Webber ‘gave his tomorrow for my today’

By on August 20, 2014

Belgian adopts Lititz WWI grave

Erik De Bruyne meets with an American Legion official during Saturday's WWI ceremony in Belgium. Erik De Bruyne adopted the grave of Lititz soldier Raymond Webber.

Erik De Bruyne meets with an American Legion official during Saturday’s WWI ceremony in Belgium. Erik De Bruyne adopted the grave of Lititz soldier Raymond Webber.

In mid-June I received an email from Erik De Bruyne of Belgium. He said that his family had adopted the grave of Raymond L. Webber, an American soldier who died there during World War I and was buried at Flanders Field American Cemetery in Waregem.

Erik had the information that Raymond, born in Lititz on March 5, 1896, had been hit and killed by German shrapnel on Oct. 31, 1918. Erik was looking for additional information and was hoping to find family members. The words that that really grabbed my attention were in his closing sentence:

“Almost 100 years ago, Raymond gave his tomorrow for my today. From this day on, Raymond is a part of my family.”

Wow!

This was intriguing; I wanted to know more. I began my search and found the death notice published in the Lititz Record on Dec. 5, 1918 which listed his parents and surviving brothers and sisters. The headline read, “Lost life in France: Raymond Webber died fighting in last days of the war.”

He was born in Lititz to Franklin B. and Caroline B. Webber and was survived by three brothers and four sisters. He grew up in Lititz, but five years prior to joining the service he moved to Reading, where he and two other Lititz boys roomed together. Raymond was a room foreman at the Standard Box Company when he signed up for the war. His roommates also enlisted. He left for training at Camp Lee in July of 1917. On April 29, 1918, he left for Europe with Co. E, 145th Infantry.

I sent that information to Erik. In his response, he said he also had some information from Patrick Lernout, co-author of a book about the cemetery at Flanders Field. The book will be published in English sometime in 2015. Erik also wrote that he is looking forward to Aug. 16, when there will be a ceremony at the cemetery, during which everyone who has adopted a gravesite will receive a certificate. I am impressed by the dedication and caring shown by these people.

In an Aug. 6 email to the Record Express, Erik shared some of his background:

“I’m 46, married to Martine, and we have two sons, Michel (14) and Robin (12).

“I’ve always been interested in the First and Second World Wars. Instead of playing soccer with my friends, I always ended up walking the former battlefields. It was if something drew me to it. I was six years when I found my first relic on the battlefields. Most of the battlefields in the Ieper area are still fields used by farmers. Even today, 100 years later , we can still find relics &tstr; bullets, buttons, pieces of rifles, etc. Most of the stuff is still in a very good condition, thanks to the clay soil. It seals the relic so no air or water can get to it. I have a whole collection by now.

“Twenty years ago I concentrated on medal collecting, especially the Commenwealth medals &tstr; England, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, so it is possible to research the soldier. I have a medal to an officer who was killed in action in the field in front of my grandparents’ house. The body was never found. He is listed on the Menin Gate, in Ieper (55,000 names of British soldiers who were never found in the Ieper area between August 1914 and August 1917). The others are listed on the missing wall at Tyne Cot cemetery, Passchendael. 35,000 names! Tyne cot is the largest British cemetery in the world. I often go there at sunset. It is to me the only time that silence can be so loud. Twelve thousand white stones, row on to row…

“Once you have kids of your own, you can understand and feel the pain of every mom and dad who got the news that their son or daughter will never come home again.

“Every year around 10 bodies are found in Flanders by farmers or roadworkers, etc. In the Ieper (Ypres) area, 47,000 British soldiers are still missing in action. I went to a funeral in Loos (France) last March. Twenty British soldiers were found a year before. Almost 100 years after they got killed, they finally got buried. The service was very emotional.

“I have a very deep respect for all the soldiers who came to my beloved Flanders, Belgium and sacrificed their tomorrow for my today. Raymond is one of these men. I feel very honored to have been able to adopt his grave.

One hundred years ago the great war started. Every evening at 8 p.m. my boys light a candel for five minutes. That way we pay our respect to all the soldiers who got killed that day, 100 years ago. We will do that every day until Nov. 11, 2018. I find it very important that my boys understand and realize that a lot of young men sacrifeced their young lives for us 100 years ago. We can never forget that.

“They shall not grow old as we who are left grow old… At the going down of the sun and in the morning , we will remember them.”

This past weekend, the Record Express received an email from Erik, along with photos from the Aug. 16 ceremony:

“Hello. The weather was great for this first adoption ceremony. I was already at the cemetery around 9 a.m. this morning. My wife had to work today so I had to travel by train. It took me three hours to get there, but I don’t mind that, I didn’t wanted to miss it.

“It was nice to see the American ambassador present for the ceremony. It didn’t take too long, a few speeches, and then “Taps” was played. After that we were all asked to take place behind the marker that we adopted. An official of the American Legion handed over the certificate. I was very moved by this.

I had a nice talk with the Ambassador Denise Campbell Bauer after the ceremony. She’s a really nice lady.”

We don’t know much about Raymond beyond his death notice, and another news article that appeared in the Lititz Record on May 15, 1919. In this article, the Grave Registration Service notified Mr. Frank Weber that his son was buried at Olsene, Belgium, and Lieut. Colonel Charles C. Pierce extended his condolences to the family. He explained that Raymond’s body could be disinterred and sent home for burial, but the “vastness and difficulty of this undertaking will take time.” In Raymond’s last letter to his parents, he said, “I did my share and feel like doing more.” His parents said the photo that ran with the 1919 article was the only one they had of their son, it being a Kodak photograph taken just before he left for camp. It is a very dark image and appears to be a cut-out from an original photo.

Raymond’s name is on the “Wall of Honor” in Lititz Springs Park. He was originally buried at Osene, and was reburied at Flanders Field, where his memorial stone is today.

With the information from those two newspaper articles I was able to search the federal census records for additional family information. The census for 1940 is the most recent available online. I was able to follow names back to the 1900 census. I found a listing of 13 children for Frank and Caroline Webber. Raymond was the youngest.

Using the data base of obituaries from the Lititz newspapers found on the Lititz library website, I was able to find obituaries for many of Raymond’s family members. The family names that appear are Webber, Weber, Adams, Hurst, Engle, Shaub and Kneier, all in Lancaster County. If you think you might be, or know that you are, a descendent and would like to contact the Belgium family that has adopted the grave of Raymond Weber, contact me by mail at the Lititz Public Library, 651 Kissel Hill Road, Lititz, PA 17543; or by email at the address below.

Martee Xakellis is a volunteer researcher at the Lititz Public Library, specializing in local genealogy and history. She has published multiple articles and books on the cemeteries of Lancaster County, her research on the schools of Warwick Township is available on the library website, and she is currently collecting data on local neighborhood stores. She welcomes your comments at mxakellis@lititzlibrary.org.

For those who wish to correspond with our friend in Belgium, Erik’s email address is erik-withak@hotmail.com, and his mailing address is Erik De Bruyne, Kazernelaan 43, Helchteren 3530, Belgium.

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