by Terry Golden
The Morgan County Historical and Genealogical Society members research local history and enjoy sharing their findings with others. Recently as the Society was preparing to celebrate the grand opening of The Berkeley Springs Depot, one of our members, Terry Golden, took a look at The Depot’s role in World War I. As a result, he found a number of stories about local WW I veterans. This is the first story in a series of periodic stories about the people of Morgan County during that time period.
Oscar Lee Luttrell was never famous, never married, didn’t live a very long life. In fact, he died at the young age of 23. Depending on which source may be accurate, he was either born at Unger’s Store, WV (Morgan County birth records) or Shockeysville, Va. (Selective Service Registration). He didn’t pass away in Morgan County, nor was he buried in Morgan County.
Luttrell was born on February 19, 1895, as mentioned above, in either Unger’s Store or Shockeysville to Marcellus and Ida Bell (Deeds) Luttrell. The 1900 Morgan County census has him being five years old living in Timber Ridge with his parents and five siblings. In the 1910 Morgan County census he was now 15 years old living in Timber Ridge with his parents and six siblings.
So, what happened that made such a change in Oscar Lee Luttrell’s life?
The same event that changed so many young men’s lives under the age of 30, as well as almost every American family. The simple answer was World War I.
By 1917, the war in Europe had been raging for years with the United States on the sidelines. Events in 1917 changed that; the United States was now at war. Congress had passed the Selective Service Act of 1917. It was signed by President Wilson on May 18, 1917, requiring all men ages 21 to 30 to register for the draft.
The first draft registration was on June 5, 1917. Oscar Lee Luttrell registered and was issued his draft card. As men registered for the draft, they were issued a draft card by the local draft board which included a serial number written (later printed) in red in the upper left-hand corner.
On July 20, 1917, a lottery was conducted to determine in what order draftees were to be called up. The order was determined by the serial number that was on each draft card. The first number drawn was 258 — the same number that was on Oscar Lee Luttrell’s card.
On August 2, 1917, the front page of The Morgan Messenger read “NOTICE OF CALL TO APPEAR FOR PHYSICAL EXAMINATION.”
Oscar Lee Luttrell’s name was the first on that list.
In 1917 and 1918, many Morgan County men were called up in the draft. When it was their time to go, they were escorted to the new Berkeley Springs Railroad Depot by the townspeople, bands played, and speeches given as they were transported off to camps such as Camp Lee, Camp Meade and Camp Greenleaf.
On February 28, 1918, The Morgan Messenger reported, “The last quota from the first draft will leave at 11:00 March 6th for Camp Greenleaf, Fort Oglethorpe GA.”
Oscar Lee Luttrell’s name was on that list.
On March 7, 1918, The Morgan Messenger reported the names of those who had left for camp. However, Oscar Lee Luttrell, who was ill due to pneumonia, did not depart. There were no other reports of Luttrell until on July 4, 1918, when The Morgan Messenger reported: “Oscar Luttrell Now in Camp”
Reports said: “Thursday of last week Sheriff C. R. Hovermale arrested Oscar Lee Luttrell at the home of his father in Timber Ridge district and took him to Camp Meade, MD where he was placed in training. His offense was in not reporting to the local Examining Board for examination and classification and was consequently classed as a deserter.”
Later, in late July or early August, he returned home from Camp Meade.
Oscar Lee Luttrell became ill and on August 14, 1918, he passed away at the King’s Daughters Hospital in Martinsburg from typhoid fever. Funeral services were held at his family’s home in Morgan County, and he was buried in Shockeysville United Methodist Church Cemetery in Shockeysville, Va. (Martinsburg Herald, August 17, 1918).
The International Encyclopedia of the First World War notes Luttrell’s demise wasn’t uncommon: “American losses in World War 1 were modest compared to those of other belligerents, with 116,516 deaths and approximately 320,000 sick and wounded of the 4.7 million men who served. The USA lost more personnel to disease (63,114) than to combat (53,402), largely due to the influenza epidemic of 1918.”
Oscar Lee Luttrell’s name is just one of many Morgan County men whose names are inscribed on the World War Memorial, dedicated on November 11, 1925, located in Berkeley Springs on Fairfax Street along with the World War II and Viet Nam memorials.
This is the story of one Morganite; there are many others.
Do you have information that might add to Oscar Lee Luttrell’s story? We would appreciate hearing from you.
If you need assistance researching your Morgan County family history, check out the Morgan County Historical and Genealogical Society.
Volunteers are available in the Morgan Room of the Morgan County Library, Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. Anyone not available on those days can contact Fred Widmyer (304-702-4888) or Harold Michael (304-258-4063) to arrange for an appointment at a more convenient time. The Society is not staffed when the library is closed.