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WWI Memorial Tree Plaque

After the end of World War One a custom arose in which communities chose to honor those who had given their lives in the conflict by dedicating memorial trees. The American Forestry Association wanted to promote and encourage this tree planting and created a National Honor Roll Memorial Tree Register. Communities that dedicated and planted Memorial Trees were able to register them on the honor roll, in turn The American Forestry Association would issue a dedication plague and registered trees were listed in the Association’s magazine, “American Forestry” .

One such community was the unincorporated community of Progress, PA. On May 12th, 1919 the Progress educational department of the Penbrook Community Civic Club dedicated a memorial tree to five local men who had lost their lives in the late war. Those men are: George Dewey Umholtz, James B. Martin, Ralph B. Kramer, Robert Heinly Hoke, and Oliver Zeiders.

The Progress tree was registered with the American Forestry Association. Notice of the registration appeared in the March 1920 issue of “American Forestry” and a plaque was created. That plaque is now in the collection of the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum (LM2016.5.1).

Progress Memorial Tree Plaque (LM2016.5.1)

In honor of Memorial Day I wanted to look into the names to whom the memorial tree was dedicated.

Private George Dewey Umholtz– Private Umholtz was a member of Company D, 304th Engineers, 79th Division. He was called up for service in May of 1918 and arrived in France after only six weeks in the Army. He died of pneumonia on September 2, 1918. He was 25 years old. “The History of the 304th Engineers”, published in 1920, tells of an epidemic of “Spanish Flu” breaking out among the Regiment, while they where in Maatz in late August/ early September, right before the were getting ready to move to the front. This flu outbreak caused the 304th Engineers their first casualties in France and Company D, Private Umholtz’s Company, was particularly hard hit.

Private Umholtz may be the reason that the plaque is in the collection of the museum and not still in place. The plaque incorrectly lists 1919 are the year of his death, not 1918. It is possible that this plaque was removed and or replaced because of this incorrect date.

George Dewey Unmholtz Reaches France, Harrisburg Telegraph July 27, 1918

James B. Martin– Officer Candidate Martin was still in Officer’s Tranning School at Camp Taylor in Kentucky, when he died from the flu. Camp Taylor was an Army training camp that had opened in 1917. It was the largest such camp with approximately 400,000 to 60,000 troops living there. Camp Taylor also found itself as a hot bed for the flu epidemic of 1918-1919. According to the Explore Kentucky History website the first flu cases emerged in September 1918 and more than 10,000 men would be hospitalized at the camp with over 1,500 deaths. The article in the Lousiville Courier Journal that list James Martin’s death on Oct 11, 1918 also lists 59 other deaths from the flu at Camp Taylor that day.

Harrisburg Telegraph Oct. 11, 1918 (James Martin has two listings)

Ralph B. Kramer- Private Kramer arrived in France in in late October or Early November 1918 after having been sent to Camp Greenleaf in Georgia. Camp Greenleaf was the home of the Army’s medical training operations. An article from the “Harrisburg Telegraph” mentions that Private Kramer was part of a medical detachment but does list his unit. He died of disease (most likely the flu) on April 7, 1919. Despite having died after the end of the war Private Kramer is still considered a casualty of WWI.

Harrisburg Telegraph November 5, 1918

Robert Heinly Hoke- Corporal Hoke (born March 8th, 1892) was a member of Company I, 316th Infantry, 79th Division. Originally listed as Missing in Action Corporal Hoke was killed in action on September 28th, 1918 while fighting North of Montfaucon, France during the Muse-Argonne Offensive. His body was later identified by a cousin, Lt. Smith of the 29th division, and his brother, Lt. Frank Hoke, of the 79th division. Corporal Hoke was initially buried by the Germans and it was said that “his grave marked the extreme advance of the 79th Division.” He was later buried by his brother at the American Cemetery in Montfaucon. In 1921 his body was returned to the United States and he is buried at Shoops Cemetery in Harrisburg. The American Legion Post 272 in Linglestown, PA is named after him.

Oliver Zeiders- Private Zeiders, like Private Umholtz, was a member of Company D, 30th Engineers, 79th Division. He was killed in action on October 31, 1918 fighting in France during the Muse-Argonne Offensive. His wife, Edna, had died only days before news of his death reached home.

Harrisburg Telegraph December 8, 1918