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"Hindsights" by Michael Barr

Looking back at:
A War Hero Comes Home

Michael Barr
A telegram from the Brooklyn naval authorities dated March 30, 1922 notified Peter Lemos of Kerrville, Texas that the body of his brother Francisco had arrived on American soil and was at last on his way home.

Francisco "Pancho" Lemos, the son of immigrant parents, worked as a farm and ranch laborer for the Schreiner Sheep and Cattle Company in Kerr County. Other details of his life are lost in translation from a language and culture outside the mainstream of 20th Century America.

And yet Francisco Lemos was front and center when the United States Army called for volunteers in 1917. He joined other recruits from Kerr County and across the state to form the the 141st Infantry Regiment known as the First Texas Infantry.

On September 5, 1917 the train pulled out of the station on Schreiner Street carrying 103 Kerr County men to basic training. It rained the morning they left.

"Mother's hearts were torn," Rev. S. W. Kemerer wrote. "Father's hearts were too full for words. . . God also wept in the tender rain that fell."

The First Texas Infantry trained at Camp Bowie near Brownwood and at Fort Worth. On July 26, 1918 the men boarded a transport ship in New York. They landed in France on August 6.

The soldiers moved quickly into action. The First Texas Infantry took up a position near St. Mihiel -125 miles east of Paris on the German front.

For the next 3 months the men ate, slept, fought and died in a muddy hell. A continuous artillery bombardment had smashed to smithereens all signs of life as far as the eye could see. Not a blade of grass survived the shelling and the poison gas canisters. French farmers who had lived on this land their entire lives no longer recognized the cratered landscape.

Then on September 12, 1918 General John J. Pershing ordered an attack on the German lines at St.Mihiel. It was the only offensive launched solely by the American Army in World War I.

Three days into the battle a scouting party crawled out of a sloppy trench along the American sector. Somewhere in no-man's land an artillery shell exploded in the middle of the scouting party. Pvt. Francisco Lemos died instantly. The same explosion wounded his friend from Kerrville, Pvt. Emmitt Rodriquez.

The United States Army buried Pvt. Lemos near Chambley, France.

Less than a month later Kerrville cautiously celebrated the end of the Great War. The hog-wild celebration would come later when the Kerr County boys came home.

Then in late November the Lemos family got the dreaded news.

Father Henry Kemper, priest of Notre Dame Church, helped the grieving family raise money and cut through the red tape to have their son brought home.

In April 1922 the body of Pvt. Francisco Lemos arrived at the train station in Kerrville. The Knights of Columbus escorted the war hero to Wards Undertaking Parlor.

On April 20, 1922 the body rested at Guadalupe Church. Family and friends held an all-night prayer vigil. The funeral was the next day, April 21 - San Jacinto Day.

On the way to the cemetery the funeral procession slowly navigated Francisco Lemos Street, Earl Garrett Street and Sidney Baker Street, paying tribute to 3 Kerrville men who died in World War I.
Kerrville County TX WWI hero Francisco Lemos' Grave
WWI hero Francisco Lemos' Grave
Photo courtesy Michael Barr, May 2018

That afternoon Pvt. Francisco Lemos was finally laid to rest in Mountain View Cemetery on the Fredericksburg Road. He was the first Kerr County soldier to die in World War I, and the last American soldier killed in Europe to be brought home.

Emmitt Rodriquez survived the war. In 1921 he became the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church. He led the congregation for the next 40 years.

Francisco Lemos and Emmitt Rodriquez laid a course for many American war heroes whose roots lie south of the border. American ideals are not bound by geography.

Pvt. Pedro Cano, Sgt. Marcario Garza and Master Sgt. Jose Lopez were all Texans and Medal of Honor winners in World War II.

None was born in the United States.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights
"
May 29, 2018 Column

Sources:
"Calvary Baptist history long, fascinating," Kerrville Daily Times, May 19, 1995.-
"The Hill Country Memorial and Celebration of Those Who Serve," Kerrville Daily Times, May 25, 2005.
"Grave of Last American Killed in World War I Gets Marker," Kerrville Daily Times, October 17, 2014.

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