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A Tribute from France

Posted under Stories by Olivia Mahoney

Between now and November 11, 2018, we will commemorate the centennial of the United States’ participation in World War I. It was one of the greatest conflicts in human history, claiming more than 17 million lives and leaving more than 20 million wounded. The Great War, as it was called, shattered the illusions of an entire generation and continues to shape our world today. The war’s most painful moments have faded over time but poignant reminders are found in the Museum’s collection.

World War I commemorative plaque, 1936
Designed by André Lavrillier
Cast bronze
Presented to the Chicago History Museum by the Republic of France
P
hotographs by Museum staff

The first is a commemorative plaque honoring soldiers from Cook County who died on French soil. It was presented to the Chicago History Museum by Rene Weiller, consul general of France, on September 14, 1936, eighteen years after the first world war ended but only a few before the second would begin. The plaque speaks to the deep grief felt by those who lost loved ones in the war, but a collection of soldier portraits makes it even more palpable. The photographs are housed in twenty gray boxes accompanied by an additional box containing brief accounts of each individual’s military service.

World War I Roll of Honor photographs of Chicago area residents, X.2137.2004 PPL

Among the many portraits are Jesse and Anton Duschanek, brothers from the Southwest Side of Chicago. They were the children of Anton Sr. and Mary Duschanek, immigrants from Bohemia and naturalized American citizens. Jesse was born in 1888 and enlisted in the army at age thirty on May 20, 1918, with the 68th Engineers. He served as a cook and later transferred to the 55th Transportation Corps. In February 1919, a few months after the war ended, Jesse died of pneumonia at Indre, France.  He was originally buried in a cemetery in Châteauroux in central France, but his remains were eventually brought back to Chicago and reinterred at the Bohemian National Cemetery.

His younger brother, Anton, was born in 1896 and served as a corporal in Company L of the 131st Infantry. He was killed in action in France and, like his brother, originally buried in France but laid to final rest at the Bohemian National Cemetery. Their mother must have suffered incalculable grief over losing two sons but probably took some comfort in bringing them home. She lived until 1937 and is buried in the same plot. As we recall and commemorate the war, let us reflect upon its true cost of human suffering and strive to find peaceful solutions to world conflict.

Olivia Mahoney is the senior curator at the Chicago History Museum.

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