Lapeer, Mich. May 1, 1920
181 House Office Building
Washington D. C.
Edgar J. Hartman a member of the Machine Gun Company, 58th Inf. Was instantly killed on Oct. 6, 1918 on the Vesle River close to Ville-Savoy. He was a member of my platoon but was in another squad about 300 yds to the left of my squad of which I had command in a sunken road leading to Ville-Savoy they were dug in the banks of the road. We had just finish a barrage of 15000 rounds for a covering of our infantry's advance across the Vesle River. They were fired upon by German one-pounders immediately after our barrage and according to the Corporal's information to me he was instantly killed in the Argonne forest. I wish to assure Mr. Hartman's folks that he was a member of my squad in a little skirmish a few days before this engagement on the Vesle River and he was a most trustworthy man and when transfered to another squad I sure felt his loss to my squad. I can assume then that he died a "Hero." Hoping this information will be of value to you.
Leo B. Zastrow
Mr. Zastrow says October 6, but that's likely wrong. The official notice of his death claims the day he was killed was August 6, 1918. He hadn't been in France long, but then the rest of this country's fighting troops hadn't been there all that long either.
Apparently, his death went un-noted for some time, because that official notice didn't come to my grandmother, his sister, until June 20, 1920, almost two years after the worried time she must have begun to think the worst.
In March of 1919, six months after Armistice Day, she was still trying to write him. "Dearest Brother," her letter says. "Am making another attempt to have you hear from me. I have now had eleven of my letters returned to me but none the past month so will send something in search of you."
There's more: "We have been unable to find any trace of you up to now, nor received anything from you since your field service card reached us on August 7th."
And then she adds some news on the chance this letter will succeed where eleven others did not. She knew he'd love to hear the news from home.
"We are all well and have a fine baby girl 3 mos old awaiting your return. Will write more when I learn whether or not this reaches you."
That baby girl was my mother.
On September 5 of 1919, Grandma received a note from the Treasury Department, indicating she was "the beneficiary of insurance in the amount of $5000 issued by the United States Government to your brother, Hartman, Edgar J., who died on the ______ day of _______, 19 __. "To be determined" is typed in above the empty spaces.
The nearest I can guess is that sometime this week, my grandma's only sibling, her brother Edgar, my great uncle, was killed instantly by bombardment in a road bed trench, somewhere in the Argonne Forest. I'm sure he wasn't alone.
I don't know the date, but sometime this week, exactly 100 years ago, just a few weeks after getting to the battlefield, when he was likely hunkered down in ditch being pounded by German artillery, in the twinkling of an eye he found himself awakened to a silence that marked an absolute an end to war.
His cemetery stone, says August 6. Whatever the date, he died, a hero, 100 years ago.