clay county histories
Markus Krueger | Program Director HCSCC
Last year around Veteran’s Day, this article was given to the letters home of Maurice Masterson, a Barnesville soldier who died ten days before the end of World War I. This year, we will read from the letters of his twin brother, Kenneth Masterson, who survived the war but suffered from the loss of his brother and his MIA cousin Emmett O’Boyle, as well as his own combat related trauma.
Fewer than a third of Kenneth’s unit remained at the end of the war. Kenneth likely survived because the effects of mustard gas put him in the hospital for the final, bloodiest month of the war. In January of 1919 he was part of the American occupation force in Germany, searching for news about his twin brother Maurice. Two months after the war ended, a package of mail caught up with him containing sad news.
“Jan 21, 1919
My dear mother,
You will know how hard it is to write anything now that I know Maurice is gone. Your letter was the first I had heard of him since he came to see me in October.
But if it had to be one of us why was it he who had made so many plans and who had so much to look forward to?
I’ll come back it won’t be long now, and I’ll try to make up for him if only a little.
I can’t say what I want to but I know you’ll understand how his going has hit me. And all the time I’ll have to live with these Huns, but the better I know them the more I hate them.”
Following letters display depression, anger and survivor’s guilt.
“There is no use in talking but I’d gladly take his place and send him back to all of you. For it’s easy to see now that he had all the world for the asking and he could have done so much.” (February 22, 1919)
He spent his leave searching for his brother’s grave and his missing cousin Emmett. On May 27, 1919, he wrote this to his parents after visiting the grave of Maurice and another man killed by the same artillery shell.
“Our accomplished American statesmen, idealists and all the rest can talk of the nobility of France, and the glory our young eyes have seen over here. Ask anybody who has been on the line and if he’s truthful he’ll tell you he saw nothing but mud and misery there and what he really remembers is the horror and uselessness of all of it. Maurice and Emmett were worth more than all these putrid, worn out perverted countries ever will be. I don’t think I really realized how completely Maurice is gone until I saw those two little lonely graves near Sommerance.”
I wish I could say Kenneth lived happily ever after, but this isn’t a fairy tale. Trauma and loss almost certainly contributed to how he struggled through his remaining 45 years. The exhibit Warriors in the North, created in collaboration with the Fargo VA, displays artwork created by local veterans who are using art to work through their trauma. It is now on display at the Hjemkomst Center.