Lawrence F. Ernst

My name is Lawrence Ferdinand Ernst.  I was an average boy from East Aurora, New York in every way.  I was born on September 30, 1894. (95) Did I say I was totally average? Well, one thing makes me stick out from the rest.  I was the first boy from East Aurora to die in World War I. (96)

I was born in East Aurora and attended parochial school here.  My parents, Leonard and Helen, were involved with the Roycroft movement.  When I was 22 I felt extremely patriotic and decided to enlist in the Army. I couldn’t help but submit to that feeling in my chest when I saw the flag waving proudly.  I traveled into the city of Buffalo and joined the Marine Corps. (97)

I was sent to Paris Island, South Carolina for training.  When I put that uniform on for the first time, I wanted to run home and parade around town, showing off. We trained on Parris Island for about five and a half months.  My company, the 118th, was transferred to Quantico, Virginia in January for advanced training. (98)  The rumor went around that the next stop was France. I was very excited. That night, I could hardly get to sleep. I wanted to get right on the front line with an American flag in one hand and my rifle in the other. I knew my parents would be very proud of me if I came home a hero.

We got sent over to France in February. (99) As we pulled into the harbor upon arriving in France it was a spectacular sight.  Words can hardly describe it. Long lines of transports pulling in, guarded by destroyers. All of the ship’s bands on deck playing, and airplanes circling overhead. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. (100)

Unfortunately, that excitement soon went away as we prepared for our first battle - the Aisne Defensive. The sounds, smells, sights and other horrible sensations erased any glorified thoughts about war that I might have had. A soldier from Hamburg said it best:

"There is something in the sharp whine of a shell that creates a feeling of despair, melancholy, utter hopelessness and the more you hear it – the more it affects you. The thunder of the guns and the crash of the bursting shell cannot be compared to it. It is as if some demon from the depths of Hades were hurtling towards you, laughing weirdly, crying, calling to you and chilling your blood."(101)

Seeing thousands of unidentifiable dead people is the worst feeling in life. We filled a gap in the French line and held the Germans back. As the Germans were slowly pushed back, we pushed forward towards Belleau Woods and the town of Vaux. (102) I didn’t make it to Vaux. I was killed advancing on the German Army. A sniper, as he was retreating, took one final shot and hit me. I fell and hoped a stretcher bearer would find me and tell me it was nothing to be scared of. It never happened.

As I lay dying on that battlefield my comrades were too caught up in the rush of adrenaline and the taste of blood to worry about me. I thought of my mother and father and when they would be told. I was sure it would be a long time before they heard of my death. I knew they waited in fear of that cold telegram with its message beginning “Deeply regret to inform you…”(103) Thoughts of my home, my parents and my friends flashed through my head. I felt my spirit separate from my body, and I knew I was dead.

I now have no emotions. I feel lucky though. My relatives still live in East Aurora, and unlike many of my pals, at least I’m remembered and thought of. I feel sorry for those veterans who are forgotten. I sit and talk with other dead veterans from my home town, veterans such as Donald McCreary a fellow Marine and East Auroran. We sometimes wonder why World War II is better remembered in people’s minds than World War I. We sit for an eternity, never again to worry about dying, but to think about the memories of war.

Alton Schurr | Conclusion

Ernst's story in PDF format (Adobe Acrobat Reader required)