The dedication of a new exhibit on World War I at the Tuolumne County Museum will take place at 2 p.m. Saturday at the museum, 158 Bradford St., Sonora.

When Sonora city historian Pat Perry was in the midst of her two-year research project on the men who served in World War I, she came upon a news story on the death of Harold Shea headlined “Insanity Precedes Death At Hospital.”

Shea had served in the infantry in France and suffered a shrapnel wound to his thigh. He returned home to Sonora and, by the time he was 28, he was being held in a padded cell in the county hospital, where he was so violent he tore up a straight jacket. Then he killed himself.

Listed in the news story was the name of his brother.

That tiny bit of information was the start of Perry finding one of the major items included in a new Tuolumne County History Museum display, which will be dedicated on Saturday.

The display, which opens in time for the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI, includes memorabilia from various families of men who served and died, all of which shows the impact of that war on the lives of Tuolumne County residents.

Perry said using Ancestry.com and other genealogical tools she was able to track down Shea’s niece, who lived in Colbert, Washington. The two exchanged emails and the niece sent some snapshots. She also sent the helmet her uncle wore.

Then she remembered her husband’s grandfather had served, and her son had his Navy uniform. Before long, Perry had that, too, and discovered that it had belonged to Tony Capella, who was from Sonora and who was related to Angela Brown, the chairwoman of the Tuolumne County Historical Society, which runs the museum.

That is the draw of this new exhibit. Even though the first world war has been long forgotten by many, it still has relevance to so many local families.

Capela’s uniform and Shea’s helmet are featured items in the display along with brass shells, a Red Cross uniform, a sword given to those who bought war bonds, photos and many other items handed down through generations of family members.

“This was the last war we glorified,” Perry said. “We sometimes lose track of what the soldiers gave, and it's important to acknowledge how many people had their lives destroyed.”

Perry was able to determine there were 30 Tuolumne County men who died in war or afterward of war-related problems. Seven died of influenza, six were killed in action, two are still missing. Others died of other illnesses and from wounds suffered in war.

All but two are buried either in military or local cemeteries in California. The remains of two are still in France.

The place of burial became a national controversy, Perry said, when President Theodore Roosevelt, whose son died in France, declared the men should be buried with their comrades where they fell.

But many families wanted their sons back, and the Federal Government complied.

One Tuolumne County family said their son, George Marshall, should stay. For those like the Marshalls, the government paid for the mothers to go to see where their son was buried.

The exhibit shows artifacts from the trip Marshall’s mother made to France, including the itinerary and rules of the trip.

In all, some 60,000 men were buried in France and 6,600 mothers traveled there, a two-week trip paid for by the government during the worst of the Great Depression. Among those who went were Edith Roosevelt, wife of the president.

George Marshall’s mother, Hoveta Marshall, and 168 other women went in 1933. Seventy five were headed to Argonne, where her son was buried. Hoveta Marshall was able to see the white cross on her son’s grave and to lay a wreath in his memory.

Perry also wrote the current issue of the Chispa, the quarterly publication of the Tuolumne County Historical Society. At 28 pages, it is the largest issue the society has published and records in painstaking detail the daily lives of the folks at home and the war life of those who served.

The publication includes reports on local mobilization, food drives and conservation efforts, fundraising and the Red Cross.

Besides the genealogical research, Perry did research in St. Louis, where military records are kept.

“It was like touching history,” she said.

She said the most poignant were the case files that recorded services given to the men once they returned home. Each man and his family or survivors were allowed insurance for 20 years after their service ended.

Among those from Tuolumne County who died, one had a child. Perry said she read letters from the family asking for help for a troubled teen who was living with an older woman the family didn’t approve of.

“It was a desperate plea for help,” she said.

Perry said the exhibit and its artifacts make the war real.

“It’s a microcosm of the war,” she said.”This was the war to end all war, but it wasn’t. War is pointless and doesn’t solve anything.”

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