A Special Contribution From
Betty Watts of Panama City, Florida

Finding Uncle Henry and

Nurse Josephine Finch, Too

26th "Yankee" Division Patch

Pvt. Henry Muenzel
103rd MG Battalion, 26th Division

I grew up knowing I had an uncle who died in World War 1, and I had always had a curiosity about him. An American Legion Post (#52), had been named for him in his home town of Lakewood, Rhode Island and also a monument had been dedicated in his honor. I wanted to know why and so I began a search to know more about him.

When a package arrived from a cousin in Connecticut with his personal effects inside, I realized that something precious had been given to me - there were photographs, a diary a handkerchief, post cards he'd bought in France, a certificate signed by General Pershing, a letter from his brother — and letters from an Army nurse who had written to my grandmother after his death. When I looked at these things, my uncle suddenly became a real person to me, not just a name spoken of in the family. Here is his story:

Unidentified Patient at an Evacuation Hospital

Pvt. Henry F. Muenzel was born in Providence, Rhode Island on Feb. 23, 1898, the second of nine children born to my grandparents, who had immigrated to America from Austria in the late 1890's. He was my father's next older brother. When the World War began for America in 1917, the oldest son, Frederick, was drafted. But by that time Frederick was the main source of income for my grandmother and her children - she being a widow after the death of her husband in 1910. It was arranged for Frederick to obtain a deferment so that he could stay home and take care of the family. The family was very patriotic, taking their citizenship seriously - and so, Uncle Henry, the second son, wanting to have the family represented in the fighting, vo1unteered to go in place of his brother. Learning this truth reminded me of the words — "Greater Love Hath No Man---."

Uncle Henry enlisted as a bugler in Co. "C", the 103rd Machine Gun Battalion, 26th "Yankee" Division. He sailed for Europe in late 1917; after arrival, they traveled to France where they began training in the rear areas. His diary speaks of guard duty, the cold, snow, eating hardtack, marching to a ruined castle and picking apples and pears, woolen socks and fruit the Red Cross provided for Christmas, and seeing his first German.

An American Machine Gun Team Resting in the Open
This is possibly how Henry Muenzel caught pneumonia

They eventually went into battle, my uncle fighting against his Austrian cousins. They took part in the Second Battle of the Marne, the St. Mihie1 campaign, and finally the Meuse—Argonne Offensive. During this last action of the war, he became ill from exposure and was admitted to evacuation Hospital #7, near Langres, France. After several days, he died of pneumonia on October 24, 1918 -- the Armistice was signed two weeks later. The next day he was buried at St. Ann's near Souilly which was First US Army Headquarters.

I'm told Uncle Frederick never got over his feelings of guilt over his brother' s death. A kind Army nurse, Josephine Finch, wrote to my grandmother after the war and told her about her son's last days, and how she had tried to nurse him back to health. I know those letters must have been a great comfort to my grandmother. I have been able to locate her family in North Carolina and share the letters with them. This gave me great happiness as she was an important link to my uncle's life. I learned that she had raised two younger brothers, never married and lived a life of service to others. She, too, had been a casualty of the war, having part of one foot amputated due to frostbite that last cold winter in France.

Uncle Frederick After the War

The people of Charlotte, North Carolina opened their hearts to me and a series of articles in the Charlotte Observer were written during my research by colunist David Perlmutt. David's initial article turned up relatives like Julia Finch and two former neighbors, Jim White and Robert Parati, both 72 years, who shared many charming stories about her. Before sharing the letters she wrote to my grandmother, let me share a bit more of the biography of Josephine Finch as David Perlmutt passed it on to his readers:

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

"My mother used to tell me that Aunt Josephine always thought she did the very best she could raising my father and uncle," Julia Finch said. "She was a single woman and had these two little country boys. They turned out just fine."

...[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."

Now here are the precious letters that Josephine wrote my grandmother upon her return from France.

        August, 4, 1919

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,

Josephine Finch
15 East First St.
Charlotte, N. C.

        October 3, 1919

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,

Josephine Finch

Oct. 3, 1919
15 East First St.
Charlotte, N. C.

Henry Muenzel was one of thousands who went to war and fought for freedom, paying the ultimate price. It is great comfort and consolation to know that in his last hours he was cared for by a person of such kindness and goodheartedness as Josephine Finch. My uncle left our family a legacy of devotion to duty and love of family. The sacrifice he made so many years ago needs no flowery words to ennoble it - it speaks for itself.

Regarding my own journey back through time -- I think David Perlmutt summed it up well:

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:

Betty Watts
2203 Beck Avenue, E-14
Panama City, FL 32405
email: bwatts@iopener.net

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.

Monument at Henry Muenzel Square
Lakewood, Rhode Island


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