Sunday, November 14, 2010

Walter Rockey's World War I Service

When visiting northern Indiana for a funeral earlier this year, I decided to take the opportunity to visit some cemeteries and get photographs of some tombstone missing from my collection. One such tombstone belonged to a great-grandfather on my mother's side, Walter William Rockey, and was located in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, in Metz, Indiana. I knew very little about Walter as he passed away before I was born and unfortunately, not much was ever said about him. Still, because such a close familial connection existed, I wanted to find out more.

When I finally made it to the cemetery, and located his grave, imagine my surprise when I saw a military marker next to his grave. I came home with a new purpose: to discover how Walter served the United States.

I was pleasantly surprised when I found out the answer. According to The Official Roster of Ohio Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines in the World War, 1917-18 located on Ancestry.com, Walter enlisted in the U.S. Army on 22 Jul 1918. He was assigned to Company D 334 Infantry on 09 Oct 1918 and was transferred to Company A 16th Infantry as a Discharge Private, First Class on 05 Jan 1919. Walter was finally promoted to Corporal on 09 Mar 1919. He served at St. Mihiel, as well as Meuse-Argonne American Expeditionary Forces 02 Sep 1918 to 13 Aug 1919. He was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army on 17 Aug 1919.
Not knowing too much about World War I, I had to do a little bit more digging to find out what those dates and places meant. I discovered that the Meuse-Argonne offensive, was the biggest operation and victory of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I. The Meuse-Argonne battle was the largest frontline commitment of troops by the U.S. Army in World War I, and also its deadliest. At the end, over 117,000 U.S. soldiers were killed.

Imagine the strength and bravery he must have possessed to live through a year in the trenches. One particularly interesting bit of information I found was that the purpose of the Meuse-Argonne offensive was to eventually push back the German army past the city of Metz, where the Germans had heavily fortified forts. Consider the irony: Walter was a man of German ancestry, who would eventually be buried in the town of Metz in Indiana. Yet here he was fighting the Germans and heading towards the city of Metz in Germany.

When Walter returned to the United States, he resumed his life as a farmer in a very small, rural area of the country and raised a family with his wife, Doris. When I discovered all that he had done for our country, and that he returned to a relatively simple life, I felt honored to have someone like Walter in my family.


Walter Rockey's family. His parents, William Dietrich Rockey and Caroline Wilhemina
Hoch are seated in the front row. In the back row, are his sister Gertrude Katharina,
Walter William (the subject of this essay), and his brother Henry Dietrich.

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