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Thank heavens

The Legal Genealogist had two grandfathers who served in the armed forces during World War I, that war to end all wars that the United States entered 100 years ago this week.

The two men never met.

And all I can say is… thank heavens.

My mother’s father, Clay Rex Cottrell, was born in Iowa Park, Wichita County, Texas, on 20 April 1898.1 By the time the United States entered the First World War, he had been married for nearly two years2 and had already buried his first-born child.3

As required, he registered for the draft in Wichita County, Texas, on 5 June 1918,4 and was called into service in August of 1918.5

As with many Americans, the bulk of his service records was lost in the 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis.6 But we do have a few surviving records. And those surviving records tell us that his service was as a private in the U.S. Army in the 39th Balloon Corps, trained at Camp John Wise near San Antonio7 and then sent to Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

The balloon corps.

As in “people who are supposed to go up in the air.”

Hold that thought.

Now change gears with me for a moment to my father’s father.

Hugo Ernst Geissler was born in Bad Köstritz in what was then the principality of Reuss jungere Linie and is now the German state of Thüringen on 24 March 1891.8

And from at least as early as 1912 until sometime after his 14 February 1918 marriage to my grandmother,9 he served as in the German Army.

Because of records losses suffered during World War II, there are no real surviving records of his military service. 10

But from photos that have been handed down in the family, we know that he served for a time in the Grenadier-Regt. König Friedrich I (4.Ostpreußisches) Nr.5 (Danzig) XVII Armee Korps. And for a time in the 128th Infantry Regiment.

And from those same photos, we know what his assignment was in the German Army.

He was assigned to the anti-aircraft corps.

As in “people who are supposed to shoot down the people who go up in the air.”

Hold that thought.

No, my grandfathers never met.

Not here in the United States, where my German-born grandfather died in 1945,11 before his son — my father — ever met the woman who would become his second wife.

And not during World War I, that war to end all wars that the United States entered 100 years ago this week.

That war in which one of them was supposed to be going up in the air.

And the other one was supposed to be shooting down the people who were going up in the air.

The two men never met.

Thank heavens.


  1. Virginia Department of Health, death certif. no. 70-026728, Clay Rex Cottrell, 21 Sep 1970; Division of Vital Records, Richmond.
  2. Wichita County, Texas, Marriage Book 5:388, Clay Rex Cottrell and Opal Robertson (1916), marriage license and return; County Clerk’s Office, Wichita Falls.
  3. Interview with Opal Robertson Cottrell (Kents Store, VA), by granddaughter Bobette Richardson, 1980s; copy of notes privately held by Judy G. Russell. See also Dutton Funeral Home (Iowa Park, Texas), Record of Funeral, Baby Cottrell, 22 February 1918; digital copy privately held by Judy G. Russell.
  4. “World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” digital images, ( : accessed 6 Apr 2017), card for Clay Rex Cottrell, no. 42-4-104B (stamped), Wichita County (Tex.) Draft Board; citing National Archives microfilm publication M1509, World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918.
  5. “Fifty-Eight to Leave for Camp on August 28th,” Wichita Falls (Tex.) Times, 26 August 1918, p.3, col. 1.
  6. See “The 1973 Fire, National Personnel Records Center,” U.S. National Archives ( : accessed 6 Apr 2017).
  7. See “Introduction to the Aerostation,” Camp John Wise Aerostation ( : accessed 6 Apr 2017).
  8. Kirchenbuch Bad Köstritz, Taufregister Seite 69 Nr. 21 aus 1891, Baptismal Record of Hugo Ernst Geissler (digital image in possession of the author).
  9. Bescheinigung der Eheschließung (Certificate of Marriage), nr. 135 (1918), Geißler-Nuckel, Standesamt (Registry Office), Bremen.
  10. See (, “Bundesarchiv-Militärarchiv,” rev. 20 Feb 2016.
  11. Illinois Department of Public Health, death certificate no. 1145, Hugo Geissler, 13 Jan 1945; Division of Vital Statistics, Springfield.
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