‘The flag meant a lot’, WWI collection honors memory of veteran

The Daily News Journal, Nancy DeGennaro, November 11, 2018

Rummaging through the family attic proved memorable when 90-year-old Mary Baughman ran across World War I memorabilia of her father-in-law, Kenneth R. Baughman.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in the attic. I like history, and I especially like family history,” said longtime Murfreesboro resident Mary Baughman, who gave the items to son Steve Baughman.

The memorabilia from the late U.S. Marine Corps veteran is no ordinary collection, but one filled with honors — and a lot of French writing.

“He won this,” said Steve Baughman, holding up a framed piece of ornately decorated parchment paper. “There are four of them,” he added, scooting a roll of three others across a table.

The “Citation A L’Ordre De L’Armee” was given to Kenneth Baughman for his service during four critical battles that he fought alongside French soldiers in the “War to End All Wars,” as WWI was called.

“These are the equivalent of the U.S. Medal of Honor,” explained Steve Baughman, who will share the collection at McFadden School during a Veterans Day presentation in his grandson’s first-grade class.

On the back of the certificates, each now tattered from age, is a list of the names and details of each battle. Of course, everything is in French, but the writing is elegant and the colorful design still vivid.

Uniform buttons and a book of prayers

“We actually fought with the French. We were under the instructions of the French. They remained commanders (of World War I) even though they needed American help,” Steve Baughman explained.

There’s also a tiny, tattered book of prayers Kenneth Baughman could tuck into his pocket to read on the battlefield. Emblems from his hat as well as round dog tags and buttons from his uniform are also part of the collection.

Kenneth Baughman was also a member of the American Legion for 50 years. The Baughmans managed to save all the pins, medals and pendants from that membership.

“He was very patriotic,” Mary Baughman said.

Scars from the war

The tokens of the war aren’t the only things Kenneth Baughman brought back from overseas. He returned with respiratory injuries after being exposed to mustard gas, a type of chemical warfare that causes blistering as well as permanent pulmonary problems.

After exposure, the elder Baughman was medically discharged and returned home. “I have a letter he sent home to his parents saying (the mustard gas exposure) was hell on rats. It ruined his lungs,” Mary Baughman said. “But he lived a long time after that.”

Even with his health problems, Kenneth Baughman lived to be 79.

Honoring the past

Showing off the collectible war items from the Marine is just another way the family shares a love of country. Mary Baughman remembered that her fatherin- law would always cry when he saw an American flag.

“People cried back then. The flag meant a lot,” Mary Baughman said, tears welling in her eyes.

It meant a lot to everyone, she said, remembering selling tiny handmade poppy flowers in memory of troops who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

The poppy flowers were a nod to the Belgium Flanders, which became one of the most devastated regions in WWI, turning the once-colorful countryside into muddy ground. Nothing would grow except the poppies that sprouted.

“We go around and you’d give us a penny and we’d give you a poppy so you’d remember,” 

Mary Baughman explained.

Veterans Day originated as Armistice Day on Nov. 11, 1919, on the first anniversary of the end of World War I.

Congress passed a resolution in 1926 for an annual observance, and Nov. 11 became a national holiday beginning in 1938. After World War II and the Korean War, Congress amended the act and renamed the day Veterans Day.

The wars are something Mary Baughman said she’ll never forget.

“I remember the Holocaust and people saying that it didn’t happen,” she said, her voice cracking as tears welled in her eyes. “I get very emotional about it.”

And the flag, along with all the memories associated with America’s journey to becoming a world power, “means a lot.”

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