The Road to Barnard, Part 3, in which Harry Potter appears

Posted on March 13, 2016


Barnard memorial flagpole DSCN2780

When the people of a small community go to the trouble of putting up a memorial to their neighbors, I always want to know more about those memorialized, especially when the small community is close to my own.  Barnard’s World War I memorial made its first appearance in The Road to Barnard, Part 2.

In loving memory of Sergeant Leslie T Shapton, Priv. Harry Potter, and Priv. Harold Cole, who gave their lives in France for their country 1917-1918. Erected by Barnard School.

We covered the story of Leslie T. Shapton in Part 2.  Let’s go on to Harry Potter and Harold Cole.


The Story of Harold Cole

In June, 1918, when he registered for the draft, Harold Cole (Herald James Cole to his family and to the military) was a civilian employee of the United States Government and living in Hyattsville, Maryland (a suburb of Washington, D.C.)  I have no idea what his job was, but it didn’t exempt him from the draft.  In short order he found himself in the army.

He came back to Michigan just long enough to marry Myrtle Anderson in August, then headed off to Camp Custer in September.  He arrived in France on November 11, 1918, the day the Armistice was signed.  He very likely never saw a day of combat, but there are many ways to die in war.  In February, 1919, his parents received a telegram. Their son–their only child–had died of cerebro-spinal meningitis. He was 22 years old.  He was buried in France.

Three years later he came home.  The Charlevoix Courier wrote:

On the twenty-third of June a ship arrived at Hoboken, N.J., bearing the bodies of many of America’s soldier dead. Some have already arrived home draped in the flag for which they gave “their last full measure of devotion,” but this ship is of special significance to the people of Charlevoix county because it brings back the remains of Harold Cole.

On July 2 he was reinterred at Maple Lawn Cemetery in Boyne City.

The Story of Harry Potter

When I see Harry Potter I think of a bespectacled young wizard with a red-headed friend and an English accent.  This Harry Potter, it turns out, was a farmer and red-headed himself.  He came from a big Dutch family.  He’s in the front row, third from our left, with a lace collar and short pants.  Mercy, mercy, the way we used to dress our young.

Potter Family 1896 from Ancestry 5ef84401-dd4b-4841-a510-077506ef8aa3

Harry was drafted in the fall of 1917, and ordered off to Camp Custer for training.  Right before he left he married Winnie Sitzema.  No time for a honeymoon.  There were a few precious days together in the spring, when Harry came home on furlough before shipping out.  In July, 1918, his unit sailed for France.

That fall the final Allied offensive began.  Chaos reigned.  Hospitals and burial details were overwhelmed.  In October Harry died of wounds suffered in battle; I do not know when he was wounded, or in what part of the chaos.  It would be late November before the telegram arrived at the Potter home in Charlevoix–just weeks after the joyful news of the Armistice.  Harry had already been buried in France.

In August, 1921 the Charlevoix Courier reported that “The funeral of another of our returned soldiers, Harry Potter, took place at the South Barnard church on Monday at 10:00 a.m. A large crowd gathered to pay their last respects to the third of Barnard’s boys to give his life for his country.”  He was reinterred at the Atwood Cemetery.  The last of Barnard’s boys had come home.

I remember my mother talking about “our boys” when she meant the soldiers of World War II.  Why, I wondered, did we call them boys?  I suppose  it was because so many of them were, before they went away.

The grief of the three Barnard mothers is not more terrible than the grief of millions of other mothers.  But it is not less, either, and I think there is something to be said for paying attention to the cost of war.  Minute attention.  Life by life.  Name by name.


There is one more mystery from our trip out Barnard Road.  This boulder is tucked away under the branches of a spruce tree.  I’m working on it.  I hope we don’t have to wait until 2037.  I, um, think that might be an excessively optimistic plan on my part.

Wait until 2037