A part of the history of every town is the story of its veterans and the town’s connection to the nation’s military. Sutton is no exception.
Sutton was settled shortly after the end of the Civil War with a number of the settlers coming from the ranks of Grand Army of the Republic. Among those settlers were G. A. R. veterans with names of Brown, Dinsmore, Gray, Van Patten, Bemis, Schwab, Clark and almost fifty more. Leonard Jarrett is a unique vet at the Sutton cemetery with the “Stars and Bars” of the Confederate Flag flying over his grave. Jarrett enlisted in November, 1863 in Company E, Virginia 14th Cavalry Regiment at the age of 17. Jarrett’s youngest daughter Sibyl was the long-time city librarian.
Markers at the cemetery identify the hundreds of later men and women of Sutton who answered the nation’s call. Two with Sutton connections earned the nation’s highest award. Jacob Volz was born in Sutton in 1889 and was awarded the Medal of Honor for service in the Philippines in 1911.
Sutton’s other medal of honor winner was local dentist Orion P. Howe who was awarded his medal in the 1890’s. He earned the award years earlier in May, 1863 at Vicksburg as a fourteen-year old drummer boy thrown into a mission that killed three others and severely injured him.
Almost ninety Sutton vets served in the World War I and over 150 in the Second World War. Later generations likely do not fully appreciate the extent to which the entire nation was intimately involved in World War II and how that war was brought home to every city and town. The local impact to this area included the relocating all farmers from a large section of western Clay County for the Hastings Naval Ammunition Depot. The Harvard and Fairmont Air Bases were two of eleven Nebraska bases supporting flight crew training with waves of B-17, B-24 and B-29 bomber formations flying over area almost daily. These military facilities employed thousands of local people and brought thousands more to the area, many of them finding wives and settling here.
Fewer local soldiers served in the Korean and Vietnam Wars but for each individual, a full 100% of their time and energy was asked, for years. The elimination of the Selective Service draft produced the all-volunteer military that has served in the two Middle East wars.
Others from this area gave far more than just their time and energy to the nation’s defense; they gave their lives. The community remembers.
It has been just one year since the Fallen Heroes Marsh was dedicated southwest of Sutton, a stark reminder of the sacrifices of Nebraskans in the Gulf Wars. The setting is austere and a bit of a surprise on one’s first visit. It is peaceful, perhaps serene. Allow your imagination to absorb the symbolism of the memorial and the surroundings; you will remember that visit.
We do not have battlefields as are found in the east and south from the Revolutionary and Civil wars but our area was the scene of Indian Wars until a few years before Sutton’s founding. And there is one remarkable chapter when in November, 1878 “Sutton’s sons whose proclivities bent in the direction of the chivalrous and heroic…” formed Company B of the First Regiment of the State Guard. Captain W. J. Keller commanded Company B in two activations, once in 1880 and again in early 1882, both times with missions to maintain order in Omaha labor disputes.
Most who have worn the uniform did not serve in combat zones. National security involves a large, wide-ranging and varied collection of organizations, some with unusual missions. Some of us were “warriors” of the Cold War maintaining a nuclear deterrent force designed to prevent war. After more than 45 years of preparedness and acute readiness, our “war” slowly faded away. In our case “Mission Accomplished” was “Nothing Happened”. That story is better told at the SAC Museum on the west side of the Platte River just off I-80.
The Sutton American Legion houses more than a restaurant and is more than a venue for meetings. Next time you are in the building, take a moment to look around and join the Legion in recognizing those who have worn the uniform.
This article first appeared in the November, 2010 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. For information about this local Sutton publication, please contact Jarod Griess at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 402-984-4203 or at 510 West Cedar St., Sutton, NE 68979.