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John Earl Kraft
Soldiers of the Great War

West Virginia Veterans Memorial

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John Earl Kraft (Craft)
1888-1918

"Mute in that golden silence hung with green,
Come down from heaven and bring me in your eyes
Remembrance of all beauty that has been,
And stillness from the pools of Paradise."

Siegfried Sassoon

Army Corporal John Earl Kraft (Craft) was born at Dekalb, Braxton County, West Virginia, on September 27, 1888, to George J. and Mary E. Craft. Throughout this biography we will use the Craft spelling, for that is the name as it appears in the 1900 and 1910 Federal Census and the name under which John Earl registered for the draft on June 5, 1917. Interestingly, though, the name is spelled Kraft in a Braxton Democrat article dated March 20, 1919, and on his cross in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France, where he is buried. Thus, it is engraved as Kraft on the West Virginia Veterans Memorial.

John Earl Craft was the third child born to George J. and Mary E. Craft. According to the 1900 and 1910 Census, his siblings included Ernest, Mabel G., Ida B., David C., Daisy B., Georgia G., Wilbur S., and Fanny.

Cpl. Craft registered for the draft on June 5, 1917. At the time of his registration, he indicated he was single; however, an article in the Braxton County Democrat on March 29, 1919, included a letter to his wife, indicating he had married sometime between his draft registration and his untimely death on October 3, 1918, although no record of this marriage can be found in Braxton County or the state of West Virginia. His draft registration card states that he was a barber in the community of Bower prior to his military service. It notes also that he was tall and of medium build, with blue eyes and black hair. Overseas, John Earl was assigned to Battery E, 313th Field Artillery Regiment, 80th Infantry Division.

draft registration

Draft Registration Card for John Earl Craft (note spelling). National Archives and Records Administration

Headquartered at Camp Lee, Virginia, the U.S. Army organized the 80th Division in August 1917. Recruits for the 80th Division were generally from Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia, and it was commonly referred to as the “Blue Ridge Division,” giving rise to its unique insignia of three blue mountain peaks and its motto, “Vis Montium” (“Strength of the Mountains”). In World War I, 23,000 Division soldiers arrived in France on June 8, 1918. They trained with the British Third Army and saw heavy action in the Somme and the Meuse-Argonne Offensives. Returning to the States in May 1919, the Division was inactivated by the Army in June of that year. The Division’s history states that it never failed to gain its objective and thus the War Department ranked it first of all Army Divisions. Among its accomplishments: It was the only Allied Expeditionary Force Division called on three times in the Meuse-Argonne campaign; it captured two Germans for every Division member wounded; and it had a smaller percentage of casualties than any other division. (Source: 80th Infantry Division, “History of the 80th,” accessed 7 Nov. 2014, http://www.80thdivision.com/80thHistory.htm.)

Cpl. Craft, unfortunately, was one of those casualties. Wounded in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, he died of his wounds on October 3, 1918, or shortly thereafter.

A letter to Mrs. John E. Kraft of Rosedale, W. Va., from L.M. McLaughlin of the Supply Depot, Navy Yard, Norfolk, Virginia, and reprinted in the Braxton Democrat, March 20, 1919, provides a graphic description of Cpl. Craft’s demise:

Your letter dated February 16th to my home address (and forwarded to me) received, and in which you ask if I could give you more information concerning the way in which your husband met his death on the battlefield of France.

First, let me tell you why I am back in America. I was gassed on October 26, 1918, and was sent back to the hospital, and after spending several months in France, and the war being over, was sent back to America. I was discharged from the army and am now in the Navy Department.

On October 3, 1918, our regiment was located in some woods about two and one-half miles off hill 281, with the exception of Battery “E,” and on this day “E” battery was coming up to take position with the other batteries. I had been forward with the rest of the regiment, and with two of my men was returning to the rear to get some telephone wire. This was about five o’clock in the afternoon, French time. I saw the gun crew which your husband was in, with the gun, coming up over hill 281. At that time I was about one mile away. The enemy was shelling that particular place, and I saw a shell hit just where your husband with the rest of the men were. I remarked to my men that that was the last of those poor fellows; but after the smoke died away I saw them take up the trot, and from where I was then it did not look like any one had been killed or wounded. Together we walked on in that direction until half the distance had been covered and I saw something lying there, and I said to the boys, “Some one has been killed, or possibly only wounded, and I am going to see and lend a hand if possible.” I must say it was taking a chance, for the shells were falling thick and fast around there. When I got to him two other men with stretchers were there to take him to the first aid field hospital; but he looked like he was dead, and as we had no time to attend to the dead, or bury them, we left him. I had not gone far when I was tempted to look back, and I saw him move, and I turned and went back to your husband. He opened his eyes and I asked him if I could do any thing for him, and he said yes, to write to his dear little wife and tell her just how he met death; also to tell you that all was well with his soul, and for you not to worry; also to tell his mother and father good-bye, and that his last thoughts were of you. The little diary dedicated to his wife and mother he said for me to be sure to send it to you if possible. It was full of sweet thoughts and memories of you, and from that book I knew that his thoughts were always with you. This book I could not send you at that time, as it would not pass the censor, owing to the fact that it gave the name and date of every battle he had been in. I talked it over with my censor and we together were going to send it to you, or try; but I was wounded by gas and sent back to the base, and the book was left in my pack with my company. After I got to the hospital I wrote to one of my boy friends and asked if he would not send the diary to you, and I am sure that later you will get the book. I will make every effort to get it for you. I will write to my boy friend again, also to my censor, in regard to it, and if possible you will get it.

Your husband had both legs blown off at the knee, and one was just hanging where it joins the body. He also had other wounds in the body. You husband was dying when I left him. It was hard to leave him, but I could do nothing else, and wene [sic] to see if I could get some one to help me take him to the hospital. Before I left him he asked me for water. I was sorry, but I had none. I had been without for two days myself. He then asked me to turn him over, which I gladly did, and made a pillow for his head of his pack. You do not know how hard it was for me to leave him, but I thought I could find help, and when I returned he was not there. He had been picked up by an ambulance and taken back to the hospital, and he died a few days later. [It should be noted here that if this account is correct, the action is taking place on October 3 and his death would be a few days later, but other documents list his actual date of death as October 3.] You said that possibly he was in some hospital over there now. I really do not think so, for if this had been the case the war department would not have reported him dead, and then I am sure that a loving husband like yours would have written to you just as soon as he knew that he was taken care of. True enough, hundreds of boys live with both legs shot off, but with the other wounds your husband had I don’t think it was possible for him to live. I asked your husband if he knew how badly he was wounded and he said, “Yes.” I think he knew he was dying then, and the look on his face told me he was. I did not know your husband personally, but he was in the same regiment that I was in—the 313th F. A. I was in headquarters company and your husband was in “E” battery. He was a good soldier and was liked by his company.

Assuring you that I will do everything I can in regard to your securing the diary, and asking that you write me some time if you receive the book.

My deepest sympathy is with you in this your great sorrow.

As of this writing (2014), Mrs. Kraft (Craft) has not been identified. Could she have remarried and had children? John E. Craft did, however, have nieces and nephews who do remember him from family histories, and thus his legacy lives on.

It is not often that history provides such an account of a soldier’s death, but sadly it now seems we have greater detail of Cpl. Craft’s death than of his life. The Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery sits east of the village of Romagne-sous-Montfaucon (Meuse), some 26 miles northwest of Verdun. Most of the soldiers there interred (14,246 total) are casualties of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, including Cpl. John Earl Kraft (Craft), who lies in Plot E, Row 4, Grave 35.
Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery

Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery. Courtesy American Battle Monuments Commission

Family information provided by niece Mary Sue Craft McKnight. Article prepared by Patricia Richards McClure
November 2014

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John Kraft

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