The Mysterious Uncle August

Meet my Uncle August, my grandmother’s brother. He’s wearing a dress uniform of an Army soldier in a photo taken before 1921, according to a military museum curator I contacted. A handwritten note on the back of the image says it was taken in 1917.

The family oral tradition says August was injured when he inhaled mustered gas while fighting in France during World War I. The smiling young man in the image would spend the rest of his life in and out of military hospitals.

Thanks to the Internet, I can tell you that August’s life wasn’t that cut and dried. He appears in the 1920 census in a military hospital in Cross Keys, Dekalb, Georgia. After that, he disappears until 1924 when he enlists in the Marine Corps in Ogden, UT. August served 28 months in the Marine Corps – 10 of those months were spent in a mental hospital in California. How then could the guy attain the rank of Sargent, as indicated in his death records? And why was he sent to a mental hospital?

These are the questions I’m attempting to answer. I’ve filed the necessary paperwork with the National Archives to get a copy of his military record. After his Marine Corps experience, August evaporates from the public record until his death in 1970.

August’s story interests me for other reasons. Right after the turn of the century, when he was a small boy, his father hanged himself from a tree in Rolla, Missouri. At that moment, the boy and his two sisters, including my grandmother, became orphans. Their mother had died several years before.

My grandmother was “adopted” by a German family in south St. Louis County. She spent her youth working on a farm. August ended up in north St. Louis County where he’s found on the 1910 Census as a “servant” for a family named Ritter.

So what happened to August in France? Why was he put in a mental hospital in the 1920s? Where did he go after the Marine Corps?  I’ll keep you posted as I learn more.

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