albert Peterson, Edward's twin brother, was in the armed forces but the war ended before he was sent over seas. He returned home.
In 2010, a writer named Charlie Langdon and his wife passed through Scipio and saw the Peterson memorial. The columnist wrote about the memorial, even penning a poem, for durangoherald.com.
"November eleven! To die that day, to lose your life as the guns fell silent in the eleventh hour, eleventh day, eleventh month, oh, what a riddle fate," Langdon wrote. "And what a riddle question, what is war or peace, life or death? Something or nothing? Convened wisdom would weep under that tree and all sages fall silent in its shade."
Freeman said Peterson not only gave the ultimate sacrifice, but he's also a representative of Utah history.
"In Edward Peterson we find a young man, at the optimal stage of life, who goes off to war, fights the good fight and he's wounded. Back home they have a sense of his pending release from wartime service. Letters from home say those drafted or conscripted for service for the next round have been told they can go back home. They feel that joy," Freeman said. "Then we can only imagine that day when the news arrives at home that he was lost that last day ... so close to being liberated from the terrible war and then to be one of the last casualties."