Nine men from Freetown put their lives on the line in one of the largest and deadliest wars in history.
Only one of them — Everett Rose — died while serving in World War I, while another one — Ernest Everett Garloch — was injured and left for dead until being found alive by someone a few days later.
The others serving were Dave Stogdill, Fred Cordill, Burrell Lyon, Clifford Wayt, John Noe, Ralph Revere “Jerry” Harbaugh and Dayton Zike.
With 2017 marking the 100th anniversary of the United States entering the war, the Freetown July Festival committee decided it was appropriate to honor these hometown heroes during Friday night’s opening ceremony.
MacKenzie Long, 19, was tasked with researching the men and even made contact with some of their family members still living in the area.
Pictures, memorabilia, dog tags, a helmet and letters sent home were a part of her presentation at the Pershing Township Park pavilion.
“I love history, but I’ve never been really deeply interested in World War I until now,” Long said. “Finding all of these things and deciphering the letters was almost like a treasure hunt. It was so exciting trying to figure out what that smudge meant. … Finding all of this stuff, I felt like a child in a candy store when I walked in and saw all of this stuff on the table.”
Keeping history alive is important to Long, and she said it should be to other people, too.
“I see so many children and young people these days who don’t know anything about World War I or World War II or anything about history at all, and it just breaks my heart because this is where we’re from, this is our past and our heritage and they are just wasting it because they’re not diving into it,” she said.
“I believe it’s important because everyone should be remembered,” she said. “Those heroic men, their sacrifice is important, and it should be remembered.”
Long was able to find pictures of eight of the men. As she looked at them, she said it was interesting trying to picture what type of person they were.
“In some of their eyes, I read a little bit of fear. They are not sure of what they are going through,” she said. “Some of them, I see a deep seriousness as if they know what’s coming ahead and they are warned about it.”
One man was holding a champagne bottle, so she sensed a little bit of humor from him. Another man’s smile intrigued her.
“These are just ordinary people who did an extraordinary thing, who went out to risk their lives for something they believed in,” Long said. “I think we need to honor that.”
Since the men were from her hometown, Long said that encourages her.
“It challenges me,” she said. “It tells me that people that are from a little country town can aspire to great heights and can be courageous and do something bold and adventurous and scary and terrifying and achieve their dreams.”
When others see the men’s pictures, Long said she wants them to be inspired, too.
“I want them to be challenged,” she said. “I want them to think, ‘If he could do it, I could.’ I want them to say, ‘If they can be brave in a time when it’s dark, my little problem shouldn’t matter that much. I’m not going out risking my life, so it shouldn’t matter anymore.’ I want them to look at their lives and think, ‘What could I be doing differently that these men would have done and learn from their sacrifice.’”
Siblings Roger Martin, David Martin and Janet Smith were among those at Friday’s opening ceremony. Garloch was their grandfather.
Smith said Garloch died in 1972, when she was a freshman in college. He lived in the Houston area.
“When I was a kid, we would go over there almost every Sunday and see him,” she said.
The war had a bad impact on some of those who served, but Smith said that wasn’t the case for Garloch.
Despite being left for dead, he didn’t have any permanent side effects from his injuries.
“They took him somewhere, and they patched him up and sent him back to the lines,” David said.
As an infantryman in an artillery division, Garloch was in the middle of the trenches in Germany and France. He later suffered from hearing problems because of that.
“The war wasn’t a pretty thing at all then. It was trench warfare,” David said. “When they tell infantry people to charge the German trenches, they are just mowing them down. … People don’t much have the stomach for that kind of warfare these days, I don’t think.”
The three siblings had another grandfather who was drafted for World War I, but by the time he finished basic training, the war had ended.
Garloch’s three sons later joined the military and served at the same time.
Roger also has a son who was in the Air Force, so serving the country has spanned several generations for the family.
“I know politics were important to (Garloch) and voting and things like that, so it rubs off on you,” Smith said.
“We’re all interested in our government, the whole family is, and not just us because we’ve got cousins all over the creation, and they are involved in that,” David said. “We’re the only ones that live right here in Freetown still.”
Smith and her brothers appreciated the festival committee taking the time to highlight the town’s World War I veterans.
The ceremony also included a patriotic music salute by Long and her siblings, known as the Long Family Singers.
“I appreciate that, and I appreciate the songs that they do and the fact that it’s religious and patriotic and you keep them together,” Smith said.
“You really can’t separate the two, not completely,” David added.