CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Lucy Barber, a Charleston widow, had three sons serving in France in World War I when she received this telegram in early November 1918:
"Your son, Captain Timothy L. Barber, died of wounds on October tenth."
Sallie Maxwell Bennett, of Weston, received her telegram on Aug. 28, 1918. Her only son, Louis, was missing in action. She too was a widow; her husband had died unexpectedly three weeks earlier.
Capt. Barber and 1st Lt. Bennett were among the 1,120 West Virginians killed in action during a 17-month period that ended 95 years ago Monday.
The two men shared some similarities. Both were from prominent West Virginia families. They had entered the war early, served with distinction and are still remembered today by family, historians and monuments.
'A life-time in Hell'
Capt. Barber wrote his mother a letter in early October to let her know he was all right. He had been on the firing line for a week. "It was like a life-time in Hell," he wrote.
"We have been going from one hill and woods to another ever since being relieved -- sleeping in the rain and on the hillsides -- no baggage, dirty, no water to wash in and very little to drink, marching 10 to 20 miles every night ... My mother, you cannot imagine what a terrible life this is! I am ten years older already, and have seen all my friends and comrades blown to pieces ... We leave tonight for the front again."
Barber was a doctor, like his father, who had moved to Charleston in 1882. At the turn of the 20th century, Timothy Lawrence Barber Sr. opened a private sanatorium for the treatment of disease through electricity. The Barber Clinic later became Kanawha Valley Hospital.
Barber, who went by Lawrence, was 29 years old in April 1917 when the United States entered the war that had been raging in Europe for nearly three years.
He organized a Red Cross ambulance unit that was made up mostly of men from Kanawha County. His brother, Thomas Maxwell Barber, also a doctor, joined up and would later be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for heroism by Gen. Pershing. The youngest brother, Daniel, left college to volunteer for the ambulance unit. He would become a doctor, beginning his longtime practice in Charleston in 1926.
After training, the West Virginia unit was made the 313th Ambulance Unit of the 79th Division. They sailed to France in July 1918. Lawrence Barker was married and would become a new father while in France.
Seeking adventure in the sky
Louis Bennett Jr. was the handsome, rich kid in a small town.
His grandfather was a wealthy landowner, and his father was a lawyer and politician, barely losing the 1908 gubernatorial race.
The young Bennett had a knack for mechanics and an appetite for adventure. He was driving the family Buick, only the second car in Weston, at 12, the same age he was when he built both a motorcycle and a car.
After attending private boarding schools, Bennett enrolled in Yale. He became enamored with flying and while a student had the idea to form a West Virginia Flying Corps to aid in the fighting.
Gov. Comstock supported the flying corps to the tune of $10,000, but Congress didn't accept the corps into the Army.
"Louis' impatience and his desire to get into the Great War tore him from college," L. Wayne Sheets wrote in an article in Goldenseal magazine in 2000.
Bennett entered the Canadian flight school and left for England in February 1918 as a member of the British Royal Air Force. He was 23.
Enemy mine kills Barber
The news of Lawrence Barber's death was front-page news in the Nov. 9, 1918, issue of The Charleston Gazette. Four days later, two days after the Armistice, the Gazette published on the front page recent letters from Barber to his wife and mother.
"Dr. T.L. Barber, father and son, were too well known and too highly esteemed in the community to need or justify comment," the newspaper noted. Not meant for publication, the Gazette said the letters "are of the heart to heart kind" and their publication was permitted only on earnest request.
Barber's death was described as a shock. His brother, Daniel, had sent home a letter telling how his brother was injured and was recovering from his burns. During the battle of Argonne Forest, Lawrence Barber had been sent out to find an advance Red Cross relief station. He and others came upon a mine that the Germans had camouflaged and it exploded.