The Long and Sad Goodbye: World War I Families Wait to Bury Their Fallen Soldiers

By Candice Buchanan, Greene Connections Archivist

A CENTURY AGO, on Memorial Day 1920, most WWI families were still waiting to bring their sons home for burial. There were many factors involved in the long delay.

At US military bases in 1918-1919, flu deaths were followed by funerals at home in a much more reasonable period of time since international travel was not required. However, the volume and chaos of the flu epidemic still brought about delays and restrictions for those families.

In the war zone of Europe, sick or wounded soldiers who spent their final days at military hospitals were buried in graves organized nearby and so were often brought home earlier than their comrades who fell on the battlefield, even if their deaths occurred later in the war.

Battlefield cemeteries were much more involved. The original locations were temporary and makeshift. We have accounts of the Rain Day burials near Grimpettes Woods from fellow Company K soldiers. We know that Floyd Hickman’s grave there was not located until well after his fellows had been disinterred. These graves required careful identification, multiple stages of relocation, and generally further distance to travel, sometimes from the very remote areas where fighting took place. While France rebuilt its infrastructure, trains and roads were not open to the US military to remove their fallen. American cemeteries were established in France and battlefield graves were exhumed and reinterred in these burial grounds as a second temporary measure. Once it became possible to arrange for the transport, US families were given the choice of bringing their boys home or allowing them to remain at rest beside their fallen comrades in France. Twelve Greene County boys stayed behind, either because that was the choice made by their families or because they were buried at sea or lost entirely to the battlefield.

For most Greene County families, burials at home began in the fall of 1920 and continued until the fall of 1923.

Attached are photos shared by the Riggle and Throckmorton families of the temporary graves in France.

Read the stories of Greene County’s fallen WWI soldiers through their Memory Medallion profiles.

Pay your respects by a visit to the soldiers who were brought home. Here is a list of all their final resting places as a printable PDF or web site view.

Thank you to all who have served our country. We do not forget.

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