Everybody Has a Story: Navy ‘deserters’ fighting in France all along

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My father was born and raised in Catonsville, Md., a small town outside of Baltimore. During World War I, he and a friend went into Baltimore and enlisted in the U.S. Army and in the U.S. Navy, planning to report to whomever called them up first.

The Army did. Being country boys, they were familiar with firearms and explosives from working in a local quarry. They were assigned to a unit of the combat engineers, and were shortly shipped to France.

Then the Navy told them to report. Their parents didn’t respond to the Navy’s letters because the boys were already in the Army. The authorities came looking for them and said they were considered deserters. The authorities wouldn’t accept the parents’ explanations and continued to hunt for them. Eventually they were located and the town’s newspaper featured this headline: “Local deserters found in trenches in France.”

They both survived the war.

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