What happened after the war? Jay never came back to Minnesota but instead returned to Michigan and took up residence in Detroit. From his discharge in 1919 until the mid 1920s, shell shock took a terrible toll on him. Eventually, a young Canadian nursing student who lived in his apartment building happened upon him. She, Elizabeth (Bess) Tyson found him unable to care for himself; he was starving and near death. Bess nursed him back to health; she literally saved Jay’s life. He eventually recovered, owned and operated a haberdashery in Detroit and in 1931, Jay followed Bess to Wiarton, Ontario, her hometown. Jay and Bess were married in Yorkminster Park Place Church in Toronto, Ontario on Remembrance (Armistice) Day, November 11, 1935.
My dad was raised in Minneapolis by Rinda’s sister, Gertrude (Gertie) Upham. She took him in and raised him as her own son. To my siblings and me, she was ‘Nanny’, gave great hugs and cuddles and was an incredible cook.
Nanny died in 1977 at the age of 91 and I will miss her forever.
Eventually all contact was lost between Jay and Nanny and my dad. In the early 1940s, dad learned that World War One veterans had received their last bonus. He contacted the government and learned that Jay had, in fact, requested and gotten his bonus. Dad found out Jay’s last known address was New Liskeard, a logging town in northern Ontario.
Dad made the trip to New Liskeard and arrived, unannounced, at the hotel Jay and Bess were managing. It must have been quite a reunion, father and son meeting for the first time. Dad would have been in his 20s, Jay in his 50s. Not only was Jay surprised to finally meet his adult son, he now had to introduce his previously unaccounted for son to his wife who was running the hotel kitchen. He had never told Bess about Rinda or Raymond. But she accepted my dad and our whole family with an open heart and open arms.
Over the years, Jay and dad developed a warm father/son relationship though they only met in person twice, that I am aware of. In addition to the 180 letters I have from Jay to Rinda, I have 46 letters Jay wrote to dad from 1942 to shortly before Jay’s death in 1960. They had a good relationship.
November 11 was a very important date in Jay’s life. He would never work on November 11 for the rest of his life. He always took the day off, no matter what was going on. And as stated above, he and Bess were married on November 11, 1935.
Eventually they got out of the hotel business and settled back in Wiarton, where Bess was a nurse and Jay owned a haberdashery and later, a cedar fence post business. They had no children. Although Jay was not a Canadian citizen or veteran, he was always invited to the annual Remembrance Day ceremonies and dinners.
Jay died in 1960 at the age of 73, working in the bush, harvesting cedar posts. He is buried in Wiarton, the town that became his home town. Bess died in 1981.
Except when he and Bess came to Minneapolis in 1954, when I was a baby, I never met Jay. But these past many months of reading his letters, researching his Company during the war, and following his footsteps when I could have taught me a lot about him. Also, Bess had a nephew, Fred Jay Clarkson (yes, his middle name is after Jay) who still lives in Wiarton. I stay in contact with Fred and visit occasionally. Fred has a great memory and has told me many, many stories about my grandfather.
I’ve walked in Sergent First Class Shetler’s footsteps, often to the day, 100 years later at Camp Devens, MA where he trained, Bush Piers in Brooklyn as he set sail for France, in Flirey France the day he set up his kitchen with the war thundering around him, the streets and lanes of Brohl, Germany, the day he entered the hospital in Koblenz, the day he returned to Boston. I’ve read about his company’s work, followed them on the roads of France and Germany, learned about his fellow doughboys, been to the graves of several of the men of the 301st Engineers who didn’t make it home alive.
Before I began this project I knew virtually nothing about Jay. But now I’ve gained a mountain of knowledge about him. He was a good man.
So after 114 posts, 2409 views and 1296 visitors from 10 different countries, my story about my grandfather, Sergeant First Class Jay E. Shetler in the Great War ends. Thank you for being such a great audience.