It is well known that Evansville suffered one of the first casualties of World War I. But there is a story from the end of the war that is even more compelling. WNIN’s Steve Burger has followed that story and was in France this past summer for its thrilling conclusion. Posey County native Nancy Hasting has put her family's story of World War I into a book titled, "A Tragedy of the Great War".
Posey County resident Nancy Hasting worked for nearly two decades to solve the mystery of why her family endured months of uncertainty after World War One awaiting word of the fate of Army Sergeant Chester Schulz of Evansville. In this segment, a box of letters sparks the curiosity of a relative.
It happens every day. A relative dies, and family members acquire the items of that person’s life. One person gets the china, another the furniture. In Nancy Hasting’s case, it was a box of letters, telegrams and newspaper clippings chronicling the last few months of the life of Chester Schulz.
According to Nancy, “It was a story I’d known all my life, but looking through a box and realized that all these letters were there, just opening them and reading them. Of course, they weren’t in any particular order. It was just a box of letters and I thought, ‘Well, this is pretty interesting.’”
A visit to Chester during basic training gave Gertrude an idea that put Evansville in the national spotlight. According to Vanderburgh County historian Stan Schmidt, Gertrude Schulz formed the group that would become known as the War Mothers of America.
“She talked to different people and the idea kind of caught on. They set up the local War Mothers in Evansville. Little bit later, a congressman from Indiana introduced a bill in Washington to give them a national charter.”
During the War Mothers first national convention, in Evansville in September of 1918, telegrams from Army General John J. Pershing and Pershing’s boss, President Woodrow Wilson praised Gertrude for her work in helping add the support of millions of women to the war effort.
And finally, the agonizing months following World War One as the nation celebrated, and Gertrude waited for word from her son that he was coming home. Despite getting conflicting news of Chester's fate, some from official sources, Gertrude continued to write weekly letters to her son in hopes of reaching him.
In one of the letters Gertrude wrote, "Dear Chester, my dear boy. I know God is caring for you in answer not only to my prayers, but many, many more. But, oh how I yearn to get one line written by you. Many of the boys are home and still coming, but none know a word about you. I’ve written to every corner of France, but no information whatever."
Nancy said, “I imagine in her heart she was probably thinking that he wasn’t alive. It’s been four months and at some point you have to know that something’s terribly wrong. But hoping there’s a miracle and he’ll still be there.”
Chester Schulz was killed by machine gun fire just four days before the end of the war on a hillside in northern France. Before he left for the Army, he was engaged to a woman named Lorena Stocking. Chester’s final letter is both patriotic…and practical.
“To be opened only in the event I do not return.
Chester. September 18, 1917.
Dear Mother and Dad: I write this to you knowing that you will fill all my wishes. I have done my bit for the country, but leave the ones behind who are all the world to me. But don’t be sad, as I feel it an honor and want you to feel the same way.
I have two insurances policies- one for $2,500 and one for $1,000. I want you to have the $2,500 policy and give Lorena the $1,000 policy as I took this out since we were engaged. I do this not because I don’t want you to have it all, but because I know Lorena’s disposition and think that she can forget by going away for awhile, or anything that she sees fit.
May God’s blessings be with you all. Your son, Chester.”
In our next segment….A nagging question turns Nancy into an author, researcher and activist.