Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Rudolph Otz: A Lucas County Gold Star Buddy

New Virginia Cemetery; Find a Grave photo by "Zbonnie."

Two hand-made banners were displayed near the pulpit of Chariton's First Methodist Church on Sunday evening, Sept. 7, 1919. Loosely stitched onto both were blue felt stars, one for each young man from the congregation who had been in military service during the great war that had ended --- for most --- almost a year earlier.

One was the Epworth League Service Flag; the other, the Church Service Flag.

Similar banners still could be found in countless other churches and public places across the land. About 117,000 American troops had been among the 11 million military personnel who died worldwide 1914-1918; 114,000 Iowans had served 1917-18 and 3,500 died; 740 Lucas Countyans were among those who served and 26, among the dead. These star-spangled banners had been one way of keeping track.

The nave of the grand stone church was packed that Sunday evening with friends and family from Chariton, Oakley, Liberty Center, New Virginia and beyond who had come together to remember Pvt. Rudolph Otz, killed in France during late October of the previous year at the age of 27. Carl Monson, who had visited his temporary grave in a battlefield cemetery before redeployment home earlier in the year, was seated with the congregation.

The service opened with a hymn, "Beautiful Isle of Somewhere," and the reading of Isaiah 53. Rudolph had selected hymns and a reading for such a service, not really believing that it would occur, and shared the instructions with his pastor before leaving Chariton during 1917 and reporting to Camp Dodge for deployment overseas.

Late in the service, just before the congregation sang "It is Well With My Soul" and departed, Pvt. Otz's blue stars were ceremonially cut from the two banners and replaced with gold. Mabel Jackson pinned the gold star on the Epworth League flag; Rudolph's sister, Maggie Wickett of New Virginia, changed blue to gold on the congregational banner.

Fellow Lucas County veterans, some of whom had known Rudolph and others who had not, would remember him from now on as one of their "gold star buddies."


Otz is not a familiar name in Lucas County --- or anywhere in Iowa for that matter. Rudolph's parents, Rudolph Sr. and Anna, were natives of Switzerland who had arrived in the United States during the early 1880s, married in Nebraska, then moved to Des Moines. Their youngest son was born there on Aug. 24, 1891. The family then settled on a farm near New Virginia, in Warren County, where the five Otz children --- Maggie, Frances, Henry, Hilda and Rudolph --- were raised and attended school.

Maggie married Walter Wickett and settled down at New Virginia, but shortly after 1910 Rudolph Sr. and Anna as well as their three middle children moved to Castle Rock, South Dakota. Rudolph Jr., who had been working as a hand on his father's farm and elsewhere, chose to remain in Iowa, finding employment as a farm hand near Liberty Center, Lacona and, finally, Chariton. In Lucas County, he found a home near Oakley with the Ben Baxter family, his home base as surrogate son and brother for nearly five years.

During 1915, in need of a change, Rudolph moved into Chariton where he went to work as clerk and salesman at the Blanchard & Cooley Hardware Store. He also joined First Methodist Church and became very active there, serving as Epworth League president and in other capacities until he was drafted during 1917.

He was described on his draft registration card as a tall and slim young man with brown hair and brown eyes. By all accounts he was bright, personable and well-liked.


Rudolph gave up his life more than a year after he was drafted, shot down on Oct. 15, 1918, by a German sniper in the vicinity of St. Juvan during the decisive Meuse-Argonne Offensive while serving in Co. A, 326th Infantry. He died of his wounds a few days later, on Oct. 23, and was buried in a temporary battlefield graveyard.

But wasn't until a month later that his family learned of his death, via telegram on the 22nd of November. Sister Maggie contacted his pastor and friends in Chariton immediately, to let them know.

The Rev. J.W. Goodsell and members of the Chariton Epworth League, having in hand instructions left with them by Rudolph, scheduled a memorial service instead of a regular evening service for Sunday, Dec. 1, but that service was postponed indefinitely at the request of Rudolph's family, who wished to be present along with friends from elsewhere.

Then, during early January, the unthinkable happened. The family received a letter from the American Red Cross reporting that Rudolph still was alive in a military hospital somewhere in France.

There was, at that time, no easy way to confirm either earlier death reports or the accuracy of the January letter, so it was many weeks before it became evident that the Red Cross letter had been sent mistakenly and that Rudolph had indeed died of his wounds.

In large part because of this, plans for a memorial service were deferred until the autumn of 1919.


That service brought some closure to Maggie Wickett and other family members. More came later, during 1921, when Rudolph's remains were repatriated and buried in the New Virginia Cemetery.

But many questions remained and it was not until more than 10 years later that family and friends learned the details of Rudolph's death. These came in a letter to Mrs. Wickett from Arthur Rand of Wilmot Flat, New Hampshire, who had been with Rudolph when he was shot and at his side when he died. The letter was published in The Herald-Patriot of Dec. 18, 1930, as follows:

Wilmot Flat, N.H.
November 30, 1930

Mr. and Mrs. Wickett, Dear Folks:

A short time ago I wrote to the American Legion post at Fort Dodge asking them for information concerning the burial place of my buddy, Rudolph Otz.

I have always had him in mind and wished that I could visit his last resting place.

Mr. Pint, commander of the post at Fort Dodge, was kind enough to look the matter up for me and also sent me the letter that  you sent me, and so I take the liberty to write to you, thinking perhaps that you would like to know just how Rudolph met his end. I was the only one with him when he was shot.

It happened at St. Jurvis (St. Juvan), France. Co. A, 236 Infantry, was in the first line, and were holding a valley against the enemy, a few of us fellows were separated from the rest. I was one of them and prisoners were taken. I was sent back to the company to report to the officer in charge that we had prisoners to hold. He told me to go back and tell the others to bring the prisoners in. You must understand that this meant to go into no-man's-land.

Rudolph heard my report and asked the officer if he could go with me and was told that he could, so we started and just the moment we struck the top of the hill, Rudolph fell, shot through the left breast.

Rudolph had letters and other things in his shirt pocket and as he lay there he asked that we take them and send them to his folks, and then he said, no, let me keep them while I live. He pulled the blanket with his right hand and covered his hurt. He gave us all a smile and bade us all good bye, and my buddy was gone.

And to you folks I wish to say that after all these years I am not ashamed that tears dim my eyes as I write, for Rudolph was my buddy.

I have tried to tell you how it was and some day I shall go to New Virginia and visit his grave.

I hope you will write me again, and wish you a Merry Christmas.

Respectfully yours,

Arthur B. Rand

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