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A Chance Discovery -- Courageous Navy Corpsman, DSC


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#1 bertmedals

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Posted 13 August 2019 - 06:51 AM

I was doing my usual scan of newly listed items on eBay when I saw this pair of period photographs of a young sailor in the yard of a home in a town or urban setting.  I was attracted by the listing title: “2 Vintage WWI Photos Identified Navy Sailor taken a Year before Killed in War”. I took a quick look and saw that both pictures had similar inscriptions on the back with enough information to make taking a chance on the “buy it now” price worth the effort.
 
Both inscriptions identified the sailor as “Fred Charles Shaffner” and stated they were taken in 1917.  The inscriptions further said that the sailor died on April 18, 1918 “gassed by the Hun”. One said he was in the 6th Marines and was gassed on April 13 and buried at St Mihiel. After trying all the usual sources using the name as written (“Shaffner”) with no luck, I used the normal German spelling of the last name and quickly came up with Pharmacist’s Mate 3rd Class Fred Charles Schaffner, a Navy Corpsman in the 6th Marine Regiment.  
 
Fred Schaffner was indeed gassed on April 13, 1918 during a gas attack on the 6th Marines while they were in a reserve position southeast of Verdun in the Troyon Sector, during their stint in the trenches as part of the AEF training program. Forty Marines died as a result of that gas attack (History of the 6th Regiment, US Marines, pages 8-9 and A Brief History of the 6th Marines, page 3).
 
During the gas attack, Fred Schaffner was himself gassed but refused treatment and evacuation and “helped in the treatment of more than 100 cases of gas casualties, disregarding his own condition until overcome”.  He succumbed to the gas and died on April 18.  For his courageous actions on April 13 he was posthumously awarded the Army Distinguished Service Cross (War Department, General Orders No. 88, 1918). I understand that only 31 Navy Corpsmen have been awarded the DSC all during WW1.
 
I believe the inscriptions were made before the fall of 1921.  One says he was buried at St. Mihiel.  That was true initially (actually he was buried twice in France and St. Mihiel was likely the second place).  However, his remains were returned to the United States in the fall of 1921 and he was interred for the final time at Chippiannock Cemetery in Rock Island, IL.
 
The person I got the photos from specializes in antique photos and postcards. These 2 photographs came from a large family photo collection most of which came from Fred Schaffner's extended family.  These were the only 2 of him in that collection. It is interesting that the inscriptions indicate they were given by one family member (Aimee) to another (Louise).  I haven't been able to determine who they were or how they were related to Fred.
 
I’ve wondered about the misspelling of the name.  It could have been a simple error inside an extended family (it happens to me a lot).  Or perhaps it was done deliberately as a result of the anti-German sentiment in the US that changed sauerkraut to “liberty cabbage”.
 
Fred Shaffner was born on Nov 7, 1899 in Kewanee, IL.  His home of record was Rock Island, IL.  He entered Navy in June 1917 at the age of 17 years, 7 months.  He earned the DSC on Apr 13, 1918 at the age 18 years, 5 months, 6 days and died 5 days later – about 10 months after he entered the Navy.
 
Several pictures of the photos follow.  I’ve also included his DSC citation, obituary, and picture of his headstone from Find A Grave.
 
Thanks for taking the time to read all this. I couldn't resist sharing Fred Schaffner's story and the little bit that remains of this brave man.
Dennis
 
 

 

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  • 20190811_191510 (3).jpg


#2 bertmedals

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Posted 13 August 2019 - 06:52 AM

This is the second photo.

 

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  • 20190811_191413 (3).jpg
  • 20190811_191438 (3).jpg


#3 bertmedals

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Posted 13 August 2019 - 06:54 AM

Head stone

 

 

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  • Fred Schaffner Tombstone 2.jpg


#4 bertmedals

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Posted 13 August 2019 - 06:55 AM

Obituary

 

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#5 bertmedals

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Posted 13 August 2019 - 06:59 AM

Link to Fred Schaffner's DSC citation:

https://valor.milita....com/hero/16234

 



#6 Dirk

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Posted 13 August 2019 - 06:59 AM

Excellent find and research!.....allowing his memory to be recovered and shared with new generations. Sometimes eBay surfaces gems like these!

#7 bertmedals

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Posted 13 August 2019 - 07:21 AM

Excellent find and research!.....allowing his memory to be recovered and shared with new generations. Sometimes eBay surfaces gems like these!

Thanks very much. He is worth the effort.



#8 Salvage Sailor

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Posted 13 August 2019 - 09:59 AM

Excellent research Dennis,

 

I also have a USN Chief's grouping and could not find a trace of his pre war service until I discovered that he changed the spelling of his name to 'Danish' from 'Danisch', changing him from a German to a Dane.



#9 bertmedals

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Posted 13 August 2019 - 12:40 PM

Excellent research Dennis,

 

I also have a USN Chief's grouping and could not find a trace of his pre war service until I discovered that he changed the spelling of his name to 'Danish' from 'Danisch', changing him from a German to a Dane.

Very interesting -- thanks for that information.  I think we are all aware that those things happened but it aways seems surprising when you run into actual examples.



#10 bobgee

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Posted 14 August 2019 - 07:33 AM

Great photos. Especially amazing to see them as I have this heroic corpsman's DSC & Pershing document in my collection.. PM sent. Bobgee



#11 644td

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Posted 14 August 2019 - 11:37 AM

Great find and great research. These photos could have been easily lost to time and this hero would have faded from memory. Man I love stories like this.

Marty

#12 bertmedals

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Posted 14 August 2019 - 04:20 PM

Great photos. Especially amazing to see them as I have this heroic corpsman's DSC & Pershing document in my collection.. PM sent. Bobgee

I was stunned when I found out his DSC and certificate were in a Forum member's collection. Thanks for letting me/us know.  That is a remarkable set.



#13 bertmedals

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Posted 14 August 2019 - 04:21 PM

Great find and great research. These photos could have been easily lost to time and this hero would have faded from memory. Man I love stories like this.

Marty

Thanks -- I share your sentiment.



#14 fightn5th

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Posted 16 August 2019 - 05:58 AM

Awesome find!!

#15 BigJohn#3RD

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Posted 30 August 2019 - 05:51 AM

I think it is astounding to find a picture of a fallen service member years after the event; this picture of Schaffner 101 years after his death is impressive. It is always nice to put a face to a hero who died saving his comrades on the battlefield.

RIP Sailor,




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