Scranton's first WWI casualty is remembered 100 years after his death

The Tuscania, which was torpedoed on Feb. 5, 1918. Among those who died was Army Pvt. Edward Carl Grahamer.

By DAVID SINGLETON | The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa. | Published: February 5, 2018

SCRANTON, Pa. (Tribune News Service) — Even as a child, Ted Johnson could detect the profound sense of loss any time his grandmother spoke of her older brother, Edward.

On Feb. 5, 1918, as the British ship Tuscania carried Army Pvt. Edward Carl Grahamer and more than 2,000 other American servicemen toward the Great War in Europe, a German submarine torpedoed and sank the troop transport near the isle of Islay off the coast of Scotland.

Grahamer, a 23-year-old Air Service soldier from Scranton’s Hill Section, was among 201 troops who perished, the first city resident killed in World War I. The conflict would claim more than 116,000 American lives, including those of 262 servicemen from Lackawanna County.

Although the sinking of the Tuscania is little remembered a century later, Johnson, a former Scranton resident who now lives in Plymouth, Michigan, said it still reverberates through his family.

One of his strongest childhood memories, he said, is his late grandmother, Josephine Grahammer Johnson, talking about his great-uncle.

“As a little kid growing up, you don’t see your grandparents sad very often, so it always stayed with me,” he said. “As a kid, I was curious about her family, and she would mention her brother, Edward, who was killed in World War I.

“You could tell by the sadness in her voice how much it affected her.”

Johnson’s sister, Wheeler Avenue resident Tina Palochko, said she also recalls their grandmother speaking about their great-uncle, though not frequently.

“I think it hurt her too much,” she said.

Palochko said her late father received the middle name Edward in Grahamer’s honor. Theodore Edward Johnson also carried on his uncle’s military legacy, rising to the rank of staff sergeant while serving in the Army’s 101st Airborne Division during World War II. He was called up again for the Korean War but remained stateside.

Little is known about Grahamer’s early life.

Based on available records, he was born in Scranton on Nov. 21, 1894, to George and Helen Krieg Grahamer, German immigrants who were married in Lackawanna County in 1892 and lived in the 1000 block of North Irving Avenue.

As was the case with many individuals of German descent of the era, the spelling of his family’s last name appears to have been unsettled.

His parents’ marriage license listed it as “Grahammer,” and Johnson said that is the way it is spelled on his grandmother’s first holy communion certificate. Grahamer’s own signature on his draft registration card appears as “Grayhamer.”

Grahamer trained at Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas, upon entering the service and left for Europe not long after, attached to the 158th Aero Squadron.

The Tuscania, a luxury liner pressed into troop transport duties in 1916, sailed from Hoboken, New Jersey, on Jan. 24, 1918, as part of a 14-vessel convoy bound for Liverpool, England.

The first torpedo fired by the German U-boat just after dark on Feb. 5 missed its target. The second caught the Tuscania amidships. She sank in about four hours.

Grahamer was one of at least four county residents aboard the doomed ship. The other three — Stanley L. Lessig and E.L. Hamilton, both of Scranton, and Evan Jones, Carbondale — survived.

Grahamer’s family endured weeks of uncertainty over his fate before the War Department confirmed Feb. 26 that he was among the casualties.

Johnson, an attorney who serves as a district court magistrate in Michigan, said both sides of his family came to the United States from Germany in the 1880s, and the circumstances of his great-uncle’s death had to be devastating to them.

“I can only imagine,” he said. “Here it is 1918, less than 40 years later, and it’s a German U-boat that sinks the ship, and they still had relatives living in Germany.”

Grahamer was among 182 victims of the sinking buried in temporary cemeteries on Islay until after the war. His remains were disinterred and returned to the United States for burial with full military honors in 1920.

“My grandmother said it was a big event when he was brought home,” Johnson said. “I don’t know what you would call it — certainly not a celebration, but a commemoration.”

Grahamer’s funeral on Aug. 29, 1920, drew scores of relatives and friends, along with many former soldiers and sailors, according an account in The Times-Tribune archives.

With an armed guard and military escort in attendance, an Army machine-gun truck carried his flag-draped casket as the funeral cortege moved from the family’s North Irving home through the downtown to St. Mary of the Assumption Church in South Scranton, where a requiem Mass was celebrated.

He was laid to rest in a family plot at St. Mary’s Cemetery off Stafford Avenue.

With services planned for today on Islay to commemorate the Tuscania’s sinking, Johnson said the centennial is a fitting time to honor the soldiers who gave their lives for our freedom.

“Their sacrifice is remembered, even 100 years later,” he said.


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