A Special Contribution From
Pvt. Henry Muenzel
She was tall with sharp features and walked with a limp; frostbite had taken her toes in World War I. When she died in 1943, her obituary said she was a pioneer in nursing in Charlotte, an "ornament to her profession in nobility of character as well as in the unselfishness of her services."
...[Josephine] Finch was born in 1881 in a rural, pre-Civil War house in the Caswell County community of Blanch, 30 miles north of Greensboro, said her niece, Julia Finch of Henderson. Josephine's father, James Monroe Finch, and his brother, Charles, fought at Gettysburg. James buried Charles on the battlefield. When Josephine's parents died, she was left to raise two young half-brothers, Walter and Melvin father of Julia Finch.
Josephine Finch Before the Second World War
...[After demobilization] Finch lived in Charlotte until 1943, when she became sick and was admitted to a VA hospital in Maryland. She died there, at age 62, two days after Christmas. She is buried in Blanch.
Julia Finch, 11 when Josephine died, is delighted memories of her aunt live on. "I think it's mind-boggling that a random act of kindness is still being remembered 80 years later," she said. "You never know how something you might do might still affect people many years later."
My Dear Mrs. Muenzel,
I have planned so many times to write you, guess you think I put it off, for a long time — but being in France our letters were all censored and took all the joy out of writing letters. Not knowing how much would be cut out of my letters, I planned to write you after my return. I have just returned a few days ago. I wanted to tell you that I nursed your boy and was with him when he died. As near as I remember it was the 24th of October 1918. The priest told me at the time he wrote you. He died of pneumonia.
He was one of the sweetest boys I ever knew. I used to often look at him and think, what a sweet boy you are. He was one of the most appreciative patients I ever had. Anyone could tell he was a boy who had been well raised, and he was so unusual for his age. In other words, from what I gathered from him he must have been a lovely boy and I am sure it means a lot to you to give up such a boy. He told me often how much he thought of you and Louise (his sister) and always spoke of you both in such loving terms.
He told me the same night he was admitted of so many hundred Francs he had saved from his pay to send you for Christmas. Said he left it in the Receiving Ward. I hope you got it. He used to call for Louise in his deliriums and when I would get to his bed he would be awake and would know me. At first I thought Louise was his sweetheart, and I asked him Louise was his sweetheart and he said "No, Louise is my sister, I am too young to have sweethearts, I give all my time to my mother and sister." I would like for you to write sometime and tell me if you got my letter. He did not request me to write you, but I asked him for your address and told him that someday I would like to you and tell you what a nice, sweet boy he was.
I guess I have thought of him a thousand times. I have a young brother who I have helped to raise and your boy used to remind me of him.
Your boy was so patriotic he would ask me about what progress the Germans were making up to a few hours before he died.
He also told me all of his family was helping all they could.
Wish I could say some word that would comfort you. Your boy did not return to you, but life is a little span at best, and I am sure it was a great pleasure to him and to you to know that he had a part in saving the finest civilization of which the world has ever dreamed.
May God comfort you is the wish of your unknown friend.
Yours very sincerely,
15 East First St.
Charlotte, N. C.
My Dear Mrs. Muenzel,
Your letter reached me a couple of days ago. I was only relieving for the Supt. at Wadesboro and for some reason they neglected to forward your letter to me.
I am very sorry indeed that it was delayed. Guess you have given up the idea on this from ever hearing from me again. Was very much surprised to hear that you had never heard from the priest. I had a talk with him a couple of days after Henry's death and he told me that he had written to you. I can't remember his name. I also mentioned to him about Henry telling me he had saved so many hundred Francs for your Christmas, and Henry also told me about the watch you gave him.
If I were you I would write to Washington to the War Dept. to and see what information you can get. If I could be of service to you in regard to getting the money & watch I would be very glad to do it.
Yes, I know you must be a heartbroken mother, for I am sure that no mother could have had a better son. We can't understand why God does these things, but someday we will understand. Everyone I love has been taken away from me but two brothers, and if it wasn't for the thought of going and being with them someday, oh where would I be.
Henry died at Souilly, France American Hospital N. 7 Oct. 24, 1918 somewhere about noon. No, I do not think that he realized he was dying and he did not leave any message as I know of. He had something like convulsions during the night and the following morning when I came on duty he was very sick, but would understand you when you spoke to him; about noon he passed away' quietly. Now if there are anymore questions you would like to ask me I would be glad to answer them.
Evac. Hospital #7, came back to the U.S. March 1, 1919 and then we were transferred to Evac. #29. Henry is buried at Souilly and his grave is marked and well-kept.
If you have a small token picture of Henry (one you could spare) would love to have one. May God bless and comfort you is the wish of your unknown friend.
Yours very affectionately,
Oct. 3, 1919
15 East First St.
Charlotte, N. C.
Watts' search has changed her life. "It has made me look at life totally differently," she said. "It has made me reflect on the meaning of life and the word duty. rye never believed in this stuff about spirit, but I dream of Uncle Henry, and I feel his spirit has been sitting on my shoulder. I had to launch myself on this journey - I had to bring Uncle Henry alive.
Watts is nearing the end of her journey and is heartened by the help she got from people in Finch's past. All she had wanted was to find someone to share the letters Finch wrote to Watts' grandmother.
She got far more.
"I am almost sad everything is coming together," she said. "I feel that maybe in the spiritual world Uncle Henry was forgotten and now he's satisfied. It seems that this was meant to happen and I was the lucky one to do it."
Betty is still interested in learning more about her Uncle Henry and Josephine Finch. If you have any information on them please contact her at:
2203 Beck Avenue, E-14
Panama City, FL 32405
Sources and Thanks: The photos and main narrative are courtesy of Betty Watts. The excerpts from David Perlmutt's Charlotte Observer columns were originally published November 11, 1999 and January 7, 2000.
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