Friday, January 17, 2014

Sepia Saturday: Barred From Service

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.




This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt commemorates the Great War, World War I.  A particular second cousin twice removed has always held a certain fascination for me although I don’t know why.  I never knew any of his family and I know very little about him.  Heck, I don’t even have a picture. 

Charles Sherman Jollett WWI draft cardHis name was Charles Sherman Jollett, the only son and middle child sandwiched between two older sisters and two younger sisters.  The son of Charles Belsin and Nannie June Fogg Jollett was born in Page County, Virginia on September 22, 1897, even though his World War I draft card says September 23, 1894. 

Charles Belsin Jollett was a machinist who sought better opportunities for his family, so they moved to Portsmouth, Virginia some time before 1905.  Sherman followed in his father’s footsteps as a machinist for the Seaboard Air Line Railroad.  Saying “Air Line” and “Railroad” in the same breath sounds funny, like a contradiction, an oxymoron, a paradox.  But in the days before air travel was common, “air line” was a term used to indicate the shortest distance between two points.  Thus railroads often used “air line” in their names to suggest their routes were shorter than road travel.

Now this is what confuses me:  according to his World War I draft card dated 1917, Sherman had served as a machinist in the Navy for a half year.  Nevertheless, he was claiming an exemption from the draft.  The reason he gave is difficult to read, but it appears to say “Barred from service.”


WHAT?

OK, I understand that the military wouldn’t want someone who had an arrest record, didn’t meet weight requirements, had a personality disorder, or proved to be otherwise unsuitable for service.  However, Sherman was gassed during the Great War so he must have served anyway.  How did that happen?

Anyway, according to family lore, Sherman was never the same afterwards.  He continued to work as a machinist following the war, but he lived with his parents, at least until 1925, the last time his name appears in a city directory.  Sadly, in the 1930 census, he is listed as a patient at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, DC. 

Center building at St. Elizabeth's, Washington DC
Image from Wikimedia Commons


Not familiar with St. Elizabeth’s?  You probably saw part of the west campus in “A Few Good Men.”  This hospital has the distinction of being the first large-scale, federally run psychiatric hospital in the United States.  The doctors there pioneered the lobotomy, studied the effects of race on mental illness, and tested “truth serums” during World War II. 




Exciting times at the insane asylum!

In the 1940 census, Sherman was a patient in the Veterans Administration facility in Salem, Virginia, an institution for “nervous and mental diseases,” according to the enumerator’s notation at the top of the page.  The 1940 document is full of interesting information.  For one, it indicates that Sherman was living in a “Govt Inst” in Washington DC in 1935, likely still at St. Elizabeth’s. 

It seems Sherman had only a sixth grade education.  He was listed as Single even though he was listed as Married in the 1930 census, a “fact” I believe to have been entered in error, and one that warrants further investigation. 

Another surprising bit of information is the listing of patients’ occupations.  I wonder if that means their “usual occupation” or if they continued to work even though hospitalized.  Sherman is listed as still a machinist for the railroad. 

I suspect poor ol’ Sherman was under long term care most of his life.  He died in 1957 while a patient at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Hampton, Virginia.  He is buried in Olive Branch Cemetery in Portsmouth.

Charles Sherman Jollett 1897 - 1957
photo courtesy of Allen Cutchin


For more stories of soldiers and the Great War, march on over to Sepia Saturday.




© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

35 comments:

  1. There are some mysteries concerning this gentleman. The 'Barred' word seems to have a dot above it as though it contains the letter 'i' but I can't decipher the word either.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wonder if that dot was just a stray mark. What looks like a second "r" seems heavy, as if Sherman was correcting his spelling.

      Delete
  2. Are you able to date Sherman's draft card.The US entered the war in April 1917, but the first troops did not land in Europe until nearly the end of June. I have not been able so far to trace US units which where subject to gas attacks either. He cant have had a very rewarding life to have been institutionalised so long. The mystery remains.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The actual date is faded, but it's listed among draft cards 1917-1918.

      Delete
  3. Perhaps he had an underlying mental health problem that was exacerbated under stress. Trouble is the trip to the asylum was generally a one way ticket. He lived a long life though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm beginning to think you might be right about his mental health.

      Delete
  4. Stories where a person's potential future is taken away by war - one way or another - are so sad. He may have 'survived' the war, but he obviously didn't survive its affects.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Reading everyone's comments is making me want to spend more time researching poor ol' Sherman.

      Delete
  5. That's a sad story...wasn't there a lot of shame connected to "battle fatigue" illnesses? All this was long before PTSD was recognized as legitimate. Poor guy!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm sure the stigma was significant. Still is. And thanks to all our privacy laws and HIPAA regulations, we have almost daily reports of school shootings and family homicides. Don't get me started.

      Delete
  6. Thank you for your honesty about someone who was treated in a psychiatric hospital. As Deb said, many people who returned from war had psychological problems as a result of their experiences...and nobody knew how to help them. Whatever the cause, mental illness continues to have such a stigma attached to it. I get so sad.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, it's no wonder so many descendants report that their grandfather/uncle/whoever never spoke of their war experiences.

      Delete
  7. Sounds like Charles had a rough life. It is nice that you care enough to learn about him and to introduce him to the rest of us.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, it does sound like a sad life -- a long time to be hospitalized.

      Delete
  8. Could the "gassing" be a story and not something that really happened during service?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Funny you should say that -- I have been thinking the same thing. These Jolletts wouldn't be the first to try to cover up some other ugly truth.

      Delete
  9. A very intriguing family mystery, Wendy. Some relatives leave nothing behind but questions. My grandfather was employed as an orderly at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, though I don't think he found it a pleasant work environment and was there for only a few months. But for many years afterward he would amuse himself by answering the telephone with, "Hello, St. Elizabeth's Hospital"!

    I took the bait and did a quick search in my online archives for Charles S. Jollett. It's strange that his name does not show up in any military records for Navy or Army. Perhaps he had reason to change it. I am also baffled by the word on the draft card. Though this may not have any answers, this website link has a long description of the WW1 draft. It is also an archive for other shipping lists, etc.

    http://www.gjenvick.com/Military/WorldWarOne/TheDraft/SelectiveServiceSystem/1918-TheSelectiveDraft-QuestionsAndAnswers.html#axzz2qmBZ87uE

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As I just responded to Postcardy, I'm beginning to think Sherman didn't go to war at all. In fact, I just discovered that he was still listed in the city directories for 1917 and 1918. So I do wonder if over time the family thought being gassed in the war made his troubles more socially acceptable. However, he was in government hospitals, so he apparently served in the Navy long enough to qualify. Now I REALLY need to dig into this story!

      Delete
  10. A sad story, but it reveals many mysteries that help make family history such an absorbing an fascinating hobby.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I have read that many lived out their lives in these type of institutions which were sometimes called sanitoriums...I agree with Mike's comment some relatives leave nothing behind but questions. I have some of those too and I suspect Sherman bit's and pieces still leave much unanswered. It is odd he does not appear in any military archives?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, that observation about the archives just makes me more curious to learn more.

      Delete
  12. This is a baffling case. I don't know what to make of it. Like you, I don't understand why Charles would have filled out this registration form if he had already served in the Great War for 1/2 a year. Maybe it was during that 1/2 a year that he was gassed and was barred from serving again? Do you have his service record during WW1 and know the circumstances of when he got gassed during the war? As to why he would fill out this form, maybe he thought he had to anyway, even though he had already served? A misunderstand perhaps? I don't know. It's puzzling.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Even more puzzling than whether the gassing was factual is the registration. Maybe every man had to register regardless. I have found registration cards for men in my family that seem too old to be of service, but what do I know?

      Delete
  13. I can see why this fascinates you Wendy. Like the others I have no idea why he wrote that word, and in fact we probably never will know the real answer, but it’s an intriguing, if sad, story nonetheless.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If I think too hard on it, my head starts spinning. I have to remind myself that some mysteries will remain just that.

      Delete
  14. There must have been so many of the survivors like Charles, who never recovered from the effects of their war experience, however brief their actual service may have been.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gassed or not, many soldiers young and old probably saw horrible things that haunted them forever.

      Delete
  15. You certainly have an enigma here.
    He lied about his birthday,
    but his reason for the exemption?
    Bad writing doesn't help here...
    Pity he ended up in another kind of hell.
    Our McGill university and Royal Victoria hospital also conducted experiments,
    for the CIA apparently, or so I've heard...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't understand the lying about his date of birth. Surely he would have known it. He was 3 in the 1900 census, so I do believe the tombstone to be correct.

      Delete
  16. Its really impossible to put a 'Positive' Spin on Sherman's sad history.However, the wonder is (given the horrors of the Trenches) that all survivors didnt end up in some sort of Mental Heath care after the War.That Sherman did, at least is testiment to the fact that he had people around him that noticed & cared for him.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Sherman's story was sad enough but it just got sadder and sadder as I read the comments. May he rest in peace.

    ReplyDelete
  18. What a sad story with a mystery to be solved. I've seen several occasions where the draft registration shows a different date of birth than the actual date of birth. Wouldn't the person registering know his own birth date?

    ReplyDelete