When local residents gather to honor the nation’s fallen war veterans on Memorial Day, few will likely remember the more than 70 Warren County men, who retired attorney and history buff Ray Buckberry says, died fighting in World War I.
Buckberry has spent months conducting oral history interviews and searching for forgotten graveyards to document the lives lost in a war that’s quickly becoming forgotten by the public.
“I think it’s important because these are Warren countians,” he said. “They did it because their country called upon them and they served … You have made the ultimate sacrifice when your country called for you.”
Buckberry’s search has turned up the names of 71 men from Warren County killed in the war.
However, his search has been complicated and problematic at times. He has not been able to corroborate all the deaths and their causes. In some cases, when men living in adjoining counties listed a Warren County mailing address, the government would mistakenly list them as a Warren County resident.
Rather than giving up, Buckberry has kept up the quest to sort out conflicting information and document oral history from surviving relatives that’s quickly slipping away. For Buckberry, however, it’s a labor of love.
“It’s an enjoyable thing,” he said. “It doesn’t constitute hard work.”
Step into Buckberry’s home, and you can see the results of his work. Tables and chairs are completely covered in his notes and historical documents.
Of the estimated 71 Warren County men killed during WWI, Buckberry has found four who were African-Americans: Frank Blackburn, Evans Marshall, Elbert Milan and Ortho Nickols.
His search for Nickols, for example, took him to a cemetery for enslaved African-Americans in a remote part of Warren County. Finding a guide to the cemetery proved challenging, and ultimately Buckberry said he had to keep the location secret.
Simple questions, such as who was the first Warren County soldier to die in WWI, have turned out to have complicated answers.
WWI stands out as one of the deadliest conflicts in human history. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in June 1914 sparked an international crisis that set off the war.
Although the U.S. maintained neutrality to the conflict before April 2, 1917, the discovery of a secret German plot to turn Mexico against the U.S. helped change that.
The war brought the first armored tanks and developments in explosive artillery shells used to counter the use of trench warfare. Soldiers often faced disease and unsanitary living conditions in the trenches, where body lice and trench rats were common, Buckberry said.
“It was 90 percent boredom, 10 percent terror,” Buckberry said.
Through his research, Buckberry has determined Richard Browder Hughes was the first soldier from Warren County to die while serving in WWI. However, Cleo Baxter “Bud” Davis was the first to be killed in action.
After enlisting in 1915 and serving in France, Hughes died of pneumonia at age 21 on Dec. 11, 1917, according to Buckberry. As a Bowling Green native, he attended Center Street School and Ogden College. He’s buried in Fairview Cemetery with a gifted monument from France.
Davis, who enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on Aug. 13, 1915, was killed during the Battle of Belleau Wood, a conflict that remains a key part of Marine Corps history to this day.
For Buckberry, the sacrifices of Warren County’s WWI dead are worth remembering. He plans to keep working on his research and refining his methods.
“There’s lots more for me to dig into out there that I haven’t touched,” he said.
by Daily News education reporter Aaron Mudd