One American Family’s Wartime Heartache

Executive Mansion,
Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.

Dear Madam, —

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.

I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,
A. Lincoln

Those sympathies were transmitted by President Abraham Lincoln in a letter to Mrs. Lydia Bixby, written either by Lincoln himself or by his assistant, John Hay, upon hearing reports that the widow’s five sons had been killed during the American Civil War. In fact, it is known with certainty that only two of her sons actually sustained mortal wounds in battle. A third may have died as a prisoner of war, but may also have lived and been classified as a deserter, as was another who had also survived. A fifth earned an honorable discharge.

Despite these corrections to the historical record, the power of Lincoln’s message remains undiminished. The words continue to echo across time, conveying a nation’s message of gratitude to those who have lost more than one loved one to the ravages of war.

Elias and Eva Gahres were just two of those American parents who were apportioned more than their fair share of grief. Their 25-year-old son, Marlin, was declared missing at sea by the United States Army on June 10, 1942 when the U.S. Army Transport Merrimack, on which he was flying while en route to a military outpost via the Yucatan Channel, disappeared over the Atlantic.

The name of Sergeant Marlin L. Garhes, who earned a Purple Heart and had served at Fort Benning Georgia, was enshrined on the Tablets of the Missing – a part of the East Coast Memorial erected in Manhattan’s Battery Park to remember the 4,609 sailors, soldiers, and airmen who lost their lives in or over the western part of he Atlantic Ocean during World War II. The American Legion’s Post 883 in Jonestown, Pennsylvania was also named in his honor.

Marlin L. Gahres

Sergeant Marlin L. Gahres (above) was officially declared dead by the Army in 1943 – a year after his family had been notified he was missing at sea and just a few short months before his parents, Elias and Eva Gahres, would receive more heartbreaking news. Their 19-year-old son, Paul, was also declared missing at sea.

Paul S. Gahres

A Petty Officer 3rd Class (Aviation Machinist Mate) with the U.S. Navy, Paul S. Gahres had been assigned to a plane responsible for patrolling and protecting America’s eastern seacoast. In December of 1943, that aircraft failed to return from a routine flight. Although multiple searches of the Atlantic were conducted by the Navy, Paul would never again walk across the threshold of his parents’ home.

Both men are remembered – as brothers and patriots – on a special marker at Zion Lutheran Cemetery in Jonestown, Pennsylvania:

“They gave their last full measure of devotion for a cause they believed was just and true so that we might enjoy a life and a world that purer and fairer be.”


About Laurie Snyder

Laurie Snyder is a writer, editor, traveler, history researcher, humanities advocate, and educator. An award-winning journalist, her interviews with survivors of Pearl Harbor, Midway, and the Holocaust have appeared in national and regional news publications. The creator and managing editor of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers: One Civil War Regiment's Story ©™, The Contemplative Genealogist ©™ and The Contemplative Traveler ©™, she also serves as the principal consultant for Snyder's Point Communications.
This entry was posted in Contemplation, Family History, Genealogy, Gratitude, History, Serendipity, World War II and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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