Worthy Son: Conclusion

Part 9.  Epilogue   

Introduction 

Harold Loud flew his last mission on 28 September and died the following day.  He had written his last letter home two days before he died.  In his letter to Dean Frederick Edwards, printed below, Edward Loud states that he and his wife had received two of Harold’s letters from France on 9 October and had spent the afternoon preparing copies of Harold’s letters to send to family members.  The following morning, as they were preparing to travel to the Oscoda post office to mail these letters, they received a telephone phone call from a family friend in Detroit who had seen a notice of Harold’s death in a Detroit newspaper.  Thus they received unofficial notice of Harold’s death eleven days after it occurred.  Five days later, on 15 October, while they were standing by a map of the western front, trying to identify the location where Harold Loud had been killed, they received a telegram officially notifying him of his death, over two weeks after Harold had died.  It may well have been the case that Edward Loud and his wife received Harold’s final letter, describing his first flights over the lines, after they received word of his death.

It is nearly impossible for us today, living in a world of instant communication, to imagine what it would have been like to learn that a son whom we had imagined was alive and well and going about normal daily tasks, had in fact died ten days earlier, especially when we had been receiving letters containing no indication of specific impending hazards.  The effect of the sudden and unexpected loss of a loved one, especially such a promising, cheerful, and likeable young man as Harold Loud appears to have been, cannot be easily imagined.

This section describes, through letters written by and to Edward Loud, his reaction to his son’s death.  In these letters we see the father attempting to comprehend the fact of Harold’s death and to adjust to the reality of his loss.  Two days after he received official confirmation of Harold’s death, he wrote to the Reverend Frederick Edwards, Dean of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in Detroit, whom he and other Loud family members had known through their attendance at St. Paul’s.  In his letter, Edward Loud describes vividly how, after trying to cope with his son’s loss, a vision of his dead son came to him in which his son spoke to him and gave him a sense of solace.  In his reply to Edward Loud, Dean Edwards writes of contemporary concerns about spirituality and efforts to contact those who have passed, including writings by Conan Doyle.

In his letter to Edward Loud, Dean Edwards reveals that his son Trevenen is currently fighting in France in the same area in which Harold Loud had died, and that it would be “small comfort” to him to learn that his son had died in the war.  In what is one of the unhappiest of ironies of this account, Dean Edwards had not yet learned that his son had in fact died, on the 5th of October, less than a week after Harold Loud had died.  It is evident in his letter that he thinks of his son as still alive and has not as yet been informed of his death.  He must have learned of his son’s death soon after he mailed his reply to Edward Loud.  No further communication between the two men is included in the correspondence that Edward Loud prepared, so we do not know how or if they communicated further on the subject.

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Oscoda, Michigan

October 17, 1918

My dear Mr. Edwards[i]:

I enclose a couple of clippings which possibly you may have read.  They tell of the passing of a fresh young life into the Great Beyond.  The lad had just passed his twenty-third birthday and yet, as a friend and one who knew him has written, “In his few years he has accomplished what men of thrice his age might rightfully envy.”  Just a few carefree, happy, loving years, and he could so truthfully have said, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”

Last winter, in one of your morning sermons, when speaking of a certain phenomena sometimes described as spiritualism, you said in substance that we need not scoff because we did not or could not understand; that when men like Conan Doyle spoke with certainty, we may stop and listen.  I know nothing of spiritualism or its kindred beliefs, I have never read any serious work on the subject, except the article that appeared on the subject in the Saturday Evening Post, written by Conan Doyle, and a subsequent article in which the author ridiculed the fakes and fakers connected with that belief.[ii]

What I am about to disclose, I could tell only to a very few, for they could not or would not listen or understand.  They would only shake their heads and say: “Poor old man, his grief has unhinged him.”   Even if they should listen seriously, they would say: “It is the vagary of an old man’s mind.”  Or they might say: “This is the reaction.  He has been plunged into the depths of despair and now nature, striving to balance his mind, is swinging the other way, producing  sort of hysteria.”

Ah well, I know nothing about all that; but this I do know: that whereas I was blinded with tears, all crushed and broken, now the light begins to dawn and a little song of hope has sprung up within my heart.

And now I shall tell you just what has happened and how it happened, and I beg of you to be patient and not to mock me, for I must tell it to some one, and something prompts me to come to you.  That you perhaps can understand what this thing is that has come to me and that you will not tell me to cast it down because it is only the child of an overwrought imagination.  Well, if it is but imagination, I thank God for endowing me with it, for it has brought comfort where I thought none could come.

It was on October 9th that his mother and I were made so happy by reading two letters from our son, who we knew must be at the front somewhere in France.  We sat up late, making copies of the letters to send to absent members of the family.  The next morning, when about to send them to the post office, a friend called me on the phone to tell me of the item in the Detroit Journal of the day before, that told of the death of our son.

I shall not dwell on the days and nights of sorrow in which his poor mother and I were submerged and well nigh overwhelmed.  We got through them in some way, although it seemed at times that we never could.  It seemed as though the light of our life had been rudely snatched away and that joy could never dwell in our hearts again.

Letters and telegrams from friends all over the country poured in, and while they were meant to give comfort and we knew in time they would, yet as we read them, the floodgates of our grief were opened anew, and we read each loving message choked with sobs and blinded by our tears.

One of these letters said, “Your boy will now be with you again.”  Somehow I resented that thought and said to myself, What a foolish thing to say, for don’t I know that his body lies buried on the battlefield and that his soul has returned to God who gave it, and that I shall never see his face or form or hear his voice or merry laughter.  A few days later, as you shall see, if you will but have patience to read on, I realized that the writer had spoken the truth and not mere words to cheer us for a moment.

During those few days, that were as endless weeks to us, our friends were trying to get from Washington some word of denial or, if must be, of confirmation of the report.  Washington said they had no report whatever, but that they would cable for one.

All that time I was calling to my boy to come to me and speak to me, and when no answer came, I said: “Now I know there is nothing to that phenomena, by whatever name it is called, whereby our dear departed ones return to walk and talk with those they loved on earth.  There can be nothing to it, else my boy would come back to me.”  I stood beneath the stars at night, and stretching out my arms, I cried: “Come, oh come to me Harold!”  But he came not.  Then as I walked down the pathway, pleading with him to come and speak, something touched my arm and I turned quickly; but it was only the brush of a twig, and in my disappointment I said: “No, there is nothing to it.  He will never come back to us.”

And so the days dragged on until one afternoon, almost a week after the first fateful news had reached us, something impelled me to read again the account that appeared in the Detroit Evening News that described in some detail the event where the unnamed pilot had given his life to serve his country.  Dying, he asked in that brief moment of consciousness that was left him: “Did I get the Captain down all right?”  And the correspondent said: “And that was all.”

Some one had sent us a map of the Western battle front, on which they had marked a red star, and I had thought as I looked at it for one brief moment, “How foolish to guess at the place where he lies,” and I threw the map to one side almost with resentment.  When first I read the item in the Detroit News, all I saw was that my boy was no more, but now as I re-read it, I saw that he had been flying north of Montfaucon, which lies some fifteen or twenty miles northwest from Verdun.  Then the impulse came to go and look for that place on the map that hung on the wall of our living room.  At last I found it and I made a pencil mark around it.  Soon his mother came into the room and asked why I was looking at the map, and I said I had found the place where they had laid him.  Then I tried to point it out to her, but for the moment I could not find it.  Just then the telephone rang and at the same instant I found the place, and pointing to it, said to his mother, “There it is.”  Stepping to the phone, they read to me the message from Washington that severed forever the little thread of hope to which we had instinctively clung.

Strange, was it not, that his mother and I should have been standing at the map when the message from the Acting Adjutant General was knocking at the door.

Of course, our souls were crucified anew, but of that I shall not speak; but as I stood beside that grief-stricken mother, I prayed as I had never prayed before, for help Divine that would enable us to endure the burden, and I said: “Dear Lord, don’t You remember how I wrote to the boy that we would not worry, for we had placed him in Thy hands and we knew that in Thine own good time Thou wouldst return him to us again?  Oh Lord, we believed this implicitly and now we cannot understand.  Help us, for Jesus’ sake, to put our trust in Thee and make us to realize that Thou knowest best.  Give us something of comfort, if any there be.”

And as I prayed, the comfort came.  Gradually, just as the new light comes when day is dawning, there was born into my leaden heart a little feeling of warmth.  Something seemed to say to my heart, not to my ears, “Harold has come, Harold has come!”  It started softly, like far-off music, and I hardly realized what it was saying, and when I did realize it, I knew that it had been repeating it over and over.  Then I said to myself, “How foolish!  Don’t let your imagination run riot.”  But it still kept singing, “Harold has come, Harold has come!”  Then strangely, it seemed he stood before me, and with my souls’ eyes I saw him, erect, immaculate in dress, and with a happy, playful smile he saluted and said: “Daddy I am here.”

And I looked in vain for the burns and scars and signs of suffering; but they were not there.  He knew what I was looking for, and smilingly he said: “They are all gone, Daddy, and everything is all right.”  Then I said, “Why were you so long in coming?” and he said, “Because, if I had come sooner, you would not have believed me; for you clung to a hope that it was not true.  I came with the message.”  I asked “How long can you stay?” and he answered, “Just as long as you need me.  When your hearts are healed, then I must go on.”

Thus he has been with me and communed with me ever since.  I had thought I could never return to our island home where we had spent so many happy days and everything speaks of him; but now he says, “Oh yes you can, Daddy, and we will have much good times together again.”  He sits or stands beside me as I work at my desk, and sometimes he will place his hand on my shoulder and, playfully looking in my face, say: “Aren’t you proud of me now, Daddy?”

Ah, yes, I know now what that good friend meant when she said: “It is fine to have had so brave and heroic a son, to still have him, because he is yours today just as much as before this happened.”

Dear Mr. Edwards, don’t tell me that this is all foolishness; that man should be made of sterner stuff, and that I must awake from such idle dreaming.  I am compelled to tell it to some one, and something tells me your heart will beat in sympathy with mine.  If you have had the patience to read this to the end, I thank you.

Sincerely yours,

Edward F. Loud

 

St. Paul’s Cathedral

Detroit, Michigan

October 22, 1918

My Dear Mr. Loud:

I have read your letter with interest and believe every word of it.  What could be more natural?  The question narrows down at last to this:

One.  There is nothing after death and consequently all such phenomena are delusions.

Two.  The spirit persists after death, but is so far away that communication is impossible.

Three.  Or that the spirit enters at once into a world very near this and, under favorable circumstances, is able to communicate.

I believe the latter.

I have never had anything to do with spiritualism and have not the time to go into the investigation of mediums.  There are many frauds, as there are in every legitimate thing.  Truth begets imitations.  But that there is truth there is also manifest.  I am content to accept the siftings and conclusions of trained psychologists who have specialized in this department.

Their conclusions are now being summed up in many books.  Have you read Conan Doyle’s little book, just published, which may be purchased for seventy-five cents or a dollar?  In it he gives the conclusions of a lifetime.  He began as a materialist; he ends in believing in the naturalness of the next life and is devoting himself now to giving comfort to as many as possible, in England, who are bereaved in circumstances similar to your own.  If I can lay my hand on it down town, I will send it to you.  I think it will be a comfort to you and your wife.

As you know, I saw something of Harold and thought him such a nice chap.  It is such a pity, in a sense, that he had to lay down his life at his age, in such a way.  And yet, on the other hand, it was glorious.  A clergyman witnesses the death of a good many young people, especially at a time like this when epidemic is rife, and so he knows there is no one time to die.  But this is small comfort to parents in the first hours of bereavement, when one on whom they have built their hopes is taken.

It would be small comfort to me if Trevenen went.  He was nineteen days in the battle of the Marne; he was in the thick of the campaign at St. Mihiel; and now he is fighting on the Argonne.  As he puts it in his last letter: “I have been in every American campaign here since they went in.”  I think where he is now is the toughest proposition of all and I live in more or less daily apprehension.  When it comes, I shall be just like you, if it has to come.  But I believe absolutely in the truth of such things as you speak of, and only hope that, if I have to face it, something of the kind may be vouchsafed me.

This I know, in a little while, when the first shock is over, you will be greatly looking forward and it won’t be long before both your wife and you, as you approach the gates, will be glad that Harold is there waiting for you, rather than being left behind.

Would you mind my using your communication as the basis of a sermon, with the names left out?  I think it very important and it would be so helpful to others to whom I minister who are also in utter bereavement, without the consolation you have found.  May God bless you all.  My kind regards to the family and write again.

Cordially your friend,

Frederick Edwards

 

Detroit_Free_Press_Sun__Oct_22__1922_ (1)

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The following poem was written by Frederick Trevenen Edwards, Dean Trevenen’s son, when he graduated from Columbia University in 1915:

First and Last

There was never a birth but someone died, and never a death as well,

But a new man sprang to fill the place where the dead man gasped and fell,

And the new man rears on the dead man’s fears the new man’s citadel;

For a man must die and to God on high have sped his eternal way

Ere the new man’s birth to a wasted earth to bloom from the first’s decay.

And the new man must from the other’s dust begin a new man’s day.

 

We are the new men, born of death, the builders of dreams to be,

And we build our dreams on the glorious dead who have died to make us free,

Who have died that we might build the dream they bore to Calvary!

This summer day across the world there’s a field asleep; and still,

But a word of clarity and across the grass-blown hill

A hundred, aye, a thousand boys come down against their will!

 

The rattling roar of hot machines, the whistling of the lead,

The screeching of the shells, the dying screams, and a regiment lies dead.

A “graduated” band of boys with a red seal on each head!

And the pride of a nation’s platitudes laugh on while these must die!

Laugh on while the jostling platitudes go up to the throne on high,

Race moaning, bleeding souls to God through the same blue summer sky!

 

So while we speak our platitudes, let’s keep their meaning clear,

Not platitudes but purposes—to dedicate sincere

Ourselves to the dreams we’re building, as consecrated here

To the dead of a blood-red battlefield and the dream they died to free.

To the bitter pain that was not in vain, for it gave us liberty.

And here as a gentleman unafraid, we pledge ourselves to be

Men worth the sparing, Graduates!  Men worth the new-born day

When peace and love shall build the dreams in some more noble way,

When everyone’s a worthy son to do as best he may—

For God, Man, and Columbia.

 

Frederick Trevenen Edwards

Frederick Trevenen Edwards was killed in action at or near Montfaucon, France, on October 5, 1918.  His body and that of Harold Loud lie side by side in the graveyard at Souilly.

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The final letter included in the Edward Loud collection was written to Edward by Harold Volk, brother of Adele Volk and an army officer in World War I.  It was written before he returned to the United States after serving in France. 

Souilly, France

June 7, 1919

Dear Mr. Loud:

I am now in that little French town to which your thoughts turn so constantly.  I have just come from the cemetery where I had no trouble in locating the grave because it is quite near the entrance and is the only one marked so distinctly.  The propeller blade catches the eye first on entering.

Some friend had planted some flowers and a bit of ivy there.  The officers and men of the 71st Artillery (French) had decorated some of the graves with pretty wreathes and designs.  A particularly nice one was on Harold’s grave.  I took pictures from various angles and also placed a jar there containing his picture and his story as you suggested.  A young fellow there on the same pilgrimage, for whom I took some pictures, placed the second card in it.  The cemetery is one of the more inaccessible ones so it has not yet received the finishing touches which it soon will have.

I have made enquiries several times about Harold’s effects, but have received no definite information.  A Lieutenant Jackson, Supply Officer of the 88th, whom I met in Paris, promised to find out for me and to let me know in case they had not been returned to you through regular channels.  I have had no word from him though.[iii]

While I was talking to him, at an American restaurant, another officer sitting beside us and hearing us discuss aerial combats, told us of the pluckiest exhibition he had seen.  He said that on the 28th of September, near Montfaucon he saw a single American plane attacked by several Germans.  The American almost immediately burst into flames, but in spite of this the pilot brought it safely to the ground saving the life of his comrade although he lost his own.  This officer did not know the name of the brave pilot but you may be sure we soon supplied it.

I am leaving almost immediately now but just wanted to write you a short letter from Souilly itself.  Kindest regards to yourself and family.

Yours most sincerely,

Harold F. Volk

 

Conclusion    

In 1928, ten years after the year in which the war ended and in which Harold Loud died, Edward Loud collected and annotated his son’s letters and other military records.  His first wife, Harold’s mother, Annabelle Ammack, had died in 1923, and he was remarried two years later, to Alice Elizabeth Gibbs.  In 1928 he was 70 years old and must have decided to prepare some family records for posterity, for in addition to his son’s World War I letters, he also began to compile another family history, A Transplanted Tree, which was not published until 1949, three years before his death. 

While most accounts of American aviators who flew in World War I were published by men who survived the war, few have appeared which document the lives and experiences of those who did not, and even fewer have documented the effects of the death of the flyer on immediate family members as effectively and as eloquently as this account.  Although the voice of Edward Loud is heard only occasionally throughout Harold Loud’s letters, providing supplemental background information, his unadorned, heartfelt, and moving description of his personal reaction during the days and weeks following the news of his son’s death illuminates the despair and struggle to comprehend loss that are felt by every survivor of a veteran who falls in combat. 

 

Notes:

[i] The Reverend Frederick Edwards was an Episcopalian minister and was Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Detroit Michigan, during World War I.  His son, Frederick Trevenen Edwards, was a lieutenant in the 18th Field Artillery of the U. S. Army and died in France early in October, 1918, not far from where Harold Loud died.  Frederick Edwards compiled a collection of his dead son’s letters.  This volume, titled Fort Sheridan to Montfaucon: The War Letters of Frederick Trevenen Edwards, was published in 1954, six years after Dean Edwards died.

[ii] Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had been a student of spiritualism, the practice of communing with the spirits of the departed, since 1893, when he became a member of the British Society for Psychical Research, an organization that included several respected members of British society. During World War I, British interest in spiritualism increased as a result of the appallingly large numbers of casualties that occurred in the war.  Conan Doyle published two works on spiritualism in the United States during the World War I period, The New Revelation (1918) and The Vital Message (1919).  He continued his interest in spiritualism and published several more books on spiritualism before he died.  Another popular World War I book focusing on spiritualism, especially as it related to communing with the spirits of soldiers who had died during the war, was Sir Oliver Lodge’s book, Raymond or Life and Death (1916).  Raymond was Lodge’s youngest son, who died during the war.

[iii] Lieutenant Byron E. Jackson was a supply officer in the 88th Aero Squadron.