(BRANDON HANSEN/Chewelah Independent)
RISING FROM RUBBLE: American Legion born out of the trenches of World War One…
It’s hard to miss the Chewelah American Legion post. Members of their honor guard can be seen at many public events where a flag salute is needed. The post holds several events each year honoring veterans both passed and alive. They’re a very visible presence at the funerals of veterans in the area. When it comes to giving, the post is usually the first to hold a dinner to raise money for a cause or a community member in need.
While none of them were around for its founding, current members of the John V. Folsom American Legion Post carry on a tradition that was established from the trenches of World War One.
If there was a war to establish the need for a veteran services once the battles were over, it was The Great War which raged in Europe from 1914-1918. America joined the war late, coming in on the side of the Allies after actions by Germany made it difficult for the country to remain neutral. Factor in that traditional western allies France and Great Britain had already taken body blows during the trench warfare-laden battlefields and were desperate for fresh men to put into the bloodiest war the world had seen. The American Expeditionary Forces were established in 1917 and would swell to a force of two million fighting men.
America would suffer 320,000 casualties, which included 53,402 battle deaths, 63,114 non-combat deaths and 204,000 wounded in the short time it was involved in the war. One of those deaths would be the namesake for the Chewelah American Legion Post.
Pvt. John Vernie Folsom was killed in action on October 10, 1918 at the age of 25, fighting for hill 255 in a battle many went into against heavily fortified German emplacements knowing they would not come out.
According to the writing of Lieutenant Farley Granger, who has surveyed the battlefield through his binoculars, “Every square yard was visible from the higher hills beyond, occupied by the enemy, and the concrete-box on Hill 255, and every foot swept by machine-gun and artillery fire. Protection, there was none—not even concealment for one man. The gullies between the hills were swept by enfilading fire from wooded hills above Gesnes, and the hillsides were commanded by nests hidden in flanks.”
Folsom was serving for Company L, 361st Infantry Regiment, 91st Division in Dois Communal-de-Cierges France. The division suffered heavy casualties in the fighting for Hill 255 and surrounding areas. Folsom volunteered to carry an important message from his company commander to the commander of an artillery unit. With great gallantry, he faced intense enemy fire and accomplished his mission. He was killed in action but his courage and soldierly qualities were important to his company and inspired his fellow comrades.
Folsom’s burial site is unknown, but the rest of his family is buried in Lamont, Washington.
Four days later, Corporal Cevil Lee Verrill of Colville also died in the battle. He was in the same Regiment and was drafted in 1917. The wounds he received in battle lead to his death and he was buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Romagne, France.
Two other area soldiers would also die, including Delta Howard Burnett who passed away from Spanish influence on Oct. 22, 1918 at the age of 29 in Camp Lewis, Washington. Burnett is buried in Highland Cemetery in Colville. Pvt. Charles Fay Jr. died of pneumonia after getting influenza four days later at Ft. Wright. He had moved to Arden his junior year and had entered the service just three months before his death. He is buried in Spokane.
With those passed, many also returned after Germany surrendered on November 11, 1918. Returning from war, these veterans had no GI Bill, or financial or educational benefits. The country had to readjust to a peacetime economy that had soaring unemployment, massive strikes and riots in 1919. In this climate, the American Legion was established on March 15, 1919 to serve veterans both alive and passed away. Using the motto “For God and Country” the Legion was charted on Sept. 16, 1919 by the US Congress.
In a 1919 article in the Chewelah Independent, it was reported that the John V. Folsom Post of the American Legion was charted with a membership of 16. Dr. J. W. Hewtson was elected commander, while H.G. Davenport was named vice commander and Walter Johnson was named secretary and treasurer. The article said that out of 160 boys from Chewelah that served in the war, Folsom was the one Chewelah boy killed in action. Meetings were held at the rifle club hall in town. Through the years, along with the Veteran of Foriegn Wars organization, the Legion has worked to lobby for the interests of veterans and service members, fighting for support of benefits like pensions and healthcare from the Veteran Health Administration. The Legion also provides assistant to the Department of Veteran Affairs hospitals and clinics
The Legion played a leading role is getting the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 passed, known as the GI Bill.
Locally, the members of the John V. Post No. 54 will be hosting their centennial birthday on Oct. 19 using a roaring 20s theme. Located at 111 South Main, you can check out the celebration which begins at 4 p.m. Dress up like you’re living in the roaring 20s – a distinct time in American history after World War One – and join the Legion for food, music and fun. There will also be a photoshoot area for those in costume.
You can RSVP to the event by calling 935-8586.