I have always found myself attracted to telling the stories of people whose lives were not as widely known and who, nonetheless, are deserving of remembrance. The short lives of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country are of particular interest to me. This series of blogs, Fallen Heroes, will examine those lives.
The Ayers family settled originally in Harrison County, Ohio in the early 1800s. Thomas Ayers’ (1890-1918) father, George (1852-1948), was one of eight children of John Ayers (1827-1866) and Margaret Carruthers (1820-1886). George would eventually relocate to Dover, Tuscarawas County where he married his first wife in 1872. The couple had five children, but only two survived childhood.
George’s first wife would pass away in 1887, but he would marry again shortly after. His second wife, Charlotte Miksch (1862-1919), gave birth to an additional three children. Thomas Ayers and his brother Walter (1893-1973) were the only ones to survive to adulthood.
Thomas and his brother attended school in Dover, while their father worked in a number of general laboring jobs around town. After leaving school Thomas worked as a machine operator in the Reeves Manufacturing Company’s rolling mill in Dover. He was employed there when he registered for the draft at the beginning of the United States’ involvement in World War One.
Thomas registered for the draft in June 1917; he was 27 years old, single, and living at 320 East Second Street in Dover. He described himself as tall in height, stoutly built with brown hair and eyes. Thomas did not claim any disability or reasons for being unable to serve at the time of his registration.
He was not drafted right away however, and spent the remainder of 1917 working in the rolling mill until he was finally drafted in late January 1918. He did not have to report for duty immediately and, prior to being inducted, he married Harriet Tschanz (1897-1988) at the end of March 1918. A little over a month later he would be in the United States Army and Harriet would be pregnant with twins.
Thomas spent the summer of 1918 at Camp Gordon, Georgia training with other replacement draftees to be an infantryman in the United States Army. He would board the transport ship Orca departing New York in July 1918 bound for Europe and the American Expeditionary Force. Upon arriving in Europe, Thomas was assigned to Company B of the 47th United States Infantry Regiment then stationed along the Argonne Defensive Sector. He would see combat almost immediately.
The regiment was marched to the front at the beginning of September 1918, taking positions in the area around Saint-Mihiel, France. While the men continued to train, the officers of the regiment were taken to the front and shown the positions the regiment would take in the coming days. Thomas’ first and last battle, for the Argonne Forest, was just days away.
The 47th began its advance on the German positions on the morning of September 26th, following a heavy bombardment of the enemy that began at 2 o’clock in the morning. The regiment was expected to advance one hundred meters every three to four minutes during the assault. Luckily for the regiment, the barrage had demoralized the German defenders and they initially met little resistance as they advanced and achieved their objective for the day.
The next morning the regiment “went over the top” again on their way to achieving that day’s objective of Bois de Fays. Facing heavy machine gun and artillery fire, the regiment was able to advance five more kilometers by the end of the day. There is some confusion about the exact date of Thomas Ayers’ death, but he was listed as missing-in-action after the actions of 26 and 27 September 1918.
Thomas’ family was at first notified that he was missing in action in late October 1918, and eventually they would learn, from official and unofficial sources, that he had been killed in combat. It was not until March 1919 that a friend and fellow soldier of Thomas wrote his widow with more details on Thomas’ death.
A Dover resident who served with Ayers during the battle, John Thomas, wrote Harriet that “poor Tom did his bit up to the last minute, but that is the way it goes – the best ones first.” John went on to try and ease some of Harriet’s suffering by letting her know that “Tom was sure a good sport and he had a lot of friends in this man’s army.” He let Harriet know that he had helped bury Thomas and that Thomas “had as a good a burial as I [John] have seen and I have seen a good many.”
Thomas would never return to Dover from France, and was eventually interred in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial in Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, France. His simple headstone lists his date of death as September 26, 1918. Harriet Ayers would remarry in 1924 and Thomas’ two children would live into the 1990s and 2000s.
The Dover Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 3463 was named for Private Thomas J. Ayers.
© Noel B. Poirier, 2021.