Family strives to preserve memory of father’s World War I service

From left: Della Braun, Helen LePage, and Dave Van Loo discuss memories of their father, Emil Van Loo (inset at left), who was a veteran of the First World War and severely wounded in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. They have pieced together much of his military service using newspaper articles and military records.

From left: Della Braun, Helen LePage, and Dave Van Loo discuss memories of their father, Emil Van Loo (inset at left), who was a veteran of the First World War and severely wounded in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. They have pieced together much of his military service using newspaper articles and military records.

At the point of his passing in 2011, having reached the age of 110, Frank Buckles had become somewhat of a celebrity as the only living World War I veteran in the United States. Over the years, stories of his wartime service were shared through articles and interviews to preserve his legacy for future generations.

On the local level, many similar examples of bravery and sacrifice from World War I exist, but have been lost or are rapidly disappearing as the children of these veterans themselves pass away.

To prevent the loss of such treasured accounts, one local family has shared memories of conversations with their father and collected newspaper articles and military accounts for a better glimpse into his past.

“Dad was born in Osage City (in 1895),” said Helen Lepage, daughter of Emil Van Loo. “The family moved to Taos for awhile and then to a farm in Wardsville.”

According to Van Loo’s discharge papers, he was pulled from his rural surroundings on Sept. 12, 1917, at which time he was inducted into the U.S. Army in Jefferson City.

The single, 22-year-old farmer’s military career got off to somewhat shaky beginnings when he and a friend nearly discovered the penalties for leaving their training site of Camp Funston, Kan. (located on Fort Riley), to return home for an unauthorized absence.

“He was going to be shipped overseas for the war and didn’t know if he’d make it back,” said Della Braun, one of Van Loo’s daughters. “The Army wasn’t going to give him a furlough, so he and a friend decided to make a furlough for themselves.”

A newspaper account from the period indicates the two soldiers were homesick, and when they arrived in Jefferson City by train, Cole County Sheriff Anton Richter, who was tipped off by military authorities, was there to meet them.

Though the sheriff was supposed to take the men into custody, he allowed them to remain with their families over night on the promise that they would take the train back to camp the next day — a promise both men honored.

Whether any punishment was levied against the two soldiers is uncertain; however, the following year Van Loo was able to redeem himself of any blunders that occurred during his training when he deployed to France with Company D, 138th Infantry.

Soldiers’ records retrieved from the Missouri Secretary of State’s website indicate Van Loo served overseas May 3, 1918, to Dec. 11, 1918. Yet his enlistment records provide an even greater level of clarification on his service record — most notably, a combat injury that would aggravate the young farmer for many years to come.

On Sept. 29, 1918, while participating in a major Allied offensive that stretched across the Western Front (the Meuse-Argonne Offensive), Van Loo was shot in the left thigh by a German soldier.

“He laid on the battlefield for two or three days before anyone found him,” said Dave Van Loo, 71, Lohman, the youngest of Van Loo’s children.

Van Loo was treated in a hospital in France and sent back to the United States, where he received an honorable discharge from the Army at Camp Dodge, Iowa, on April 30, 1919.

Returning to Wardsville with a 50 percent disability from his injury, the veteran was married and soon purchased a farm adjacent to his parents. Throughout the next several decades, Van Loo worked the land and helped raise seven children — but not absent the constant reminder of his service in France.

“We saw his injury a lot growing up; it was something that never really healed,” said Dave Van Loo. “You could look at the spot on his left thigh and see all the way to the bone.”

On Sept. 23, 1973, Van Loo passed away, taking with him accounts of his service in foreign lands, and leaving his family behind to piece together his military history through available records.

“Many of our youth don’t realize the sacrifices that have been made for them by people like my dad,” said Dave Van Loo. “They don’t know what has been done for them.”

He added: “If guys like my dad hadn’t done what they did during the war, our children wouldn’t be enjoying the freedoms they are today … and we shouldn’t let that be forgotten.”

To learn more about military records available through the Missouri Digital Heritage site, please visit www.sos.mo.gov/archives/soldiers/.

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

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