A Tribute to My Grandfather

Although we did meet, I do not remember Adam Otto Brigner, my paternal Grandfather; he passed away when I was about five months old.  All I ever really knew of him were the family photos, a few home 8mm movie snippets from the 1950s, and the grave we would visit on those Sundays throughout the year, when we would swing by the cemetery after church, or on Decoration Day.

I have the few stories my Dad shared with me about his his father.  There were the stories about their small farm, the 1938 World’s Fair they attended, and their train trip to California.

My Mother was fond of my Grandfather and shared some of her memories of him, too, when she came to know him during the latter part of his life.

Regardless, I am this man’s grandson, and like my Father before me, the sole bearer of his surname until my own son was born.  Perhaps it is odd thing for a young boy to contemplate, but this always weighed on me…

I really do not know how best to describe it, but all of the family recollections of the grandfather I would never know created a void that has always been with me, and has – as long as I can remember – been part of my very sense of self.  I suppose that technically it could not be described as a feeling of loss, since I did not know or even remember the man, but I think loss is perhaps the best way to describe the thoughts and feelings I have had for him throughout my life.

More simply, it may have just been the overwhelming desire of a young boy wishing to know and have a grandfather, or to hear the stories and understand the relationship he had with my own Father.

Dad did recount a few stories of Grandpa’s WWI service, but like all the other stories he told from his childhood, details were either sparse, or more likely, I was too young to fully listen, or to prod for further information.

I imagine it is also possible that Grandpa, like so many other young men exposed to the trauma of war, chose not to discuss his experience, and that the little information I have may represent all that his own children were able to pry from him.

Regardless, for my entire life, all I really knew of his WWI experience had been this:  he had been inducted into service at the courthouse in Waverly, Ohio, had served in the Army’s 3rd Division, had been wounded by mustard-gas, had met up with a cousin while in Germany, and witnessed the effects of the influenza pandemic that, according to some accounts, ultimately killed more servicemen than had died in battle.

The only truly indisputable and concrete piece of information I had were the words on the marker at the foot of his grave, which read:

MARCH 22 1894     MARCH 25 1960

I’ve always had a bit of a penchant for history, but most notably war history.  And while WWI and other conflicts were of interest to me, for whatever reason, the Second World War always provided the most fascination for me.

I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel Europe fairly extensively over the years, and have visited many of the places I’ve read about, or that have been depicted in the plethora of WWII movies I watched as a kid.

It was a real thrill for me In 1994, when I had the opportunity to visit the Normandy beaches on the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landings. I have climbed around the ruins of the Remagen bridge.  Numerous times I have visited Bastogne and the surrounding Ardenne region where the Battle of the Bulge took place during that very cold winter late in 1944 (the foxholes in the Bois Jacques, the forest outside of Foy, Belgium, as depicted in the Band of Brothers, are still visible to this day).  I have seen the rows of dragon’s teeth and toured the tunnels of the Siegfried Line, which still exists in places.  I have even paid my respects at General Patton’s grave in Luxembourg, and have visited many of the other military cemeteries there, American and German alike.  And there are a lot of them…  It is a very sobering experience, and difficult to get one’s arms around the horrendous loss that took so many young lives, from two world wars that spanned scarcely 30 years.

But whenever my travels have taken me to France, Belgium, or Germany, I have always wondered whether I stood in a place where my Grandfather had been, all those many years before.

A couple of years ago while poking around some of the online genealogical sites as I sometimes do, I inadvertently stumbled upon some additional WWI information pertaining to my Grandfather.  I was excited by the find, but I tucked it away.

In 2014, the spattering of various media that cropped up marking the 100th anniversary of the beginning of WWI had caught my interest, but it soon drifted out of mind.  Then, sometime around the 2017 New Year’s holiday, I happened to see a war documentary, and it dawned on me that 2017 would be the century mark for the United States’ entry into the Great War.

And again, my thoughts turned to my Grandfather.

I came up with the thought of putting some sort of WWI timeline together using what information I had of him during this period, mostly to satisfy my own curiosity.  Since then, it has become a real journey of discovery.

I have gleaned quite a bit of information from various sources and research in the many months since.  I have been forced to fill some gaps, with speculation where there is no hard documentation, or where the information may seem to contradict.  Where possible, these spots are noted in my narrative, along with the rationale for my assumptions.  However, now well into 2018, I am still uncovering additional information.

In early 2017, my journey of discovery eventually morphed into this website, as a means of sharing what I had found with others, whether it be with family members and friends, or the casual observer who may stumble upon these pages and find them interesting or educational.  I have already received correspondence from an individual, who’s own grandfather another area of Ohio processed through the Camp Sherman system, and served on the front lines of France.  I hope to collect other such stories.  This site may also serve to become the basis for a series of articles, or perhaps the future book I have always yearned to write, unless of course my work and hours of research serve to provide material to some opportunistic interloper…

In the larger sense, this project has become a tribute.  A tribute to honor the memory of one particular 24 year old young man from rural Ohio, who was called away from the family farm at the behest of his country, a full century ago.

It is also indirectly a tribute to my own Father, whom I love dearly, as he was clearly shaped by the life experiences and influences of my Grandfather.

The Grandfather I would never know…

-David B. Brigner