I spent most of my Memorial Day researching my Great Uncle who died in France during The Great War in 1918.
Victor is born in the Oregon gold rush town of Sumpter in 1895. The town was booming and boasted some two dozen saloons including The Louvre which offered both wine and women. Not to be outdone, the Coeur d’Alene Music Hall featured wine, women and song. The O’ Rourke Grocery was conveniently located on Center Street across from Tom McEuen’s Stage Office and Post Office.
Victor’s parent Frances O’Rourke and Fanny Foster had married in Nebraska during 1885. Victor was not their first child as my Grandmother Helen was born two years earlier. Why he was named after the famous Romantic writer, Victor Hugo is not known. Fanny was of Pilgrim stock while Frances’ Dad had immigrated to the US during the Irish Famine in 1847. Perhaps the marriage between long time Protestants and a Catholic son of Ireland was the inspiration.
The O’Rourke Grocery was evidently successful despite their relocation to nearby Cleary Creek by 1910. Mining the miners was usually a smart strategy in the gold towns of the west. It appears that they knew when to leave as most of Sumpter burned to the ground in 1917. By then the family had relocated to the Portland area. Frances and Fanny will purchase significant acreage in the upscale Lake Oswego area and live to see their Nephew Victor Hal La Porte preparing to fight the Japanese.
Victor Hugo evidently enlists in 1917 as there are no draft records. He is placed in the 65th Coast Artillery Command whose 8 inch howitzers guarded access to the Columbia River. By February 28, 1918 the three batteries of the 65th were stationed at Fort Scott in San Francisco and were embarked on the USS Northern Pacific and passed through the newly completed Panama Canal and reached New York and the Statue of Liberty on March 16. The 65th boarded the H.M.S. Mauretania and endured a steady diet of rice soup, hard tack and goat stew that made their voyage in life vests less than pleasant. Despite having no escort or convoy, the reached Liverpool on April 2.
Unlike the next generation of Americans to in Europe, these Doughboys found themselves quickly landing in LeHavre near The Normandy Beaches by April 9. There was little time to regain their health after the long voyage in cramped and filthy conditions. The forty day journey had been costly as several men died of pneumonia while in England. The trip to Limoges in French box cars created more sickness as sleeping and cleanliness were impossible. The relief came from the opportunity to purchase the fruit of the vine to fill their canteens.
The arrival in Limoges meant that clean bodies and clothes became a real possibility. Of course, learning French became a priority to use their dough in the local stores. The French saw the Americans as heroes who were sent to deliver them from the Hun. Unfortunately, our story about Victor ends here in Limoges where he dies from illness on May 2. He was probably attended to by the doctors and nurses sent to Limoges by Yale University. He probably received the best care available in that time and place. As many soldiers will die of illness as in battle during this War to End All Wars.
His Company C will leave Limoges on May 8 and will go on to be in on finishing the Germans. The American offensive in the Argonne Forest led to the German surrender on November 11. During this time, the 65th had seen almost 70 days of continuous combat.
Victor Hugo will be briefly buried near Limoges before being returned to his parents in Portland. His tombstone lies in the Portland Lone Pine Pioneers Historical Cemetery. His name is also inscribed on the O’Rourke family monument in Portland.
Less than two years after his death in France, his older sister Helen will name her youngest son, Victor Hal after her brother.
What a shame. Enduring that long ship ride across to Europe…then the train ride under those conditions and dying, most likely having never seen battle. What a waste of a good man.