Second in a Series by William Cellini, Jr.
Editor’s Note: When looking at the WWI draft registrations of local Lithuanian soldiers, I noticed that almost all the men appeared to have registered on the same day: June 5, 1917. What was so special about that day? According to a recent article in the State Journal-Register, it was the official opening of the first selective service process in U.S. history. “Conscription Day” was dubbed “Manhood Day” with much patriotic fanfare and a concerted effort across all government, business and civic institutions in Springfield to ensure a strong turnout.
The not-at-all subtle message was that any male between 21 and 30 who didn’t show up to register for the draft on June 5, 1917 was not a real man. To drive home that message, a public rally for 5,000 was held at the old Illinois State Armory at Second and Monroe St. the evening of June 4. Schools and business were closed on June 5 for a downtown parade and patriotic concerts throughout the day. According to the SJ-R, the “festivities” officially started at 7 a.m. with the ringing of bells and blowing of factory, mine, and railroad whistles throughout the city—a kind of wake-up call or alarm to draft-age men, as if they weren’t already alarmed by the prospect of trench warfare in France.
Recently, I learned that the public relations battle for the hearts and minds of the war-averse U.S. public of the time was as serious a business as the war, itself. That’s because a woefully under-manned U.S. military faced the challenge of conscripting enough troops not just to fight, but win—literally millions of men. Along those lines, “Manhood Day” seems to have had its intended effect, drawing in even Lithuanian immigrant “aliens” who had not begun the U.S. citizenship process, and were therefore exempt from draft.
They weren’t all required to register. Yet approximately 70 local Lithuanians did– with not only their “manhood” at stake, but also their health and safety as they toiled with draft-registered men in Springfield’s factories and mines. It is also worthy of note that the same official handwriting appears on many of the Lithuanian men’s registration papers because they were illiterate in both Lithuanian and English, many signing with their “mark” or an “X.”
Following are 12 more brief bios of local Lithuanian soldiers compiled from exhaustive public records searches by William Cellini, Jr.
Peter [Piotras] Jurgelonis [Jurgelionis] — Trained by Center for Illiterate Soldiers
Born c. 1890 in Purviškiai, Kaunas County, Lithuania, Jurgelonis registered for the draft in June 1917. At the time, he listed himself as single and working as a laborer for “Peter Ambroar” who was most likely a member of the Ambrose [Brazas] family in Springfield. Jurgelonis sailed overseas from Quebec, Canada on September 4, 1918 as a Private in “Company B of the 355th Infantry, 84th Division.” While his personal overseas service record is not known, if he stayed with the 355th Infantry once he arrived in France, that September he would have taken part in the Meuse–Argonne Offensive.
Jurgelonis returned to the U.S. via Saint-Nazaire, France, in April 1919 as a member of Company D in the 347th Machine Gun Battalion. On the ship roster he listed his nearest relation as “Stanli Sverarplis,” probably Stanley Swerplus, a “cousin” on Peoria Road. From France, he headed to Camp Upton, Long Island, N.Y. Camp Upton had the distinction of being the first Recruit Educational Center formed to teach foreign-born, non-English speaking and illiterate soldiers during their induction period and after the war. He was discharged on May 7, 1919 at Camp Grant near Rockford. After the war, Jurgelions was recorded as living on Springfield’s North End in a predominately Lithuanian neighborhood. On the U.S. Census of 1920 he is listed as single and working as a “fireman” at a brick company. Two Lithuanian-born boarders were also residing in his home. Jurgelonis’ death date and location have not been verified.
*Potentially this is an error on the ship manifest. The 355th Infantry was assigned to the 89th Division. Source: The U.S. Army in World War I: Orders of Battle by Richard A. Rinaldi.
John [Jonas] Kedis ∞ Killed in Meuse-Argonne Offensive Weeks Before Armistice
John Kedis was born c. 1885 in Lithuania and emigrated from Kaltinenai to the U.S. in April 1910. On his 1910 ship manifest he lists his father, Jeronimas Kedis, in Lithuania as well as his brother, Stanley, in Springfield as his relations. Prior to the war, a Springfield newspaper article from 1914 mentioned how Kedis was living at 707 1/2 East Washington Street and working in the kitchen of the Leland Hotel.
He was involved in a physical altercation with a fellow employee at the hotel and was arrested. Kedis was again in the news the following year for his role as a “look-out” in an arson plan with one George S. Kiezancus, proprietor of a tavern in the 1100 block of South Grand Avenue East. Kedis ended up being jailed for five months and he entered a plea of guilty. He was sentenced to an additional thirty days for the arson charge.
Records show he was living in Chicago and working as an iceman for Commonwealth Ice Company when he registered for the draft on June 5, 1917. He sailed overseas with the U.S. Army leaving from Hoboken, New Jersey, on May 10, 1918 with Company A of the Provisional Pioneer Reinforcement Regiment from Washington Barracks (today Ft. McNair, Washington, D.C.). While overseas he was transferred to Company C, 1st U.S. Engineers, 1st Infantry Division.
On November 21, 1918, the Illinois State Register listed local war dead and Kedis appeared as a casualty. His brother Stanley was the recipient of a letter published by the Register from John Kedis’s commanding officer, Col. Billby (of the Engineering Corps) reporting his official version of John’s death. Tragically, had Kedis survived only a few more weeks, he would have made it to Armistice Day. He is buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France.
Joseph Kowlowsky [Kowlowski] ∞ Pana’s only Soldier Killed in Action
He was born October 11, 1983 in Marijampolė County, Lithuania, and registered for the draft in June 1918 in Christian County. He listed himself as single,of medium height with brown eyes and dark hair, and working as a coal miner for the Smith-Lohr Coal Mining Company in Pana. Kowlowsky was sent overseas on June 22, 1918 from Newport News, Va., aboard the SS Duca d’Aosta, an Italian ocean liner used for troop transport. He sailed with a contingent of U.S. National Guard troops from Company L of the 148th Infantry, 37th Division, and was sent into battle in France. He was killed in action in September 1918.
When overseas casualty reports were released in Springfield that November, the newspapers noted Kowlowsky (spelled ‘Kowlosky’ in the report) was killed. According to the news account, he was “about 27” years old and a “well-known Pana miner of the North Mine local”. His sister, Mrs. Eva Burdzilauskas of Pana, received the telegram informing her of his death. Kowlowsky had the distinction of being the only Pana soldier killed in action during WWI, although the town did lose soldiers to illness, likely the Spanish flu. He is buried at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Romagne, France. His sister Eva’s Lithuanian husband died and was buried in Pana in 1938. Eva died in 1975.
Franciscus [Pranciškus] Krasauskis
Born September 13, 1894 in Batakiai, Taurage County, Lithuania, he emigrated to the U.S. in 1913. Krasauskis lived in the 1700 block of East Matheny in Springfield. Listed as “Frank Kross” on some military records, he received basic training at Camp Zachary Taylor, Ky., where he petitioned for citizenship on July 17, 1918.
He initially served in the 34th Company, 3rd Infantry Regiment, but when he was sent overseas to France, he became a Private First Class in Company P of the 22nd Engineers. He returned to the U.S. via Saint-Nazaire, France, on June 22, 1919. Krasauskis ultimately moved to Chicago, but his brother Anton (Antanas) remained in Springfield.
Juozas Kriscunas [Kriščiūnas]—One of Two Brothers Who Served
Born Oct. 7, 1889 in Marijampolė County, Lithuania, the son of Mato Kriščiūnas and Elžbieta Chevenskas [Čevinskas?]. Kriscunas emigrated to the U.S. around 1908 and lived in Springfield prior to WWI. He served in the U.S. Army from October 1917 until April 1919, including on the Western Front. He returned home on March 22, 1919 aboard the USS Finland from Saint-Nazaire, France, with the Camp Taylor Detachment (Company C) of the 114th Field Artillery. He listed his nearest contact in the U.S. as “brother, Antone Kriscunas,” of Springfield. After the war, he and his brother moved to Wilkes-Barre, Penn. Juozas married and worked at the Glen Alden Coal Company in Wilkes-Barre. He died on May 26, 1970 in Pennsylvania.
Anton (Antanas) Kriscuos [Kriščiūnas]—The Other Brother Who Served
Another son of Mato Kriščiūnas and Elžbieta Chevenskas [Čevinskas?] born in July 1890—just a year younger than Juozas. Anton lived at 1215 East Jefferson St. in Springfield and was called up for military service in May 1918. He trained at Jefferson Barracks, Mo., and was a Private in Battery C of the 48th Field Artillery, 16th Infantry Division. It is not known if he was sent overseas. He was discharged on February 17, 1919 at Camp Grant near Rockford. Anton remained single and moved to Pennsylvania with his brother Juozas, who had also served in the war. Anton died there on January 21, 1948. The informant on his burial card is “Joseph Kriscunas, Wilkes-Barre, PA”– most likely his brother. His headstone, inscribed “Antonas Kriscous,” incorrectly indicates he was in a Pennsylvania military unit during the war. However, further research indicates the government corrected his place of enlistment to reflect his Illinois service.
Charles Kristute [Kristutis?] of Auburn– Served in ‘Casual Company’
Born Jan. 1, 1893 in Telšiai County, Lithuania, he registered for the draft in Auburn, Ill., where he worked as a coal miner, on June 5, 1917. His physical description indicated he was of medium build and slender figure with brown eyes and black hair. Called before his local draft board on May 7, 1918, Kristute entered military training at Camp Forrest, Ga., on Sept. 4, 1918 as a member of the 12th Casual Company, 2nd Battalion Engineers.
A “casual company” was typically filled with in-transient personnel and on occasion, such companies were supplied with immigrants. Kristute obtained his U.S. citizenship on December 7, 1918 at Camp Forrest, less than a month after Armistice, so it’s likely he never served overseas. He was discharged in January 1919 and appears to have left Illinois sometime shortly after the war. According to public records, a Charles Kristute whose military service history matches this soldier died in 1958 in Gary, Ind.
Joseph [Juozapas] Linges [Lingės]— Students’ Army Training Corps
Born in 1892 in Pilviškiai, Marijampolė County, Lithuania, the son of Juozapas Linges Sr. and Helen [Elena] Bronks. He emigrated to the U.S. via Bremen, Germany, in 1913 and made his initial petition to become a citizen of the U.S. in October of that year. His uncle and aunt, Anton and Eva Linges, lived in Springfield–and perhaps that is why he settled in Central Illinois. Linges underwent basic training at Jefferson Barracks, Mo., in May 1918 with several Lithuanian-born soldiers from Sangamon County. He again petitioned for citizenship in June 1918 while at Camp Harry Jones in Douglas, Ariz., near the Mexican border.
A Springfield newspaper article published after the war mentions how Linges served with the 48th Field Artillery, and earned his Victory Medal by applying for it via the Students’ Army Training Corps. According to the website for Illinois College in Jacksonville, the SATC, which consisted of 157 colleges and universities by April 1918, was put in place “to train draftees in a variety of trades needed for the war effort, and was jointly administered by the military and universities.” (It’s not known where Linges received his combined SATC military and trade education—or in which trade—although as mentioned, Illinois College was a participant. It’s also possible that he accessed the SATC only for the processing of his medal.)
By December 1918, Linges was stationed at Camp Kearney, Calif., according to the obituary for his sister, who might have died from the global Spanish flu pandemic that ravaged Europe, Asia, and the Americas 1918-19. It’s likely that the California location for Linges so soon after Armistice indicates he remained stateside during the war. After being released from military service in 1919, he worked at the Elks Club in Springfield. He married Margaret Gillette, likely of the Gilletties Lithuanian family (of Riverton, Ill.) and they had two children, Bernadine and Joseph. The family lived on North 8th Street near the Illinois Watch Factory, where Margaret was employed for many years. Linges died in Sherman in 1986.
Joseph [Juozapas] Matulis–Returned, Possibly with Spanish Flu, on Medical Ship
Born March 5, 1888 in Kampeny [Kampiniai], Lithuania and emigrated via Hamburg, Germany, to the U.S. around 1902. Having declared his intent to become a U.S. citizen in 1915, he entered military service in June 1918 at Springfield and received training at Ft. Benjamin Harrison, Ind. Matulis was sent overseas in September 1918 as a Private in Company P, 22nd Engineers of the 2nd Army and returned to the U.S. on May 22, 1919 via Saint-Nazaire, France. The soldiers on board his transport ship bound for Camp Merritt, N.J., were suffering from pneumonia (likely from the Spanish flu), or were listed as wounded on the ship’s manifest. (Perhaps due to whatever medical condition caused him to be assigned to that particular ship,) Matulis also was diagnosed with “mitral regurgitation,” a backward leakage of blood through the mitral valve of the heart.
His nearest contact was his “father, John Matulis, Springfield, Ill.” He was discharged in July 1919 at Ft. Sheridan in Illinois. In 1920, he was living in Springfield on East Miller Street with his immediate family and listed as single. He married Finnish immigrant Helen Heeliko [Halikko] in Cook County in May 1923 and by 1940 they were living in Broadview, Ill., with six children. Matulis worked at Edward Hines Veteran’s Hospital in Illinois and appears to have never returned to Springfield.
Thomas [Tomas] Nerkevich [Narkevičius]—Three Brothers Registered
Born in 1888 in Russia of Lithuanian heritage, he was the son of Tomas and Petronele [Anna] Nerkevich, who emigrated to the U.S. around 1898. The couple had three sons: Alfred (b. 1898 in the U.S.), Frank (b. 1899 in the U.S.) and Thomas, the subject of this bio. The family lived on North 11th Street in a predominately Lithuanian enclave, according to the 1910 U.S. Census. Per a 1907 report in Springfield’s Register paper, Thomas, Sr., is mentioned as operator of “a saloon near the Devereux coal mine.” The senior Nerkevich also operated his own tavern in the 700 block of East Washington Street, where the younger Thomas was a bartender.
In 1917, all three brothers registered for the draft, but Frank and Thomas registered in Cook County, likely due to living in that city for employment reasons. Thomas was a Private in Company D of the 32nd Engineers and he sailed overseas on June 15, 1918. After serving in the railway and bridge section of the engineering corps in France, Thomas departed from Bordeaux, France, on May 27, 1919 on the USS Susquehanna. He was discharged at Camp Grant near Rockford, Ill., in June.
Mike Paplanski [Paplonskis]—A Coal Miner Who ‘Volunteered’
Born October 15, 1886 in Marijampolė, Lithuania. At the time he registered for the draft in June 1917, Paplanski listed himself as a non-declared alien, which meant he had not taken steps to become a U.S. citizen and was not required to register or be drafted into service. An unmarried coal miner, his registration noted he lived on Springfield’s North End and was tall in stature with gray eyes and light brown hair. In March 1918, Paplanski was included on a roster of 138 draft-eligible men published in the Register newspaper. He underwent basic training at Camp Taylor, Ky., and on June 25, 1918 was sent overseas.
Listed as “Poplanski” on the transport roster, he held the rank of a Private in Company P, 22nd Engineers and sailed with two other Lithuanian-born local soldiers, Franciskus Krasauskis and Stanley Petrokas. He returned to the U.S. in June 1919 aboard the USS Princess Matoika via Saint-Nazaire, France. He listed his sister, “Mrs. Francis Chirelis,” as his contact in Springfield. Paplanski was discharged from the Army in July 1919 and lived on North 15th Street in Springfield.
He died on January 12, 1940 at the Edward Hines Veteran’s Hospital in Northern Illinois and his body was returned to Springfield for burial. According to his obituary (listing him as “Michael Paplausky”), he was a member of the local unit of the Progressive Miners of America and his funeral and wake were held “at the residence of Mrs. George Chepulis, 2215 North Fifteenth Street,” with his funeral mass at St. Vincent de Paul Church.
Stanley [Stanislovas] Patrilla [Petrilla] of Virden, Auburn
Born December 1889 in Bacunai [Bačiūnai], Šiauliai County, Lithuania. According to his immigration manifest, Patrilla traveled from Lithuania to Germany and sailed to the U.S. in September 1910. He indicated his destination was “Virden, Illinois” and listed his “cousin Joseph” in Virden as a contact. Sometime later, Patrilla worked as a coal miner in Auburn, Ill., and by 1913, had filed his declaration of intent (first papers) to become a U.S. citizen.
As a draft-age male in the process of becoming a citizen, Patrilla was required to register for the draft and did so in June 1917 in Auburn. He was single at the time and his physical description showed he was of medium build with grey eyes and light-colored hair. He entered military service at Springfield in May 1918 and received training at Camp Gordon, Ga., and at Camp Sheridan, Ala., and was at Camp Sheridan when the Armistice was signed. He was discharged as Private First Class in Company K of the 45th Infantry, 9th Division, on June 14, 1919 at Camp Taylor, Ky.
He married Matilda Maggs of Auburn and they had a son named Stanley and two daughters, Dolores and Isabelle. Into the 1940s, Patrilla worked as a miner at the Panther Creek #5 mine in Springfield. He died in 1948, and his wife Matlida died in 1974. According to his obituary, he was survived by two brothers and one sister.