With Hometown Hero banners flying in most of our communities throughout the year, it is also good to be reminded about the stories behind the heroes. Heroes are also recognized in the names of area American Legions, VFWs and even bridges.
“Craig Elmer Fleming was a hometown hero,” said Dr. James T. Maccaferri, an associate professor of library science at Clarion University, last week as he presented a program to the Clarion Rotary Club.
“He became the first Clarion County resident to be killed in World War I, but he was among 3,177 battle dead sustained by the 3rd Division and among the total of 53,402 casualties sustained by the American Expeditionary Force, including 14 other Clarion residents,” said Maccaferri.
“Fleming was the victim of a German aerial bomb during the Battle of Saint-Mihiel. He had been gassed on July 15 during the Second Battle of the Marne and was still recovering at the time of his death. In the A.J. Davis History of Clarion County, the roster of Clarion residents who served in World War I occupies six pages of three columns each.”
American Legion Post 66 was named in honor of Corporal Fleming.
Dan Parker, director of the Clarion Free Library, introduced Maccaferri as a researcher documenting the end of World War I and presenting a series of programs at the library over the last few years.
Some of his research includes the following information:
Fleming was born on May 29, 1892, at Frampton Post Office (now Mechanicsville) in Clarion County, the first son of John Elmer Fleming and Myrtle Belle (Frampton) Fleming.
Following John’s death, Myrtle Fleming carried out the plan to move to Clarion Borough with her two surviving sons, residing on South Sixth Avenue. The Flemings were members of the First Baptist Church, and Craig sang in the choir. After high school, both Craig and his brother Samuel enrolled at the then Clarion State Normal School in the fall of 1911.
Despite having registered for the draft, Craig Fleming volunteered so that he could be a corporal, entering the Army on Oct. 3, 1917.
Craig was originally sent to Camp Lee (near Petersburg, Va.), which was one of 16 hastily established Mobilization and Training Camps. He was subsequently sent to Camp Greene, near Charlotte, N.C., where he was assigned to the 30th Infantry Regiment, 6th Infantry Brigade, and 3rd Division, on Dec. 19, 1917. The 3rd Division embarked for France in March and April 1918, the 30th Infantry Regiment arriving at Liverpool on April 12 to join the American Expeditionary Force (AEF).
By the end of May, the 3rd Division was in the thick of the fighting. It earned its nickname, “Rock of the Marne,” on July 14, 1918 (during the Second Battle of the Marne). While other units retreated, the 3rd Division, including Craig’s regiment, held back the Germans at Château-Thierry and Belleau Wood.
In these early actions, U.S. units were under overall French or British command. The first significant and distinctly U.S. offensive occurred in September 1918 with the goal of reducing the Saint Mihiel salient. Pershing commanded the American First Army, comprising seven divisions and over half a million men, in the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, which began on Sep. 12. U.S. success in this battle was followed by the Meuse-Argonne offensive, which began on Sept. 26 and continued until the end of the war.
In these actions, Pershing’s men recaptured over two hundred square miles of French territory from the Germans. U.S. intervention had tipped the balance in favor of the Allies, forcing the Central Powers to seek an armistice. At 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918, the guns fell silent. The war was over. Three days later, the people of Clarion County read in the newspaper that native son Craig E. Fleming had been killed in action on Sept. 16. He was 26 years old.
Mother Myrtle requested his body be returned to the United States and learned on Aug. 30, 1921, that her son’s remains were being shipped from Hoboken, N.J., and would arrive in Clarion that evening.
The remains of Craig E. Fleming and of another Clarion hero, Private Lewis Gathers, were met at the Clarion railroad station (now occupied by Clarion University’s dining hall) by an honor guard from Post 66 of the American Legion. The American Legion was established in 1919 by World War I veterans to preserve the camaraderie of the war and to help veterans and their families readjust to civilian life.