BY RAY KAY
This year we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I – The war to end all wars. The global conflict thrust men and women from every inhabited continent into combat. Even members of St. Mary Church in Mokena were pulled into the fray.
Four men who were members of our parish at the time of the war are known to have served our country. Three of them were from the same extended family: George, Frank and John Aschenbrenner. Frank and John were brothers, and it is believed that George was one of their cousins. The fourth man was Louis Lucas, who is buried in the St. Mary cemetery.
George Aschenbrenner served with Battery A of the 72nd Artillery Brigade. His unit was mobilized at Ft. Dix in New Jersey in 1917. This unit was assigned to the 92nd Division in 1917, and saw action in operations in the Lorraine region of France in 1918.
Frank Aschenbrenner served in the Headquarters Company of the 116th Field Artillery, which was mobilized in October 1917 at Camp Wheeler in Georgia. This unit was assigned to the 31st Division in 1917 and was transferred to France in 1918, but saw no action in that theater.
John Aschenbrenner served in Battery D in the 11th Field Artillery Battalion. This unit was assigned to the 6th Division in 1917, and was sent to France in June 1918. The 11th Field Artillery Battalion was involved in the Meuse-Argonne offensive from October 19, 1918 until the Armistice. This offensive was the last major action of the war and put the German Empire into full retreat. In fact, the 11th Field Artillery Battalion fired the final shots of the war, laying down arms just before the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.
Louis Lucas was a part of the lesser-known Siberian Expedition in 1918. After the October Revolution of 1917, the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia. The previous regime, under the leadership of Tsar Nicholas II, was an ally of the United States and the recipient of significant material aid in the form of weapons, ammunition and railroad rolling stock. President Woodrow Wilson acquiesced to the requests of France, Britain and Japan to intervene in Eastern Russia, to prevent the vast amounts of weapons and other materials from falling into the hands of either the Germans or the Bolsheviks.
As a result, the U.S. sent about 8,000 soldiers to Vladivostok to secure weapons and equipment in the region. This force, called the American Expeditionary Force Siberia, also helped rescue about 40,000 Czechoslovak soldiers, who had previously fought against the Germans allies of Tsar Nicholas, and were now being pursued by Bolshevik forces across the vast stretches of Siberia. The Americans supported anti-bolshevik activity and eventually assisted in the complete withdrawal of Czechoslovak forces from Vladivostok in 1920.
It is difficult to imagine what these men went through, and what they saw. Imagine a young man from quaint and quiet Mokena going off to far flung regions of France and Siberia. How radically different everything must have felt.
Accounts such as this reveal that the parishioners of St. Mary Mokena have stood witness to some of history’s most pivotal events. Today, their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren continue to fill our pews. On this Memorial Day, let us remember all veterans of St. Mary and their sacrifice. May the Lord bless and keep them forever.
If you have any additional information about the four St. Mary World War I veterans mentioned here, or know if they have surviving relatives, please respond in the comments below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.