Military Monday – Excerpt from “The Doughboy”

On May 8, I will release my next book Stories of the Lost, available through my author website. Pre-order a signed copy on my website. This is an excerpt of one chapter about Michael Kokoska, 32nd Infantry Division, WWI.

Josef and Majdalena’s Grief

I cannot believe my son is dead. His mother Majdalena, and I were notified of Michael’s death by Western Union Telegram on August 10, 1918. The telegram stated.

Deeply regret to inform you that it is officially reported that private Michael Kokoska inf Died June twenty seven from accidental gunshot wound.

My heart stopped and I could barely breathe when I received the telegram. But a man has to be strong for his family. I could not let them see how much it affected me.

My son died almost two months ago and we are just hearing about it now. How is this possible? Is it so hard to send a letter across the ocean? It seems the news travels fast enough so why not a notice about our dead son? What really happened? Accidental gunshot? Why is that all we are told? Did he suffer?

It would be years before anyone would know the real story, which is what Sergeant Elmer J. Black reported and signed almost a year after Michael’s death. It is unknown if Josef and Majdalena ever knew anything beyond the fact that Michael’s death was accidental. Based on the records and paperwork, it appears they were never told anything else.

“While we were in the trenches at SS Manspach, Alsace at GC 65, Kokoska was standing guard just about dusk about the 27th or 28th of June, 1918. Just then Pvt. Richard Howard came around the corner of a traverse trench and Kokoska halted him with his gun at the position of ready. Howard admitted later that he had been shooting rats and that he had reloaded his rifle and forgot to put on the safety lock, and when halted came to the ready position, accidently pulling the trigger, and shot Kokoska thru the neck. I helped to put Kokoska on a stretch and Kokoska’s last words were, “Let me at those Germans.” I do not believe that Kokoska knew that Howard shot him. When I last saw Kokoska he was unconscious but not dead.”

The war ended and we waited for word on Michael. Where was he buried? When would his remains come home? How long would it take? We sent three sons to war and Michael was the only one we lost.

How can I explain the pain associated with losing a child? We lost Emilie when she was just a baby. We loved, raised and held Michael close for 27 years. His light extinguished much too soon. The pain slashes our family like a knife. It’s too close and too heartbreaking to discuss very often. Yet his mother and I do discuss it. I often think it hurts her more than anyone else.

We became concerned we would never be able to claim his body and it would remain forever buried in foreign soil. With the fear in my heart that I would never again have my dear son home, I wrote a letter to the Graves Registration Service.

Chicago, IL, Dec. 17, 1919

Chief Graves Reg. Bureau, Wash. D.C.

 Dear Sir

Please be so kind and furnish us with the location of Our Dear Son’s Grave. Name Michael Kokoska Co L. 127 Inf. Died of accidental gunshot wound June 27 1918.

Please also let us know if we will ever be able to claim his body. He gave his [life] to France we are proud of that but would like to have his body honor our cemetery lot and as we are old and know we have not much more years or days to live we think we could die happily to know Our Son is resting with us.

We had four sons in the Army he is the only one we ever lost. Please answer as soon as you can for although he is dead a year and a half we do not know where he is buried.

Thanking you in advance we remain,

Joseph & Madg. Kokoska. 2122 W 18th Place, Chicago, IL

The Army did not reply for a month.


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