It has been sometime since my last post. I have been compelled to write today because I was prompted by a message from a cousin. With the COVID-19 virus that has interrupted our routines, she has been giving virtual Sunday School lessons for her class. The lesson she shared yesterday spoke of the sacrifice of loved ones lost in war.
Memorial Day reminds us each year at this time to pay tribute to those in uniform who never came back home. Many of us, many family and friends have been touched by the loss of someone in uniform. For some, multiple family members have given their life in the service of their country.
This is the story of one of my family members. My great-uncle, Jesse Lawrence Caston was born on April 20, 1893. He was the eldest child to Joseph and Elizabeth Caston. He grew up in a mill village in the shadow of the Pepperton Cotton Mill. As a young man, he would later join other residents of the mill village as an employee of the cotton mill serving as a laborer/machinist. The guns of August would herald in the beginning of a World War in 1914. Within three years, the United States would be brought into the war, and soon hundreds of thousands of men would be called up to serve.
He registered with the draft board on June 5, 1917. The local draft board selected him for service and on April 2, 1918, PVT Jesse L. Caston, service number 1,933,313, reported for duty at Camp Gordon, Ga. He trained as an infantryman until June 8 and then embarked on the USS Susquehana on June 22 as a member of Company G, 148th Infantry, 37th Division.
On August 19, the 37th Division, along with three other American divisions, was attached to the Belgian, French 6th and British 2nd Armies in support of the allied offensives in Flanders. This major offensive was known as the Ypres-Lys Operation. The 148th Infantry fought in Recicourt and Avocourt for three strenuous months until the allied victory had been won.
The price of that victory was high. My uncle was one of those soldiers who paid that price. Through the ancestry and genealogical research done by another cousin, a glimpse into his sacrifice is revealed from his service/death card.
Caston, Jesse L. 1,933,313 Pvt
Engagements: North-west of Verdun
Wounds received in action: Wounded severely about Oct 17/18
Served overseas from June 22/18 to October 22/18
Died of broncho pneumonia on Oct 22, 1918.
My great-grandparents received the notice from the War Department on Saturday, Nov. 16, announcing the death of their son. Te dispatch went on to say that Pvt Caston died on October 22, from gas and pneumonia.
I cannot fathom the sorrow that they must have felt that day. The Armistice had been signed and announced just five days earlier on November 11th. I can only think that they were happy that the war was over and Jesse would be home soon. That was not to be. The family would have to revisit their sorrow almost three years later when his body was finally brought home by the War Department.
At what price was his sacrifice? A young man’s life taken away. He would never have the love of a wife. He would never feel the joy of watching his children play. The mill lost a hard worker. The community lost a good man with potential to bring so much to the community. His mother and father lost their oldest son. His siblings lost their big brother. His family lost forever a piece of their hearts.
It is why I tell his story and why I will continue to tell his story from now on so my children and my children’s children will remember his sacrifice. I am chilled to think that he lay on his death bed in a Red Cross hospital in Warwickshire, England with no family around him, only to hope that he was tended softly by caring nurses. In his last breath, I am sure he knew that he was loved by his family. I pray his spirit sees that he will continue to be remembered and honored not only on Memorial Day, but everyday.