Over 100 years ago on the other side of the globe, World War I raged in Europe. It felt closer to me as I listened to the story of the servicemen who brought the reality of war home to Cache Valley. A presentation slide revealed the faded name of a soldier on a tombstone: Guy Alexander. Nearby rested a stone with the single name “Claytor.” The lime-encrusted gravestones were barely readable when presented by Emily Brooksby Wheeler in her lecture titled “Schooled in War.”
The lecture, commemorating the hundredth anniversary of Armistice Day, was part of a November 2018 series of events hosted by Utah State University. Wheeler’s photos showed a sad but important fact: Guy Alexander and his best friend, Claytor Preston, were all but forgotten.
Wheeler should know. With fellow historian Jeffery Bateman, Wheeler, a local historian and Utah State University history alumna, literally wrote the book on how World War I changed the face of Cache Valley. Their book, “No Peace with the Dawn,” follows the lives of six fictional characters through the real events of World War I in Cache Valley and on the Western Front.
In both both her presentation and the book, Wheeler detailed how the two real-life Cache Valley men, Guy and Claytor, were so close, they married their wives in a double wedding. Soon after, they enlisted and went to war together in the 42nd Infantry. Guy led the 42nd Infantry band and Claytor was a member.
Anticipating a long trip to Europe, the two men’s plans and lives were cut short. A train accident in Colorado killed Guy, Claytor, and several other young soldiers while they were on the way to the fight. They became the first casualties of World War I from Cache Valley and possibly the first from Utah.
Wheeler said that prior to the soldiers’ deaths, many Utahns saw World War I as a European problem. Beginning in 1914, news of the war, photographs of carnage, and stories of German aggression had spread across the globe. At the time, Utah Agricultural College, later Utah State University, was deadlocked in a debate between “peace or preparedness.” The “preparedness” folk insisted they be ready if duty called. The “peace” advocates thought those preparing for conflict would make entering the war inevitable. Cache Valley citizens were sheltered from the realities of the conflict until 1917, when the United States declared war. Still, World War I seemed far away, and it was.
Then, the train carrying Cache Valley’s soldiers collided with another train. Suddenly, World War I became all too real. Wheeler described the loss of life in the train wreck as, “one of the biggest things that had ever happened in Cache Valley.” The entire area was moved by the event. For Guy and Claytor’s memorial service, the tabernacle was packed to capacity and overflowed to the sidewalks. Over 130 cars joined in the funeral procession, which wrapped around the Logan cemetery. Wheeler said Guy and Claytor’s deaths set Cache Valley citizens in motion buying war bonds and planting war gardens.
Best friends in death as they had been in life, Guy and Claytor were both laid to rest in the Preston family plot located in the west side of the cemetery. With no children or grandchildren to remember them and the war long over, the men’s graves have been largely ignored by everyone except the cemetery employees.
Guy and Claytor are casualties not only of the war but also of the forgetfulness of time. Wheeler discovered that when Memorial Day flags are placed, these two soldiers are not honored with their comrades despite the effect their deaths had upon the community. In a cemetery with hundreds of veterans’ graves graced by armed service markers, Guy’s stone is illegible and Claytor’s stone is bare. At least they were at the beginning of this week.
Joe Hawkes, a volunteer for the American Legion, has organized veterans flag placement in Logan Cemetery for years. When he found out about Guy and Claytor, Hawkes went to work. “I have some markers already at home,” Hawkes said. He donated the markers and made a plan to put them up before Memorial Day.
Hawkes started by cleaning the hard water stains from the headstones. “Guy seemed to be a really special fellow,” Hawkes said as he scraped lime from the band leader’s stone. “It’s really a shame his story hasn’t been told. And Claytor’s stone only having his name doesn’t say much. But he deserves credit, too,” Hawkes said. “It will be good to recognize them.” Hawkes hopes his efforts will help others learn about the soldiers’ sacrifice.
With permission from the groundskeepers, a bit of cement, and a borrowed hammer drill, Hawkes placed an armed services marker beside both graves. This evening, May 24th, at 6 p.m., volunteers will identify servicemen’s graves and help Hawkes place flags beside each veteran to honor them on Memorial Day. Hawkes invited the entire community to help at Logan Cemetery. “Anyone who is interested can come,” Hawks said. “There’s plenty to do and plenty of flags to go around.”
Emily Wheeler plans to join the volunteers to ensure Guy and Claytor aren’t left out any longer.
“It made me sad to see that they didn’t have those service markers,” Wheeler said of Guy and and Claytor’s gravestones. “Both Guy’s wife and Claytor’s wife married other men, so they don’t have descendants to remember them. It’s good for them to be recognized and remembered. It gives their story a happy ending.”