U.S. Army bayonets from World War 1. Emery King carried a musical instrument, so he didn’t have to carry one of these.
A couple of weeks ago I published a diary titled “A Letter From the End of the Great War 99 Years Ago.” To my pleasant surprise, the diary got rescued. The diary was based on a December 1918 letter from France by an American soldier, Emery Edward King. I included the whole letter and what little I had found out about the man. As I wrote in that posting, I found Emery’s letter (to an unknown aunt) in a folder of family genealogical materials, but I do not know what relationship existed.
A couple of other DK members did some digging that have fleshed out the Emery behind the signature. DK member DrLori looked at some census records, and found some details about Emery’s life. He was the son of a German immigrant, a man named Gust King, He had two brothers, John (born 1910) and Fred (1911). That means Emery, an American-born son of an immigrant from Germany, went to a war with the country his father came from. It’s impossible to know his thoughts, but my guess is that getting into the band and tootling in the direction of the Germans was better for his conscience than being actually at the front and attacking them. I do not know when his father arrived in the US. My own family German immigrant came in 1870 and seems to have gone straight to Clark County, Ohio.
Emery’s schooling ended with the 8th grade. He married Geneva (born the same year Emery was, 1891), and they had one son, James (born 1923). She died in 1961. Emery lasted until March, 1976, so this survivor of the AEF lived almost sixty years past the end of his war.
I haven’t found anything for Emery’s father, Gust King, or under Augustus or Gustavus. (Ancestry.com might have some information, but their rates are a bit steep for my income). There’s no way to know whether Geneva was his sweetheart, but it’s pleasant to think so. There’s no way to know if Emery’s long life was a satisfying one. I do know from living in the same county in Ohio that it’s a good place to farm, with fine soils and a strong presence of such things as county fairs (the 4-H club was founded in nearby Springfield).
I found the regimental history of the 103rd Infantry, in of all places the digital commons of the Bangor, Maine public library. I could not figure out a way to copy the image, but on page 50 there’s a photo of the band members (taken at Camp Devins, MA). The individuals are not identified, but the list of band members below the photo includes Emery King, 2424576, Musician Second Class. I do not know what instrument Emery played. He wrote the letter a month after the Armistice took effect (and a few weeks after his birthday). Band concerts would have been a main entertainment for the one and a half million US troops in France in late 1918.
DK member murphy found a picture of Emery’s tombstone . (The gravestone says he was born in 1890, a slight difference from other records). The inscription mentions he was a musician 2nd class in the US Army, so his service must have been one of the most meaningful things in his life. Or, perhaps, being in the band kept him from having to hoist a rifle and getting too close to the front lines, or as he puts it in the letter, “…if I hadn’t got in there, I would of had to shoulder a gun an went after Fritz.” His letter did say they were close enough to receive high explosive and “schrapnel” shells.
So, Emery Edward King, I hope your bones are resting in peace and that this Spring in rural Clark County brings some red-winged blackbirds close enough to your grave so you could hear them. April is the cruelest month, says a famous poem, but the music you made may have kept you alive for almost sixty Aprils past the end of your war.
If you have any question you can ask…
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