Lake Bluff Park is a cozy little sidewalk overlooking Lake Michigan, located in downtown St. Joseph, Michigan. It also has many memorials ranging from World War 1 all the way to the Vietnam War. All veterans, no matter what war they fought in, what branch they were a part of, or what their job was, need to be recognized for their contributions to every single American’s everyday life. Some memorials are well known around the United States and get millions of visitors every year, while others sit almost invisible on the sidelines. This is my major inspiration for researching this monument and the brave soldiers it commemorates, as I have seen this memorial all my life but never really paid too much attention to it or wondered who the men whose names are on it are as they sat along the sidewalk getting weathered over the years.
I wanted to do some research on the names of the young men on the plaque and tell the story of some of these men who gave their lives for the greater good. “When I looked at the soldiers’ names on the WW I plaque, the first question that came to my mind was “Who are they?” So I researched each one of them, because they aren’t just names on a plaque. They were young men, from the ages of 18 to 29. They were born in Berrien County and other counties in MI. Some were born in Chicago, Illinois, Ohio, and Indiana. Some were African American and Native American. Others were immigrants born in Italy, Austria-Hungary, Poland, Russia, Germany, & Sweden. Some just had parents or siblings that lived in Berrien County. “ (Linda Freehling, 11/12/2018) This a great embodiment from the author of one of my sources of who and what I want to go more detail into in my paper.
This memorial hasn’t always been located on Lake Park Bluff. For the first seven years of its life, it was located at the Berrien County Courthouse, or where the courthouse used to be, first erected in 1923 to commemorate the 100 young men whose names are on the plaque and who gave their lives for our country. The memorial was commissioned by the Algonquin Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and when the new, current courthouse began being built just a few short years later, the memorial was put into storage in the basement to be forgotten about. However, The St. Joseph Post of the American Legion Auxiliary did not want the memorial to go to waste, so they commissioned the Spirit of the American doughboy, modeled after Raymond Clemens who died fighting during the Russian Revolution, to be placed on the bluff in downtown St. Joseph to commemorate all who served in World War I on November 11th, 1930. Later after the new statue was put up by the American Legion Auxiliary, the plaque from the Algonquin Chapter was placed behind the doughboy at his feet so it was no longer collecting dust in the basement of the courthouse. Unfortunately, because it was placed in the ground, during the fall the leaves would cover it and during the winter the snow would cover it so it was not fully visible for about half the year and this is how it stayed for the next eighty to ninety years. Then last year, a woman by the name of Patricia Hill decided enough was enough and began putting another re-dedication of the plaque from the Algonquin Chapter into the works. She discussed and got approval from the City Hall and got fundraising together to finally get the memorial put up in its current full glory. Last year, on November 12th, 2018, the rededication ceremony took place on the bluff, including a 21-gun salute, the National anthem played by the local high school band, an honor guard placing wreaths on each of the memorials along the bluff ending with the newly erected memorial, and 92-year-old John Nelson, a World War II veteran, stood at attention next to the statue during the whole hour-long ceremony.
Private 1st Class Raymond Conroy Clemens
One of the men who are on the plaque is Private 1st Class Raymond Conroy Clemens, who was the individual that the “Spirit of the American Doughboy” statue was made to represent. Raymond was sent to Fort Custer, known as Camp Custer at the time, for training along with approximately ten to fifteen other men from the St. Joseph area and about 4,500 men in total. He was assigned to the 339th Infantry Regiment, 170th Infantry Brigade, 85th Division, whose original plan was to fight on the Western front of France, but had a change of plans and were sent to Russia in 1918 instead. Their main goal was to enter Russia after they withdrew from World War I and help the anti-revolutionary forces to combat the uprising the Bolsheviks were attempting. This deployment had a few different names, with some being the Northern Russian Expedition, the Murman Deployment, or the Archangel Campaign. The men who were sent on the Archangel Campaign were given the designation of the “Polar Bears” and a majority of who died during their campaign are buried near Fort Custer in Troy, Michigan along with having a memorial of their own. The men were initially sent to Cowshott Camp in Surrey, England where they were outfitted, assembled, and shipped off to their new destination. However, the men weren’t told where they were going until after they had already left England and over 100 soldiers died either on the way to Russia or immediately after they arrived due to the bad Influenza outbreak and being in close quarters with each other. While the 339th Infantry Regiment was on their way to Russia the Allies were attempting to protect and redistribute stockpiles of military equipment in Arkangelsk but became trapped after chasing after some of the rebels and required the help from the 339th to get rescued. While still flu-ridden, the 339th had to head south to help the trapped soldiers. They were successful in their rescue, however, the flu was now spread further than before and affected many units spread all over Russia. The 339th had many other smaller, active operations and confrontations with the Reds and by the time the real Winter hit Russia a majority of the men were spread out in remote areas that were not able to support each other well. The Soviet Sixth Army did a lot of hit-and-run raids on the Americans which were hard to counter as temperatures got down to -50 degrees at night, which was so cold that their rifle’s internals would start to freeze and lock up. Between September 1918 and May 1919, over 500 Americans died in Russia due to the small conflicts with the Bolsheviks. Roy Clemens, Raymond’s brother, was fortunate enough to survive the incredibly harsh climate and the atrocities that the Bolsheviks committed against the Americans which was told in letters sent to the families of the soldiers, but his brother Raymond was not so lucky. Raymond died on November 29th, 1918 and was buried in the frozen tundra in Russia by his comrades. In 1929, five men from the Polar Bears went back to Russia to try and reclaim their fallen comrade’s bodies, and out of the approximately 114 who were buried in Russia, they were able to recover 80 of them. Raymond was one of the bodies recovered and was found in the small town of Kitsa and his body was returned to his family in 1929, where he was buried with his other fellow Polar Bears in Troy. His memorial in St. Joseph was erected less than a year later to commemorate his sacrifice.
Private 1st Class Henry Quigno
Another name on the plaque is Henry Quigno, who held the rank of Private 1st Class and was a part of the Pokagon Potawatomi Native American Tribe. Henry was pulled for the draft and trained at Camp Custer starting on November 21, 1917. He finished his training and was sent to France as a part of the Camp Custer April Replacement Draft Infantry which was not a fighting division. When he arrived in France on April 19, 1918, he was transferred to the 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Brigade, 1st Expeditionary Division. The 18th Infantry Regiment fought in many different offensive campaigns, such as Montdidier-Noyon, Picardy, Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel, Lorraine, and Meuse-Argonne. During the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the Allied forces created a new method for sending encoded messages back and forth because the Germans were able to intercept communications and decode them easily. This new method was to have some of the Native American soldiers send communications in Choctaw, their mother tongue, and this played a big role in the Allied victory at Forrest Ferme. The Native Americans who were a part of this process got the nickname “Code Talkers” and Henry Quigno was also a part of this. Unfortunately, he joined the Code Talkers during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, and he also died in combat during the same offense. On October 4th, 1918, the 18th Infantry Regiment was a part of a series of major attacks along the entire front of the battlefield and during the first push, Henry was killed, along with 68 officers and 1,526 other enlisted men over the course of the battle. Henry was sent back to Watervliet, Michigan where he was born and raised and buried in the Rush Lake Indian Cemetery along with his fellow tribe members.
Ralph Adell Rumbaugh
Ralph Adell Rumbaugh was a successful businessman before he was chosen for the draft, owning 24.5 acres of land, holding a lot of stock in the Clark Equipment Company, and having several Certificates of Deposit. He was sent to the Columbus Barracks, now known as Fort Hayes, on June 6, 1917, to start training. Later he was transferred to Camp Colt and then transferred again in November to Camp Greene for the remainder of his training. Ralph was put into the 12th Machine Gun Battalion, 8th Infantry Brigade, 4th Division in December 1917 when an outbreak of spinal meningitis caused the camp to go under quarantine until April 1918. Shortly after, 45,000 soldiers left from a port in New York and eventually made their way to Calais, France with multiple stops in between. The 4th Division trained with French soldiers for a couple of months and in July they were sent to the city of Chevillion to help the French 164th Division attack German forces. The battle was successful, but not without an estimated 302 men killed from the 4th Division. After a couple of weeks, a French unit took their spots and they were sent to fight in the Aisne-Marne Campaign where they relieved troops of their position in the Foret de Fere. Shortly after they pursued the German troops across a river as they retreated and as they got closer they got hit with a barrage of artillery rounds on the Rouen Rheims road which lasted nearly three hours straight, causing a lot of Allied casualties. It was during this German offensive that Ralph Rumbaugh was acting as a runner to get information to the rear of the formation when he was shot three times and fatally wounding him. He was evacuated but despite their best efforts, he died eight hours later in the hospital. At first, he was buried in cemetery #608 in France. In September 1919 the Buchanon American Legion Post 51 was named after Ralph, and on August 1, 1920, he was reburied in the Oak Ridge Cemetery in Buchanon, Michigan. According to the issue of the local paper, the LaPorte Daily Argus, a couple of weeks later, “On the day of the Burial, all the business houses of Buchanon were closed by order of the mayor, flags floated at half-mast, and several thousand people united in the service of tribute to the sleeping soldier.”
This is just three of the 100 men on the plaque so it is only breaking the surface. These men will be completely unknown to most people, even though they gave the ultimate sacrifice for each and every one of us. It doesn’t matter what unit they were a part of or where they were from, every person who died wearing a military uniform deserves to be recognized. This plaque is a good example of that. Men from a small town in random units around Europe, but each one of their stories is incredibly interesting even though very few people will ever know.
- Freehling, Linda. World War I Plaque Monument Dedication : Remembering 100 Years Ago and the Stories of the Lives of the 100 United States Soldiers on the Plaque. Vol. 1-4.
- Moody, Pat. “WWI Monument Re-Dedication in SJ Shows They Were More Than Just Names.” Moody on the Market, 19 Nov. 2019, https://www.moodyonthemarket.com
- Matuszak, John. “World War I Veterans Memorial Re-Dedicated.” The Herald Palladium, 12 Nov. 2018, https://www.heraldpalladium.com
- “Polar Bear Expedition History.” Bentley Historical Library, https://bentley.umich.edu