By Tom Boltz
Vernon Wymer was the first Wood County, Ohio serviceman to die in combat in World War I. He did not win any medals or receive any national recognition; however, his story is important because he is representative of the thousands of soldiers from small Mid-Western towns who perished in WW I.
Vernon was born in 1900 to Charles and Ella Wymer. His mother died in 1915 soon after giving birth to Vernon’s youngest brother Gerald. As the eldest, it fell to Vernon to help his father raise his 8 younger siblings.
However, within 3 years, the United States joined the war against Imperial Germany, and Vernon Wymer’s life changed drastically.
Shortly after America’s entry into the war in April 1917, National Guard Units throughout the US, in anticipation of mobilization, began recruiting efforts. The closest National Guard unit to North Baltimore, Ohio, where Vernon Wymer was living was Company H, 2nd Ohio Infantry Regiment, located in Bowling Green, the county seat.
In May, 1917, Company H was significantly under-strength and needed to recruit over 64 men to reach its authorized wartime strength of 150. The unit officers began an intensive recruiting campaign throughout the county’s small towns, and local officials aided by sponsoring patriotic meetings to encourage young men to volunteer. Responding to these pleas, Wymer, along with several of his friends, went to Bowling Green and enlisted as a private in the unit on July 26.
Although Company H was activated for Federal service on August 2, Wymer and the rest of the Company remained at the local armory for several weeks. During this time, the unit conducted what training it could despite a severe shortage of equipment and weapons. Although the recruiting campaign brought in many new guardsmen, the unit was still under strength.
In mid-September, the 135 men in the unit left Bowling Green for Camp Sheridan, a training camp in Alabama. There conscripts were assigned to bring the unit up to full strength. Company H was later re-designated as Company E, 146th Infantry Regiment, 37th Infantry Division.
Wymer trained with the 146th Infantry until early May 1918 when he was re-assigned as a replacement to the American Expeditionary Force in France. After arriving in France in June, Wymer was eventually assigned to the 2nd US Infantry Division as a rifleman with Company K, 23rd Infantry Regiment.
During the Defense of the Marne River Line Campaign, Private Wymer was killed during the Battle of Vaux on July 2, 1918 while his unit was attacking German army units holding the village of Vaux.
At the request of his family, Private Wymer’s body was returned to the United States for burial in 1921. An estimated 4,000 people attended his funeral in North Baltimore, Ohio.
No North Baltimore-area service members killed in action in World War II or later wars has received such a significant tribute for their ultimate sacrifice for their country. Vernon Wymer’s grave can be found in a quiet rural cemetery in Wood County, Ohio. His youngest brother Gerald, who was killed in action in Belgium during World War II, is buried beside him.
“This article was originally published in The Road to the Great War, a WW I Internet history blog (http://roadstothegreatwar-ww1.blogspot.com).”