Joy Melts to Sorrow
Tragic Telegram Delivered as Town Celebrates Peace
By Julie Anderson, Editor
The Armistice went into effect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 (French time), and as word spread across the globe, townsfolk took to the streets to rejoice. The good people of La Grange rested in the knowledge that their young men had been spared, as not a single casualty had befallen them. Or so they believed.
One sunset and one sunrise later, celebration turned to sorrow as a telegram was delivered to the parents of Hugo J. Ehlers stating their son “fell in action.”
An obituary published in the local paper offers a moving description of the depth and breadth of the sadness:
Remains of Private H. J. Ehlers Interred at La Grange Friday
The only toll exacted by the world war from La Grange was Private H. J. Ehlers, son of Hugo and Agatha Ehlers, who died while in service for his country at St. Etienne, France. News of Hugo’s death which occurred October 10, 1918, came to La Grange November 12, just one day after the great news that arms had been lowered and preparations for peace were underway. To celebrate in the hours of one day such glorious tidings as were those which gave us the assurance that armistice had been signed, and in the hours of the morrow bow our heads in sorrow at the unwelcome tidings that Hugo, or Jimmie as we called him – and he whom all had loved so much, had paid the supreme price a few days previous is but another illustration of life’s unfathomable and mysterious ways of awarding destiny.
Hugo was a La Grange boy, in truth and in fact. His was a disposition – never changing – that won him love, respect and good will, divided among all classes. No distinction in such friendship, neither was there preference, he was Jimmie Ehlers to all, that meant everybody’s friend. He cast not his castor into the arena as warriors of old, he went at the call to become a soldier for his country. With the same cheerful smile that had helped to bring cheer to all he came in contact with, Jimmie walked forward and grabbed the rail of the iron horse drawn coach to appear before his superior officer. And he died in the service of his country, a true soldier, on the field, in active service.
In bringing back these crumbling remains of our young friend in order that his dust may mingle with the dust of his native land, we come together to pay our last respects, with a feeling of sorrow, yet recognize our duty. Within the breasts of the all of us there is revived a strong love for patriotism and a sympathy for those who loved him with a prior right. Jimmie was one of our young men, and at this late day, as we lower the human clay to the last rest, we pause long enough to shed a tear.
The remains reached La Grange from San Antonio Friday morning, and lay in state at the Presbyterian church until the afternoon, the ceremonies conducted by Rev. M. H. Arnold of Smithville. At the new cemetery they will rest. In silent manner the many tokens of love – flowers – were placed upon his earthen couch. The attendance was very large and comprised sympathizing friends from all sections. Private Ehlers was a member of Medical Corps, 143d Regular 36th Division. (Obituary contributed by Rob Brown, http://www.fayettecountyhistory.org/obituaries_e.htm#ehlers_hugh.
Loss in La Grange
Seeking to learn more about Hugo Ehlers, County Progress found at least three sites honoring the young man from Fayette County who died at age 25 on the battlefield in France. According to one record, Ehlers “displayed great courage. He unhesitatingly went forward over open ground and contributed to the capture of several machine-gun nests as well as numerous prisoners. Was killed at his post of combat.”
Along with his parents, Hugo left behind one sister and six brothers: Mrs. J. C. Steinbrook and V. M., Walter J., Alfred, Helmuth, Werner and Leslie Ehlers. We also learned that Hugo was a volunteer firefighter who was known and loved for his cheerful disposition.
Hugo is one of 4,700-plus Texans listed on the Texas WWI Honor Roll who “died in support of the war effort at home and at sea and in foreign land, 1 April 1917 to 31 Dec.1918,” described Danny Jones, creator of the Honor Roll, https://sites.google.com/site/vets4taps/home.
“The Honor Roll is made up of remembrances memorializing the spirit, sacrifice, and commitment of these Texans who gave all,” shared Jones.
A veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Jones is now retired and spends a great deal of time researching records and honoring veterans, especially those from World War I, by creating remembrances. In 2015, Jones launched the creation of The Honor Roll, a two-year endeavor that he completed in 2017, the 100th anniversary of America’s entrance into World War I. Jones also created a Texas WWI Centennial Facebook Site.
The sacrificial story of Hugo Ehlers is also shared on The Fayette County TXGenWeb Project website, www.fayettecountyhistory.org/, part of the all-volunteer USGenWeb Project. The obituary at the beginning of this article was found on this site, along with a second obituary titled “La Grange Soldier Hero Is Laid to Rest at Home” contributed by Matt Cross. “The remains of Hugo Ehlers, private in the 143d infantry, medical detachment, who was killed in the Argonne, October 10, 1918, were brought here Friday morning and interment was held in the new cemetery the same afternoon at 4 o’clock. The services were conducted by Rev. M. H. Arnold of Smithville and all business houses in the town were closed,” the article reads.
The Fayette County TXGenWeb Project site includes a variety of links, one of which is Footprints of Fayette, a collection of local history articles written by members of the Fayette County Historical Commission, said Rox Ann Johnson, volunteer and lead coordinator of The Fayette County TXGenWeb Project. Johnson also is a member and past-chairman of the Fayette County Historical Commission.
Footprints of Fayette, the brainchild of Fayette County Judge Ed Janecka, includes another moving article on Hugo Ehlers, “Soldier is Lost” (see related stories).
Finally, we located Hugo’s name engraved on a plaque located alongside the Fayette County Veterans Memorial, a brick and stone gazebo-type structure on the courthouse square reflecting the style of the Fayette County Courthouse that sits in the background.
The following is etched into the memorial stone:
“No greater sacrifice can be made by the citizens of a democratic nation than to serve in its armed forces in times of war or in times of peace. Fayette County proudly honors and pays tribute to its citizens who accepted the call to arms and served gallantly in securing freedom for the state of Texas and maintaining it for their nation throughout history.”