Local man re-discovers ancestor’s WWI memorabilia

Who knew that death could bring new life to a long-passed relative?

Approximately two years ago, after former Henderson resident Tony Savage lost his mom and dad, he and his sisters were cleaning out their house. Among the things Savage saved from his parents’ house were World War I documents and photos that belonged to his great-uncle, Clarence Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald was 22 when he was drafted into the war effort, and after being deemed physically fit to service, he went to boot camp in Iowa, and from there, the front lines in France as part of Company D, 130th Infantry, 33rd Division.

His story was not a happy one, however. At 23 years old, about 10 months after leaving home, Fitzgerald was gassed, developed pneumonia, and died in a military hospital overseas on Dec. 2, 1918. His body is buried in France, and his parents also gave him a burial in the Jessenland Church cemetery, Savage said.

Among the possessions that have been cherished and handed down from generation to generation is the following letter, which Fitzgerald had someone help him write. The first page of the letter was penned by the other person, informing Fitzgerald’s parents just how bad of shape their son was in.

“Dear sir,

I am taking the greatest of pleasure for writing a cheeriful letter for your beloved son Clarence but sir I am sorry to inform you that by the time you receive this letter your son will be in the other world? Poor boy, he is gassed pretty badly.

[From CIarence] I would be alright in a few days so he told me to keep up my courage and I would be alright in a few days. I was walking around before I came in this ward but now you see dad, every body has to lay in bed at least fourteen days and my time is near up and I’ll soon be walking around again.

Dad the reason why I haven’t been writing to you it was that I was a little nervous so I am alright today and today it’s Thanksgiving and they [are] going to give us turkey for dinner. Oh dad they certainly take good care of me in this ward, everybody is good to me.

Oh dad again I wish I was back with you so I could tell you a few things that happened on the front while I was there but never mind I’ll be home some day and then I’ll tell you all. Dad will you please tell my sisters and brother the reason why I wasn’t writing to them to explain everything to them won’t you dear dad, and tell them that I am sending them my best love and regards.

I am closing my letter for today and will write you and mother soon. My present address is Base Hospital no 156, A.E.F France.”

A Western Union telegram delivered the news to Fitzgerald’s family, and the loss had a devastating effect.

“My dad always told me that when this happened, that his [father’s] grandpa, my great-grandpa, became an alcoholic and gave up on farming,” Savage recounted.

Savage also has a letter from some other soldiers overseas who helped care for his great-uncle’s grave, and a picture of his great-uncle’s grave.

Savage also has three photos, including one of his relative in a group of soldiers, although he is not positive which one is his great-uncle, as nobody wrote any identifying names on the back of the picture. Moving forward, Savage is hoping to do more research and correctly identify his relative.

The Fitzgeralds in the area are dead and gone now, Savage said, but he plans to hang on to his great-uncle’s history and pass it down to his own kids. As it is, all of the documents have been preserved and were handed down from his great-grandfather to his grandmother/grandfather, and eventually to his own father, before falling into his hands.

“To have all of my family members hang on to this for the last 100-some years, it had to mean something to them,” Savage said.

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