On Veterans Day, local historian Dennis Keesee wants the community to help him honor 31 soldiers from New Albany and Plain Township who served in World War I.
Keesee is spearheading New Albany's WWI Centennial Celebration and Remembrance, a New Albany-Plain Township Historical Society event at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 11, at Noah's Event Center, 175 E. Main St. in New Albany. Admission is free and no RSVP is required. For more information, contact Keesee at 614-563-5228.
Keesee, co-president of the historical society and owner of Eagles Pizza in New Albany, said he hopes at least 310 people show up, so each of the 31 soldiers would have 10 people supporting them.
"I think that the town owes them that much," he said.
The idea for the event blossomed from an idea Keesee had to give a presentation about WWI to the historical society in November. Upon his election as co-president, Keesee said, he decided the event should be larger.
Keesee, 59, said he always has been interested in history, especially wars and New Albany history. His said his family has roots in New Albany dating back 200 years.
The United States had a relatively small role in WWI, and World War II was seen by many soldiers as a continuation of WWI, Keesee said. For those reasons, the nation didn't give much respect to WWI veterans when they were alive, he said.
He said he hopes that 100 years later people here can learn to honor WWI veterans the way Europeans do.
Though millions of people died in WWI, the 31 soldiers who lived in New Albany or Plain Township at the time of their enlistment all made it home alive, Keesee said.
The 31 soldiers include Claudius Alspach, Lewis Baughman, Forest Belknap, William Bloomfield, Robert Campbell, Clyde Clouse, Clark Dague, Raymond Dague, Alexander Doran, James Doran, Ora Doran, Leo Farnlacher, Clark Frizzell, John Goodman, Arlie Grubb, Floyd Heischman, Charles Jennings, Harry Kegg, Fred Kitzmiller, Joe Kitzmiller, Frank Layman, Byron McElwee, Cary McElwee, Everett Miesse, Bert Moffett, Raymond Noe, Boivin Clark Ranney, Daniel Warren, Harold Wells, Russell Wilkins Jr. and Alton Wilson, Keesee said.
Noe was the only one wounded; he was struck in the ankle by a piece of shell, Keesee said.
More WWI veterans moved to New Albany after the war, into the 1920s, he said.
The remembrance for the 31 original soldiers will begin with a salute to veterans, followed by patriotic songs, Keesee said. A five-minute film will be shared about a poem, "The Silent Soldier," that Ranney, one of the 31 veterans being honored, wrote about horses while he was fighting overseas.
As the keynote speaker, Keesee's address will include readings from veterans' letters and information about their lives and New Albany during the war.
The program will conclude with a candle-lighting service, with New Albany High School band members providing a drum roll as the 31 soldiers' names are read, Keesee said.
One of the names that Keesee will read during the remembrance ceremony is New Albany resident Perry Doran's father.
James Doran, who died in 1987 at age 93, was 24 years old when he served in the U.S. Army as a corporal at Camp Sherman in Chillicothe, said Perry Doran, 75.
Although his father didn't go overseas, he trained soldiers at Camp Sherman who would go on to serve overseas, he said.
One of the letters Keesee plans to read during the memorial event is a missive that Perry Doran's father wrote to his parents on Armistice Day.
Armistice Day is celebrated annually on Nov. 11 and marks the Nov. 11, 1918, armistice signed by the WWI Allied Powers and Germany to effectively end WWI, which began July 28, 1914.
Other members of the Central Powers had signed armistice agreements in the preceding weeks.
The U.S., meanwhile, had entered the war on the side of the Allies in 1917.
Doran said he found his father's letter and many others a year ago in a chest in one of the sheds on his family farm on Babbitt Road. The letters, which date from 1912 through the early 1940s, were tied in bundles with string and contained messages James Doran wrote to his parents every week.
Painting the town
In addition to the memorial event, Keesee said, he is planning a yard-sign sale to paint the town red for the month of November.
The sign depicts a red poppy flower.
Poppies were featured in Canadian Lt. Colonel John McCrae's WWI poem "In Flanders Fields" and have come to symbolize remembrance of the war.
Keesee is selling the yard signs for $18 plus tax at Eagles Pizza, 2 N. High St.
He said he will place 31 signs in front of New Albany Village Hall and another 31 at Eagles Pizza to honor the soldiers from New Albany and Plain Township.
"We want them up the whole month of November," he said.