WAMPSVILLE — Madison County Historian Matthew Urtz explores the casualties of two World Wars in his first book, documenting those who answered the call to service and left behind their friends, families, and loved ones.
“Honoring World War Casualties of Madison County, New York” is set to hit shelves on Monday, Aug. 8.
“I started working on this project in 2016,” Urtz said. “I wanted to do something for the coming centennial of World War I, and I wanted to write at least a paragraph for every soldier from Madison County that died while they were in service. And that’s anyone who was born in, lived in, buried in, worked in, or worshiped in Madison County. So we looked for anyone who had a story to tell with a personal tie to Madison County.”
The World War I content was done rather quickly, and at the suggestion of a publisher he met at a conference, Urtz expanded the scope to World War II.
“It was interesting because not only were there a lot more soldiers involved in World War II, but institutions like Colgate University became a specialized training school,” Urtz said. “And you had a lot more documentation.”
During World War I, Lloyd Evans of Hamilton had his letters home published in the local newspaper. “But a lot of people didn’t have anything written about them, and it was harder to find longer stories about them,” the historian lamented. “But during World War II, for the most part, there was a lot more written because you had all these local newspapers, and they were publishing a page or two each publication that are just notes about what the soldiers are doing. Stuff like ‘Mr. Smith has arrived in Africa’ or ‘The Jones family just got a letter from their son Paul, and this is what he’s doing.’ That allowed us to have a lot of first-hand account information and publish the words of the people as they happen.”
The whole book is full of as much information about these soldiers as possible, but Urtz warns this isn’t a feel-good story.
“The one thing to remember about this book is that it’s sad,” Urtz said. “Everybody dies. There’s not a happy ending. And there are some that are more poignant.”
In the book, Urtz recounts the life of one soldier who made it back home and met with his wife and daughter. The man had survived the horrors of World War II and was close to getting discharged. The family was driving cross country, only to have the tire blow. The following car crash killed the soldier and his wife, but his child survived.
In another situation, a young pilot was given leave to go home and elected to fly his plane home for his parent’s 32nd anniversary — only to lose control of his plane and crash in the Adirondack Mountains. “And there’s a secondary story to that about how it took a full year to find his plane and his body.”
“But,” the historian added. “There are a lot of stories of heroism and stories of what these wars were like. In Lloyd Evans’s case, he wrote a long article that was published describing what it was like to live in the trenches of World War I. So you get these first-hand accounts from a local person of what his experiences were — how muddy it was , how he had to run a letter back and hide when the shelling started.”
And this isn’t everyone. Urtz said his book contains about one-third of the total casualties, and it’s at 160 pages already. Urtz plans to talk about writing his book in future meetings at libraries around Madison County, along with the people who didn’t make it into the book for one reason or another. When asked if he’s thought about making a follow-up, Urtz said he’s considering it but he has a few other projects as well.
“I wanted to do this book because in the case of World War I, it’s almost 100 years removed,” Urtz said. “In the case of World War II, it’s 80 years removed. And I don’t want these stories to be lost the further away we get. And I hope this keeps them alive a little longer.”
One story details the story of Robert Lasher, who was listed as dying on the West Virginia during the attack of Pearl Harbor.
“His obituary appeared in the paper, and we were fortunate enough to do a sit-down interview with him in 2013, and he talked about it,” Urtz said. “And I’ll never forget his voice as he described being on the West Virginia and jumping into the water. He was rescued and immediately put on a boat and out to sea, chasing the Japanese fleet. They did n’t get mail for three months, and the first letter he gets is his mother dele sending him his obituary.”
One thing the historian wants to make clear is that these books are not being published for profit.
“My long-term goal is to donate the proceeds to any book I sell,” Urtz said. “Clear Path for Veterans and the Madison County War Veterans Memorial will receive the proceeds of this book split between them.”
When asked what the future holds for projects, Urtz said one he’s considering is the scandals of Madison County. The historian has been doing talks around Madison County at local libraries, detailing the many scandals that have hit Madison County.
“And any time I’ve given these talks, someone comes up to me and says, ‘You know, have you heard about this scandal?’ and suddenly, I have another scandal,” he said with a laugh. “There’s an aspect to it that can be awful, but part of it can be fun.”
Urtz will be holding multiple talks where he’ll discuss the book, its contents, and the process of writing it.
The talks will be held at the following times and locations:
- aug. 9 to 6:30 pm — Canastota Public Library
- aug. 10 to 7 pm — Town of Nelson Hall (Erieville-Nelson Heritage Society)
- aug. 15 at 6:30 pm — Oneida Public Library
- aug. 30 to 7 pm — Limestone Ridge Historical Society
- Sept. 12 at 6 pm — Hamilton Public Library
- Sept. 29 at 6 pm — DeRuyter Free Library
- Oct. 6 at 7 pm — Oneida Community Mansion House
- Oct. 12 at TBD — Cazenovia Public Library
- Oct. 17 at 6:30 pm — Madison American Legion (Town of Madison Historical Society)
- Nov. 1 at TBD — Chenango County Historical Society’s Author Day, Detail
- Nov. 6 pm to 6 pm — Morrisville Public Library
“Honoring World war Casualties of Madison County” can be found at multiple retailers including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Walmart, Target, and more.