I will think about Tony Kashon this Veterans Day. His grave sits in the far southeast corner of Rosedale Cemetery, there now for over a century. I have seen it over the years while visiting my grandparents, who are nearby, but only in the last few weeks have I learned more about who he was.
Kashon, whose first name was mistakenly engraved “Toney” on his military-issued headstone, was killed in action near Beuvardes, on the Marne River in France on July 29, 1918. He was one of a sobering 33 “Gold Star” boys from sparsely-populated Parke County — the first from Florida Township — to lose their lives in the Great War, most in fighting on the Western Front in the few months before the Armistice; pneumonia or influenza killed the rest.
He was the oldest of 13 children born to Bosqua Casciana, who arrived at Ellis Island from Italy in 1890, and whose name was promptly and unceremoniously changed to Oscar Kashon Sr. Making his way to Indiana to work in the coal fields near Mecca, Oscar met Della Nevins — a sixth-generation Bridgeton native, whose maternal grandfather, William Wood, was the oldest Civil War soldier in the county at the time of his death in 1902. Della taught him English and before long Oscar became a crew chief because he could understand his boss and translate for the Italian workers who flocked to the area.
Although a number of dates have been recorded, Tony was probably born on Aug. 3, 1893, in Batavia, Ohio; Della Mae had family there. The Kashons came to live in Rosedale — again, near Della Mae’s family — and by age 23, Tony enlisted in the military. His occupation alternately given as “miner” and “section hand,” Tony, like his father, apparently found work on the Vandalia railroad. By several accounts he was tall and dark-haired and blue-eyed and known for his good humor and quiet, shy demeanor.
Rhonda Cook Montgomery, whose grandfather was born in Jessup and was the youngest of Oscar and Della’s children (he drove a tank destroyer against the Germans in the Second World War) fittingly works at the Veterans of Foreign Wars, VFW Paul Taylor Post 1752 in Rockville. She has a keen interest and pride in how her family and military service are tied together.
“They don’t make ‘em like that anymore,” Montgomery said in reference to her great uncle and grandfather. “These men went off to war away from their homes and their families to fight against an unknown enemy in a strange land. They didn’t know if they would live to see the next day, let alone come home at the end of the war. They served their country with honor and grace. Our veterans deserve so much respect for what they do. Recognizing Tony Kashon is a great honor to my family, my heritage.”
Although Kashon’s records were reduced to ashes nearly 50 years ago, there is one surviving account of his death in France as a member of the 150th Field Artillery, Rainbow Division. In a book, “Under the Rainbow: A History of its Service in the War Against the Germans,” battery members compiled their stories about the experiences they shared in France, and one was the death of Kashon and Sgt. Burton Woolery.
After the unit had passed the Belleau Wood, where so many Americans were lost, and the rubble of Vaux and Chateau Thierry, it took up a position near Beauvardes on land German troops had held less than 24 hours before. It was there that Kashon and Woolery were hit with “sweeping fire.” They were buried on the spot; Tony was just a few days shy of his 26th birthday. Two more members of the unit were killed near that exact same place the next day.
In an undated letter, sent sometime months later, Lt. Col. Charles Pierce, a graves registration official, wrote to Tony’s mother, “Thousands of such letters must be written, and my office is deluged with correspondence which is being attended to as quickly as possible,” he said. “May I count myself as your friend and be permitted to [hope] you have Divine comfort in your grief?”
Letters that Kashon sent home are among Montgomery’s most prized possessions. Although they were written well before he was killed, are difficult to read, and came before he ever saw combat, they help put a face on Kashon as someone who didn’t seem to fear the future. In one note, he tells his mother to forget about sending him any money because his pay was more than adequate; in another to his father, he says he wants everyone to know he is “OK,” and hopes they are the same. In a third note, he tells them that he is in a hurry and promises to “rite” soon.
Within months of the Armistice that ended the hostilities in France, Tony Kashon came home to that quiet spot where I often go. Eventually, American Legion Post 290 was established in Rosedale and took Tony as its namesake, but Kashon’s memory, and that of so many others who have worn the uniform, has faded over time.
Yet for me, his is one of the faces of Veterans Day.