Finding Father

PrintPrintEmailEmail

When I opened the recent issue of American Heritage and turned to Edward G. Lengel’s incredible account of the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne, tears filled my eyes. The story looked in part at the contributions of 13-year-old Pvt. Ernest L. Wrentmore, the youngest U.S. soldier to serve in that conflict. He was my father.

Not only was I overwhelmed with pride, but the photograph of the young man in uniform hit me like a physical blow. Until that moment I had never seen a picture of my father younger than 55 years of age. Peering into his eyes I felt transformed, as though I was looking at a younger version of myself. Mr. Lengel vividly relit the candle of my father’s noteworthy flame, as well as illuminating the rest of the men who endured and won that pivotal battle in America’s history.

That encounter sent me off on a remarkable odyssey. I had never known my father; he was 63 years old when I was born, and my parents divorced soon thereafter. I knew some of my father’s story from his autobiography, In Spite of Hell, which my mother gave me in 1988, five years after he died. Over the years, I have tried many times to learn about him. All to no avail. It’s been the largest hole in my life.

My renewed interest led me on a journey that included a phone call with a newfound stepsister who still owned many of my father’s belongings, including his medals, photographs signed by generals and presidents, and a family scrapbook, which was loaded with photographs and stories.

A fuller, more colorful picture of him soon emerged. He was a man’s man, excellent at everything from business and music to dog breeding and, of course, soldiering. A tall dog!

Lengel’s piece mentioned that my dad won no commendations, but in fact he was awarded the Purple Heart, among several other medals and citations. I also learned that E. C. Allworth, his captain at the Meuse-Argonne, had recommended him for the Distinguished Service Cross and the Congressional Medal of Honor (CMOH) for carrying critical messages under extremely dangerous circumstances. Neither recommendation became official, however; the records perhaps were lost, destroyed by enemy artillery, or delayed from reaching the War Department for many years.

From the scrapbook I learned how he had spent 67 years chasing the CMOH. Congress had passed at least two bills to award him the medal; both times the Defense Department denied them, initially ruling against him because a two-year time limit had elapsed. Sadly, my father suffered chronically from tuberculosis caused by inhaling poison gas at the Meuse-Argonne. He spent 25 months in a North Carolina sanatorium. The Defense Department later denied him the medal the second time because nobody was still alive to substantiate what had occurred.

Recently I’ve requested my father’s records and made contact with Mr. Lengel, who has agreed to help me pursue my dad’s CMOH.

Most important, I believe that my father would be proud to know that I have passed on our family heritage to my eight-year-old son Rocco, who has enthusiastically embraced his grandfather’s military history. Somehow I know that God as well as my father has directed all of this. I also believe that my father is swelling with pride that I am his son.