A long-forgotten Dexter boy died in France 100 years ago. Born February 11, 1898 in Drakesville, Iowa, Merritt Winsell was the only son of Dr. Frank F. and Jessie Mae (Drennan) Winsell. He had a sister, Bernice.
Winsell was a 1916 graduate of Dexter High School, in a class of sixteen students. Nicknamed “Spec” and “Peeb,” he played football three years, lettered in it, and was football captain his senior year. He also went out for Declamatory, was athletic editor of the yearbook, and was class president one year.
Merritt Winsell and friend George Monroe Slocum, also a Dexter boy according to a clipping, enlisted together in the Great War. They were assigned to the 32nd Aerosquadron at the Issoudun Aerodrome France, where Winsell became a cook.
The aerodrome–built in 1917, about 100 miles southwest of Paris–was a complex of military airfields near Issoudun, Centre, France, used during WWI as part of an instruction center for airmen of the American Expeditionary Forces. At the time it was the largest air base in the world. Eddie Rickenbacker trained there.
The first Dexter boy to lose his life in the war, Merritt Winsell died at Issoudun of disease July 3, 1918. His friend George Slocum survived.
Merritt Winsell is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Others from the same squadron are also buried there.
The aerodrome has reverted to agricultural fields, with no trace of its wartime history.
Next month–a century after the Armistice that ended the Great War–the 174 people who died at Issoudun, France will be remembered at the Issoudun city library.
Jeremy Becnel, historian for the 32d Refueling Squadron (Winsell’s reactivated squadron) in the US Air Force, has researched those who served in his squadron and died at Issoudun. They will be part of a ceremony in France in November to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the war.
Becnel also made an earlier trip in January to see the exhibit on the big airfield complex where Merritt Winsell was stationed. A ceremony was held at the memorial next to where the base cemetery was located.
The first Dexter boy to lose his life in World War I is not forgotten. He’s even being remembered in the far off place where he lost his life 100 years ago.
Note: In July 1920, Keith and Cora Neal (Keith was the oldest son of O.S. and Nellie Neal) had a son born in Dexter. They named him Merritt Winsell Neal. He went by “Bud,” and was a great help to me in the 1970s when I was working on genealogy.
Thanks for help for this story from Jeremy Becnel, Robert Cook, Mary Jobst, and Delbert Countryman.