Fallen Heroes: Private Joseph Lawver

Any death by soldiers serving their country are tragic losses, sometimes those deaths occur in battle, sometimes from accidents, and oftentimes due to illness. The tragedy of the death of Joseph Lawver (1893-1918) in World War One was tragic for other reasons as well.


Joseph was the only son of Sugarcreek Township, Tuscarawas County farmer Franklin Lawver (1864-1934) and his wife Susan Bricker (1864-1929). Not surprisingly, given his only-child status, Joseph spent most of his youth working on the family farm. By the time that World War One broke out, and Joseph was required to register for the draft, he was working on a the neighboring farm of Jefferson Schrock.

According to census records and his draft registration, Joseph had attended school in his youth and was able to read and write. Little else is known about his education. Joseph was of medium build and height, with blue eyes and bright red hair. He was drafted in late winter 1918 and on his way to training at Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia in early March 1918.

Report of Joseph Lawver’s departure in the New Philadelphia Daily Times, 6 March 1918.

The New Philadelphia Daily Times newspaper reported on Joseph’s departure because, while waiting at the B&O depot for his train, Joseph broke down in tears and was comforted by a fellow draftee from Port Washington. Joseph’s parents, afraid of becoming emotional themselves, had said their goodbyes at the family home and had not travelled to the station with Joseph. The scene was moving enough for a local reporter to make note and publish the scene on the front page of the paper.

While at Fort Oglethorpe, Joseph was trained to work in the Army’s Medical Department, though exactly in what role is unclear. When he was transported to France in the late summer of 1918, he was assigned to the United States Army’s Base Hospital Number 13 in Limoges, France. Joseph was promoted to Private First Class in early October 1918.

Base Hospital Number 13, Limoges, France, c. 1918. (Source: http://resource.nlm.nih.gov/101396594)

Shortly after his promotion Joseph became ill and was hospitalized himself. While it was common during the war for soldiers to fall ill from a variety of diseases often found in military settings, troops from both sides of the conflict suffered sickness and deaths from the Spanish Influenza outbreak as well. Perhaps due to his work in the hospital, Joseph was exposed to influenza and died very quickly after being hospitalized.

Joseph’s family received news of his death from a fellow soldier and friend of Joseph in early November 1918, though there were no details on the cause. Details on Joseph’s death did not arrive until the spring of 1919 when the family learned that Joseph had undergone surgery for appendicitis and, while recovering, was stricken with pneumonia caused by influenza.

The only child of Franklin and Susan Lawver died from disease while tirelessly working at a hospital tasked with saving his comrades’ lives. Joseph did not die on the battlefield, but his sacrifice in the service of his fellow soldiers is no less noble.

Joseph Lawver’s headstone at Union Hill Cemetery, Sugarcreek, Ohio. (Source: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/118175129/joseph-benjamin-lawver)

© Noel B. Poirier, 2021.

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