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A LOOK BACK: The United States Enters World War I

By Derek M. Otto

April is the one month in United States History that is always highlighted by tragedy or war mongering.   

The Revolutionary War started on April 19, 1775, starting the American Revolution. South Carolina attacked Fort Sumter April 13, 1861. Lincoln was shot on April 14, 1865. The U.S. declared war on Spain on April 25, 1898. FDR died and the Titanic sank on April 12.  So it’s no surprise to learn that the United States entered the Great War in Europe on April 6, 1917.   

The Europeans had been fighting since war broke out in August 1914 when a Serbian Nationalist Group the Black Hand shot and killed Archduke Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and through secret alliances the entire continent and eventually the globe will be at war.  The United States had avoided war; it was part of our tradition to stay out of European affairs.

The Lusitania cruise ship was attacked by German submarines in 1915 and 135 Americans were killed. The Germans had started their policy of unrestricted submarine warfare; they attacked any vessels that they believed support the Triple Entente (France, Britain, and Russian). We still maintained our neutrality.

However, the United States still traded with its traditional allies, the British Empire and France.  At one point, we had made an agreement—the Sussex Agreement— with the German Empire called in 1916 that the Germans would not attack our vessels.

The Germans needed to distract the United States, and they formed a secret alliance with the Mexican Government.

In January 1917, Great Britain intercepted the Zimmermann Telegraph, which described the Germans promising the Mexicans all the land they ceded after the Mexican American War if they started a conflict with United States.   

The Germans decided that in February 1917,  they would return to a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare for any ship heading toward Great Britain.

President Wilson asked for a declaration of war on April 4, 1917 and on April 6, 1917, Congress voted to declare war on Germany.

According to Buffalo and Erie County in The Great War (1920), there had been mobilization efforts and aid societies very active in Erie County since 1915.  The declaration put these efforts into effect  and Springville would not be left out.   

By the end of the war, many families would be affected.  Eight men from the Town of Concord would be killed.   One of them I had researched a few years ago for the Methodist Bicentennial, Lynn Atwood Thurber.

Lynn Thurber was born December 1, 1892 to his parents Henry and Agnes Thurber of 48 Maple Avenue.  Lynn’s grandfather, Franklin Thurber, had worked in the area as a mason and Henry labored as a bricklayer.  In 1863, the Thurbers worked to build the old brick Methodist Church on the corner of Franklin and Main Streets.  Henry and his brother later bought a two-family house together on Church Street in Springville.

Lynn grew up in the Village of Springville and graduated from Griffith Institute in 1911.  For a few years, he worked in the masonry trade and shortly before the war, he was employed by one of the doctors in the village.

He was a member of the Fountain Hose Company, The IOOF and Sons of the Veterans of Union Soldiers.

On June 5, 1917, Lynn registered for the draft. Realizing he could be drafted soon, he married his sweetheart, Edna Julia Colvin, nine days later on June 14, 1917.

He was drafted in early 1918.  He left Springville on Feb. 26, 2017 and was trained at Camp Upton in Long Island.  He briefly came back to Springville before being sent to the European Front. He landed in France on April 16, 2018.

Lynn Served in Company A of the 305th Infantry and was sent to the Meuse-Argonne offensive. On Sept. 26, 1918 he was “sent over the top,”  meaning that he was sent out of his trench and into no man’s land to attack the enemy’s trench.  A mortar shell went off and Lynn was hit.  A medic unit was quickly dispatched, but to no avail—Lynn died.

He was first buried near Metz, France, before being moved to the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Romange, France.  Lynn died just two months before the armistice was signed November 11, 1918.

On Nov. 24, 1918, a large memorial  service was held at the Methodist Church in Springville, a memorial stone was placed in Springville and later a stone baptismal font was dedicated to him at the Methodist Church.   His mother visited his grave in France several years later and his widow visited twice.

The Thrubers were one of eight families whose lives would be affected greatly by the events of April 6, 2017.  In the coming months, I hope to focus more on some of our veterans and gold star men of Springville.RedHouse Lake

Jacquie Shattner, a distant relative, researched the life of Lynn Thurber around 2011 asked me for a picture. Ironically, when the Methodist Church was rededicating the baptismal font I was going through a file of photos of a family related to the Thurbers. Low and behold folded broken in half was this picture, on the back the name eerily read, “Lynn Thurber.”

Jacquie Shattner, a distant relative, researched the life of Lynn Thurber around 2011 asked me for a picture. Ironically, when the Methodist Church was rededicating the baptismal font I was going through a file of photos of a family related to the Thurbers. Low and behold folded broken in half was this picture, on the back the name eerily read, “Lynn Thurber.”

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