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JIM: To all who have served ... a heartfelt thank you


One hundred years ago today -- November 11, 1918 -- a representative of Germany signed the long-awaited armistice, and with the flourish of a pen, the sound of war that had reverberated around the world for over four wearying years fell silent.

By the time that document was signed, hundreds of Adair County men had answered their country's call to arms since April '17 , when the US was finally drawn into the fray. Some served stateside, while many others "went across." Of the latter, most returned home, but some died on the battlefield, other died after receiving wounds and being evacuated from the field.

All who served remind us that freedom isn't free, and the memory of those who died evokes Thomas Jefferson's stirring words, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants."

The Last Full Measure of Devotion: Bryan Royse Goes to War

The muffled drum's sad roll has beat
The soldier's last tattoo;
No more on Life's parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.

On fame's eternal camping ground
Their silent tents to spread,
And glory guards, with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead...

On the evening of Saturday, July 28, 1917, Bryan Royse, a well-liked young farmer of the Garlin community and former student of the LWTS, and Miss Flora Hutchison, a woman possessed of "many noble traits of character," motored to the Burkesville Street home of Eld. Z.T. Williams and with solemn pledges appropriate to the occasion, were united in the bonds of holy matrimony.

Though undoubtedly the young couple's collective heart overflowed with love and brimmed with optimism, the looming spectre of war cast long shadows. Only three months earlier, the United States had entered the Great Conflict then engulfing the world, and in early June, millions of young Americans had registered for the draft. Just days before Bryan and Flora's marriage, his name appeared on the "First Call" list, and on Sunday, September 9, 1917, he, along with five other Adair Countians, left Columbia for Fort Zachary Taylor near Louisville. Bryan had turned twenty-one in late August, and he and Flora had been married six weeks and one day.

A few weeks later, young Mrs. Royse, in company of her father, sisters, and others, traveled to Louisville, where, the News announced, she stayed for several days to visit her husband. In late December, 1917, Bryan and his brother Felix came to Adair County on leave. According to the News, the brothers Royse embodied the picture of good health and apparently were enjoying army life. It's entirely possible that during this trip home, Bryan learned Flora was carrying their child.

Almost certainly, Bryan and Flora saw each other again before he embarked for Europe near the end of May, 1918, scant weeks before the advent of his and Flora's son, William Bryan Royse, Jr., who was born on June 8th. The newspaper, in the succinct style of the day, remarked of the wee bairn's parents, "His mother is doing well and his father is in France."

Pvt. Royse's name didn't again grace the pages of the News until the November 6, 1918 edition, which carried a long letter he had penned about a month earlier to his beloved Flora. The letter (as published in the News) carried no date, but of necessity was written between the very end of September and the tenth of October.

In this missive, headlined "Somewhere in France," Bryan spoke of many things: his appreciation for the photograph of Flora and "our sweet little one" she recently had sent; that he and Dick (his brother Felix; they belonged to the same outfit) were "well but pretty tired and sleepy," partially from a over-long hike the day before in which the troop of soldiers got on the wrong road; and his desire to write to his older sisters, Annie and Lula.

Almost in passing, Bryan mentioned "the big battle that was fought last Sunday, the 29th" (of September) and noted that while his platoon didn't go over the top (of the trenches),."we worked as hard as the next one trying to get over..." He was a member of the 120th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division, AEF. The engagement to which he referred was the pivotal Battle of St Quentin Canal, in which the Allied troops first breached the Hindenburg Line. Fighting continued in the area through October 10th.

"...and dear, the scene of the battlefield was hard to look at. I lost several friends there..."

Immediately following that somber line, Pvt. Royse wrote,

"We are not allowed to write about anybody getting killed unless it has been certified for certain. I guess you will hear who they are before you get this letter. I sure did hate to hear of it myself. I am thankful to God though that it was as well as it was.

"Dear, as we laid upon the ground Saturday night, waiting for orders I was praying to God, asking him to guide us safely through the battle that we were to take part in. I was not excited hardly at all.
"Dear if you have not read the 11th chapter of St. Mark, read from the 22nd verse on down, anyway. I read a chapter nearly every day if it is so I can. (The Biblical passage to which he referred deals in great part with faith.)
"I sat out on one of the Hun's big guns we captured one day while we were on the battle field and read my testament. I feel that if God is with us we can do whatever we undertake to do. if we are in the right and ask him to help us and without him we can do nothing."

The following week (November 13) the News reported Bryan's family had received notification he had been wounded in the hip, though not dangerously so, and that he was in a base hospital in France.

And then, silence. Cold, resounding silence.

No additional information concerning Bryan's status came from the War Department, and no correspondence arrived from Bryan himself. The long days of anxiety dragged into agonizing weeks until at the request of family members, US Senator J.C.W. Beckham interceded on their behalf.

On Monday night, January 6th, 1919, Flora's father, Mr. C.R. Hutchison, received from Sen. Beckham a letter with devastating news--Bryan had died of wounds received shortly after writing the long letter to his devoted wife. Said the News of his death in the January 8th edition,

"This is a sad blow to the young wife, who was Miss Flora Hutchison, and who became a mother a short time after her husband went to war.

"The deceased was the son of Mr. C.R. Royse, who lives near town, and besides his young wife and infant child, he leaves father and several brothers and sisters, who are almost heartbroken. This town feels for them, and sympathy is expressed in all quarters."

Two weeks later, the paper carried a likeness of Pvt. Royse in uniform and a rather moving tribute, which stated (in part),

"He was one of Adair County's best young men, a thrifty farmer, honorable in all his transactions. His demise leaves a vacancy that can not be filled, and many hearts bled when the news came that he was dead."

The January 29th edition of the paper carried several letters of sympathy Flora had received. Among them, Guy Stevenson, then still in the armed forces himself and self-described as Bryan's cousin and best friend, spoke most eloquently. He wrote (in part) to the grieving widow:

"As you are in deepest sorrow now, so am I, as all who knew him are...I know you are heart-broken at this time. But Flora, there are two reasons you can be happy or consoled, even at this time.
"The first and most important is that he left this life at peace with his God, and you can look forward to meeting him in the next world. I read with great pleasure the letter he wrote, which appeared in the News.
"In the second place he died in defense of the highest principles for which men have ever died. He died honorably, nobly, doing his duty..."

Pvt. Royse's remains are interred in Bony, France, his grave marked by one of the many of crosses, "row on row," in the Somme American Cemetery. It is inscribed simply, "Bryan Royse / Pvt 120 Inf 30 Div / Kentucky October 10, 1918."

Yon marble minstrel's voiceless stone
In deathless song shall tell,
When many a vanquished age has flown,
The story how ye fell;

Nor wreck, nor change, nor winter's blight,
Nor time's remorseless doom,
Shall dim one ray of glory's light
That gilds your deathless tomb.

-- from Bivouac Of The Dead (Theodore O'Hara)

To all who have served, whenever, wherever, in peace and in war, a heartfelt thank you. -- Jim.

This story was posted on 2018-11-11 05:12:51
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