The namesakes of Newbergs VFW and American Legion posts, George L. Wright and Lester Rees, never returned from war

By George Edmonston Jr., Graphic correspondent

The highest honor a community can give a veteran is to name an American Legion or Veterans of Foreign War post after him or her.

In Newberg, we have both organizations and the veterans so honored are Lester C. Rees of American Legion Post 57 and George L. Wright of VFW Post 4015.

Rees lost his life during World War I.

Wright was the first from Newberg to die in combat in World War II.

For both, so much time has passed no one today from the active memberships of the local posts remembers them.

As our special way of celebrating Veterans Day 2013, let’s see if we can do something about that. by: GARY ALLEN - First to fall - George L. Wright was the first soldier from Newberg to die in World War II. He is buried in Newberg Friends Cemetery and a photograph of him graces the walls of the Veterans of Foreign War post that bares his name on Howard Street adjacent to city hall. A private in the 133rd Infantry Regiment of the 34th Infantry Division, Wright was killed on April 9, 1943, in the Battle for Fondouk Pass in Tunisia, North Africa. He was 36 years old.

In the case of Lester Rees, a marble plate mounted to the top of an old desk at the VFW Hall on South Howard Street (both groups meet here) shows Oct. 12, 1918, as the day he was killed. It also gives the place: Gesnes, France.

Sadly, this was a mere 29 days short of Armistice Day, Nov. 11, the day the war ended. In 1938, Congress used this same date to establish a permanent holiday to honor veterans and the cause of world peace.

Eighty-five years later, Lester Rees rests at Plot A, Row 8, Grave 19 at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery just outside the French village of Romagne, which is quietly tucked away in the region of Lorraine in the northern part of the country.

Gesnes is close by, still a deeply wooded area littered with decaying bunkers and trench lines reminding us this was once the front line of the American army.

Rees (whose name on his cemetery cross is misspelled Reese) shares this lovely spot with 14,246 other American soldiers and sailors. The grounds total 130.5 acres, the largest concentration of American military dead in Europe.

Most of them were lost during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, also known as the Battle of the Argonne Forest. It was fought across an expanse of Lorraine’s thick wooded areas and rolling hills from Sept. 26 to Nov. 11, 1918.

This was where Medal of Honor recipient Alvin York made his mark. The same is true of the Lost Battalion. Meuse-Argonne is often called the “bloodiest single battle in American military history.”

Rees’s cross also indicates he was a mechanic with the army’s 125th Infantry Regiment, 32nd Infantry Division. Many of the men who served with him were from Michigan and everyone saw heavy combat all during the offensive.

From Oct. 3 to Oct. 13, covering the young man’s last week with the unit, the 125th suffered 603 wounded and 173 killed.

In the Newberg Public Library, the oldest copy in the files of the Newberg High School yearbook, The Chehalem, shows his picture. He’s with a group of friends from the sophomore class. His boyish face is full of wonderment and life, oblivious to the fact that in two years he would die beneath the trees of Gesnes, 5,190 miles from home, but a short walk to where he would be laid to rest.

Unlike Rees, Wright’s body was returned to Newberg, where he rests besides his mother, Arvilla L. Wright, in the G.A.R. section of Friends Cemetery.

Born May 13, 1906, he was 36 years old when he joined the army. At the time, he had been an employee of the state highway department. There is nothing to indicate he ever married or had children.

A private in the 133rd Infantry Regiment of the 34th Infantry Division, Wright was killed on April 9, 1943, at the Battle for Fondouk Pass in Tunisia, North Africa.

The 133rd had arrived in North Africa from Liverpool, England, on Jan. 3, 1943. The majority of the men were from Iowa. By Feb. 17, the 133rd was involved in heavy fighting against the 21st Panzer Division of Gen. Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Corps.

Later, heavy losses at Kef-el-Amar Pass (March 11) forced the regiment’s withdrawal. Time was taken to restock the ranks with replacements, regardless of a man’s state of origin. Wright was one of these.

By April 9, they were at Fondouk. The fighting was furious, with attacks launched before sunrise in the inky darkness.

On the day he died, Wright and his buddies were instructed to weave toilet paper in their helmet webs so they could see one another during the advance. They rehearsed the sign “grocery” and the countersign “store” as another means of identification. The ration was hard tack and ox tail soup. A slice of white bread was desert.

A half-ton truck was ready in the rear to haul out the dead. The words “The Stuka Valley Hearse” were painted on its side in big white letters.

Ray Fountain, who had worked as a federal bankruptcy arbitrator in Des Moines before the war, commanded the regiment. As his men prepared to go forward, Fountain walked the ranks giving encouragement. A “tremendous aerial bombing” would soon flatten everything in their front, he said.

The planes never came.

When the war department telegram arrived in Newberg later in April to tell Arvilla her son had been killed in action, it was followed two days later by a cheery letter from George telling her not to worry.

Contract Publishing

Go to top
Template by JoomlaShine