Focus on Fostoria - Nov_9_03

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November 9, 2003

‘In Flanders Field...'
Veterans Day and a Letter From Belgium
By Leonard Skonecki

Fostoria's American Legion Post 73 doesn't get a lot of letters from Belgium. It got one this past summer.

The letter was about a Fostoria soldier who died far from home.

It was from a gentleman named Patrick Lernout who lives in Waregem, Belgium. Waregem is in the region of Flanders about 35 west of the capital city of Brussels and some 30 miles from the North Sea.

Mr. Lernout asked the Legion's help with a book he's writing about American World War I soldiers, a group of men that, oddly, he has come to know though they are long dead.

He knows them because Waregem is the home of the American Military Cemetery, Flanders Field, where many American World War I dead are buried. Flanders Field is immortalized in the poem "In Flanders Field," which is read each year at Fostoria's Memorial Day observance.

The poem's best known lines are: "In Flanders Field the poppies blow / Between the crosses, row by row."

Mr. Lernout said in this letter, "I got the idea of writing a book about those soldiers, who gave their lives for our freedom."

One of those soldiers prompted Mr. Lernout's letter to Fostoria. He was interested in a soldier named Ray Kistner.

Ray Kistner's death was especially tragic. His tombstone stated he died Nov. 11, 1918, the last day of the war. In fact, he was one of the last soldiers of any nation to die in World War I. He was mortally wounded less that one hour before the cease-fire order was given.

On Nov. 10 and 11, 1918, the American 37th Infantry Division in concert with British forces completed a successful crossing of the Scheldt River near the village of Heuvell. The Scheldt forms the eastern boundary of Flanders.

Ray held the rank of first sergeant in Co. D of the 147th Regiment of the 37th Division. Before World War I, in 1916-17, he served in the Mexican Border Campaign.

As the Anglo-American forces crossed the Scheldt, they encountered fierce German resistance, including massive artillery barrages. The Fostoria Daily Review said that more ordnance was fired in the final few weeks of the war than at any other time in the conflict.

Fostoria's last World War I veteran, Alert Thomas, said the same thing. One of Albert's diary entries in the war's final days said they advanced through heavy fire – "the worst I ever saw."

German artillery exploded near Ray. He was struck by a shell fragment and was killed instantly. The Daily-Review said Ray died just 40 minutes before the cease-fire order was given.

Forty minutes.

Ray was 27 years old when he was killed. He was employed at the Carbon works before entering the service.

Co. D was stationed at Youngstown for a time before going overseas. It was there that Ray met a young woman named Fay Stahl. They hit it off.

They got engaged before Co. D and the rest of the 37th Division was sent to Camp Sheridan, Ala. From there Ray went to Europe.

Shortly afterwards, Fay went to Camp Sheridan where she and Ray got married in the spring of 1918 before the 37th went overseas. She never saw him again.

Ray's father was Albert Kistner, a foreman at Carbon, and his grandfather, Christian Kistner, was a Civil War veteran. Not only did Albert lose his son in 1918, but his grandson, Robert, was killed in World War II.

Curiously, there is no mention of Ray's mother in the account of his death.

Ray was the only member of Co. D to die in action in World War I. Two others died stateside during training.

Ten other Fostorians lost their lives in WWI. They are Earl Foust, Kent Ewing, Orvell Daum, James Henry, Wilfred Lonsway, Floyd Ecker, William Wilcox, Alvin Feasel, Harmon Whiteman and James Dall.

The Kaubisch Memoral Public Library filled Mr. Lernout's request for information. We wish him well with his book.

"I think that would be a nice tribute to them," he wrote.

The day Ray died became Armistice Day and is now Veterans Day. It is traditionally observed at 11 a.m., marking the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.That's the hour the guns of the War to End All Wars fell silent. That's the hour Ray didn't live to see.

On this Veterans Day, Ray Kistner will have been dead 85 years. It's fair to say that his individual service and sacrifice haven't been thought of for a long, long time.

Thanks to a letter born of the gratitude of someone who appreciates the freedom he enjoys 5,000 miles and an ocean away, it's fitting that he's remembered today.