Remember Bert Edward Mothersbaugh (1888-1918)

Bert Edward Mothersbaugh (1888-1918) is not a direct relative.  He was the brother-in-law of my great-great aunt Maria Raiffeisen Mothersbaugh.  Bert was the youngest of five brothers (Lewis, Charles, Walter, Oscar & Bert) and two sisters (Ionia and Ophelia) born to Samuel A. (1846-1917) and Artelia Mechia Martin Mothersbaugh (1848-1915). 

My ancestral odyssey began with the death of my grandmother, Roma Siegel in 1988.  After her death my family spent several weekends sifting through memories, pictures, household items, and just “stuff” we never knew Roma had possessed.  I claimed a small book I later discovered was Bud’s diary from his USMC service (1898-1902). 

When Uncle Carl Siegel passed away in 1999, we found Bud’s service trunk from his Marine Corps days in Carl’s attic.  The trunk contained a bunch of letters and pictures as well as a uniform, which I assumed was his.  It included white pants, shirt and hat with B. Mothersbaugh stamped in the inside of the trousers.  I made arrangements to donate it to the USMC museum at Quantico, VA.  However, when I sent them pictures, they told me it was a naval uniform from the period.  I had a bit of a “yep, that was obvious” moment when I realized that indeed it was a sailor’s uniform and thus had belonged to his brother Bert. The reason the USMC museum did not have a private’s uniform from that era was that they were a dark blue shirt and khaki pants. The clothes were comfortable and utilitarian, which meant that soldiers wore them after their service. They didn’t put them away in their service trunk. Bert’s Naval uniform was different.

Bert joined the U.S. Navy on December 28th, 1917 to serve his country as a Fireman 2nd class.  According to the enlistment record, he was thirty-two years and nine months old, 5 feet 8 inches tall, 157 pounds with brown eyes and brown hair.  His complexion is listed as “ruddy” meaning a bit dark with pink checks.  His military service record includes $1,000 of insurance taken out under the War Risk Insurance Act on September 18, 1918.  All his military documents list his date of birth as March 10, 1885.  I’m not sure of the reason for this discrepancy as non-military records from tombstone to federal census list his birth in March 1888.  While age discrepancies in official records are not rare, I tend to give some weigh to the federal census taken in 1900 and 1910.  It seems to me that the difference between a twelve- and fifteen-year-old (and a 22- and 25-year-old) is noticeable and given the census records remain consistent, I lean towards thinking Bert was born in 1888.  Perhaps he misspoke or was misheard when he enlisted and trying to correct the error was unlikely to be worth the hassle.  Either way, there is no military reason to add years to his age.  He enlisted of his own volition, committing to serve for four years.  He would not survive to see the end of one.

When Bert enlisted at the Navy Recruiting Station in El Paso, TX, he lived in Bisbee, AZ, having also lived in St. Paul, MN (1910), and Kootenai, ID (1914) according to city directories.  He left his family and home in Morgan County, Missouri seeking work, something his brothers Lewis, Oscar, and Walter had done before him.  In the service during wartime, Bert earned $33 per month.  He listed his brother Oscar as his next of kin.  By December 31st, Bert was at a Naval Training Camp in Mare Island.  On June 14, 1918, he reported to the USS Vicksburg for duty and was transferred to the USS Brutus fifteen days later; then on to the USS Boggs on September 30th.  It was his last deployment. 

Bert contracted “Spanish” influenza was transferred to the hospital at Mare Island on October 4th from the USS Boggs.  Seven days later records note that Bert was issued an identity tag.  Knowing the chaotic nature of the influenza epidemic I see this an ominous sign.  Soldiers, nurses, doctors and civilians were dying at an alarming rate in October 1918 when the first wave of influenza crested in the United States.  Many died very quickly, some in a single day.  For most it was a horrible death with the onset of pneumonia clogging the lungs some drown as fluid filled their lungs.  When Bert received an identity tag it likely helped overwhelmed medical personnel to identify him, which likely means he was too ill to identify himself and in critical condition.  On October 18, 1918, Bert Edward Mothersbaugh, Fireman Second Class, United States Navy, died of influenza and pneumonia at the Naval Hospital in Mare Island, CA. 

Bert was officially discharged from the Navy the following day.  His final rate of renumeration was $41 per month.  Bert had not named a beneficiary of his $1,000 war risk insurance, thus his siblings were his beneficiaries, as his parents preceded him in death.  The payments began in October 1918 and ended twenty years later in October 1939.  Payment was 95 cents per month.  According to Bert’s military record Walter, Lewis, Ionia, Charles, and Oscar received payments.  I’m not sure why Ophelia was not included.  She could have refused it in deference to her siblings or that single piece of paper citing her payment could have gotten lost over the last 105 years.  Ninety-five cents in today’s money is approximately $17.  It seems rather paltry, but consider the cost of some basic necessities during that time:

1 pound of sugar – 7 cents (it spiked to 20 c in 1920 but went back down to around 4c during the Depression years)

1 dozen eggs – 47 c

1 pound of butter – 70 c

1 gallon of milk – 60 c

In 1923 a Model T Ford was $300.

Bert grew up in Syracuse, Missouri and moved away seeking work, but he was a Missouri boy at heart.  I have several photos of various unnamed family and friends from Bud’s trunk.  I have included two here that other Mothersbaugh relatives (Thanks, Mike!) identify as Bert. There is also a family photo. Two of the children are missing, Lewis (Bud) and likely his older sister Ionia.  Bert never married and died young. It is easy to forget him. Without some diligence, Bert existence could easily pass unnoticed. He served his country when he was not required to do so. It cost him his life, but not in the way a soldier expects to die. He is buried with in Mount Olive Cemetery in Florence, Missouri. While Bert is not a direct relative, I will remember him and I hope others will also.

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