Family in the Great War

This month on Facebook, my husband has been honoring those veterans who participated in D-Day, specifically his brother Airborne members.  But June is also the month that the United States sent their first troops to Europe during World War I; the formal declaration of War on Germany came in April 1917.  Many Great War memorial organizations fear the decline of honoring those men and women who supported that effort.  This week’s blog is my part in remembering.

Both the Coomer’s and Rhoades’ have veterans of the Great War.  There is a lot on Ancestry and Fold3 for World War II veterans, but not much useful genealogy information on World War I.  Most of what we know comes from the veterans themselves, or their families. The rest we can piece together from unit histories and military commander’s journals.

In many of my blogs, I have published transcribed letters from my grandfather, who served during World War II.  Early in his letters, there were (to me) some indications of how much of an influence his father, Ken Sr., played in his choice of military branches.  His father was a Navy veteran himself and appeared to have had a positive military experience.  We know great-grandfather was in the Great War and we know he served on a minesweeper, U.S.S. Kingfisher (AM-25).  In my Uncle’s private family treasure trove, which I am always referring to, is a copy of Ken Sr.’s military record (I think) and a few newspaper clippings that mention Ken Sr. on the Kingfisher.  But thanks to his discharge papers and his headstone application we get his service dates; 26 June 1917 through 6 December 1919.

Accessed April 16, 2019 from

My Uncle recently came across a photo of the Kingfisher’s crew, which lists Ken Sr. as a crew member.  We aren’t sure which one he is, but we think we have identified him in the photo.  The photo came from a book titled Sweeping the North Sea Mine Barrage 1919, which can be accessed for free on Google Books.  If you are interested in how great-grandpa Ken spent his time in the Navy, this is the go-to book.  It sure beats reading his service record and old ships logs/diaries to try to piece it all together.  And there are pictures (because who doesn’t like looking through photos)!

Not only does this book contain the image with Ken Sr., but it also describes the operations that the Kingfisher participated in from 5 April to 1 October 1919.  While on the Kingfisher, Ken saw Europe.  She was based out of Inverness, Scotland and made stops in France, Portugal, and the Azores.  The Kingfisher continued to serve through World War II before being sold to a man in Suisun Bay, California at the end of that war, and her exact fate is unknown.

Ken was a Carpenters Mate 1st class.  This means his duties involved the overall maintenance and care of the ship.  Unlike his son, his duties allowed him more time topside during duty shifts.  As a Fireman, Kenney had the unfortunate task of staying in a hot engine room in the bowls of the ship, with no windows.

Then there is Uncle (Richard) Dick Cobe.  Richard was Eleanor (Cobe) Rhoades’ brother, she and Ken Sr. named their youngest son after him, who Kenney also called Dick in his letters.  I mentioned Richard Cobe once before.  Richard Cobe was a doughboy in Company I, 28th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division, American Expeditionary Forces.  The 28th Infantry Regiment were the first troops the United States committed to the war.  They were hastily assembled and completed their training by British officers upon arrival in France before engaging with the Germans in Battle of Cantigny, north of Paris. The 1st Division’s combined arms organization was new to the American military arena, and was still under planning and development while Richard and his fellow doughboys sailed to Europe.  This organizational structure has held in the Army and is still used today.

The 28th Infantry Regiment sailed to Brest, France aboard the transport ships Tenadores, Saratoga, Havana, and Pastores with an entourage of cruisers and destroyers.  The convoy was fired upon by German submarines before arriving in France but escaped damages.  Richard is listed on the passenger lists for the Tenadores as “Cobe, Richard, Pvt., Co. ‘I’ 28thinft., sailed June 14, 1917.”  He came home in March 1919 aboard the Agamemnon and returned to Michigan before he fatefully sent Eleanor that Christmas gift that reconnected them after years of separation. He moved to be closer to his sister, and died in South Dakota where my Uncle got to hear all of his stories.

The Coomer’s have two World War I veterans from a single family.  Hugh and Sarah (Batey) Coomer had two sons who served.  Eugene Coomer served on the Army transport, U.S.S. Huron, and is reported on in the local Danville, Kentucky newspaper numerous times.  While Eugene appears to have enlisted around June 1917, the Huron entered American service in September 1917 and was most instrumental in returning soldiers home from Europe after the November 1918 armistice.  Eugene had returned home by November, probably having already fulfilled his enlistment contract.

Eugene experienced some excitement during his many voyages across the Atlantic.  In April/May of 1918, the convoy suffered some mechanical damage that caused one ship to fall out of position and forced another ship to change course suddenly.  This caused the second ship to run into the Huron, causing damage to both ships and forcing them to return to the states for repairs.

Guy Coomer was an Engineer in Company N, 5th Battalion, 22nd Engineers. He sailed from Hoboken, New Jersey on 15 September 1918 to Brest, France.  Army engineers supported the American Expeditionary Forces by building, repairing, and maintaining the infrastructure needed to support the combat units.  Engineers worked on everything from building barracks and mess halls to repairing roads and bridges, and even building sawmills from scratch.  Guy’s unit was marched to Manil La Tour, France where they were attached to the 12th Engineers to assist with constructing and maintaining light rail lines to transport ammunition and supplies to the front lines.  Guy sailed home from France on 12 June 1919.

One of four letters written by Co. N. Lieutenants. They all pretty much said the same thing. Accessed 10 June 2019 from, WWI American Expeditionary Forces, Officer Experience Reports for 22nd Engineers.

It is no surprise that after the war, Guy went to work for Southern Railway.  My husband has inherited some of Guy’s war memorabilia, to include a German helmet, German Mauser rifle, and trench art on a large munition shell (pictured below). The German helmet also came with a gas mask and a backpack that is now in the possession of my nephew.