Elmer Charboneau lived a life that was too short and full of hardship. He died in battle at age 19 far from his Southwest Missouri home, and has remained nearly forgotten for almost 97 years in an unmarked grave in the Carterville Cemetery on Old Route 66 Boulevard north of Carterville.
Elmer Charboneau lived a life that was too short and full of hardship.
He died in battle at age 19 far from his Southwest Missouri home, and has remained nearly forgotten for almost 97 years in an unmarked grave in the Carterville Cemetery on Old Route 66 Boulevard north of Carterville.
Now, on the 100th anniversary of America's entry into the “War to End All Wars,” Oronogo historian Kavan Stull said he's found a descendent of Charboneau and together they've started the ball rolling toward getting a proper veterans head stone for his grave.
Moved to Jasper County
Belton Historian Woodrow Dick stumbled on the tragic story of Elmer Charboneau while he was researching veterans to be included in a memorial to veterans of his own community located just south of Kansas City in Cass County.
Dick presented his findings in an event in Webb City on April 1 to mark the 100th anniversary of the U.S. Entering World War 1 in support of the British and French and against Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The U.S. Congress voted to declare war on Germany and Austria-Hungary on April 6, 1917, joining a war that had been bleeding Eurpoean countries for almost three years already.
Dick said his research, through the wesbite ancestry.com and other online sources, said Elmer Charboneau was born in Washington County, Missouri in May of 1899 to Charles and Sarah Jackson Charboneau, the third of four known children.
The oldest of Elmer Charboneau's sisters, Dora, married William Bronstein in Carthage in 1909 and the rest of the Charboneau's family moved to Webb City in 1910.
Dick said the Charboneau family suffered terribly from illness, especially tuberculosis, which claimed the lives of most of the family members.
Dora's husband died of typhoid fever in 1911, leaving Dora and two sons, one of which was born two months after William Bronstein died.
Dora remarried, but four years later, she died of tuberculosis, orphaning her two sons at a very young age.
Killed in battle
Dick said Elmer Charboneau enlisted in the U.S. Army on October 30, 1917. He had to have his father's permission because he was too young to enlist on his own.
Dick's research showed that Elmer Charboneau was assigned to the headquarters company of the 30th Infantry Division and trained at Camp Sevier, South Carolina until the unit was shipped to France in April 1918.
Elmer Charboneau was wounded by gas and machine gun fire on July 15, 1918 near Belleau Wood, the site of a famous battle between the Americans and the German army. He died of his wounds on July 22, 1918, and was buried in France.
“That's the real shame of this story, what happened was, if he had stayed over there, he was buried under a beautiful cross, and he would have been moved to one of the American cemeteries in France,” Dick said. “He would have been buried under a beautiful cross in one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world and instead he's out here without even a stone.”
However, many family members of the 116,000 Americans killed in the war clammored for the remains of their loved ones to be returned.
Returned and forgotten
Dick said initially, General John Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, and the French Government, objected to moving the remains of the soldiers.
“Pershing didn't want the bodies sent back, and the French didn't want to send them back,” Dick said. “But the Americans public was raising so much trouble that ultimately France did decide it was ok and Pershing relented, so they started this process, it was a grizly process, they had to dig them all up.”
Dick said his research showed that the Charboneau family elected in 1919 to have Elmer's remains returned home, and he arrived in Webb City on Sept. 5, 1921 for burial in the Carterville Cemetery.
Tragically, after deciding to have Elmer returned home, his mother didn't live to see the burial, dying of tuberculosis on March 19, 1920.
Elmer's father, Charles Charboneau died on March 31, 1922, just seven months after his son was buried.
Dick said Elmer had an older brother, John, who served in the U.S. Navy in World War I. As the last surviving next of kin, he could have ordered a grave stone for Elmer, but John had considerable turmoil in his live after leaving the Navy in 1920.
His first wife died in February 1925, then he remaired in August 1925 and moved to Dallas sometime in the late 1920s.
John died in Albuquerque, N.M. In 1930.
“The rapid and complete disintegration of this family probably explains why no record of an order for a military headstone for Elmer has been found and no headstone is currently on his grave,” Dick said. “It's the first time I've ever seen a family wiped out like that. All of them.”
After the April 5 event, Dick continued researching Pvt. Charboneau's family and managed to find at least one living relative.
Kavan Stull, the Oronogo historian, said he contacted a VFW post in Sandy, Oregon, where the man lived and they helped Stull get in touch with the relative.
Stull said there is now a good chance that a headstone can ne aquired for Pvt. Charboneau.
“I sent the relative an application to the National Archives in St. Louis ahd he filled out the form to retrieve Pvt. Charboneau's military records,” Stull said. “That's the first step in this process, first you have to get the military records and then you can apply for the stone.”
Stull, who is a member of the Four-State Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America, said his group has taken on this project and will pay the installation costs for the stone.
He said the group would like to have the stone in place in time for a ceremony on Veterans Day, 2017, but the final time and date are up to the family members.