Yooper POW in World War I

Earl Hebert

MARQUETTE — You may have heard that the next One Book, One Community read will be John Smolens’ recent book “Wolf’s Mouth” about an Italian officer held at one of the World War II prisoner of war camps in the Upper Peninsula.

The more than 1,000 prisoners of war who were held at the five camps in the U.P. have received occasional attention from historians and reporters over the years. Aside from Smolens’ book, there was also a 2004 film documentary “The Enemy in Our Midst” and a number of articles in various periodicals including the Michigan Historical Review, the Marquette Monthly, The Mining Journal and even History Center’s own quarterly publication, “Harlow’s Wooden Man.” But one group of POWs that have received little attention are the Americans who were held as POWs during the First World War.

In part this was due to the low numbers of American POWs, only 4,120 out of the total of 7-8 million POWs during the conflict. Even during the war the POWs received little coverage in the local papers. But at least one of those 4,000 men, Ray Hebert, was from the Upper Peninsula.

Ray William Hebert was born in Menominee, Michigan in April 1897, the second youngest of nine or 10 children born to Jean Baptiste Hebert and Damia Elestie Hare. In August 1915, prior to the American entry into the war, 18-year-old Ray traveled to England and enlisted in the British Army, joining the 8th Irish and Liverpool regiment.

Early in the war, he was wounded in action and spent several months in an army hospital in England recovering. He returned to the front and on the night of Aug. 20, 1917, his company went over the top, attacking the German trenches. When roll was called again, Ray was missing.

Ray Hebert

He was later identified in a German hospital and was sent to a German prison camp. As far as the local paper knew, Ray was the first prisoner of war from the Upper Peninsula and the only one from Menominee.

When Ray’s brother Earl Benjamin Hebert (born 1892), was drafted in November 1917, he was motivated by his brother’s captivity, writing letters home about his desire to be on his way to France so he could rescue help rescue Ray.

A newspaper article to his primary object being the downfall of German military rule and world domination, but “a vision of a young Menominee boy, his own brother in a German prison camp, where numerous reports were being returned of the cruelty with which the Germans dealt out to the prisoners, and especially the Americans, drew him onward, and the tedious months of training at Camp Custer were just a period of continual restlessness in his life.”

Earl arrived in France in the early summer of 1918, participating in the final phases of the war. Unfortunately Earl never saw his brother again, he died from wounds received in action at the age of 26 on Oct. 16, 1918, less than a month before the armistice. He was buried in the Argonne American Cemetery in France.

At least two of Ray’s three other older brothers also served during the war. Although no record could be found for the oldest brother Roy John (born 1887), both George Sherwood (born 1889) and Homer Lincoln (born 1895) served in the Navy.

George remained in the Navy until at least 1920 working as a watertender which was equivalent to a petty officer and would have been responsible for tending to the fires and boilers on a steam-powered ship. Homer served from December 1917 until August 1919 and obtained the rank of Chief Yeoman.

Despite the rumors of cruel treatment and insufficient food, Ray survived his time as a prisoner of war. Following the armistice, he was liberated from the prison camp, returned to England to recuperate and await his discharge.

He eventually made his way home to Menominee and went on to work as a millwright, manufacturing furniture. In 1925 he married Anna LaSalle and they had five children. He died in 1969 at the age of 72.

Some of the stories and photographs of the Hebert brothers were preserved through the Marquette Regional History Center’s Sisu Stories digitization project funded by a common heritage grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. These items and others from the project will be available for research later this month via the MRHC’s webpage www.marquettehistory.org.

There will be a free program on Wednesday April 12 at 6:30 p.m. in the Longyear Library featuring other interesting items we digitized including wood carvings, miners’ headlamps, photos and more! We will also try to solve some local genealogy mysteries and feature our local genealogy resources.

A Pop-Up Exhibit April 10 through 17 will also showcase some of these items. For more information call 906-226-3571 or visit the website www.marquettehistory.org.

These programs have been made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.