Twenty-six year old Clare Kent Eggleston boarded the U.S.S. Powhatan headed for France in the spring of 1918, but what thoughts were going through his mind and what emotions he was experiencing at that very moment were kept to himself.
Like many of the thousands of young men who departed for France and England that spring, Clare must have felt that he was setting out on one of the greatest adventures of his life.
But Clare’s anticipation was not that of a young man who was off to Europe with a group of friends to experience the excitement of the continent before returning home and settling into the business world. Clare and his companions believed that they were setting out to make the "world safe for democracy" and were fighting a "war to end all wars." Like generations before and after, these brave young Americans had answered their nation’s call to duty.
Clare Kent Eggleston was among the first Aurora boys to volunteer for induction leaving for Columbus, Ohio on July 5, 1917. It wasn’t until nine months after training and waiting he boarded the U.S.S. Powhatan and sailed to France. Clare had been assigned to the U.S. Army’s 7th Ambulance Company, 3rd Division Medical Department as a stretcher bearer. After arriving in France his unit was sent to Chaumont on April 14, 1918 for additional training before seeing action on the battlefields of France.
In the midst of all the excitement of having finally completed training and realizing that the true nature of what he was embarking on Clare may have also sensed the reality of the situation. In a letter Clare home he writes that "if you can sell that suit of clothes of mine for any thing I wish you would, if I get back they probably will be all out of style and no use to me."
In another letter date March 1, 1918, he wrote, "Dear Brother ... Recd. the p.o. yesterday ... We are as ready now as we will ever be."
While Clare may have been anxious seeing action, his thoughts still drifted towards home as he concluded his letter by writing, "Suppose Dad has made some syrup by this time."
In a letter to his brother dated Sunday, April 21 Private 1st Class Clare Eggleston wrote, "Dear Brother, Have got around to write at last, have been pretty busy since we have been over here."
Clare wrote about what life was like in France and described the impact that the war had on the French: "The country is very pretty ... but the women have to do most of the work, you don’t see many men around here most of them are at the front."
It is also obvious from the letter that Claire was just like any other young American soldier who has gone off to war.
"I have seen lots of good looking French women since we have been over here. Wish I could speak French it sure would come in handy."
It was the last letter his brother received.
On Sept. 5, 1918, Mr. and Mrs. George Eggleston received a telegram from the War Department with the tragic news that their son Clare had been "killed in action in France" on July 26, 1918. While no details of his death were given in the telegram, based upon the date of his death it was believed that he was killed during the great American drive north of the Marne during the latter part of July.
Clare was the first Aurora boy to make the supreme sacrifice on the battlefield. A memorial service for Clare was held at the Congregational Church under the direction of the Rev. D.B. Pearson. The entire Aurora community came together to mourn the loss of such a brave young man.
Clare was initially buried in France. In September, 1921, his remains were returned to his family. Clare was buried with full military honors next to his mother in the Aurora Cemetery.
Details about Clare’s military service and his death were provided to the family in two separate correspondences. Clare saw his first real action in the fighting at Belleau Wood and then at Chateau Thierry. On July 26, 1918 Clare was on duty at an advanced dressing station.
The Germans were heavily shelling both the town and the roads leading up to the town in order to prevent American relief troops from reaching Clare’s position. While under fire, Clare was loading wounded men into an ambulance when a shell exploded mortally wounding him and others of his company.
After being critically wounded Clare was sent to an advanced dressing station where he was kept for several hours and then transported to a hospital for further treatment. When taken into the operating room Clare asked the surgeon how badly he was wounded.
It was reported that "The surgeon did not tell him and only said ‘You are not hurt very badly and I am going to put a clean dressing on you, wrap you up and take you to the ward where you will be warm.’"
Once in the ward he was attended to by a "YMCA girl" who made him comfortable by propping him up with a pillow.
It was reported that Clare did not seem to worry about anything and that moments before he died he was asked how he felt and had replied that "he was feeling good." When checked it was stated that "he looked as though he were asleep."
Clare was praised by his "buddies ... because of his coolness under fire." He was cited by American General John J. Perishing for "extreme bravery under fire" and was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, the nation’s third highest military honor.