World War I soldier killed in France remembered 100-plus years later

By MCKENZIE DELISLE | The Press-Republican | Published: May 25, 2019

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — U.S. Army Pvt. Edward H. Lemieux died 100 years ago, but relatives who came after him still think of their family hero.

The soldier, who was born and raised in the City of Plattsburgh, was one of the 7,000 U.S. casualties the World War I Battle of Saint-Mihiel in France in 1918.

Edward's second cousin John Lemieux, 76, of course never met him.

"He was dead long before my parents even met," John said.

It was John's uncle, the Rev. George Lemieux -- pastor of St. Peter's Church in Plattsburgh in the early 1950s -- who shared memories of the fallen soldier.

"My uncle George told me that the last time he saw his cousin Edward, also his godfather, was either late 1917 or early 1918," John said. "He remembered the year, because he was 7 years old and, being born in 1910, turned 7 in March 1917.

"He said (Edward) was marching with a bunch of soldiers from what was then the Plattsburgh Army Base to the train station," John continued.

"He was to take the train to New York City to get on a troop trip to France."

Water-filled trenches

The Battle of Saint-Mihiel was a major conflict of World War I, lasting from Sept. 12 to 16 in 1918.
Commander John J. Pershing led that battle, and, History.com says, it was the first major offensive of the American Expeditionary Force.

The conflict came soon after U.S. troops aided French soldiers at Belleau Wood and the Second Battle of the Marne in June and July of that year, respectively.

"Pershing and Allied Supreme Commander Ferdinand Foch decided that the First Army of the (American Expeditionary Force) should establish its headquarters in the Saint-Mihiel sector," History.com says, "and prepare a front facing the Saint-Mihiel salient, a triangular wedge of land between Verdun and Nancy, in northeastern France, that had been occupied by the Germans since the fall of 1914."

Bad weather filled the trenches with water and turned the fields to mud, History.com says, but the U.S. troops were successful when the German command ordered Saint-Mihiel abandoned by Sept. 16.

Very respectful grave

Edward, like the thousands of other U.S. soldiers who are thought to have died as a result of that battle, is buried in the Saint-Mihiel American Cemetery in Thiaucourt, France.

There, his grave marker says he was an engineer, adding that his date of death was Sept. 22, 1918.
John said the United States started to establish those military cemeteries after World War I ended.

"The U.S. Army contacted Edward's mother and father," said John, who also grew up in Plattsburgh but now lives in Rhode Island.

"They offered to repatriate his body, to have him buried at home."

But that would have been at the family's expense, he added, which would have been costly.

"My uncle (George) said his aunt decided it wasn't worth it, because (Edward) would probably have a very respectful grave if they let the army bury them in the military cemetery," John said.

"Which he does have."

Paying Homage

John happened upon that grave some time ago.

He attended school in Belgium from 1964 to 1968, and his Uncle George visited him at one point.

"My uncle knew that Edward was buried in a U.S. Army cemetery somewhere in Europe, but he didn't know where," John said.

"We happened to stumble on that cemetery, and the director or the custodian told us, 'Well, he's here."

And John's son Paul B. Lemieux, 43, has visited Edward's grave, too.

Paul is an Iran-Iraq War veteran who is currently stationed in Saudi Arabia with the OPM-SANG.

"That's the Office of the Program Manager, Saudi Arabian National Guard," Paul explained in a phone interview. "We're working as advisers to the Saudi Arabian military."

Paul has made two trips out to see his ancestor's grave in France.

"I actually found it back in 2005," he said. "But I specifically booked a trip to go to France for the 100th anniversary of his death last September."

Sense of duty

Paul originally joined the military to build his resume.

"I ended up making a career out of it," he said. "I was supposed to get out in 2003, but the wars had started, and I kind of felt -- I don't know. Call it a sense of duty?

"I just felt like I was supposed to stay in," he continued. "It was the wrong time to get out of the army."

The lieutenant colonel stays interested in Edward's history, because he feels connected to him.
"It's just me being in the military," Paul said.

So little known

According to the Find A Grave website, Edward "died of woun(d)s in action."

John, who doesn't know how his family was informed of his second cousin's death, said there's a lot of uncertainty.

Being an engineer in that time period, he said, probably meant that Edward was digging trenches.

"And those were the early days of the (Spanish) flu epidemic," he said. "So he could have died from that."

It's the lack of information that Paul said is frustrating.

"It just bothers me that we don't know much about him," he said. "I know he was never married and never had children, but I always felt that personal connection to him.

"I didn't want him to be forgotten, even though I didn't know much about him."
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