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,” [his middle name was Peebler] 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.
First Dexter Boy to Die in the Great War
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.
His obituary: The memorial services for Merritt Winsell were held in the Community House on Sunday afternoon, Aug. 11, in the presence of one of the largest audiences ever assembled in the Community House.
It was a great tribute to the sorrowing relatives and the life of the young man which had been given so freely for our protection. An abundance of floral offerings were contributed by old friends and neighbors and orders and clubs with whom the family had been previously affiliated. The service was union, both pastors Revs. IlgenFritz and Goff taking part in the service and a union choir rendered patriotic music.
As we have stated before the father of the deceased, Dr. F. F. Winsell and wife and Miss Berenice Brimm now of Minneapolis, Minn., attended the service.
Merritt Peebler Winsell, son of Dr. F. F. and Ada B. Wisell was born at Drakesville, Davis County, Iowa, February 11, 1898. Died somewhere in France July 3rd, 1918 at the age of twenty years, four months, and twenty-two days. His mother died in 1904.
He leaves to mourn his death, Father, one Sister, Mrs. H. F. J. Lake of Centralia, Mo., step-mother Jessie D. Winsell, step-sister Berenice Marie Brimm.
Merritt received most of his education in the Public Schools of Dexter, having graduated from High School in May 1916. He united with the Presbyterian church when a lad.
He enlisted in United States Army April 21, 1917, in the 32nd Areo [sic] Squadron Signal Corps, and left for France August 27th, 1917, arriving sometime in September, remaining there until death.
He has given his all for justice and liberty. He has made the supreme sacrifice.
Merritt Winsell is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Others from the same squadron are also buried there.
100th Anniversary of the American Aerodrome at Issoudun
The aerodrome has reverted to agricultural fields, with no trace of its wartime history.
A century after the Armistice that ended the Great War, the 174 Americans who died at Issoudun, France, were 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. He 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 is remembered in the far off place where he lost his life 100 years ago. He is also remembered by his photo and clippings at the Dexter Museum.
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, Delbert Countryman, and Mary Jobst.