100 years ago this month, the world saw the end of the Great War.
This day has special meaning for my family. While my father, two brothers, two uncles, and one nephew served in our military, some as career officers, the person who makes the Armistice that was reached on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 so important to my family is my grandfather.
Seven weeks and five days before the end of World War I, my grandfather, Major Harry Aloysius Harvey, was KIA in France, where he was buried until his body was re-interred in the cemetery at the USMA at West Point.
And this is about all I knew of him growing up. Just facts.
1.He was born on January 9, 1890 and grew up in McComb, Mississippi.
2.He was from a large family.
3.He graduated from West Point in 1915.
4.He died in France on September 12, 1918.
5.My grandmother remarried.
6.We never met any relatives from that side of the family.
7.He was rarely spoken of.
He was a dream, a shadowy figure from our past, a hero about whom we didn’t speak often, but of whom we were proud.
Then on Memorial Day weekend, 2018, C-Span aired a special program commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI, and focusing on the battlefields of France. My ex-husband, also a veteran, happened to see the program and texted me. I was shocked to see a portion of my grandfather’s funeral service in this clip.
What are the chances that the Army Signal Corps would have been on hand to film in St. Mihiel, France at that time? What are the chances that they would have included the funeral of my grandfather? What are the chances that C-Span would include that clip? What are the chances that my ex-husband would watch it, recognize it, and contact me?
The next day, two things happened. I emailed C-Span, taking a leap of faith that out of the kazillion emails they receive they would read mine. And I made a decision to get to know this man whose grave I visit on Memorial Day. This man who graduated in the most famous class of United States Military Academy, the Class of 1915, the Class The Stars Fell On but was a stranger to me. This man whose life gave me life. Whose DNA courses through my body. I was determined to find out who this idol of mine really was.
Incredibly, C-Span contacted me the next day and sent me the Army Signal Corps film clip showing the entire funeral, which is available on YouTube from the National Archives. My grandfather’s funeral is at approximately the 7:47 mark at the end of the footage and lasts for one minute.
I googled for hours. I bought and read the book by Michael E. Haskew “West Point 1915: Eisenhower, Bradley, and the Class the Stars Fell On,” looked at memorabilia from our family, and spent hours working with a researcher at the library at West Point.
I read about a man who talked all the time, argued his ideas, didn’t let another person get a word in edge-wise and looked at life with a sense of humor. Then he talked more, and then talked more again. In other words, for anyone who knows me, I found proof that I am more like him than not.
I discovered what it must have been like for a boy who left Mississippi for New York and survived the physical and academic rigors of the USMA to become a man able to lead soldiers and put Duty, Honor, Country first. I discovered a man who loved life, missed his mother and siblings, who fell in love with a girl from Brooklyn, married and had a son he only knew for 5 months.
This full of life man was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, a feat that is unimaginable to me, surviving one of the war’s most horrific battles for the American Troops, and surviving it against all odds while protecting his men.
Then, after surviving the battles of Chateau-Thierry and the Battle of the Aisne-Marne among others, my grandfather, having been promoted to Major, was killed instantly by a shell while leading a reconnaissance of German lines near St. Mihiel, France.
In June of 1955, the editor of the local paper, The McComb Enterprise-Journal, sent a letter and article to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a classmate of my grandfather, announcing that the American Legion Post in McComb was being named for Harry Harvey. They received back a letter from President Eisenhower, on White House stationery, which was then forwarded to my family.
My grandfather is no longer a list of facts to me. He is no longer a man my heart yearns to know. He no longer lives in my heart as someone to idolize from afar.
He is a flesh and blood man. From whom my flesh and blood came, two generations later. He is a man of humor and love. A man of bravery and sacrifice.
As we celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the end of the Great War, I celebrate getting to know this man, this extraordinarily normal yet heroic man. My grandfather.