Charles Asa Moffett
On May 10, 2014, Archives and History at the West Virginia Division of Culture and History received an unusual request. Because of a speech made by U.S. President Barack Obama in March at the Palais de Beaux Arts in Brussels, Belgium, a concerted effort to adopt the graves of many forgotten soldiers of “The Great War” (World War I) was evolving, and an enthusiastic Belgian declared that he had adopted the grave of Charles Asa Moffett in Flanders Field. René Caers inquired whether Archives and History might have any information about Pvt. Moffett and whether there might be any living family members. And thus began the quest to learn the details of the life of this soldier fallen nearly 100 years prior. An ancillary to the quest was to discover whether any members of Charles Asa Moffett’s family remained so that they might know that his grave was being watched over.
|U.S. Army Private First Class Charles A. Moffett (“Asa” to his family and “Pete” to his friends) was born in Alderson, Greenbrier County, West Virginia, on June 21, 1897. His parents were Thomas H. Moffett (1852-1926) and Jean Bolles McConn Moffett (1865-1925).|
Charles was also the younger sibling of Frances Mather Moffett, and both boys were known to their family by their middle names. Thomas Moffett was from Virginia, and Jean McConn from Ohio, but the 1900 U.S. Federal Census shows them living in Alderson with their sons. The Lineage Book—National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (Vols. 57 and 58) traces Jean Bolles McConn Moffett to Eleazer Mather (1753-1837), a sergeant in Capt. Samuel Mather’s company from Lyme, Connecticut (where Eleazer was born), and Nathan Williams (1760-1848), who was placed on the pension roll of Windham County in 1831 for service as a private and sergeant in the Connecticut Continental Line. Asa’s great-niece Janet Kino, the only known living descendant of Thomas Moffett and Jean McConn as of this writing  states that “Mather is an old family name… [recognized] from ‘Increase’ and ‘Cotton Mather’ who were great-great etc. uncle and cousin respectively.” The 1910 Census lists only Jean and Asa in Alderson. By this time, Thomas, a traveling salesman, had left the family home, and Mather had relocated to Ohio. Janet Kino (Mather’s granddaughter) describes the disruption in the family as an “estrangement” but indicates that her great-grandmother was able to put the pieces of her life back together. Kino notes that pictures of Jean Moffett show a well-dressed woman and a small but pleasant and modern house. Asa would also relocate to Ohio; Patrick Lernout, in The Flanders Field Book, states that he turned out to be a good student and attended high school in Columbus. Although not immediately evident from the pictures included here, the family remembers Asa as a tall man; he caught people’s eye because of his height.
|On May 23, 1917, in Columbus, Asa reported to the local unit of the Ohio National Guard. Photos of Asa taken at Camp Sheridan in Montgomery, Alabama, indicate that his training took place at that facility. According to Patrick Lernout and Christopher Sims, he was first assigned to Company A of the 147th Infantry Regiment. Later he was transferred to the 147th Ambulance Company of the 112th Sanitary Trains, 37th Division. He was on a first aid unit, close to the front line, and along with three other men had a shelter designated for victims of violent artillery shelling. When, during the shelling, they thought they heard cries for help, they left their shelter and went looking for medical evacuations. At that time they heard a projectile in their direction. They rushed back to the shelter, but Asa got a grenade fragment in the back and was killed instantly [on November 4, 1918—just one week before the Armistice]. He had a reputation as a courageous, honest, and conscientious soldier. (Source: Lernout and Sims, De Soldaten van de Amerikaanse Militaire Begraafplaats Flanders Field, 2011, http://www.flandersfieldbook.be.)|
Janet Kino provides many of the missing elements in the family history. Her grandfather Francis Mather Moffett moved to Columbus after his marriage to Margaret F. McLean in southern Ohio. He was exempt from fighting in World War I because by that time he had a child—Richard “Dick” Moffett (1915-1923), who died of blood poisoning as a child. This generation of Moffetts also produced two daughters, Margaret (1922-2001; the mother of Janet Kino) and Jean (1925-2007), who never married and, after college, became an accountant. Margaret would play a role in World War II as a secretary at an Air Force Base near Douglas, Arizona. According to Kino, “Asa was much loved by his family, and even though he died before my mother or [her] sister were born, they grew up thinking very lovingly of him. They were, however, told that he died in camp of an illness—probably influenza. I don’t know why they were told that, since it obviously wasn’t true. Perhaps they didn’t feel the truth was good for the girls to hear, or, perhaps his mother was not happy with him doing heroic things that cost him his life. Impossible to know.” So many American soldiers did lose their lives in “The Great War” to the Spanish flu—some in camp, often before they had a chance to be sent overseas—this was a convenient little untruth for families to use to disguise the horrors of the actual cause of death. Kino writes that the family heard about Asa’s death as they were getting ready to go to the celebrations of the end of the war in Columbus.
A brief death notice in the West Virginia News (“Killed in Action,” January 18, 1919) describes Asa’s demise in typical newspaper parlance of the day:
Private Charles A. Moffett, of Alderson, was killed in action on Nov. 4, 1918, in the Flanders offensive at the Escant river. He was on duty in the advance ambulance dressing station. During an enemy attack by artillery, all took refuge in a cellar. Later, during a lull in the firing, several came out again to resume their duties. Just as they emerged a high explosive shell hit the granite road in front of them, and fragments of shrapnel struck him. His death was instantaneous and painless. He was a splendid soldier, brave, honest and clean in his daily life, doing his duty at all times most faithfully and uncomplainingly.
|Charles A. Moffett was interred in Plot D, Row 3, Grave 1 in Flanders Field American Cemetery in Waregem, Belgium, where his grave is marked by the simple cross characteristic of European/American military cemeteries. Janet Kino writes, “I have been down to visit his grave a couple of times, and I would not be surprised if my mother [Asa’s niece] had also visited it…. It is breathtakingly lovely, carefully tended and looked after. A lovely place to spend a quiet afternoon.”|
|The Croix de Guerre is a French military medal created in 1915 (and again in 1939) to reward acts of bravery over the course of the two World Wars. The medal could be conferred on members of the armed forces, French citizens, or foreigners (who have been mentioned in army dispatches) and, in certain cases, on military units or towns. The design of the croix is a large bronze Maltese cross with swords crossed. One side depicts the female head of the Republic with the inscription République Française. For World War I, the obverse is inscribed with 1914-1918. A bronze palm indicates mention in an army dispatch. (Source: Encyclopædia Britannica Online, “Croix de Guerre,” accessed 27 June, 2014, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/143771/Croix-de-Guerre.) A brief mention of Pvt. Moffett’s service in an undocumented publication indicates he was awarded the Croix de Guerre, and although it is unlikely we will ever know precisely why he received this medal, we can assume that it was for exhibited bravery and he was mentioned in an army dispatch. Janet Kino recalls seeing the medal among her grandmother’s keepsakes.|
In addition, Charles Asa Moffett received the Silver Star. His citation reads, in part, “Private First Class Charles A. Moffett, United States Army, is cited (Posthumously) by the Commanding General, American Expeditionary Forces, for gallantry in action and a silver star may be placed upon the ribbon of the Victory Medals awarded him. Private First Class Moffett distinguished himself by gallantry in action while serving with 147th Ambulance Company, 37th Division, American Expeditionary Forces, in action at Ruybroek, Belgium, 4 November 1918, in attempting to rescue a wounded comrade under severe shell fire.” (Source: “Charles A. Moffett,” Military Times Hall of Valor, accessed 11 July, 2014, http://projects.militarytimes.com/citations-medals-awards/recipient.php?recipientid=82654.)
This brief biography of Charles Asa Moffett is the result of international collaboration resulting from René Caers’ initial query. That inquiry led to the generous assistance of Patrick Lernout, whose meticulous research on the 368 American soldiers buried at Flanders Field identified Janet Kino as a Moffett descendant. The writer is deeply indebted to these three individuals for their gracious assistance in keeping the memory of Charles Asa Moffett, a patriot deservedly claimed by both West Virginia and Ohio, alive. In the words of René Caers, “I am a Belgian citizen… [and] especially proud adoptive parent of hero Private First Class Charles A. Moffett who died on Belgian soil in World War I for our freedom [for] which we are eternally gratefully to him.” In his address to European youth, President Barrack Obama said, “In a world of challenges that are increasingly global, all of us have an interest in nations stepping forward to play their part—to bear their share of the burden and to uphold international norms.” Stepping forward in a global arena is exactly what Charles Asa Moffett did.
Article prepared by Patricia Richards McClure
West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.
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