Memorial Day has always been a special holiday in our town. The last Monday in May had been set aside to honor the soldiers who had died in the service of our country. Formal services at the Clarkson Cemetery were marked by prayers, speeches, 3-volley rifle salutes by members of veterans organizations, and the sounding of Taps. Families used the opportunity to make sure that the graves of their beloved dead were well-groomed and adorned with flowers – peonies, irises, lilacs. Hence, the original name for the holiday – Decoration Day. The practice continues to this day.
I will not have the privilege of attending the Memorial Day services in Clarkson, but from far away I will wrap up my series on the First World War by calling the roll of our Honored Dead. The War Memorial in Clarkson lists the names of seven young men from the Clarkson area who gave their lives in World War I.
Emil Bartos (May 9, 1891 – October 24, 1918) He served in the American Expeditionary Force as a member of Medical Department Ambulance No. 25. In the closing days of the war, Emil died from disease (probably the Spanish influenza that was sweeping through military camps and hospitals at that time). He is buried alongside his parents in the Clarkson Cemetery.
Alois (Louis) Cerv (August 21, 1892 – February 1, 1919)
Alois Cerv was the youngest of seven children born to Alois and Rozarie Nouzavsky Cerv. He entered the U.S. Army on July 1, 1918 as a private, earning $33.00 a month. In France, he served in Company C of the 4th Infantry Regiment, which fought in a number of battles, including the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne Offensives. While on the front lines, Alois was exposed to poison gas (possibly mustard gas) which seriously weakened his lungs. Although he was alive at the Armistice, he spent 2 months in a hospital suffering from bronchial pneumonia, from which he died on February 1, 1919. (Of 116,708 American servicemen who died in WWI, 46% were battle deaths, and the remaining 54% died from other causes, mainly diseases including Spanish influenza, pneumonia, and tuberculosis).
Imagine the grief of his family, as their boy slowly drifted away, far from them in a foreign land. What follows is a series of letters written by Red Cross nurses and workers who helped care for him in his last days. We don’t have the letters written (in Czech) by his mother, but the nurses’ words of comfort tell of the difficulty that Rozarie Cerv had in accepting the loss of her youngest.
Louis Cerv is buried in the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery in France.
Albin Folda (December 19, 1894 – October 21, 1918)
Corporal Albin Folda, of Clarkson, Nebraska, entered military service on April 27, 1918. He trained at Camp Funston (Fort Riley), Kansas and was assigned to Co. M, 355th Infantry Regiment, 89th Division. On June 4, 1918, he sailed for France, and reached the trenches by the middle of August.
While going over the top on October 21st, he was struck in the head by a shell fragment, and was killed almost instantly. [We often think of WWI as a struggle between men and machine guns – infantrymen climbing out of trenches and battling their way through barbed wire, only to be mowed down by enemy machine guns. In fact, unbelievable amounts of high explosive shells were expended throughout the war, and artillery bombardments accounted for two-thirds of the battlefield casualties in the First World War.]
Albin was the only son of Emil Folda, a prominent banker in Clarkson. In those days, news traveled slowly, and Albin’s father and stepmother were not aware of his death for over a month. Here are some excerpts from Emil Folda’s memoirs that tell of the tragic events that unfolded:
Nov. 11th (1918). Armistice Day the greatest celebration ever held in the U.S.A. and the whole world – as the World War ended that day – I cabled to Albin but it never reached him as he was not among the living then.
Nov. 25th. Rec’d two letters from Albin – one dated Oct. 11th & one 16th saying that he will be relieved Oct. 18th, so we were sure he was among the living – but next morning Nov. 26th came a telegram from the War Dept. at Washington that he was killed Oct. 21st. Hear that Tobiska of Wilber wrote to his folks that Albin was killed.
Dec. 1st. by this time we had 50 letters from friends expressing condolence and later about 100 more came – the news went like wild fire.
Jan. 30th (1919) went to Schuyler to see Chris Haberman of Friend, Nebraska who was the first one we have seen that was with Albin when he was killed, and Mr. Haberman was wounded by the same shell.
… The year was a hard one on me on account of the loss of Albin and at times I felt very discouraged with everything, and had the blues real often.
Corporal Albin Folda is buried in Plot D, Row 45, Grave 5 in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Romagne, France. Some years after his death, his parents visited his grave in France.
And they unfurled the American flag that was used at his funeral for the dedication of Clarkson’s War Memorial in 1926.
Louis (Alois) Franek (January 27, 1891- August 1, 1918) was assigned to Company C, 128th Infantry Regiment, 32nd Division. The 32nd Division had been involved in many battles in France during much of 1918. On August 1, 1918 the 127th Regiment and Franek’s 128th Regiment were ordered to take the German defensive position at Bellevue Farms and Hill 230, near the French village of Ourcq (Joint Commission 1920). These objectives were important enemy defensive positions, and the Germans held on tenaciously with a “cunningly arranged machine gun defense.” Sometime during that day, Louis Franek was killed in action.
Private Alois Franek is buried in the Clarkson Cemetery alongside his parents.
Miloslav (Milo) Horak (? – October 14, 1918) 36th Company, 163 Dep. Brig. The eldest son of Joseph and Anna Horak, died of disease (probably Spanish influenza) in a southern camp.
Joseph Kacin (June 30, 1892 – October 10, 1918)
Josef (Joseph) Kacin was born in Hryzely, Bohemia and traveled to American with his parents Frantisek (Frank) Kacin and Aloisia (Louisa) Mocha Kacin and 5 siblings. They departed Bremen on May 14th, 1901 on the ship Kaiser Wilhelm Der Grosse and arrived in New York on May 2st, 1901.
Joseph Kacin registered for the draft on June 5, 1917. He was inducted into the U.S. Army and assigned to the 38th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Division of the American Expeditionary Force. Beginning in October 1918, they participated in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, one of the major battles carried out by the AEF to end the war.
On October 9 and 10th, the 3rd Division slammed into the Hindenburg Line in an area just south of Cunel, in northeastern, France. The Hindenburg Line was a new German defensive system, characterized by massed steel and concrete, camouflaged blockhouses manned by multiple machine gun crews. Wherever possible, the blockhouses were positioned on the slopes of hills from which they could look down on attacking troops. They were shielded by razor wire, and backed up by reserve defenders in trenches, mortars and artillery (Meyer 2006). Plainly stated, Kacin’s advancing 3rd Division encountered a miles-deep killing zone. Imagine how much courage it would take to leave your protective cover and begin that long, unprotected run toward the enemy defenders, into the sights of German machine guns. All the training, physical strength, and brains in the world wouldn’t help you if you happened to be in the way of one of the many guns waiting for you. In the battle to break through the Hindenburg Line, Joseph Kacin was gravely wounded, and died on October 10.
Joseph’s death on the Western Front sparked a second tragedy for the Kacin family. When word was received in Clarkson that Pvt. Kacin had been killed in action, his brother Frank Jr. set out for his parents’ farm to inform them. Because of snow, the roads were closed and he was forced to go on foot to the farm, 5 miles north of town. As a result of his trek, Frank Jr. contracted pneumonia and died one month later, on November 19, 1918. Years later, a relative wrote that the “double tragedy took much out of the lives of the families and nothing ever was the same.”
Joseph Kacin’s remains were repatriated to his adopted land in 1921, and he is buried alongside his parents and brother Frank in the Clarkson Cemetery. Here are two subsequent stories from the Colfax County Press:
September 22, 1921 – Frank Kacin, father of Pvt. Jos. Kacin, whose body is now enroute to Clarkson from Hoboken, informs us this noon that the mortal remains are expected to reach here tomorrow afternoon, according to a telegram from the government. As stated by The Press numerous times, the young man lost his life while serving under the American colors in France. He first was interred in the Argonne-American cemetery in France besides his fallen comrades from where he is now being transferred to Clarkson on request of the parents. Joe took active part in warfare on the western battlefront, having participated in several fierce engagements in the Argonne region where he was inflicted with serious gun wounds in the abdomen and died in a base hospital several days after the fatal conflict, on October 10, 1918.
He proved a gallant soldier and did his duty as a hero. His military career was of a high standing but of short duration. In the early months of war he was drafted with thousands of other young men from Bonesteel, South Dakota, where he had been employed at the time of conscription. He was hurried off to camp and after a few weeks of training found himself in the thick of the fighting on the western battlefield. At the time of his death he was twenty-eight years of age, having been born in Bohemia. Besides the bereaved parents he is survived by three brothers, James, Anton and Alois, and four sisters-Mrs. Frank Kafka, Anna, Tillie and Helen. Burial will be made in the Clarkson cemetery on Sunday afternoon, the services to be conducted in military style by the American Legion.
September 28, 1921 – Word was received from the war department at Washington by Mr. and Mrs. Frank Kacin of this city that the body of their son, Private Jos. Kacin, who made his last heroic stand on the western battlefield, was on its way here for burial. The message in addition mentioned that the remains of the young man were to arrive in New York by the end of the week, upon arrival here they will be turned over to the American Legion who will have charge of the services. Private Jos. Kacin was one of the six Clarkson boys to have lost his life in actual fighting in France, having died a hero for the cause of his country.
While coming to Clarkson Sunday afternoon to attend the funeral of his brother-in-law, Pvt. Jos. Kacin, Frank Kafka and his family of near Leigh, narrowly escaped fatal injury when their automobile ran off the embankment on the cross road three miles west of Clarkson and came to an abrupt stop by striking a large tree at the foot of the bank.
The circumstances surrounding the accident are to the effect that the road was obstructed by two automobiles, one turning into the road from the north, and the other coming from the east down the decline next to the C.O. Brown farm. Traveling at a fair rate of speed, Mr. Kafka in trying to avert a collision with either one of the cars, turning his machine to the extreme left side of the road and as he could not gain control of his auto in time, the vehicle landed directly on a large tree. The occupants of the car escaped with only minor injury, Mrs. Kafka having sustained several contusions in the face from the broken windshield. The car, however, was quite badly damaged.
One of the very largest attendances ever witnessed at a funeral in Clarkson was seen here Sunday at the burial of Pvt. Jos. Kacin, whose remains were brought here from France. The body was escorted to the resting place by several hundred people including members of the American Legion from Clarkson, Schuyler, Howells, and Leigh, the last two posts being represented only by a small number. The procession was led by the Clarkson band.
Joseph Toman (February 11, 1889 – May 12, 1918). Private, 1st Infantry Regiment. 13th Division. From the May 23, 1918 issue of the Colfax County Press: The first Clarkson boy to die while in the service of his country was Joseph Toman, who was drowned on the 12th of this month. His mother, Mrs. Mary Toman received word of his death from the War Department in Washington. The cablegram stated that Joseph Toman, private, Company 1, 1st Infantry, was drowned on the 12th instant at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. The body was recovered. The deceased is survived by two brothers, one serving in the U.S. army, three sisters and the mother.
Private Joseph Toman is buried in the Clarkson Cemetery.
Emil Vitek (May 19, 1895 – July 23, 1918) Like Albin Folda, he trained at Camp Funston, Kansas before being shipped overseas as a Private in Company C, 4th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Division.
One of his letters to the folks back home (A.J. Karel) has been preserved in the Clarkson Museum.
Emil Vitek’s outfit endured terrific fighting in the last few months of the war. The regiment disembarked at Brest, France and was immediately sent to various French training centers to receive combat training from veteran French instructors. German offensive operations cut short this training and the entire 3rd division was transported by rail to the front. The 4th Infantry was bloodied in the following battles: Aisne, Champagne-Marne, Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne, Champagne 1918, Ainse/Marne Defensive, Marne Offensive. When the war ended the 4th Infantry had lost 398 Officers and men.
Emil Vitek is buried in Plot A Row 18 Grave 37, Oise-Aisne American Cemetery, Fere-en-Tardenois, France.
There are two men are not listed on the rolls of Clarkson men who died in the Great War, but whose lives were shortened by their service.
Fred Houfek (Febuary 17, 1898 – June 1920). From the June 19, 1920 issue of the Colfax County Press: Fred Houfek, veteran of the late war and a young farmer of near Schuyler, took his life Friday by shooting himself. The motive which led to the ending of his life is said to have been failing health since the time of his return from France. He had been gassed while going over the top in the Argonne sector. He was born in Colfax County, February 17, 1898 and was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Houfek. Besides his parents, he is survived by five brothers and three sisters.
(I cannot find any service records or draft registration for Fred Houfek, but family lore suggests that he had poor eyesight or was blind in one eye. My guess is that he was rejected for service in the U.S. Army and, like Jaroslav Holas, volunteered to serve in the French Foreign Legion. https://clarksonhistory.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/clarkson-and-the-great-war-part-4-freedom-fighter/ )
Suicides among returned veterans were not uncommon after the Great War. Many came back maimed or chronically ill and had difficulty picking up their lives again. Some of the men who came back from the war had no physical injuries, but they couldn’t forget the things they saw and had to do, and they despaired of ever having a happy life again. Now we call it Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In those days, sympathetic coroners often marked the cause of death as “Died of Wounds.”
Frank Zelenda – From March 5, 1931 Colfax County Press – After suffering for a period of several years, Frank Zelenda, an ex-service man and a former Clarkson boy, made his supreme sacrifice at the Veterans Hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he had been a patient for a long time. Word of his demise reached Clarkson relatives. He died at the age of 39 years, 8 months and 8 days.
The deceased was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on the 19th day of June, 1891, and when a small boy he came to this community with his parents. The family located on a farm in Stanton County and after losing both of his parents, Frank came to Clarkson and made his home here for many years.
Shortly after America declared war on Germany, Frank joined a group of Clarkson volunteers and entered Uncle Sam’s fighting forces. He left Clarkson on May 3, 1917, with the first contingent of volunteers and remained in service for almost three years.
He returned to Clarkson in the fall of 1919, after having served in the Philippine and Hawaiian Islands. His health had been greatly impaired and he was unable to find relief for his illness.
In 1925, he was admitted to a Veterans hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas, where death ended his suffering.
The remains were brought to Clarkson and interment was made in the local cemetery. The rites were conducted from the home of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Zelenda, with services at the New Zion Church conducted by Rev. Filipi.
The deceased is survived by three brothers, Joseph Zelenda of Schuyler, Edward and Leo Zelenda of Clarkson; two sisters, Mrs. Anton Makovsky of Buhl, Idaho, and Mrs. W.H. Roether of Schuyler.
The Great War, The War to End All Wars, was fought a century ago. Since then, Clarkson has sent many more young men to battlegrounds all over the globe, and many of them didn’t return. On this Memorial Day, it is good to ponder the words on a war monument in Portland, Maine:
Honor and Grateful Remembrance to the Dead
Equal Honor to Those Who, Daring to Die, Survived
Acknowledgements – Many thanks to Marlene Cerv Sellers for information about Alois Cerv, to Adam Cerv for information about Albin Folda, to Tracy Clark Brown and Anita Kacin for information about Joseph Kacin, and to the Clarkson Museum for their excellent display of memorabilia from our veterans.
Meyer, G.J. 2006. A World Undone. The Story of the Great War 1914 to 1918. Bantam Dell, Random House, Inc. New York, NY. 777 p.
Joint War History Commission of Michigan and Wisconsin. 1920. The 32nd Division in the World War 1917-1919.