An unusual First War veteran’s souvenir
By Alexander F. Barnes and Travis Shaw
During the 2017-2018 commemoration of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) and the 11 November 1918 Armistice, almost all of the emphasis was focused on the two million Doughboys who served in France. This acclaim was rightly earned and dearly paid for in blood and sweat by the soldiers and Marines in the AEF. Yet, the hard work and efforts of other soldiers, sailors, and Marines was equally praiseworthy and needs to be recognized. Among these little-heralded Americans are the two million Doughboys who were still in training camps in the United States when the Armistice was signed. Some of these stateside Doughboys had been in training for over a year and were in transit camps awaiting ships to carry them to France while others had only been recently called into the service.
In late 1918, when the draft age range was expanded from “21 to 31 years of age” to “18 to 45 years of age,” the US senior military and political leaders foresaw that a great offensive in the spring of 1919 would be needed to bring the war to a close. The two million soldiers still in America would provide much of the manpower for the great attack.
Fortunately, the American Meuse-Argonne Campaign proved to be a deciding factor on the Western Front. It led to the signing of the Armistice. For the soldiers still training in the US, the excitement caused by the end of the war was tempered by the fact that they were no longer needed by the Army and their service would soon be curtailed without ever having seen France.
Moving quickly to demobilize the stateside force, the Army Chief of Staff, General Peyton March, issued orders to immediately start discharging the men. Such a huge task would have to be accomplished systematically; the first men to leave the service were the recent inductees who were just starting to undergo training. It would be necessary, of course, to retain a cadre of men at the stateside camps to demobilize the stateside forces and then manage the reception and demobilization processing of the two million men from overseas who would soon be arriving from overseas.
A STATESIDE RECRUIT
Among theses soldiers was twenty-year-old Maurice Bryant Rector who hailed from the appropriately named Rectortown, Virginia. He was too young for the first draft, but when the age limits were extended to include all men from ages 18 to 45 Rector became eligible and was selected. His draft registration card reflects that at the time of registration, he was nineteen and employed in his father’s store as a clerk. Physically, Rector was listed as being of medium height and build with gray eyes and brown hair.
His Form 724-1 (War Service Record) reflects that he was inducted on 23 October 1918. Developed and issued to the states in late 1919, filling out the Form 724 card (or its Navy, Marine Corps, Officer, etc. equivalent) was required of every man and woman who served — even one day — in military service during World War I.
The requirement to fill out these cards was laid on each state and locality. After completion, the cards were to be turned in to the State Adjutant General for storage and archiving. The completed cards would then become the basis for establishing proof of military service, service-related disability, and, in some cases, eligibility for state-provided service bonuses. While some localities took this mission seriously and recorded many important details of a soldier’s service such as all dates of rank, unit assignments, duty locations, and campaign participation, others recorded only the bare minimum information.
Marurice Rector’s Form 724 appears to fall into the second category. His short period of actual service may also have contributed to the paucity of information on his card.
Looking at Rector’s Form 724, we can determine that he was twenty years old when inducted and assigned to the Student Army Training Corps (SATC), a program developed on many college campuses and training facilities to provide training for technical subjects that were beyond the capabilities of the large Army training camps.
Rector was assigned to the Bliss Electrical School in Takoma Park, Maryland. The Bliss School was a long-established training facility for electrical engineers. Under Army supervision and as part of the SATC, the school was responsible for training some 700 soldiers in three detachments during 1918. According to the on-line archives of the Bliss Electrical School, the third increment was disbanded on 6 December 1918. This matches exactly with Rector’s Form 724.
Following his military service, Maurice Rector returned home to the small village of Atoka, Virginia, where he lived with his parents in an early 19th century stone farmhouse. His father, Clarence, operated a general store and gas station across the road from their home where Maurice worked as a clerk.
In 1923, Maurice inherited the store, and he and his wife Thelma continued to operate it for the next five decades. Rector’s General Merchandise was well known in the area for their slogan “Everything from beans to jeans.”
The store served as a focal point for local community through the early twentieth century until highway construction bypassed Atoka in 1958. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the store enjoyed a brief revival as a stopping place for celebrities visiting Virginia’s horse country, including Jackie Onassis and Elizabeth Taylor.
A HOUSE WITH A HISTORY
Built around 1800, the Rector House has numerous historical connections, particularly to the Civil War era. It was used as a headquarters by General J.E.B. Stuart during the Battles of Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville in the summer of 1863. It was also where John Mosby’s famous Partisan Rangers were officially formed in June 1863, and it served as a rendezvous site for many of their raids.
Family tradition states that Maurice’s mother, Annie, was visited by John Mosby in 1916, when the elderly soldier returned to the house. According to Annie, Mosby entered the parlor where he first met with his officers over fifty years earlier, sat down, and quietly wept. It’s possible that as a young man, Maurice may have seen John Mosby during that visit.
Following the deaths of Maurice and Thelma Rector in the 1980s, the house passed from the Rector family, and it currently serves as the headquarters of the Mosby Heritage Area Association. MHAA is a non-profit that promotes historic education and preservation through a five-county area of the northern Virginia piedmont.
During renovation work in the autumn of 2018 a pillow was discovered in the attic of the Rector House. It was fashioned from pieces of Maurice’s WWI uniform. A cross-like design made from a “Montana Peak” campaign hat decorates the front of the pillow, complete with the blue hat cord. Buttons are sewn on each corner, and his collar disks (one missing) appear near the center along with a set of sergeant’s stripes. On the reverse of the pillow is an epaulet that has been embroidered with the initials “M.B.R.” (Maurice Bryant Rector) and the years “1918-1919.”
This unique memento of Maurice’s brief service in the Great War will be a centerpiece in a planned display on the history of the home and the families that lived there over the past two centuries.
Although they never made it to France to fight the Germans, the soldiers in the stateside camps faced an equally dangerous foe. Those in East Coast and Midwest training camps, in particular, were ravaged in September to November 1918 by the Spanish Flu. Thousands would die while many thousands more would become deathly ill. Close to where Maurice Rector was training, Camp Meade in Maryland, and Camps Humphrey and Lee in Virginia, were among the hardest hit.
Rector was fortunate to have survived the flu and the other highly contagious diseases that plagued the Army’s training facilities in late 1918. Undoubtedly proud of his service to his country during the Great War, Maurice Rector left behind a most unique memento of his time in the Army. We are fortunate that it has been found and still functions as a tribute to “those who also served.”
Alexander F. Barnes is a retired Army Warrant Officer and author of To Hell with the Kaiser: America Prepares for War 1916-1918.
Travis Shaw has spent well over a decade in the fields of historic preservation, archaeology, and museum education, working with a number of institutions including Historic St. Mary’s City, Mount Vernon, and Oatlands Historic House and Gardens. He currently works as the Public Programs Coordinator for the Mosby Heritage Area Association.