German submarines sank three American merchant ship in March, 1917. The US declared war on Germany in April. A month later, the Selective Service Act passed. Men ages 21-30 had to register for the draft. Among the Guthrie County enlistments listed in the May 14 Guthrie Times was a young man named Omar Shearer, age 16.
In 1918, he became the first Guthrie County soldier to lose his life. Word didn’t make it to Guthrie Center until a few weeks later:
The Guthrie Times, September 12, 1918:
“Omar Shearer–Who, according to a letter received from one of his comrades by his mother, Anna Shearer, gave his life on the battlefields of France to save the world for God and mankind. His mother has had no official announcement from the government yet, and there is a hope that there may be some possible mistake. A letter was received here from Omar of date July 24, and the letter containing the announcement of his death was of date of August 4. What might have happened in the interim can only be guessed at. It is truly hoped that later news may bring word that it is a mistake.”
The Guthrie Times, September 26, 1918:
Omar Shearer the First of Our Own Boys to Give His Life
He Laid It on the Altar of His Country
Freely and Voluntarily–in the Fiercest of the Battle
He Stood and Was a Victim to the
Cruel and Treacherous Hun Bullet
“. . . Never, in all the years have we more reluctantly, and with deeper sorrow told the story of death, than when we announce the death of Omar Shearer. But amidst our grief we can exclaim–‘What a glorious death to die!’ Only a few short months ago he was a lad in our public schools, free from care, and intent on getting an education, fitting himself for life’s duties and life’s work. But war came and the foundation, principles upon which rested the whole fabric of our great and noble government was threatened. President Wilson announced a state of war existed, and Congress declared war against Germany and a call went out for volunteers. Omar Shearer with others of our own boys was among the first to answer that call. He was large of age, and with the consent of his mother, was accepted and enlisted in the Machine Gun Company of the 168th Regiment. He went into training at the State Fair grounds at Des Moines and learned to be a soldier. . . . When the 168th went over Omar was with them. . . . Some months ago he was gassed and wounded, from which he recovered and was with his command again when the present drive began upon the part of the Allies, and was . . . in the thickest of the fray that, according to a letter from one of the comrades to his mother, he fell. Yes, he shed his blood and gave his life for the noble cause of humanity, for his country’s honor, for freedom, for home and native land. What more could he have done?
“Since the above was in type Omar’s mother received a message from Washington confirming his death, which was sad news indeed, and took away the hope that still lingered in the hearts of his loved ones.
“His death brings the war closer to us all, especially to the people of our little city, most of whom knew him personally, and who loved him for his manly ways and his buoyant disposition. We all hoped and prayed that he might be spared to come back to us and enjoy the fruits of victory won upon the battlefield, but it was not so ordered by Him do doeth all things well. No words of ours can assuage the grief and sorrow of the mother’s heart or console the grandparents and other to whom he was near and dear by the ties of consanguinity, but we can cherish his memory and recall his great sacrifice in our behalf and drop a silent tear with the loved ones. We can see to it too, that this fine young man, who gave his all to insure a world’s peace, shall not have died in vain. And while we all cannot cross the ocean and offer our lives, we can do our part at home. We can make personal sacrifices, give of our substance, and thus help those that are still fighting our battles by all the means of our power.
“The government has promised that the bodies of our hero dead, who died in the foreign fields, should be brought back to their own, their native land, and all that is mortal of Omar will come to us again, but his soul will go back to Him that gave it to live forever and forever. . . . ”
Omar Shearer is buried in the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery in France. There is a cenotaph in his remembrance in the Guthrie Center cemetery. The FindaGrave site gives the death date as July 30, 1918. That date has been confirmed by Hubert Caloud, Site Director of the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery.
The American Legion post at Guthrie Center is named in Omar Shearer’s honor.
Such tributes give war a much more poignant and personal aspect than the bare reporting of statistics–“Twelve American soldiers were killed in an engagement with the enemy at. . . . ” Each such sacrifice involves mothers, fathers, siblings, wives, sweethearts, friends, etc., who are dramatically affected.
It sure does. Thank, Dennis.
What a tragic story. Sixteen is too young to die on the battlefiled.
He was 16 when he enlisted. Yes, way too young.
While I agree with Dennis that this report may provide some solace to the family, it also erroneously offers this up as a justifiable sacrifice. So many young men died in vain. Very sad.
It certainly didn’t “insure a world’s peace.”
So sad. It is too bad that every county doesn’t have someone writing up the stories.
The Guthrie County Freedom Rock is in Guthrie Center. Retired Navy strike fighter pilot, Brick Imerman, wrote “Soldiers of the Freedom Rock: Stories of Guthrie County Iowa’s Combat Veterans” in 2015. Omar Shearer isn’t included, but Brick may not have known about him.
Thank you for sharing the stories of our heroes. They gave their all, no matter their age. Of course, being so young, it is all the more sad. Sixteen is so very young!
He was 16 when he enlisted. The first one from my hometown of Dexter, Merritt Winsell, was the town doctor’s only son. He’s buried at Arlington but no remembrance in the Dexter cemetery. The Museum does have a poignant photo of him in uniform.
Sorry to always be so late, Joy. I just can’t seem to figure out how to get you on my Reader page.
I signed up to get them email, as they’re so much shorter if I decide to keep a copy. I could forward them to you, but then I’d wonder whether you’d wonder about me! I’m going to rerun “A Striped Worm” tomorrow, so it won’t get emailed again–just on Twitter, LinkedIn (maybe), and my Facebook page. I don’t have a new one scheduled until the 10th.
I’ll be sure to get back there!
Bless you. Today’s is from July 2017, “Stalking a Striped Worm,” if you’d like a chuckle.
I’ll be there! Thanks!