Commemorating the Spirit of Sacrifice in War

29, May 2017
Color photo of name details on the cenotaph at Soldiers MemorialDetail of names listed on the cenotaph at Soldiers Memorial. Photo by Jerry Tovo.

Since it opened on Memorial Day 1938, Soldiers Memorial Military Museum has been—and continues to be—a place of remembrance. At its dedication as a World War I memorial two years earlier, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said:

We in America do not build monuments to war. We do not build monuments to conquests, we build monuments to commemorate the spirit of sacrifice in war—reminders of our desire for peace. The memory of those, whom the war called to the Beyond, urges us to consecrate the best that is in us to the service of country in times of peace. . . . May the beauty of the monument, which will rise on this site . . . inspire future generations with a desire to be of service to their fellows and their country.

To further honor and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War I, a black granite cenotaph was set upon a base of Bedford stone and placed within Soldiers Memorial’s central loggia. Engraved on each side of the cenotaph are the names of those St. Louisans who gave their lives during the Great War.

Color photo of full cenotaph at Soldiers MemorialThe full cenotaph at Soldiers Memorial Military Museum in downtown St. Louis.

Taken altogether, the list of 1,075 names is sobering, but each of these names also has a deeper, individual story of sacrifice attached to it. Although many of these stories have been lost to history, we have been able to identify some of them, three of which we’re sharing here to highlight the courage and sacrifice of our fellow St. Louisans.

Private Jake Linder, Company A, 370th Infantry, 93rd Division

Photo of Private Jake LinderPrivate Jake Linder, Company A, 370th Infantry, 93rd Division. Missouri History Museum.

When the United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, Jake Linder was living near downtown St. Louis at 720 North 22nd Street, working as a baggage maser and butler in West End households. His world was soon forever changed as he, along with millions of men between the ages of 18 and 35, was required to register for a national draft under the Selective Service Act of 1917.

Linder served with the all-black 93rd Division, which saw combat alongside the French Army. (The U.S. Army didn't allow African Americans to serve on the frontlines as part of the American Expeditionary Force.) Linder was killed in action on November 4, 1918, near the France-Belgium border in the Ardennes. He was survived by two brothers and a sister, all of whom served during the war.

Captain Alexander R. Skinker, Company I, 138th Infantry, 35th Division

Photo of Alexander SkinkerCaptain Alexander R. Skinker, Company I, 138th Infantry, 35th Division. Missouri History Museum.

Born into a prominent St. Louis family on October 13, 1883, Alexander Rives Skinker had a brief but highly decorated military career. Skinker served with the Missouri National Guard, rising to the rank of captain by 1917. After the United States declared war, the Missouri National Guard was federalized at Camp Doniphan in Oklahoma, forming the 138th Infantry Regiment of the 35th Division.

Skinker and the 138th arrived in Europe around the end of May 1918 and trained with French troops in the Vosges Mountains trench lines. Skinker and his unit then marched north to support the mid-September 1918 attack at St. Mihiel. Skinker’s last days followed soon afterward when his unit was assigned to lead the 35th Division’s opening attack during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. On the first day of the battle, September 26, 1918, Skinker and a small reconnaissance team came upon a heavily defended enemy position near Cheppy, France. According to the official report:

Captain Skinker, in his local area, not desiring to expose more men than were necessary, required his men to take cover, and personally set out with an automatic rifleman and a carrier to silence a machine-gun nest in his immediate front. The ammunition carrier was promptly killed, and Captain Skinker taking his ammunition continued on, firing the automatic rifle, until he met death himself, followed immediately by the automatic rifleman.

Skinker received the Medal of Honor for his actions, and more than 5,000 people honored him at his burial ceremony in Bellefontaine Cemetery.

Edith Mae Ferguson, Army Nurse Corps, Base Hospital 21

Photo of Edith FergusonEdith Mae Ferguson, Army Nurse Corps, Base Hospital 21. Missouri History Museum.

Born on December 14, 1893, in Webster Groves, Missouri, Edith Mae Ferguson was a nursing student at Barnes Hospital when the war broke out. She soon joined the Army Nurse Corps and was assigned to Base Hospital 21, which was organized out of Washington University in St. Louis and later mobilized for service in Rouen, France. Ferguson worked tirelessly at Base Hospital 21 from October 1917 until the hospital was demobilized in 1919.

Unfortunately she developed malignant jaundice while overseas and succumbed to it shortly after her return to the United States. Ferguson was one of many who fell victim to illness, one of the leading causes of death during World War I. (The Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918 was particularly deadly, killing millions globally.)

World War I: Missouri and the Great War

Each of the 1,075 names inscribed on the cenotaph at Soldiers Memorial Military Museum carries a unique story of courage and sacrifice. Although Soldiers Memorial is currently closed for revitalization, you can learn about these individuals and their stories in the exhibit World War I: Missouri and the Great War, open at the Missouri History Museum through January 15, 2018. There you’ll find a dramatic display of gold stars, each representing one of the St. Louisans who gave their lives, along with a wall naming them.

—Patrick Allie, Military and Arms Curator

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