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Davis Journal

Davis County’s WWI dead remembered

Jan 18, 2024 09:35AM ● By Braden Nelsen
'His Bunkie' by William James Aylward. Courtesy photo

'His Bunkie' by William James Aylward. Courtesy photo

DAVIS COUNTY—On Feb. 27, 2011, Frank Buckles, the last American serviceman to serve in World War I passed away at the age of 110, and with him, died the last living memory of those young Americans who went to war in 1917-1918. However, there are some, who are dedicated to the preservation of the memory of those young men, some of whose stories will be shared below.

At the time that America entered what was then dubbed The Great War, or The World War, much of Utah was still an agricultural enterprise. Many would list “farmer” as their occupation when they joined the great American Expeditionary Force (AEF), bound for France. Many would survive, though not unscarred by the horrors of war. Many would not. This article focuses on just three of those who paid the ultimate price over 100 years ago, to pave the way for the world we live in today.

Born in Kaysville in 1896, Jabez M. Draper was drafted and called up for service in 1917, when the United States entered the war. Following basic training, Draper was assigned to the 26 Infantry in the AEF. Judging by his training, it’s likely that Private First Class Draper made it to France sometime in Early 1918, and would likely have seen action as part of the Spring Offensive mounted by the Germans that year.

During the Battle of Soissons, Jabez’s unit, under the command of the French, would be one of the first in full strength to prove themselves in battle against the Germans. The terrible battle of attrition would cost each side dearly, and Jabez M. Draper would become one of the 11,259 American casualties of the battle. Buried initially in France, Draper’s remains would be transported in 1921 back home and reinterred at the family plot in South Jordan. He was 22 years old. 

Corporal George Roberts Day of Bountiful was also drafted in 1917 and sent overseas likely the following year. Day was attached to the 91 Infantry Division. He was one of the first to see action with the division, as the 91’s first battle took place in September of 1918. Day was killed during one of the most intense offensives that the AEF took part in during the war: The Meuse-Argonne offensive.

The withering artillery from the American side of the conflict wasn’t enough to stop German counterattacks. Just three days after the start of the battle, the Germans sent six extra divisions to route the American attack, and it was that day that Corporal Day laid down his life, leaving behind his young child, and joining his wife, who had passed away in 1916. Day was one of 26,277 Americans killed during the campaign and was laid to rest in Bountiful. He was 25.

Drafted in September of 1917, George Howland Croft grew up in Centerville but had been living in Idaho for some years, working as a farmer. Croft was attached to the 4 Infantry Division, and, like George Roberts Day, was part of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Croft had been wounded early on in his service but had persevered until the third phase of the offensive, being wounded once more on Oct. 21, this time sending him to a field hospital.

Croft would live to hear the guns fall silent on Nov. 11, 1918, but unfortunately, his condition worsened, and he passed away one month to the day after being wounded, on Nov. 21, 1918. His remains would be brought back home and interred in the Centerville City Cemetery in a small, understated grave.  He was 23 years old. 

There were others who would die in combat, from illness, or accidents during the Great War, but many other Davis County WWI veterans would return home, and live out the rest of their lives in peace. For them, and their posterity, the image of a WWI veteran would be that of an old man, grizzled and gray, but, for Croft, Day, Draper, and thousands of others, they would remain forever young men, all in their 20s, bright featured, and optimistic. 

It’s worth it to remember these young men, not only for the sacrifice they gave over 100 years ago but for the sacrifice that is mirrored across the globe today in conflicts that rage on. It’s worth it to not just remember, but to also pause, reflect, and, in passing by these old headstones in the cemeteries across Davis County, to stop, and say a small thank you.