Charlie of Co. C was my grandfather, Charles Edward Simmons. Born in Dec. 1888 in Washington Co, PA, he was descended from those men who fought for the beginning of America, the War of 1812 and the War of the Recent Unpleasantness. As was true to the family line, he fulfilled his patriotic service in the Infantry. Charlie's draft registration card tells us he signed up in June 1917. The 11th Infantry men were shipped overseas in June 1918 to face an opponent who was skilled in chemical warfare. America was unprepared for this type of war, and her soldiers suffered the consequences. Charlie was one of the many who suffered from the effect of mustard gas exposure.
The United States joined the war to end all wars in 1917. In reading more about the time while Charlie was in France, I learned that in mid-July 1917, over 12,000 doughboys were within 30 miles of the front, all without gas masks or training in chemical warfare¹. The 11th Infantry saw 43 days of combat with casualties of 386. Of these, 348 were wounded in action. The unit returned to US soil in June 1919.
Poor Charlie. Not only did he suffer the effects of mustard gas while in France, he was also wounded. A picture I have in my possession shows his bandage on his left leg right below the knee. In this picture, he is sitting on a bench outside of what appears to be Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh. He wears his uniform and his crutches and my grandmother are at his side. On another picture of Charlie proudly wearing his doughboy uniform, my father had written the following on the back: "He was exposed to mustard gas in WWI and injured in the leg. One inch of bone had to be removed from his left leg."
I have written to the Army to try and find Charlie's records. All I received was the confirmation he was in the Army in the unit I thought. Apparently, his records were in the big fire they had way back when.
Mustard gas. The weapon of choice in World War I which still produces shivers down my spine. It was extremely caustic and penetrated everything- even clothing. While I do not know the extent of Charlie's short term exposure, I have heard family lore of the long term effects. The exposure was said to have changed him. He did marry, he did have three sons, and he died young. The death certificate suggests he had renal failure and sepsis. His widow and small children were left to carry on. Unfortunately, they had to leave their home on Bosses Alley in Crucible, PA. Yes, Bosses Alley was the street on the hill above the Crucible Mine. The housing was company owned and was for the managers. Charlie was the chief clerk for the mine. I've heard from others that Charlie and his brother-in-law who owned the bank walked around town surrounded by coal and iron policemen-- especially on pay day. Charlie was also the local mine baseball team manager and was a member of the school board which had a new high school built. This high school was dedicated in June 1929.
So Charlie - with tears in my eyes, thank you. Thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you for your life. Thank you for your smile. Thank you for my dad.
Thank you for protecting your unborn grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We remember you - everyday.