June 22, 2019 – Epilogue



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.

Gertrude Upham, 'Nanny'

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.

Jay and Bess
Bess and Jay

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.


IMG_1213 (1)

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.


June 20, 1919 – An honorable discharge, an uncertain future

One hundred years ago today, June 20, 1919, Sergeant First Class Jay E. Shetler was honorably discharged from the Army of the United States.

Photo taken before discharge

Whalebone?  Though Jay was from the midwest, the 301st Engineers was comprised mainly of men from New England and especially Rhode Island:

New Englanders have been called either “Chowderheads”, “Whalebones”, or “Codheads” for centuries due to the fishing industries and the old whaling companies that used to operate there.

– Steven Girard

I don’t know if Whalebone was a compliment or an insult but I’m going with the former.

“And so we emerged from the shadows of the World War, and on June 20, 1919, came once again thru the portals of Camp Devens, back to our loved ones.  From out of our hearts went the burden of doubt and nameless fear, and their lips breathed a prayer of thankfulness to that guiding Power that had made the reunion possible.”

– Our Memoirs: Company A, 301st Engineers


Jay left the Army this day and walked into a very uncertain future, into what would become the darkest period of his life.  But with the help of a very special woman, he survived and built a full and rich life.

Saturday, the final entry of my blog will be posted as an Epilogue telling what happened to my grandfather after the war.


June 13, 1919 and 2019 – Welcome home, Sergeant Shetler


1919.06.13 OL

One hundred years ago today, June 13, 1919, at 12:20 pm,  Sergeant First Class Jay Shetler and the 301st Engineers steamed into Boston Harbor on the USS Calamares.  The ship tied up at Commonwealth Pier.  The tired doughboys were met by crowds, bands, newspaper reporters and given a true hero’s welcome.

Today I’m here at that same pier in Boston Harbor “welcoming” Jay home just as I said “good-bye” 100 years after he and the Katoomba left Brooklyn last July. And when I “greeted” him this past September 12, the day he arrived at the front in the destroyed town of Flirey.  That day I walked in his footsteps to the exact location of his kitchen.  Then there was the day I “wished him good luck”, one hundred years after he entered a hospital, now an apartment building, in Koblenz.  It only seemed right that I’d be here to welcome him today.

Trains were waiting at the pier to take the troops back to their home base, Camp Devens, Mass, less than 2 hours away. It didn’t take long load up the trains and the men were on the last leg of their trip.

It’s a cold and rainy day here, nothing like the warm, sunny day 100 years ago. No bands playing or photographers or newspaper reporters either. I’m glad the 301st Engineers got a rousing welcome home though. They had earned it.

Commonwealth Pier 1919:


Commonwealth Pier June 13, 2019:






June 5, 1919 – Their work was done

On this date, one hundred years ago today, the men of the 301st Engineers along with two other brigades and several small casual companies were onboard the ship, Calamares and ready to go by 6:30 am.

It would be a very different crossing than the one they made in July 1918.  Then, they were on constant lookout for German U-boats that might blast them out of the water at any moment.  Smoother sailing going home 11 months later

Their work was done, it was time to go home.

“The Calamares was a comparatively new boat which had been operated by the United Fruit Company between New York and Havana previous to the war.  She was not completely fitted as a troopship, the hold being filled with metal bunks in tiers of five.  In addition, these bunks had been placed along the promenade deck and were allotted to the junior officers and casuals.  Way was made about 8 a.m. and, after the long process of being warped through the lock of the harbor entrance, the 301st Engineers at last closed it overseas history and was “homeward bound.”  The regimental band bade farewell to France by playing the “Marseillaise,” causing the long line of French citizens ranged along the dock rails to bare their heads in respect and heartily applaud as the vessel worked its way out to sea.”

– The Three Hundred and First Engineers – A History 1917-1919


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May 26, 1919 – Going Home

going home

The 301st Engineers finally got the word, they were going home and on this date one hundred years ago, Jay and the Doughboys began that long awaited journey.

“The regiment was allotted one whole and one half train, each consisting of twenty-five American box cars, two kitchen cars, a baggage car, an officers’ coach and officers’ box car.  About forty-two men to the car was the usual distribution, which was not excessive, and, owing to the bedding-sack which they were allowed, quite comfortable in comparison to previous movements.  The kitchen cars, serving three hot meals a day, were other deciding factors in making the trip easier when had been lacking before.

“Promptly at 6:43 the first train began to move and the long journey to home and civil life began.  The route lay along the Moselle River as far as Metz and then west to Verdun.”

– The Three Hundred and First Engineers – A History 1917-1919

The train followed a westerly route across France through the towns of St. Mihiel, Troyes, Bourges, Tours, Angers and Nantes and would arrive at the port of St. Nazaire at 3 am on May 30, 1919.

What was going through Jay’s mind as he packed up for the return to America?  I’m sure, like every Doughboy, he was ready to get out of Europe and go home.  But where was ‘home’ for him?  Rinda was dead and Raymond was under the care of Gertie in Minneapolis.  Reading between the lines of many of Jay’s letters before the war, I’ve come to the conclusion there was no love lost between Jay and Rinda’s family.

His parents and brother were in Gaylord, Michigan but over the past year, I’ve learned that his relationship with his father, my great-grandfather Edwin Shetler was anything but amicable; he wouldn’t go back to Gaylord.  And there was no job waiting for him.

What lay ahead for Jay?  We’ll find answers at the end of this blog.

May 19, 2019 – A long-forgotten souvenir

Ehrenbreitstein 1919

When I was growing up, this small black-framed photo was in the family desk.  I never really thought about it, never paid any attention to it.  Somehow it ended up in a box of my mother’s things after she died and I inherited it.  When I started this project of Jay in the Great War and learned that he had been in Koblenz (then Coblenz), that framed photo came to mind.  I dug it out and realized it had been a souvenir Jay brought back after the war.

High on the east bank of the Rhine River, opposite Koblenz sits Ehrenbreitstein Fortress.  Above is a photo of that souvenir Jay brought home depicting the Fortress and below, a photo of Ehrenbreitstein from where I stood a few weeks ago.

Ehrenbreitstein 2019

Today there are several souvenir stands in the area of the Kaiser monument.  I’ve learned that in 1919 there were many such shops and stands doing a brisk business selling souvenirs to members of the US Army.  Jay would have purchased the framed photo there.  Again I found myself walking in his footsteps, seeing many of the same sights he saw, 100 years later.




May 13, 1919 – Best Cared For Army

In 1919, the 2nd Army published 13 issues of a magazine, ‘The Indian’.  On this date 100 years ago, this article was published in the Indian.  Some of the activities we read here have already been presented in previous blog posts but there is a lot of interesting information about what these guys were doing while they waited to go home.


The Best Cared For Army

The Indian Magazine
Volume 1, No. 5 — May 13, 1919

Author Unknown

Never in the history of warfare have armies been as well cared for as the American forces overseas. Of these forces the divisions that form the Army of Occupation upon the Rhine are in a particularly favorable position.

To begin with the officers and men of the Army of Occupation are quartered in comfortable billets. Beds are being obtained for every man. They are located in towns that have been the mecca for tourists for years. And they are part of the best fed army in the world today.

In a general way, the days are divided into two parts. Mornings are devoted to drill, tactical exercises, and the care of equipment. Afternoons are devoted to athletics and play, and evenings to entertainment.

Of the mornings, nothing need be said. After all, this is an army in an enemy’s country, and soldiering is soldiering, the world over. Of the afternoons and evenings there is so much to be said that lack of space forbids anything but the barest mention of the hundred and one activities of the men.


Take the Rhine river excursions for instance. Every day in the week two big excursion steamers make the trip. One goes up the Rhine as far as the Lorelei rock, the other down the river as far as Bonn. The boats are crowded to capacity, and, by the way, everything is free. There is a brass band on each boat, a good hot lunch is served at noon, and a lecturer points out the various castles and objects of interest and explains the historical significance of everything. This is a trip tourists paid big money to take before the war, and spent the balance of their lives talking about.

“Leave centers” have been established at various towns. A leave center is a place where visiting soldiers from other towns find beds, food and entertainment galore during their short stay while on leave in the area. This is just by way of a change, and has nothing to do with the regular big leave that comes every four months as regularly as clockwork. At some of the leave centers are famous mineral baths where millionaires and kings tarried in other days. American soldiers splash about in the palatial tubs now.

Shows? There are soldier shows, shows from gay Paree, shows with real American girls in them, band concerts, musical comedies organized by soldiers with “a carload of special scenery,” singing leaders and lectures. Good shows seem to grow on trees. Movies most every night, and in the big towns every afternoon too. All free, of course.

There are clubs for officers, which are real clubs in every sense, and there are clubs being organized for the enlisted men. The Red Cross, Knights of Columbus, Salvation Army and Y. M. C. A. cooperate in the distribution of magazines and newspapers, and the maintenance of reading and writing rooms in the various towns.

Each division has its own big division sales commissary, where the men may buy at low prices candy, clothing, and foods of various description, if they wish to add a bit to their messes, and each separate regiment now has its own regimental sales commissary. The men dine in large mess halls that have been erected, and many of the companies have gathered together real plates, cups, knives, forks and spoons, and have the table set just like home, packing their old field mess-gear away.

Circulating libraries are being established, tennis tournaments are in full swing, and two big baseball leagues have been formed in the Second Division. Each company has its own team also, and competitions are so arranged in athletics that every man in the company has to do something himself, and does not spend all his time on the side lines, cheering for a few good players.

Chaplains and athletic officers cooperate in all these things, and amusement officers look after the shows.

Last, but not least, come the schools. An opportunity has been extended to each man of the Second Division to equip himself mentally and physically, so when the time comes for him to enter the peaceful pursuits of civil life, none need fear being handicapped in competition with those whose studies were not interrupted by the course of events over here.

An Educational Center has been established at Rengsdorf*, where spacious buildings have been secured with ample accomodations for 600 students and 40 instructors. Courses including agriculture, mathematics, history, English, business branches, econom­science (general,) barbering, photography, lithography, mechanical drawing, sign painting, lettering and a variety of other trades.                                 .

Five hours of recitations or supervised study constitute a day’s session, with one hour military instruction. In connection with the agricultural course are forestry and field work on Saturdays. It is under the personal supervision of Maj. W. E. Finzer, assisted by an able corps of trained instructors.

At other schools about the division are taught horse­shoeing, blacksmithing, motorcycle and automobile repairing, maintenance and driving, and a general knowledge of carburetor, tire and magneto repairing.

One thing more deserves special mention. This is the “Comrades in Service” movement, under the guidics [sic], science (general,) barbering, photography, lithoance [sic] of Divisian [sic] Chaplain Oscar Lee Owens. This is an organization of the enlisted men within each company and separate detachment, whereby they elect officers, and manage their own debating societies, entertainments, and other morale-building activities.





May 4, 1919 – That little town on the Rhine

HQ 3



One hundred years ago this week, the first week of May, 1919, Company A left Coblenz and returned to Brohl.  They were tired and ready to go home.  There were plenty of rumors that they’d be shipping out soon but none were coming true.  But it wouldn’t be long before they were making their way back to America.

During my recent visit to the Rhineland, I was able to spend an afternoon in Brohl (now Brohl-Lutzing).  All the descriptions of the town from 100 years ago painted a pretty dull picture.  There just wasn’t much going on there.  My visit proved there still isn’t much activity.  But many of the old buildings remain, the streets are still narrow and winding.

In Brohl-Lutzing I was able to again walk in Jay’s footsteps.  We (Peter Wever and I) found several of the locations that had been captured in photos from 1919.  Several of them are posted here (some have already been shown in previous posts).

Immediately as we drove into town, we noticed the building that had housed the Regimental Headquarters.  We wandered around a bit and made our way to that building, now a nice looking antique shop.  Across the street was the only business (other than the gas station) that was open in town, a small coffee shop.  We (ok, Peter) chatted with her (in German) and told the story of how Jay had been there 100 years before and that the building outside her window had been the HQ.  She was a lovely lady and happy to hear the story.  I left the print of the 1919 building with her.  Not much seems to happen in that sleepy little town but I have no doubt everyone knows that the grandson of one of those Americans from 100 years ago had stopped by.

“The sixth month on the Rhine. Though the desire to go home was as keen as ever, there were some compensating features in remaining on the Rhine.  The weather was ideal; the sun’s rays first grazed the ridges surrounding the bowl in which the town was built and descended upon the gray-green waters of the great river, outlining the cliffs on the opposite shore.  The spring foliage changed the brown winter landscape to green, the blossoms of the magnolia and horse-chestnut filling the air with their fragrance.  In the yards of some of the humblest homes were large masses of lilac.

“In such weather baseball was at its best and the field on the river claimed a large daily attendance.  The new large Y.M.C.A. auditorium afforded opportunity for the presentation of really good shows and movies.

“Daily association with the townspeople, even though they were an enemy people and the provisions against “fraternization” notwithstanding, could not but result in friendly relations, and in all fairness it cannot but be said that the treatment accorded the regiment art the hands of the people of Brohl was excellent – whether with ulterior motive or not.”

– The Three Hundred and First Engineers – A History 1917-1919

More photos from 1919 and 2019:

Motor pool
Motor pool 1919 and same place 2019
1 c
Along the river, 1919


1 b
Along the river, 1919


1 a
Along the river, 2019




April 27, 1919 – All work and no play makes Jay a dull doughboy

Sergeant First Class Shetler, Company A, and everyone serving in the 301st Engineers were ready, very ready to go home.  They suffered from homesickness and boredom.  The U.S. Army wasn’t ready to help them with the homesick issue but it did everything it could to fight boredom.  Boat trips to Coblenz, visits to the Andernach Geyser, passes to explore the local towns, castles and countryside were given.

Carnival poster

On this date 100 years ago, the four day Third Army Carnival drew to a close.  The Carnival included athletic events, games, horsemanship contests, even wagon maneuvering competitions.  Company A was still posted in Coblenz during this period and its men surely would have taken part in the festivities.  It is very briefly mentioned in one of the books written by members of Company A.

Carnival 2

Carnival 1

Photos provided by Armin Bode-Kessler