Dressed in period costumes, veteran actors provided a dramatic flair as they recounted stories from the viewpoint of local citizens buried at Forest Home Cemetery. Carolyn Dombroske portrayed the inimitable Miss Mary Fish, an accomplished teacher at Greenville High School, patron of the arts, and well- known orator. Miss Fish shared a letter that she had received from one of her former students, Oscar Fowler (portrayed by Cory Smith) who had fought in the Meuse- Argonne offensive at the end of the war. “Miss Fish” also gave a dramatic reading of Dulce et Decorum Est, a poem that was written by a British poet and soldier in 1917, which describes the ravages of war and concludes with the sarcastic line: “It is just and proper to die for one’s country.” The poem’s author was killed during the war.
Another vignette featured the colorful story of Mrs. Bessie Bierman, as told by her mother, Alice Wilson (portrayed by Briana Herzog). Bessie grew up in Greenville, then later moved to Chicago to start her own detective agency, after being abandoned by her husband and left with a 3-year-old son to raise. “Mrs. B” as she was referred to, became the only female member of the American Protective League, which was tasked with rooting out spies and German sympathizers. At its peak, the American Protective League had 250,000 volunteer members nationwide. Bessie Bierman died at the young age of 46, having led a very eventful life.
But perhaps one of the most memorable stories was told by Smith Booth
(portrayed by Spence Tower), the father of Ray I. Booth, who was killed
during the war and in whose memory the local American Legion Post
is named. “Smith Booth” shared a letter that he had received from one
of Ray’s comrades, Fred Petchell, who fought alongside Ray during the
last days of the war. Relying on uncensored diary entries made during
the war, Fred related details of Ray’s 2 months of fighting in France
before being killed in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. The letter included
a touching story of a “shared watch” (Fred’s watch straps on Ray’s
watch face), which Fred sent to Smith Booth after the war.
Other stories included Teresa Ranney (as told by her son, George
Ranney, portrayed by Mike Walsh), who was a feminist icon back
in the day, empowering women to support the Liberty Loan drives
and fighting for women’s equal right to vote; and Emily Fuller
(portrayed by Deb Dieckman) whose family moved to Greenville
after the great Chicago fire, and who wrote an article in the
October 30, 1918 issue of the Greenville Independent concerning the women’s registration drive during the war.
The program was well-received by those who attended. “A wonderful program and fantastic performances – so glad we went!” said Toy Hogan. “I really enjoyed the program as well,” added Shelley Ramirez. “I love how they brought the stories and history to life, and I appreciate all the research that Kathleen and Paula continue to do.”
“We’re happy to continue providing entertaining and educational events at the cemetery,” said Friends president, Paula Christiansen. “The funds raised by these events allow Friends to continue restoring and preserving the headstones and history of the cemetery. And we’re donating one-half of the net proceeds from this particular program to our Veterans Flag Holder Project, in the hope that by next year, every veteran’s grave will have a flag holder and U.S. flag.”
“The WWI Centennial Jubilee was also made possible through generous in-kind donations from Big L Lumber, Fighting Falcon Military Museum, Flat River Community Players, Merritt Auction & Tent Rental, Nelsons Speed Shop, Pinups for Patriots, SureShot Pest Control, and VFW Post 3794,” said Christiansen. “We’re very grateful for the continued support of our community, and hope to expand our program offerings in the future.”