Only one day after Bernard Hurst turned 22, he died. The wounds he received in battle near Pexonne, in north-eastern France, were just too extreme for this young soldier to endure. Enlisting immediately after the declaration of war with Germany, Bernard was wounded while performing his assigned United States military duties and died in an ambulance while being taken to the hospital. Hurst became the first soldier from Franklin County to make the supreme sacrifice during WWI.

In reverence to this fallen Franklin County native, the American Legion Post in Brookville was named in his honor. It was only months before, in September of 1919, when American Legion Post 77 was granted its charter from the State Headquarters, and it became quickly apparent the name of the organization should reflect the county's first casualty. In May of 1920, the local post became known as the Bernard Hurst American Legion Post 77.
Bernard was the son of Himerius “Henry” and Caroline Hurst. They were an Oldenburg family, and his father was a German immigrant. The Indiana Gold Star Honor Roll book states Bernard was born June 4, 1896, and enlisted in Battery E, 1st Indiana Field Artillery, (Battery E, 150th Field Artillery). He entered service April 11, 1917, at Indianapolis and was sent to Ft. Benjamin Harrison. He was transferred to Camp Mills, New York, and sent overseas in October of 1917, being assigned to the 42nd (Rainbow) Division.

ccording to wwvets.com, the 42nd was created in August 1917 and was comprised of volunteers from National Guard Units from 26 states and the District of Columbia. “The nickname 'Rainbow Division' represented the diversity of men grouped into one division. Many of these units had served in Pershing's Mexican expedition in 1916, and MacArthur's vision, evolving from a desperate need for more experienced officers to train the newly drafted army, created the 42nd.”

The site went on to say, “The 42nd was the first U.S. combat division sent to France. They fought at the second battle of the Marne, Luneville Sector, Ourcq River, Chateau-Thierry counter offensive, St. Mihiel, Verdun, Champagne Woevre and Meuse-Argonne, suffering heavy losses of more than 12,000 casualties in 264 days of combat operations out of 457 days of service on the front lines.”

This same site astonishingly had a brief mention of Hurst. There was a quote from Bernard's Field Artillery comrade, Frank Roth Huntington. Frank was from Decatur County, and he said, “Was firing a six inch Howitzer gun when it blew up causing my injuries (wounded in the left forearm and thigh at Baccarat, Lorraine Sector) at the same time killing Paul Cross and Bernard Hurst.”

Bernard died from his injuries on June 5, 1918, and was buried in a cemetery at Baccarat. It was not until almost three years later that his body was returned to the United States. The Brookville Democrat of February 24, 1921 announced that Bernard's mother had received word that the body of her son had arrived at New York. The body was expected to arrive back in Oldenburg within a few days. Strange-ly though, nothing else was mentioned in the local papers until the beginning of June, when a description material-ized for one of the most solemn and impressive military funerals held in Franklin County up through that time.
Early on the morning of Friday, June 10, 1921, uniformed Legion members and other ex-servicemen assembled to pay their final tribute to their departed comrade Hurst. “Promptly at 8:45 a.m. this group of ex-servicemen left their place of assemblage and marched to the Hurst's residence to meet the body of Bernard. From there, the procession, headed by the American Legion, marched to the Holy Family Church to observe the final and just honors to this hero. At the church door, the ex-servicemen halted and came to attention, and through the open ranks, carried by ex-servicemen of his community, came the body of Bernard Hurst in its flag-draped casket followed by the remainder of the funeral cortege.”

“In the church, members of the American Legion, forming a Guard of Honor, stood at attention while the last rites of Catholic Church and the heroic sacrifices of this departed comrade were eulogized. Following the services at the church, the procession headed by the school children of the community, wended its way to the Holy Family Cemetery to pay the final tributes. At the close of the words of the Legion Chaplain, the firing squad gave its parting salute, “Taps” were sounded, and the procession slowly returned.”

Bernard's family, along with three other local families of men who had died in France, erected a memorial for them in Ray Township, at the Holy Family Church Cemetery in Oldenburg. The four soldiers’ stones, Frank J. Giesting, Charles Heppner, Joseph F. Leising and Bernard Hurst surround the monument which is centered in the middle. Giesting was killed in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in October 1918; Heppner died of pneumonia in October 1918, while serving in France; and Leising was killed in action north of Verdun in October 1918.

These four Franklin County men are not the only ones who died during WWI. All total, 25 Franklin County soldiers gave the supreme sacrifice, and we know of just slightly more than 800 Franklin County men who saw active military duty during this war.

Public acknowledgement and appreciation of these servicemen was first observed on November 11, 1919, on the one-year anniversary of the end of “The Great War.” Veterans Day was originally known as Armistice Day, and Congress made it an annual observance in 1926. In 1938, it became a national holiday. After the unfortunate events leading to participation in another World War, President Dwight D. Eisenhower changed the name from Armistice Day to Veterans Day in 1954, to recognize the service of veterans of both world wars. The intention of Veterans Day is to celebrate all military veterans, living or dead, who have served our country, with an emphasis on thanking those who helped to ensure our freedoms and liberties. Some of you may say, “But we do that on Memorial Day.”

Yes, there are two days set aside in the United States to pay homage to our veterans, but there is a difference. Memorial Day is intended to remember military personnel who died while serving their country. The day was first observed in the wake of the Civil War, where local communities organized tributes around the gravesites of their fallen soldiers. This observation was originally called Decoration Day, and many of us can still remember our grandparents actually calling it that. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, "Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans -- the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) -- established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country."

After World War I, Decoration Day shifted from simply remembering the fallen soldiers of the Civil War to those who had perished in all of America's conflicts. It gradually became known as Memorial Day and was declared a national holiday and moved to the last Monday in May beginning in 1971.
“Thank You,” to all of our military personnel who have risked their lives in the past, and “Thank You,” to all of those who currently serve.
Julie Schlesselman, Local History & Genealogy Dept., FCPLD