This flag, or wall hanging, is a memorial to Dubuque’s Carl B. Heller, who served as a private in World War I. Born on October 5, 1898, Carl was the only child of Frederick and Elizabeth (Kirch) Heller. He enlisted one month before the United States officially entered World War I and joined the 133rd Infantry Regiment, 34th Division, with other newly minted soldiers from Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and the Dakotas. The unit completed basic training at Camp Cody in New Mexico, where 18-year-old Carl received the nickname “Baby Private.”
It seems that Carl was eager to join the fighting in France. His obituary from the Telegraph Herald says that he was promoted to corporal at Camp Cody, but requested to return to the rank of private to ensure that he would be deployed to Europe. He faced another obstacle to this goal as the 34th Division languished at camp awaiting orders to deploy that never came. Eventually the division was split up to fill holes in other units.
Carl transferred to the Massachusetts-raised 101st Infantry Regiment, 26th Division, the “Yankee Division,” and fought in the pivotal Battle of St. Mihiel in mid-September. On October 23, 1918, during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, Carl was killed in action. Less than two weeks after his death, the “war to end all wars” ceased with an armistice agreement that went into effect at 11:00 AM on November 11, 1918. In total, more than 116,000 American military personnel died in the conflict.
The Withers-Rath Company, a Dubuque textile manufacturer, produced this flag. Perhaps Carl’s parents commissioned the piece to honor their son and focus their grief. Due to the war’s devastation in France and almost immeasurable loss of life, repatriation of bodies of Americans killed in war did not begin until January 1922. On February 1, 1922, the body of Carl Heller returned to Dubuque and was reinterred at Linwood Cemetery.
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