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Legacy preserved through images

While serving overseas during the First World War, Alfred Raithel took this photograph of a damaged British biplane. It is one in a collection of his WWI photos donated to the Museum of Missouri Military History.

While serving overseas during the First World War, Alfred Raithel took this photograph of a damaged British biplane. It is one in a collection of his WWI photos donated to the Museum of Missouri Military History.

At 89 years of age, Lohman resident Gertrude Strobel wishes to preserve the military service chronicle of one local veteran before it meets the unfortunate end of so many — a passage into the fog of history.

“My dad never really talked about (World War I),” she said. “But when he got together with other veterans at the VFW, they’d just go to town,” she smiled.

Though firsthand recollection of her father’s service during a war nearly a century past is no longer available, Strobel believes the legacy of her father’s service is preserved through the photographs he took while serving overseas.

Born in 1895, Alfred Raithel was raised in the St. Martins area but later moved to Lohman, where he worked at the Linhardt and Fischer General Store, Strobel said.

His employment, however, would soon shift directions when he was drafted into the Army on June 20, 1917, at the age of 21, as denoted in the soldier’s records retrieved online through the Missouri Secretary of State’s website.

Raithel was initially assigned to Company M, 356th Infantry, which, according to regimental lineage of the U.S. Army, was formed just months before his induction.

The young soldier continued with the 356th until Jan. 22, 1919, at which time he was reassigned to Headquarters Company, 323rd Infantry, with whom he remained until his discharge.

“I believe he served as a cook,” Strobel said, “because it seems like I remember him talking about that.”

Serving overseas July 31, 1918, through June 14, 1919, Raithel captured nearly 60 photographs chronicling several facets of war — the good, the bad … and in some instances, the deadly.

Included in the collection are photographs of both an American and French flying ace, damaged biplanes, and French and German tanks.

Raithel also snapped a photograph of the grave of Quentin Roosevelt — an American aviator and the youngest son of President Theodore Roosevelt, who lost his life on July 14, 1918 when his plane was shot down behind German lines.

Rather than allow the snapshots to lie stored away in a musty drawer shrouded from inquisitive eyes, Strobel has chosen to donate the photographs to a local museum so they can be catalogued, maintained and enjoyed by others.

“These (photographs) will be a great asset for the museum and to our World War I collection,” said Charles Machon, director of the Museum of Missouri Military History located on the Missouri National Guard Headquarters.

“I’m certain these photographs haven’t been seen for nearly a century,” Machon added. “This donation will allow us not only to use them in our upcoming World War I anniversary displays, but to scan and share the photographs through Facebook and social networking sites.”

After the war, Raithel returned to Lohman and helped establish the Lohman Producers Exchange, retiring in December 1960 after 40 years of service with the company. A lifelong member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Lohman, Raithel passed away on Sept. 25, 1963, and is buried in the church’s cemetery.

With half a century now passed since the death of the local World War I veteran, Strobel maintains she is pleased that her father’s journey through combat-immersed foreign lands can be shared with those who have never — nor will ever — hear them through first-hand recollection.

“I just want history to be preserved because it was just part of the time my dad grew up in,” Strobel said. “Dad’s story is so interesting and I am glad that it can now be shared with so many other people interested in our past.”

For information on the Museum of Missouri Military History, please visit www.moguard.com and click on the “Veteran/Retiree” link.

Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.

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