The stories we cease to tell are those we forget. South Orange marks its World War I dead at the flagpole in the center of town, where six names are listed. The names are Chespeto DeCarlo, Ronald Wood Hoskier, James Kyle, Bernard Joseph Mahon, Joseph Elmslie Viles and Francis Burrett Shepard. The flagpole was erected and dedicated by the citizens of South Orange in 1926.
Two of the men listed are further honored, each with a green dedicated to him. Chespeto DeCarlo is remembered by DeCarlo Green on Kingman Road. Mahon Green, honoring Bernard Joseph Mahon, is located on Mead Street, next to the bocce courts. Each green is marked with a monument, and I have passed them for years. This year, as Veterans Day approached, I decided to find out more.
Bernard Joseph Mahon was a private in the 57th Engineers. According to the eight-sided copper plaque that marks Mahon Green, he died on Oct. 5, 1918. Chespeto DeCarlo Green is marked by the same type of plaque. He was a private in the 153rd Depot Brigade until his death on Oct. 2, 1918.
In April of 1917, the United States entered the Great War by declaring war on Germany. Over 24 million American men registered for the draft for the First World War in 1917 and 1918. There were three draft registrations, which included all men residing in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 45. The first, on June 5, 1917, was for all men between the ages of 21 and 31. The second, on June 5, 1918, registered those who reached age 21 after June 5, 1917. The third registration was held on Sept. 12, 1918 for men aged 18 through 45.
Knowing that they died in October of 1918, I assumed that both Mahon and DeCarlo joined the military in either the first or second registration. Records of another veteran led me to DeCarlo’s unit. Those records suggest that the 153rd Depot Brigade assembled at Camp Dix, left for France on Sept. 13, 1918, and arrived there on Sept. 25. Mahon is more elusive; his battalion number has apparently been retired.
While our South Orange troops trained and then fought abroad, the local newspapers kept the war in mind. The South Orange Bulletin, the weekly newspaper, is missing during the years of the Great War. The Home News, which served Maplewood, South Orange and Millburn, ran weekly features on how best to grow a victory garden. Advertisements for liberty bonds were sponsored by local physicians, and open letters from “boys at the front” appeared occasionally.
In the fall of 1918, the “Hundred Days Offensive” was underway. Late September into early October saw the decisive “break” in the Hindenburg line, an important Allied victory. These victories, along with dramatic successes in the Middle East and at sea, led to the signing of the Armistice on Nov. 11, what we now call Veterans Day.
The two men I have pursued had died a month earlier, though neither death made local headlines. Nor do these men’s lives appear in books or Web sites I have found. Calls to government agencies and the Veterans of Foreign Wars have taught me that only next of kin can access service records. When I had this conversation recently, I was told to ask the families to find out for me. “But who is left?” I asked. The men died 90 years ago.
The Home News ran a front page photo montage on Dec. 6, 1918. Both Mahon and DeCarlo are listed among those who “died or suffered for our country.” The community honored them then and memorialized them by dedicating public spaces in their honor.
What dismays me is that their individual stories have vanished. Their monuments have become like unlabeled photos in an album; we know they’re important, but we don’t know why. Mahon and DeCarlo were from our town and our neighborhoods. Records suggest that they are buried abroad, all the more reason to honor them here at home on Veterans Day.
Author's note: Thank you to the reference staff of the South Orange and Maplewood libraries and the the staff at Village Hall, who helped answer my questions.
My apologies for the quality of the newspaper prints; these are reproductions of microfilmed pages.
This article was originally posted on November 9, 2009.