American Lieutenant Thompson was an executive assistant to
the chief of the AGRS. His job became an intensely personal one when he sought out the body of his own brother,
Joseph. Thompson related to his father how his brother’s remains were
retrieved and described the personal effects that were found with him:
I intended to write mother, but I can’t tell
her as much as I can you. When you read this, you can explain to her
everything that you wish.
I have just taken Joe from his grave in the woods to a lot
in the national American Cemetery at Romagne, France. I had to supervise the
work myself. I made a personal inspection of the body, which I’d rather die than do, but which had to
be done. I’m going to be very plain in telling you, and know it might hurt, but
I know you will wish to know. I am awful glad that it was I
that could do it, and not any of you, as it would have drove any of you insane.
I found in his clothes: your last letter to
him, a pocket knife, fountain pen, his diary, testament, Book of Psalms, another
book with annotations of all mail received and sent, some small pictures he had
received from home, about 10 Francs in money, two watches, a few German coins, and German postcards.
His diary is very interesting, and his Psalm
book is wonderful, and shows that he died with a clean soul. .
The poor kid prayed for peace and God gave it to him, Dad. How thankful I am that God gave it instantly. He was prepared to die, and did not
suffer. I am happy over the thoughts of it, but God only knows how I miss him.
I loved him so much. Dad, these things are worth
the world to you. I shall preserve them carefully; although they are in
pretty bad shape, owing to the dampness of the ground and body.
Joe now rests in the Romagne Cemetery, with 35,000
others. It is a beautiful place and our national Monument in France. I pray that
you will let his body lie there in peace. I know he would wish it.
As I stay over here longer, and see how well our cemeteries here will be taken care of, I am more convinced
that our Joe should remain here. I have had one experience of moving his body, and it was so hard that I wish now that
you all would allow it to remain here as a part of our country’s great monument
to the world war.
I know Ma will be pleased to have this stuff. To see his own writing will be more to her than his body. Please let it now Rest in Peace.
I feel now that I
have accomplished everything possible.
Write soon, Dad, and love to all.
Your Son, Art.’
May 1919, France – the entire letter here: Grace Under
Fire: Letters of Faith in Times of War (scroll up to the
beginning of the letter )