Not Forgotten

From the WTO archives – Local man honored in 1999 more than 80 years after conclusion of World War I

Times Observer file photo Orlan H. Schussler, left, received the Knight of the Legion of Honor medal in January 1999 from Alain de Keghel, consulate general of France in Washington, for his U.S. Army service in France during World War I.

I’m sure I’m not the only person that could say this: We have a catch-all room.

Just off the newsroom is the space – a small corner room – that once served as the darkroom where Times Observer staff would have likely processed film for decades.

We don’t have a real use for the room now so since I’ve been here, it tends to collect stuff.

Well, it looks like that was its purpose for sometime – there are reams of stories and thousands of photographs in there.

I’m sure there was at one point reason and rhyme to how the archive was maintained.

There isn’t any more.

So a couple weeks ago I started digging, sure that I could find some interesting stories in the space that I’ve been staring into from my desk for several years now.

Turns out, I was right.

I’d guess I’ve gone through 5 percent of what’s in there and I’ve found a file of our coverage from when Mike Shine won a silver medal, a 107-year-old talking about her life experiences and a 99-year-old Warren man – believed to be the last living World War I veteran in the county – recognized for bravery during World War I… 80 years later.

That’s where I’m going to start.

Orlan H. Schussler was born on July 23, 1900.

By 18, he was in another world.

From September 15, 1918 through July 14, 1919, Schussler was a member of the American Expeditionary Forces and served in France.

He was assigned to a hospital unit in LeMans, about 50 miles southwest of Paris, which he visited along with Versailles.

By the winter of 1999, Schussler was 98 and living at a personal care home on Central Avenue in Russell.

He spent over 30 years of his life as a widower as his wife, Katherine, had died in 1968.

So it must have come as a surprise when the French government sought to recognize Schussler with its highest award to a foreign soldier – Knight of the Legion of Honor – 80 years after Schussler left the service.

And even more of a surprise when the French consulate general at Washington D.C. came to Warren to make the presentation.

The Times Observer covered the event and reported that “Alain de Keghel, consulate general of France, Washington, D.C., presented the medal Tuesday to Schussler…. A champagne toast and reception followed the international ceremony.”

Consulates essentially serve as a branch of the embassy in a given country. For example, the French embassy in the United States is in Washington but there are consulates located in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans, Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The bottom line? De Keghel would have been one of the highest-ranking French officials in the states.

“Standing erect in a gray suit and bow tie, Schussler apologized for his poor eyesight and hearing,” the Times Observer reported. “Until recently he had bicycled regularly in good weather.”

De Keghel said French President Jacques Chirac chose the 80th anniversary of the signing of the armistice ending World War I to honor the American soldiers who had served in France.

In 1999, there were roughly 450 living World war I veterans.

Now, there are none in the world.

The last surviving American died, Frank Buckles, died in 2011.

The last surviving veteran was Florence Green, a British woman who died in 2012. The last veteran who served in the trenches was Harry Patch, a British infantryman who died at the age of 111 in 2009.

More from the Times Observer’s 1999 reporting:

“About 20 uniformed veterans and others listened to de Keghel, speaking in French-accented English and flanked by the red, white and blues of the American and French flags, said he had presented the award to an American veteran “who was 121 years old, so you look very young, Mr. Schussler.”

De Keghel told the crowd that U.S. President Woodrow Wilson heeded the French call for help in 1918 and sent more than two million Americans to help the Allies.

“The French have not forgotten the bravery of the young soldiers and their decisive actions,” he said, noting that the award was issued to surviving veterans as well as those who died in France.

“To the applause of the audience, he noted that France is the only major European power ‘that has never been at war with the United States.'”

De Keghel read the award presentation in both English and French.

“After he pinned the beriboned cross on Schussler’s chest, those assembled clapped. Schussler beamed with pride.”

We’ll never again see a historical event like this in Warren,” Ed Laughrin, commander of American Legion Post No. 747, told the Times Observer.

Dignitaries from around the area attended including County Commissioner Dick Campbell, representatives from state Sen. Bill Slocum and Rep. Jim Lynch’s offices and members of numerous veteran organizations including Veterans of Foreign Wars Posts 314, 631 and 8755; American Legion posts 135, 503, 747 and 758 and Disabled American Veterans Chapter 75.

De Keghel thanked the veterans organizations for their assistance.

“It was a bit remote for us and you have made everything easy for me.”

Schussler would pass away just months later in June 1999 and is buried at the Pine Grove Cemetery in Russell.