Historical research is fascinating. While some might think it’s boring to scroll through out-of-focus microfilm or try to come up with the magic combination of search terms to yield just the right results online, it’s much more than that.
About seven months ago, during a kerfuffle over the war memorial in downtown Riverside, we took our first real look at the names on those three original plaques — men who once walked the streets of the village 100 or so years ago, had families who loved them, but whose lives were cut short serving in World War I.
One of the men, Sgt. James Quinn, died of a sudden illness, probably the flu, after the war in 1919 at an army camp in Texas. Two others died while serving in France.
One of the two who shipped off overseas and died there in 1918 remains something of a mystery. Pvt. Albert Moore appears to have died in battle though it’s not a completely solid conclusion.
Moore was a Marine attached to the U.S. Army’s 2nd Division and he died on a date that would indicate he was part of the counterattacking force during the Second Battle of the Marne in northern France in July 1918.
But there is almost no information to be found online about Moore, and the library’s collection of local newspapers doesn’t include any editions from 1918. It’s frustrating and regrettable that the circumstances of Moore’s death have been forgotten a century later.
While there’s no local news report regarding the death of the other Riverside man who served in France, the Rev. Hedley Heber Cooper, it turned out there were not only written but also visual records of his life as an adult, his service and his death.
The Landmark’s story of Father Cooper’s service in France as a YMCA volunteer benefitted greatly from a brief history written by a relative doing family research. But it was almost by luck that we were able to stumble across a scene showing two YMCA officials decorating Cooper’s grave in France a couple of days after his death in an actual U.S. Army Signal Corps movie.
We actually ran across the movie itself, which the National Archives had posted on YouTube, more than a week ago and discovered a scene-by-scene description of what it showed. The movie documented the Army unit Cooper was attached to, from March to June 1918, and appeared to be pieced together in sequence.
The gas attack in which Cooper died was a traumatic event for the Army unit Cooper served alongside, and the video record of the many burials after it is a testament to its importance.
But what we discovered only late last week after also stumbling across a comprehensive record of every photograph printed by the U.S. Army Signal Corps during the war — a record found by pasting in a YMCA record of Cooper’s grave in an apparently now-gone French military cemetery in Baccarat, France — is that there was a photo of Hedley Cooper’s grave.
Since it appeared other still photos in the record were also part of the 1918 movie, we took another look at the movie. And, sure enough, there were 18 seconds of film at Cooper’s grave, placed out of sequence.
It’s remarkable that, of the nearly 120,000 Americans killed during World War I, we can definitively identify a visual record of the sacrifice made by a one-time Riverside resident who died while serving the nation as a YMCA volunteer in Lorraine.
Go to www.RBLandmark.com and click on the movie, which we’ve embedded with the story. The scene starts at 7:19. Cooper’s grave is the one on the left.
Picture that the next time you’re in Guthrie Park and see Cooper’s name on the memorial plaque dedicated in his memory in 1921.