National Guardsmen from the Amsterdam area departed in August 1917 to train in Spartanburg, South Carolina, for the war in Europe.
The next month, the first draftees left Amsterdam for Camp Devens, Massachusetts. After that, there were monthly sendoffs of as many as 240 men.
A genealogy website, New Horizons, names 75 Montgomery County residents who died in combat, accidents or from disease in World War I, 39 of them from Amsterdam.
Floyd Henry Deckro of Fonda, a Marine, was the first Montgomery County casualty in France. Described as a “good natured, venturesome youth,” Deckro was the first Fonda resident to enlist in the war. At home he worked in the mail service. He was survived by his parents and his wife, Elizabeth.
He died in June 1918. On Mother’s Day that year he wrote his mother, Mrs. Henry Deckro: "I have no carnation to send you, but right in front of my gun, out in No Man's Land, is a tulip, which I'm going to send you." That tulip was pressed in the folds of his last letter home.
The first man from Amsterdam killed in action was Matthew J. Coessens of Morris Street. Coessens was a student at St. Mary’s Institute when he enlisted in the Army. He died in an assault in the forest of Compiegne, France, in August of 2018. His body was returned to Amsterdam for burial at St. Mary’s Cemetery in 1921.
Money collected for the war effort that was not used at war’s end was utilized to create the former Coessens Park in the East End and the still-existing West End Memorial Park.
Members of Amsterdam Boy Scout Troop 1, based at the former East Main Methodist Episcopal Church, sold produce to help the war effort. Scoutmaster William F. Firth told Mayor James Cline that the Scouts would help the city in any way possible, providing first aid or messenger service. The troop collected peach pits that were used to make chemicals for gas masks.
Firth, an English immigrant and carpet weaver who lived on Bartlett Street, entered the U.S. Army in January 1918. He was in Company K, 61st Infantry in the Fifth Division.
Cpl. Firth was killed in action in October in the Argonne Forest in France. The telegram notifying the Firths of their son’s death did not reach Amsterdam until mid-November.
Lt. James T. Bergen of National Guard Company H was killed in combat. The news came a day after the Armistice and Bergen’s name was given to American Legion Post 39. Legion Post 701 was named for John J. Wyszomirski, an Amsterdam youth of Polish heritage who died in France 11 days before the Armistice. His body was returned three years later.
Ralph Pagliaro was the last Amsterdamian to die in the war. His nephew, former drama coach and high school principal Bert DeRose, said Pagliaro was a member of Company M of the 363rd Infantry. The Italian immigrant was killed by a German sniper in Belgium five days before the Armistice.
Pagliaro was buried in Belgium. The body was later returned and buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery. DeRose said: “My Grandmother wore black for over 30 years.”
When the Great War ended with an armistice 99 years ago today, a train carrying 59 Amsterdam draftees bound for Camp Humphries, Virginia, stopped in Albany and the men returned home.
The world-wide influenza pandemic struck in 1918. From October 1918 through January 1919 there were 176 deaths in Amsterdam from flu or pneumonia, half of 1 percent of the city’s population. Many of those who died were young adults.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or [email protected].