Dec 18, 2014

Harold R. Mead and "The War to End All Wars"......

Last month, I was reminded once more that our Memorial Day used to be celebrated as "Armistice Day" and was the annual celebration of the end of World War I.  Most people are surprised when I tell them that my father, Dr. Harold R. Mead, was a member of the U.S. Army and served in that war.  A lot of my contemporaries have fathers who served in World War II.  There's a simple explanation.  My dad was born in 1894, didn't marry until he was in his forties, and I was the third of four children.  He was nearly forty-six years old when I was born.

As kids, my sister and brother and I would play with the old "doughboy" helmet that was in the garage.  I doubt if we made any connection with the Great War.  It was simply a toy that we used when we staged our own backyard conflicts.  I rarely heard my father talk about his war experience, and when he did, I was too naive to recognize its significance.  I should have been taking notes.

As I eventually gained an interest in my family's history, I certainly wanted to include a detailed understanding of my father's military experience.  So, in the mid-1980's, I corresponded with the U.S. Army and the Veteran's Administration to get any documentation that might be available.  My father had died in 1971.  I was shocked to learn that none of his war records existed.  In July of 1973, a disastrous fire had destroyed much of the National Personnel Records Center outside of St. Louis.  Over 80 million folders of official military records were destroyed.  There were no backups or duplicates.  My father's military history had gone up in smoke.  I resigned myself to the notion that I would never know the details of his service -- when and where did he serve, what units was he associated with, what battles had he witnessed?  I would never know.  I recall the enormous disappointment when I received the news from the Government that the records no longer existed.

The dental infirmary of First Lieutenant Ralph F Krueger, dental surgeon, 302nd Engineers, 77th Division, near Abri du Crochet, Argonne Forest, France. October 29, 1918. Remarkably, I found this image on the Internet.  Dr. Ralph Krueger attended Dental School with my father, was one of his closest friends, and they both ended up practicing dentistry in Schenectady, NY.  When I saw the image, I did a double take.  I thought, "I know that man!" 
Photograph: Courtesy of US Army Military History Institute. SC 42751.
But then came the Internet and the World Wide Web.  And along came better and better search engines.  And perhaps even more important, people and companies scanned and digitized huge quantities of documents that had been residing in libraries and private collections for decades.  More and better information was becoming accessible and searchable on the Internet.  That combination of developments has made much of my father's war record available in spite of the devastating fire that had destroyed so many documents.

The first breakthrough occurred a few weeks ago when I discovered an article in a little-known journal entitled "The Journal of the Association of Military Dental Surgeons of the United States."  In the July, 1919, issue of that journal is an article entitled, "Dental History of the Second Division, A.E.F." by Lt.Col. George D. Graham.  Early in the article, Colonel Graham mentions that he took command of the dental unit described in March, 1918, and lists the officers then in the dental unit.  My father was one of those mentioned.  Thanks to the library at the Northwestern University School of Dentistry and to Google's efforts to scan and digitize academic journal collections, I now know which organization my father served in during the war.
One of my father's units was the 9th
Infantry Regiment of the 2nd
Army Division of the A.E.F.

This article goes on to describe the history of the unit and its operations from March to November of 1918.  Within those few months, they saw action at Chateau Thierry, Soissons, St. Mihiel, the Champagne Front, and the Argonne.  My dad was definitely in the thick of the battles that were taking place.  The article also describes how the Dental Corps personnel were engaged, often acting as anesthetists for the medical corps during surgery.  Dr. Graham states, "Dental officers were installed in towns, in which troops were temporarily billeted, in dugouts, in tents and occasionally by the roadside, wherever their organizations happened to be, often under shell fire."  He also describes how, under these field conditions, these oral surgeons were developing better, lighter, and smaller instrument packages and equipment packages to make it easier to relocate and set up their "offices."  I also learned from Dr. Graham's article that in October, 1918, my father was "evacuated, sick" along with two other dentists.  No further detail is provided on either the nature of the sickness nor the destination of the evacuation.

Not too long after I located Dr. Graham's article, I found another offbeat publication, "Dental Cosmos, A Monthly Record of Dental Science."  This gem had been scanned by Google from within the Health Sciences Library at the University of California, Davis.  Again, I extend my thanks.  Volume 59, dated November 1917, informs us that during the week of September 22, 1917, a certain Army reservist named Harold R. Mead was assigned "To Camp Mills, Garden City, Long Island."  So now, I knew where my father completed his training prior to going to Europe.  The pieces of the puzzle were appearing slowly but surely.

On the U.S. Army Medical Corps site, I discovered a sizeable document called "A History of Dentistry in the U.S. Army to World War II."  In Chapter 15 of that work I read the following, which bears tribute to the service of men like my dad:
"The dental service that Robert Oliver and his colleagues built in France experienced its most difficult test with the combat divisions of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). Never before in the history of the Army or its medical department had dental officers gone directly into battle as part of a combat unit. Thanks to Oliver’s efforts and those of many others in the Dental Corps, the AEF had dental officers and assistants attached to all of its front line divisions, including infantry and engineer battalions in the trenches and field artillery batteries. Without the experience of any army in history to guide it, the AEF integrated the dentists into the fabric of the division in a variety of ways. While they were sometimes assigned collateral duties with little regard for their professional backgrounds, they were more often employed as auxiliary medical officers to assist the battalion and regimental surgeons and medical detachments on the battlefield. Regardless of their assignments, the dental officers and their assistants served their fellow soldiers in times of trial, a number of them winning awards for gallantry on the battlefield and others sacrificing their lives. Their performance ultimately won the soldiers’ respect and the honored place in the Army Medical Department that dentists had so long sought."

A search of newspapers of the period when my father likely would have returned revealed another gem.  On August 5, 1919, the following article appeared in the Schenectady Gazette:

Local Practitioner Saw Months Overseas as First Lieutenant

Dr. Harold R. Mead of 6 Eagle Street, the first Schenectady dentist to reach France, has returned, almost the last local practitioner to leave that country. Dr. Mead enlisted in July, 1917, and was commissioned first lieutenant in the same month. He spent five weeks in Camp Mills and was then sent overseas, where he remained for 21 months. 

He was assigned to the second division and spent most of his time with the 9th and 23d Infantry, composed of both Infantry and marines. Part of his experience was behind the lines with the medical detachment, and part of the time was spent at the front In first aid work. After the signing of the armistice he resumed the work of dentistry.
Among the engagements in which Doctor Mead took part were that of Chateau Thierry, St. Mihiel, and the Meuse-Argonne. His division was the American unit which aided the stopping of the German drive on Paris. At the time of one German raid on his regiment, in which one of the doctors and seven Red Cross men were taken prisoners and another doctor-captain wounded, he, together with three others, was all that was left of the medical detachment. These four were forced to do the work of 12 or 13 men in giving first aid to the wounded and sending them behind the lines. He was commended for this work.
Dr. Mead tells an amusing incident which came to his notice while in service. One of his fellow practitioners, while working on a patient in his office chair, had the front of his office blown away by a shell. The patient "got up and ran" and was never heard of since.

The doctor was one of about seven who left this city to practice dentistry in the service. He has a brother-in-law, Captain Gilbert L Van Auken, who spent about the same time as the doctor in the field artillery. He has always lived in this city and expects to resume his practice in a week or two at his old location in Crane Street."

So there is a gap from October, 1918, when he was "evacuated, sick" from his unit in France, until July or August of 1919, when it was published that he had returned home.  I have no idea what transpired nor what his ailment was.  But I know a whole lot more about my father's units and movements than I ever would have thought possible even a few years ago.

He spent 21 months overseas.  It's remarkable to me that he rarely spoke of these times.  One of the few stories I recall him telling was of going into Paris once on leave with another officer.  Meat was in short supply, so a restaurant would usually offer a single choice of meat each day.  On this particular day and at the restaurant in which my father found himself, the meat of the day was tripe.  My dad said that they told the waiter to give their meat to a nearby French couple.  He had tasted tripe and said it was the worst thing he ever put in his mouth.  The French couple was overtaken with emotion that the Americans had "sacrificed" their meat to the benefit of the French.  Little did they know...

Dec 5, 2014

Remembering Roger G.

The last time I drank an alcoholic beverage was in August of 1983.  At that time, my "home group" in Alcoholics Anonymous was the Fayetteville Group in Fayetteville, Tennessee.  We met on Tuesday and Friday nights.  On the last Friday of the month, we had a guest speaker and celebrated the AA birthdays of anyone in the group whose birthday occurred during that month.  We were always on the lookout for new speakers to tell their stories at these so-called "eatin' meetings."
Sometime in 1984, the guest speaker was a gentleman introduced as Roger G. from Manchester, Tennessee.  My wife, Margo, and I listened intently to Roger's story.  He and I had a lot in common.  He had been raised in the north (the Boston area) in a devoutly Catholic family.  He was a college graduate.  He had migrated to the South fairly recently.  I could identify with much of his story.  After he had finished his story and the meeting had ended, Margo and I asked him if he'd care to join us at Shoney's for coffee and dessert.  We learned later that "coffee" was the magic word.  He would join anyone for a cup of coffee any time.  Roger joined us and within the next couple of hours, we became friends and Roger Gaudet became my first real AA sponsor.  Over the next several years, he would be my guide and mentor through the twelve step recovery program.

Roger's story was unusual in a number of ways.  He was not much older than I but he had been sober for nearly 25 years.  He had gotten sober in an AA group in Newton, Massachusetts, when he was around twenty years old.  That was a rarity in the early 1960's.  He spoke of the reaction of the older AA members when he attended his first meeting and stated that he was an alcoholic.  Many of the older members said that he wasn't old enough to be an alcoholic.  But Roger kept going to meetings, got a sponsor, worked the 12 steps of the program, and remained sober.  When we met, he was the director of a treatment facility in Manchester, Tennessee.

Roger became a fixture at our home on weekends.  Our guest bedroom became known as "Roger's Room."  He and I spent countless hours together and our common interests kept the conversation lively.  He had been formally trained as a keyboard artist at the New England Conservatory in Boston, and for several years had made his living as a concert organist, representing the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company of North Tonawanda, New York.  

An ad for one of Roger's concerts,
in Spokane, in 1976
Roger would travel from city to city under the sponsorship of a local music company that sold the Wurlitzer line of electronic organs.  The company would send tickets to local residents who were potential customers.  Roger would put on a show at a local auditorium, demonstrating what could be done on the latest Wurlitzer instrument.  The dealer was ready to sign up potential customers at the conclusion of the concert.

He could spin yarns for hours with stories of those years as a travelling musician.  When he would arrive in a city, he'd call the AA answering service to determine the location of a nearby meeting.  If there were none nearby, he'd sometimes ask if an AA member could pick him up at his hotel to take him to a meeting.  Naturally he had met hundreds of AA members all over the world by this practice.  At one point, he was doing a series of concerts in Australia and encountered an AA member who was a Qantas Airlines 747 pilot.  The gentleman lived on a ranch and insisted that Roger live with his family throughout the duration of his Australia tour.  On Roger's return flight to Hawaii enroute to California, he was invited to sit in a spare engineer's seat in the cockpit of his plane.  The Qantas pilot happened to know the pilot of Roger's flight and had suggested this extra hospitality, knowing of Roger's interest in aviation.  Another time, while in L.A., Roger was picked up at his hotel by a couple of black recovering alcoholics driving a pink cadillac convertible.  They took him to an AA meeting in Watts at which, as Roger would tell it, his was the only white face.

One time, Roger told me to set aside a Saturday night for him and Margo and me to attend an AA "Roundup" being held at Guntersville State Lodge in Alabama.  As Roger put it, "There's a speaker that I want you to meet."  We went to the meeting and the speaker turned out to be a fellow who called himself "John the Indian."  His story was one of the most incredible recovery stories ever and it turned out that he and Roger had become close friends in the earliest days of their sobriety.  They had an almost identical sobriety date and had started their recovery in the same groups near Boston.  It was like old home week when Roger went up to John after his talk and asked, "Do I look any older?"  They hadn't seen each other for about twenty years.

Roger was a natural musician and every weekend was enriched by his playing at Margo's Baldwin Acrosonic spinet piano.  He would simply sit on the bench and start to play.  It might be Mozart or Chopin or Rachmaninoff.  It might just as easily be Cole Porter or Rodgers and Hammerstein.  His repertoire was unlimited.  And Margo would toss out requests and Roger would invariably play them from memory.  He was astonishing.

His musical skill led to an amusing incident one Saturday afternoon at Parkway City Mall in Huntsville.  There was a store there called "Tony Barone's Organ Center."  The store was a long-time fixture in Huntsville, and the store was designed to be open on two sides.  If someone was playing one of the several display instruments, they could be heard throughout the mall.  Roger and I were shopping and he noticed the organ center.  He said, "Let's have a little fun" as he strolled into the store and sat at one of the more elaborate electronic organs.  Soon a salesman descended on us.  Roger asked how you turned on the instrument.  The salesman brushed Roger aside as he slipped onto the bench.  "Let me show you gentlemen a few features of this marvelous organ."  He proceeded to go through his routine, describing the capabilities and gadgetry, and even playing a few simple tunes.  Roger asked if he could try it out.  As Roger centered himself on the bench, he reached up and started to flip various stop tabs to reset the organ's registry, and launched into an astounding version of the Colonel Bogey March, employing pedals and both keyboards.  It was Roger at his flamboyant best!  By the time he finished, a crowd of several dozen bystanders had come into the store to see who was playing.  The salesman realized that he had been set up.  The owner of the store came out of his office to meet Roger.  We stayed for a couple of hours as Roger played request after request to the appreciative audience.

In about 1986, Roger informed us that he had been praying for guidance and had concluded that he was being called to enter the Roman Catholic priesthood.  This was an interesting turn of events for a man who had been married twice and had four daughters.  It turned out that his first marriage had been annulled and his second was never valid in the eyes of the church.  He was also nearly 50 years old.  He would have to find a bishop willing to support him through a seminary path of at least three years.  The sponsoring bishop would be unlikely to get too many years of pastoral service from a man who would be ordained in his fifties.  But Roger succeeded in getting Archbishop Edward T. O'Meara of Indianapolis, Indiana, to sponsor him.  Roger attended a "late vocations" seminary, Sacred Heart School of Theology, in Hales Corners, Wisconsin.  And on June 3, 1989, Margo and I (as well as a lot of other Huntsville AA members) were in SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis for his ordination to the priesthood.  By this time in his life, he had reconciled with his children.  One of his daughters sat near him during the ceremony, and Roger carried his grandchild down the aisle in the processional, handing the baby to her mother before he took his place for the ceremony.  And the next time we spoke to him, he was Father Roger!

One of his first assignments was as associate chaplain 
for the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, with residence at St. Mary-of-the-Woods Parish near Terre Haute.  Here was this world-travelled former drunk serving as chaplain to a group of retired nuns!  He told me it was evidence of God's sense of humor.  As Roger put it, "That will teach me to pray to be surrounded by beautiful women."

In 1994, Roger was named pastor of 
St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Fortville, Indiana.  Margo and I visited him there and he was a very happy man.  He was loved by his parishioners, was composing lots of liturgical music, was performing organ concerts for some cloistered nuns at a nearby convent, and was still in demand as an AA speaker (and what a wonderful recovery story he had to share).

Roger took an early retirement in 2001 for health reasons and on August 2, 2002, he left us.  The tribute that follows appeared in the Criterion, a regional Catholic newspaper, the week after his death.  Unfortunately, it's impossible to capture in print the bigger-than-life presence that was Father Roger.  I am very blessed and grateful to have had him in my life in a very important and treasured way.

Father Roger Gaudet, retired diocesan priest,
dies on Aug. 2 by Mary Ann Wyand

Father Roger B. Gaudet, who retired as pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Fortville last year, died in his sleep on Aug. 2 at St. Paul Hermitage in Beech Grove. He was 65. He was granted early retirement for health reasons in January 2002 and lived at St. Paul Hermitage, where he served as chaplain. Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein celebrated the Mass of Christian Burial for Father Gaudet at 11 a.m. on Aug. 6 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. Father Thomas Schliessmann, pastor of American Martyrs Parish in Scottsburg and St. Patrick Parish in Salem, was the homilist. Burial followed in the Priests’ Circle at Calvary Cemetery in Indianapolis.

St. Roch Parish in Indianapolis hosted a luncheon after the funeral. The wake was Aug. 5 at St. Paul Hermitage. “He had been under the care of a doctor,” Father Schliessmann said. “Several years ago, he asked me if I would preach at his funeral. He and Father Raymond Schafer and I were ordination classmates.” Father Gaudet’s last name means “rejoice” in Latin, Father Schliessmann said, “and that’s normally how he lived. He lived rejoicing and enjoyed his 13 years as a priest.”

A former Marine, he had been married and was the father of four daughters. After his divorce, his marriage was annulled and he began studies for the priesthood. “He was able to enter the seminary after proving that any financial obligations to his four grown children were taken care of,” Father Schliessmann said. “He was a talented musician and professional organist. Following his ordination, he wrote the music for a special Mass at every parish where he served. He also played the organ for concerts to raise funds for parishes.”

Before his ordination, he was a therapist and ministered to persons with drug and alcohol dependencies. He was a recovering alcoholic and had participated in the 12-Step Program for more than halfof his life. “He had a very intimate and even mystical relationship with our Lord and an understanding of what he did for us on the cross,” Father Schliessmann said. “He had a very deep devotion to the Eucharist.”

Born on June 11, 1937, he was ordained to the priesthood on June 3, 1989, at age 52 by the late Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral. His first assignment was as associate pastor of St. Simon the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis. In 1991, he was named temporary associate pastor of St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis.

In 1992, he was named associate chaplain for the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, with residence at St. Mary-of-the-Woods Parish near Terre Haute. The following year, he was named administrator of St. Mary-of-theWoods Parish while continuing as associate chaplain at the motherhouse.

In 1994, he was named pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Fortville, where he served until his early retirement last year. St. Michael the Archangel parishioner Jim Hession of Indianapolis knew Father Gaudet for a number of years and remembered him as a man of great faith and a talented musician.

“In a brief 13-year career as a priest, this man brought the true message of God’s love and mercy to those who needed it most,” Hession said. “He played [the organ] for the pure pleasure of it for the [Providence sisters] in the infirmary at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and at several nursing homes in the Indianapolis and Terre Haute areas.”

Hession said Father Gaudet also “worked tirelessly with the recovering alcoholic population” and served on the board of directors of Progress House, a recovery house for alcoholics and addicts. “I guess the most astounding part of Father Roger’s brief ministry is that he did most of his best work behind the scenes,” Hession said. “He had a way and an understanding and a belief that spoke volumes about spirituality, sobriety and serenity.”

Survivors include four daughters, Theresa Morese, Shannon Gaudet, Christen Pellitier and Susan Cabral, who reside in Massachusetts; two sisters, Rose Marie and Claire Gaudette of Henderson, Nev.; two grandchildren; and five great grandchildren.
Image courtesy of John D. Fitzgerald, a mutual friend of Father Roger