Monday, May 29, 2017

With Oshea Strain at St. Mihiel American Cemetery

St. Mihiel American Cemetery, Thiaucourt

As noted yesterday when writing about Pvt. Fred A. Culbertson, two young men of the 26 native to Lucas County who gave up their lives during World War I remain buried in France. The other is Pvt. Oshea J. Strain, born in Otter Creek Township, who rests with 4,153 of his comrades at St. Mihiel American Cemetery, Thiaucourt, some 180 miles east of Paris.

Oshea, when he filled out a draft registration form during June of 1917, gave his date and place of birth as Dec. 5, 1893, in Lucas County. But the death of his mother, Lizzie Jane (Terril) Strain, when he was 14, caused the family to scatter --- and so we don't know that much for sure about the young man.

He was living with his parents and siblings on a farm in Otter Creek Township when the 1900 federal census was taken. The family, headed by George R. Strain and Lizzie Jane, included three children --- Ira M., born during August of 1887, Oshea, and Amy Louise, born during December of 1898. George, 47, was a son of Levi and Louisa Strain, who brought their family from Illinois to the Lacona area during the early 1870s; Lizzie Jane, a daughter, of John Marlin and Martha E. (Ashton) Terril, of Marion County.

One entry on that census record confuses the issue of parentage. Census-takers asked during 1900 how many years couples had been married. George and Lizzie replied, six. Mothers also were asked how many children they had given birth to and how many of those were living. Lizzie replied, four children, three of whom were living. If these entries are taken at face value, Lizzie Jane could not have given birth to Ira and Oshea during her marriage to George. I can't find a marriage record for this couple, so haven't been able to sort this inconsistency out.

Whatever the case, George, Lizzie and the children moved from Lucas County not too long after 1900 to Hamlin County, south of Watertown in northeast South Dakota. Lizzie died there on July 10, 1907, when Oshea was 14, and was buried in Zion Cemetery near the little town of Hazel.

When the 1910 census was taken, Oshea, age 16, and the widowed George were living with the Baxter Edson family in Hamlin County and working as farm hands. It's unclear where Ira and Amy were by this time. That fall, during September, George remarried --- to Martha J. Patrick --- and they moved eventually to California, where he died during 1925. But circumstances suggest that George was not especially involved in the children's lives after that marriage.

During 1917, when Oshea registered for the draft at age 23, he was working as a "common laborer" for the Northern Pine Crating Co. in Cass Lake, Minn. Ira, who also registered for the draft that year, had settled down in Watertown, South Dakota.

Both young men named their Terril aunts and uncles in Lucas County as next of kin when drafted --- Oshea, his uncle William White Terril, then farming near Oakley; and Ira, Rebecca (Terril) Eaton --- wife of James R. --- who had recently moved from Oakley into Chariton. 

Ira made it safely home from the war, married a Lucas County girl --- Odessa Blue --- and lived out the remainder of his life in Watertown.

Oshea was assigned to Co. L, 360th Infantry Regiment, 90th Division, which trained in Texas and then sailed from New York City to France aboard the Mauretania during July of 1918. On the 10th of August 1918, not long after arrival, he died of disease --- most likely influenza --- age 24, while somewhere in eastern France with his unit.

Newspapers across America published lists of the American dead throughout World War I and Oshea's name appears among those who "died of disease" on those lists. But so far as I know his death was not reported individually --- nor did an obituary appear --- in any of the places where he had lived during his short life, including Lucas County.

The St. Mihiel American Cemetery was established during late September 1918, as a burial place for those Americans who died during the Sept. 12-15 Battle of Saint-Mihiel, then developed into a permanent cemetery --- now maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission --- after the war.

At that time, the remains of other Americans who had died in the region --- including Oshea --- were relocated there if their families had requested permanent interment overseas. This probably was a decision made by William Terril, as next of kin, in consultation with Oshea's two siblings. And so, a young man who had roamed widely found a permanent home with 4,153 comrades at this beautiful place in France.

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