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George Washington Willard

Submitted by: Eric Wiech {Great Grandson}

George Washington Willard

George Washington Willard born around 18 Dec. 1892, George Willard served in World War 1 with the United States Army. The enlistment was in 1917 and the service was completed in 1919.

Story of Service

Pvt. George Washington Willard was born on December 18, 1892, in Madison, SD. His mother died when he was six. Soon after, he and his younger brother were placed in the Sioux Falls children’s home. From there, he was sent to live with a family that was quite poor. He worked long hours at farm labor, was fed little, slept in a bed bug-infested bed, only had socks hired men threw away, and had little schooling for two years. When he was constantly late for the little schooling he received, his teacher asked him why. After he explained, the teacher contacted the children’s home, which sent two women to check on his conditions. They immediately removed him from the home. He was placed into another foster home and lived/worked there until he was 17.

Pvt. Willard was drafted into the Army on the 20th of September, 1917, when he was 24. On May 11, 1918, he would sail from New York, NY to Liverpool, England. Listed as his “in case of emergency” contact is a “friend” from Summit, SD, Miss Agnus Swanson.

He served in the 30th Div., 59th Brigade, 114th Machine Gun Battalion, Company A, 3rd Platoon, 1st Squad. The gun squad had one combat cart, pulled by a mule, to transport its gun and ammunition as close to the firing position as enemy fire allowed. From there, the crews moved the guns and ammunition forward by hand. According to what my grandfather, Sherman Willard, told me, his father, Pvt. Willard, handled the mule and cart.

Less than two months later, Pvt. Willard would be hospitalized after becoming a victim of mustard gas while fighting in Belgium. On December 21, 1918 (three days after his 26th birthday), he was shipped home with the other “sick and wounded” from Liverpool, England, after being under the care of Base Hospital #33.

Pvt. Willard was discharged from the Army at Fort Dodge, IA on January 21, 1919. He returned to South Dakota and, three months later, married his emergency contact, Miss Agnus Evelyn Cora Swanson.

Pvt. Willard was a farmer for three years before relocating to Minneapolis, MN to attend a government-sponsored school for shoe repair. The strenuous work of farming was too much for his mustard gas-damaged lungs. After finishing his schooling, the family relocated again to Benson, MN in 1925, where he would own and operate Willard’s Shu Fix, later to become G.W. Willard and Sons Shoe Repair and Harness Shop. In the late 1930’s, Pvt. Willard would serve as a Benson City council member, and was instrumental in getting a public swimming pool and city hall constructed. He was also a member of the American Legion, the VFW, Veterans of WWI, and lifetime member of the Disabled American Veterans.

In 1942, Pvt. Willard closed his business when he was unable to get any more quality shoe leather because the government needed it for the war effort. In 1944, he moved the family (now including eight children), to Bremerton, WA, where he worked as a sail maker in the Navy shipyards.

Pvt. Willard and his wife moved to Seattle, WA in 1964. She would die in 1977. The stress of losing her caused Pvt. Willard to have a heart attack soon after, from which he never fully recovered. He died November 17, 1978, in Vancouver, WA. Six months later, he would receive his Purple Heart for his injuries 60 years earlier.

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