Alton Schurr

My name is Alton Schurr, I lived in East Aurora, and I was killed in World War One.(84)

When I lived in Western New York my friends and I were normal kids, doing normal things.  We went to the Fillmore Theater and to the Roycroft band concerts. But the war changed all of that. I remember seeing an article in the East Aurora Advertiser which talked about registering for the draft.  Everyone had to go, even if you were sick. So, on September 26, 1917, I registered for the U.S. Army in Collins, New York. I enlisted as a Private. (85)

When I first left East Aurora, I never realized how different it would be out there, or exactly how small our little town would seem.  First came training in Camp Dix, New Jersey. Then we were shipped overseas. (86)

Our training had been thorough.  We were taught to hate and kill the enemy. It was almost a form of brainwashing. We drilled with our bayonets so often, fighting became a reflex, not an action driven by thought. (87)  I’ll never forget my first day on the front line, seeing comrades get killed.  It kind of made me contemplate the thought of atheism. It made me wonder if this was all just a game to Him. Many soldiers were killed, but somehow I survived, and on January 1, 1918, I was promoted to Private First Class. (88)

We grew old too soon, I felt like I was fifty years old. We saw things nobody else from East Aurora would ever want to witness. The smells of rotting bodies in No Man’s Land, seeing my friends taken away in ambulances, I was surrounded by death. This separated me from my friends still back in the States. This changed my life forever. (89)

I often wondered how I’d feel going back home, to my tiny little East Aurora. Would I be a hero? Would they be afraid of me? Would I be able to talk to them again? Because of these feelings, as much as I missed East Aurora, I was also scared to think of returning home.  I worried about my parents and my little brother Orrin; but mostly I worried about my older brother Ralph, who was somewhere over here too, being shot at just like I was. (90)

On October 7th, 1918, we, the 82nd Infantry Division, along with the rest of I Corps, launched a strong attack to the northwest, towards Cornay, trying to outflank the Germans in Argonne.  The next day, we were to attack the German army at its pivot point, east of the Meuse.  There were German fortifications and they resisted stubbornly, but we kept up the pressure across the entire front. On the far left we had our greatest gains, capturing the greater part of the Argonne Forest. (91)

Unfortunately, all of this fighting took its toll on the American soldiers in combat. We were exhausted, and there was no time to move up fresh troops.  Every day I hoped and prayed for our lives, but mine ended on October 9th, 1918. (92) I never knew of my brother Ralph’s death, nearly a month before my own.  (93)

How horrible my parents must have felt to find out that they had lost two of their sons to the war.  Making it worse would be the realization that the youngest, Orrin, was getting ready to go overseas to fight. Orrin was drafted in 1919, trained, but never sent overseas. He was one of the lucky ones; he never had to experience what we experienced, smell what we smelled, or die how we died.  Sure we died for our country. We died with honor. Unfortunately, we died with fear in our hearts. (94)

William J. Donovan | Lawrence F. Ernst

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