OTRANTO SUNK IN COLLISION

OTRANTO SUNK IN COLLISION

It was on this date, October 11, 1918 that the first reports of the sinking of the troopship Otranto were reaching the U.S.  Berrien County, Georgia and Ray City would pay a heavy toll in the disaster.

The NYT coverage of the story began with the following:

OTRANTO SUNK IN COLLISION

BELFAST, Oct 11.–A grave collision in the North Channel, between the Irish and Scottish coasts, has involved the loss of the American transport steamer Otranto and many lives of soldiers, officers, and crew.  The vessel with which the Otranto collided was the Kashmir of the P. and O. Line.  So far as could be gleaned at this time, the Kashmir’s wireless and other gear had broken down, and, becoming unmanageable, she crashed into the Otranto with appalling effect.
Splendid discipline was maintained, but in the terribly wild weather that prevailed with very high seas, the task of rescue was attended with the utmost difficulty and danger, and a number of boats immediately swamped and their occupants drowned.
It has been roughly estimated that several hundred men of all ranks and ratings lost their lives, but this calculation is very indefinite, as complete details are not to hand regarding the fate of those on the colliding ships.
About 400 survivors, many injured more or less seriously and all suffering from the effects of immersion and exposure, arrived at Ulster harbor on Sunday morning. Large numbers of missing men are believed to have been afloat, and they may have been picked up and taken to other ports.

Although it would be months before the names of all the dead were confirmed, ultimately 25 Berrien County soldiers lost their lives.

ROLL CALL OF THE OTRANTO DEAD FROM BERRIEN COUNTY,  GEORGIA

Pvt. Hiram Marcus Bennett, Sparks, GA

Pvt. Jim Melvin Boyett, Milltown, GA

Pvt. John Guy Coppage, Cecil, GA

Pvt. Rufus Davis, Sparks, GA

Pvt. Mack Hilton Easters, Lenox, GA

Pvt. George Bruce Faircloth, Milltown, GA

Pvt. Lafayette Gaskins, Nashville, GA

Pvt. Bennie E. Griner, Nashville, GA

Pvt. Lester A. Hancock, Alapaha, GA

Pvt. Robert J. Hancock, Lenox, GA

Pvt. Arthur Harper, Enigma, GA

Pvt. William P. Hayes, Alapaha, GA

Thomas H. Holland, Adel, GA

Pvt. George H. Hutto, Adel, GA

Pvt. Ralph Knight, Ray City, GA

Pvt. Benjamin F. McCranie, Adel, GA

Pvt. James M. McMillan, Nashville, GA

Pvt. William McMillan, Enigma, GA

Pvt. John Franklin Moore, Adel, GA

Pvt. Charlie S. Railey, Alapaha, GA

Pvt. Tillman W. Robinson, Enigma, GA

Pvt. Thomas J. Sirmons, Nashville, GA

Pvt. Shellie Loyed Webb, Ray City, GA

Pvt. Joel Wheeler, Nashville, GA

Pvt. William C. Zeigler, Sparks, GA

Lawson Rentz Serves Country and Ray City, GA

According to his WWI draft card Lawson Rentz entered the service as a tall and slender young man with grey eyes and dark hair. He listed a wife and two children as dependents. (see also Obituary of Dr. L.S. Rentz) During World War I Lieutenant Rentz, of Ray City, GA, served in the Embarkation Service at Hoboken, New Jersey.

Among the hundreds of names reported in “Army Orders and Assignments” for March 28, 1918,  The New York Times listed L.S. Rentz, First lieutenant in the Medical Reserve Corp, as assigned to Camp Wheeler, GA. The same was reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, April 6, 1918, Volume 70, Number 14, pg 1010:

ORDERS TO OFFICERS OF THE MEDICAL RESERVE CORPS

To Camp Wheeler, Macon, Ga.. base hospital, Lieuts. JAMES H. NICHOLSON, Madison; LAWSON S. RENTZ, Ray City.

He was listed on the Roster of Officers of the Office of the Surgeon, Port of Embarkation, at Midnight, October 31, 1918:  Rentz, Lawson S.- first lieutenant, Medical Corp.

 The men of the Embarkation Service, from Major Gen. Shanks and Brigadier Gen. McManus down to the soldiers who guard the gates to the piers, are slow to admit that they have played a great part in the war, but they cheerfully admit that they got no nearer the fighting front than the gangway of a transport.

“The work had to be done by somebody, I suppose,” said Captain King W. Snell, aide to Gen. McManus, who is troop movement officer. “Otherwise the 1.795.411 officers, men and nurses shipped to France by the Embarkation Service might still be waiting for transportation. But hell, who wants to be interned in Hoboken when the main show is three or four thousand miles away? It was like standing outside the big tent and punching tickets to a three-ringed circus. We worked like dogs and never got a chance to see the main performance.”

 The war record of the Embarkation Service is something one seldom hears about. The names of its members seldom got into the papers, they never killed Germans, no brilliant war medals dangled from their obscure bosoms and they wore silver chevrons.

The silver chevrons denoted service on American soil. Gold chevrons were for men who served overseas, worn on the left cuff to denote overseas service, or on the right to indicate a wound or gassing received in combat.  For many who did stateside service the silver chevrons became a badge of shame.

Captain Albert L. Stillman expressed the diffidence in a poem published in the New York Times on January 2, 1919:

 “Darling, here’s your warrior bold!
Silver stripes instead of gold
Shine upon his sleeve today
‘Cause he couldn’t sail away.”

“But, my darling, don’t you bleat-
No one thinks you have cold feet!
Y’ had to do as you were told-
Silver stripes instead of gold”

Silver stripes notwithstanding,  after the war Lieutentant Rentz returned home to Ray City, Georgia to become Doctor Rentz. According to the 1920 census, Dr. Lawson S. Rentz purchased a home on Main Street, Ray City, GA  and joined the Medical Men of Ray’s Mill. His neighbors were Carlos C. Allen and G. Perry Swindle. Lawson’s brother, Dr. William Carl Rentz had a medical practice in Nashville, GA.

Lawson Rentz put his hat in the ring to serve on the Board of Trustees of the Ray City School, but was not elected to the position.

The Nashville Herald,
January 9, 1920

Local News

      The election for school trustees at Ray City occurred Monday, and resulted as follows:  R.D. Swindle, 71; Dr. H.W. Clements, 71; J.J. Parks, 69.  W.M. Creech holds over, and together with the foregoing gentlemen, will compose the Board of Trustees for the ensuing year.  Joe Parrish received 5 votes, J.H. Swindle 13 and Dr. Rentz 18.  This election probably settles the school fight in that growing little city.

Transcription courtesy of Skeeter Parker

In 1923, Dr. Rentz was still practicing medicine in Ray City and his brother, Dr. W.C. Rentz was still in Nashville.

News Items from Ray City

Nashville Herald, Feb 8, 1923

Mrs. J.H. Swindle and Mrs. L. S. Rentz have been constantly at the bedside of their little niece, Hilca Sykes of Nashville who has been very ill for the past week. However, we are glad to say she is much improved.

Dr. Lawson Rentz and his brother Dr. William Carl Rentz  later relocated their families to  Dade County, Florida.

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Joseph John Spell ~ Obituary, 1961

 

Daily Times
Spell, Joseph John
March 12, 1961

Joe Spell

    LAKELAND- Joe Spell, 65, died at the local hospital early Sunday morning following a sudden attack suffered Saturday morning. He was born and had lived all his life in the Lower Tenth District section of Berrien County where he was a prominent farmer.
Mr. Spell was a veteran of World War I and a member of the New Ramah Primitive Baptist Church at Ray City.

 

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Gordon Williams (1894 – 1918)

Gordon Williams was a casualty of WWI. The caption in this memorial photo incorrectly gave his home as Bay City instead of Ray City.

Ray City History
Gordon Williams (1894 – 1918)

Gordon Williams was among the Ray City residents who served in World War I.

On November 17, 1918  the New York Times listed Gordon Williams among the Georgia dead under the headline “Reported casualties in American Expeditionary Forces now total 80,252.”

The article read,

REPORTED CASUALTIES IN
AMERICAN EXPEDITIONARY 
FORCES NOW TOTAL 80,252

1.532 Named in New Army Lists Include 733 Dead and 416 Wounded.
Special to the New York Times.

WASHINGTON, Nov. 16.–The War Department gave out two army casualty lists today, which contained 1,532 names, bringing the total for the arm up to 76,226. No Marine Corps list was issued, but the total previously reported for that branch was 4, 026, bring the total for both arms of he service up to 80,252.  The army lists issued today contained the names of 386 killed in action, 231 died of wounds, 15 died of accident, 210 wounded to a degree undetermined, 108 slightly wounded, and 383 missing.

WILLIAMS, GORDON was listed as (DD) – Died of Disease. His next of kin was listed as J.C. Williams, Ray City. It would be more than three years before his body was returned home.

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