For the past few months research into the men and women who were brought home to the United States in May 1921 aboard the United States Army Transport Ship Wheaton has been underway. Primarily the work on finding out more about the 5,212 names was done by volunteers from the American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. In this way these mothers are linked to the women who lost their own children more than a century ago. Now a database and map can be used for the public to locate these gravesites and pay a visit.
Stories upon stories were revealed as researchers from coast to cost clicked around on the links. Most have pages on Find A Grave. One story stands out because not only was this soldier brought home to his family, but someone in the small town of Crocker, Missouri, was there to document the burial with a small camera.
Private James Albert McMillian was born in Iberia, Missouri in 1888. Before the war he was an agent for an oil company. He served in Battery F, 333rd Field Artillery Regiment, 86th Division. It was organized in September 1917 at Camp Grant, Illinois. McMillian was on the older side to go to France; he was 30 when he arrived. The majority of this division were made up of men from the Midwest. Records show the 333rd never saw action.
He was one of the thousands to contract pneumonia, which took his life on October 21, 1918. McMillian was interred in the American cemetery in Clermont-Ferrand in central France. Several months after the war, his father, James B. McMillian, replied to the War Department that he wished for his son to be brought home to Pulaski County. On March 3, 1921, his remains were removed from the French soil and transported by rail 440 miles to Bordeaux. From there he was placed inside the Wheaton in May and brought to Hoboken, New Jersey. Waiting there was President Warren Harding, who delivered remarks on the pier on May 23. Then another railroad journey brought the private to his parent’s home in Crocker, 145 miles southwest of St. Louis.
In June 1921 it must have been warm in Crocker Cemetery. Men have removed their suit coats. Women hold umbrellas to fight off the sun. McMillian was a Mason, and men with Masonic aprons and sashes are in the crowd. A military honor guard, including four U.S. Navy sailors, brings the flag-draped casket to its final resting place. All around are scores of local residents, witness to one of the saddest days in the small town’s history.
These views from a small camera are witness to just one of the 5,212 stories from the Wheaton that are part of Homecoming 21.