Once again I have come across the story of a fallen hero whose family had only recently arrived from abroad. This soldier served a country that his parents had decided offered them, and their children, a better life. Like so many before and after him, this immigrant’s son would be called on to make the ultimate sacrifice far from that new home.
Joseph Aspinall’s (1890-1918) parents immigrated to the United States from England. His father, Thomas Aspinall (1844-1900), was a coal miner by trade and must have seen opportunity in the many coal mines being worked in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Thomas’s wife, Ellen Johnson (1854-1941), and three young children made the trip with Thomas to America in 1880. The family initially settled in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania where Thomas found work in the mines near Morrisdale.
The Aspinall family’s stay in Pennsylvania was a short one and, by June of 1882, they had moved on to the coal mines of Ohio. The family resided in Barnhill in Tuscarawas County in 1890 when Joseph Aspinall was born. Thomas was working in the T.V. Mines in Barnhill when, in 1893, he was injured by falling rock in one of the mines. Thomas, and his eldest son Thomas (1877-1957), were both working in the local coal mines in June 1900. The senior Thomas died less than two months later, leaving his widow to care for Joseph and the other four children still living at home.
Joseph attended enough school that he was at least able to read and write and, by 1910 was working in the local coal mines himself. Joseph’s older brother Thomas was already married, raising his own family, when Joseph registered for the World War 1 draft in the spring of 1917. Joseph reported on his draft registration that he was supporting his mother at the time. A few months later Joseph was drafted and was on his way to training at Camp Sherman with 106 other local men.
Upon the completion of his training Joseph was assigned to Company M of the 329th Infantry Regiment in April 1918. He then trained with the regiment’s machine gun company before being transferred to Company B in May 1918. Joseph, along with the rest of Company B, shipped off to the battlefields of Europe in June 1918 aboard the transport ship Port Dennison. There they would join the rest of the 83rd Infantry Division on the front lines.
Sometime between his arrival in France and his death a few months later, Joseph was transferred to Company A of the 38th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division. Whether Joseph’s transfer occurred before the German offensive across the Marne river in early July 1918 is unknown, but if so, Joseph would have experienced the kind of hand-to-hand combat that helped give the 3rd Division its “Rock of the Marne” nickname. Joseph’s unit was assigned to the 6th Infantry Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division in August 1918 when it was tasked with establishing bridgeheads north of the Vesle River. The brigade suffered 600 casualties in the effort, Private Joseph Aspinall was one.
Joseph’s mother, during the first week of October 1918, received a telegram from the War Department informing her that her son had been wounded by gas in early August. She was not terribly worried at the time, since she had recently received letters from him dated up to September 25, 1918 stating that he had returned to his unit. Unfortunately for Joseph, he had returned just in time for the Meuse-Argonne offensive against the Germans. The 3rd Infantry Division was brought into the battle for the second phase of the assault, beginning October 4, 1918. It was during the second phase that the American forces launched several frontal assaults that finally broke through the German defenses. It was during these assaults that Private Joseph Aspinall was killed.
Joseph Aspinall body would be buried and reburied a number of times between his death and his final burial in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in February 1922. Joseph’s mother Ellen visited her son’s grave in the spring of 1930; a trip paid for by the nation her son fought and died for.
© Noel B. Poirier, 2021.