Chester and Gertrude- Author and Activist
When her mother died, Posey County native Nancy Hasting found a box of letters and other items that set her on a path to becoming an author, researcher and now champion of securing recognition for her great uncle, who died in battle in France in World War One.
It took nearly two decades of research, and months of preparation to correct a century old oversight that nagged at Nancy Hasting’s conscience. She put the information into a book titled “A Tragedy of the Great War”.
Nancy said, “It’s kind of consumed my life the past couple of years and it’s been a major focus for quite some time.”
In addition to telling her family’s story in World War One, Nancy had two goals- To solve a mystery and get recognition for her great-uncle, U.S. Army Sergeant Chester Schulz of Evansville. Using the letters and military records, she was able to trace his last days with remarkable accuracy.
“It was a really hard push at that last point. There was like sixty five hours where they were just marching continually, quickly and no rations except what they had on their backs. And so it’s at the end of this when they’re actually under fire.”
Chester Schulz was cut down by machine gun fire just four days before the end of the war. It happened on a hillside outside the city of Sedan. His unit had been on the front line for less than an hour.
The accuracy of the information allowed Nancy to solve the mystery that had haunted her family for the past century. Why did it take four months for the family to be notified that Chester Schulz had been killed?
Here’s what she found. A clerical error when Chester was transferred to the First Division two weeks before his death meant his commanders didn’t even know he was on the hillside in northern France where he died.
Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Tom Orlowski, president of the First Infantry Division Memorial Association, says it doesn’t make sense now, but you have to look at the error from a historical perspective.
“When you think back to how confusing battle fronts were in World War One and the lack of communication and the immediacy of the action versus what we consider to be a very important thing...at the moment, getting fresh troops there is much more important than writing all the names accurately. They thought they could go back and recreate the situation and lists.”
After the war, as the rest of the nation celebrated, four agonizing months went by with many hopeful communications, some from official sources, that Chester Schulz was still alive. It devastated his mother and she never recovered.
The only live family member with personal knowledge of Gertrude Schulz is a granddaughter, another Gertrude, Gertrude Lant. Gertrude Lant, now living in a nursing home, is no longer able to speak about her famous grandmother. However, we recorded this account in 2009. The personal memory is told through the eyes of a young child.
"She used to say that poem a lot, 'In Flanders Fields, the poppies grow, between the crosses row on row', and the tears would just roll down her face." - Gertrude Lant, talking about her grandmother, Gertrude Schulz.
“She talked about it a lot because my grandmother loved him so. It hurt her that he was so close to coming home and didn't quite make it. She used to say that poem a lot, ‘In Flanders Fields, the poppies grow, between the crosses row on row', and the tears would just roll down her face.”
To add insult to injury, Chester’s name was left off a First Army Division monument to the casualties of that last, big battle of World War One.
Clip Hasting, “It’s not that I’m glad that those things happened, but if they hadn’t happened, he would just be another uncle. He’s much more real because of the letters and the story and the whole ordeal.”
In our next segment…We go to France to trace the steps of Chester Schulz.