Two of the major themes we are exploring at the Northfield Historical Society for our centennial commemoration of World War I are service and sacrifice, both at home and abroad. While going through some of the individual soldier records in the Rice County War Records Commission collection at the Rice County Historical Society (2 file cabinets full!) I have already found a few examples of both service and sacrifice from Northfield-area citizens.
Miss Delphine Carpenter is one of the few women included in the files. She was from Northfield and served the U.S. Navy as a Yeoman 3 Class Female, one of the few ways women could directly serve the U.S. military during the war. She was stationed at Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. for the duration of the war until she was discharged in 1920.
Ralph W. Cornell was drafted on June 25, 1918 in Faribault. He served with the infantry in the battles of Argonne Forest in November of 1918, and was badly wounded by shrapnel in his neck and shoulder. After he returned to civilian life, he only worked two days before his wound opened and he was unable to work consistently for years after he returned. He sent this photograph to the War Records Committee along with a letter describing when it was taken:
“From appearances,” he wrote, “you would hardly think me badly injured would you?” He continued, “Still the left arm at that time was paralized [sic] and an ugly hole through the base of neck and left shoulder also a portion of the spine shot away, and since then have had one rib removed etc.” Living with the realities of his wound, he concluded that his arm “hasn’t weakened yet but may get thin some day.”
Finally, some of the greatest sacrifices were borne by the families of soldiers. Arthur Drewitz served with the infantry in France from August to October 1918. He was declared missing in action since October 8, 1918.
His mother wrote the following letter in March of 1919 asking the Rice County War Records Committee to track down any information they could about her “Dear boy” Arthur. She asked them to do what they could so that she “may know what has become of him” and to “find out if he is alive yet or if he is in some prisoners camp yet or any place in Germany.” She had not heard from her son since his last letter of September 15, 1918.
Many of the soldiers initially listed as missing in action were later classified as killed in action, but their bodies were never recovered. Can you imagine the pain of not knowing anything about your son like Mrs. Hermann Drewitz? Or living with chronic pain from shrapnel wounds? Even despite these sacrifices, though, most of those who served remained proud of their service. Even Private Cornell, disabled as he was, said, “I am sure proud to say I did my little bit over there for Minnesota.”
The full records of these individuals, among others, will soon be posted on the Northfield History Collaborative site. You can view more of them in person in Faribault at the Rice County Historical Society.