I got off on a bit of a tangent, as I often do, on this one. Joseph Grafius was my 4th great uncle, that is how I "connect", very distantly, to this story. :-)
(My 5th Great Grandfather)
Elisabeth Rothrock 1766-1845
Joseph Grafius 1795 – 1878
Mary W. Woodward 1805 – 1884
William Graffius 1827-1898
Vanderbelt Graffius 1858-1944
Florence Horlacher 1858-1952
Eugene Graffius 1896- 1918
A Point Of No Return - The Eugene Grafius Story
by H. Joseph Grafius
March 8, 1998
Eugene Grafius was born October 26, 1896 in Montoursville Pennsylvania. His parents were Vanderbelt and Florence (Horlacher) Grafius. Eugene was one of ten children born to Van and Florence. the family lived at 29 Jordan Avenue, not far from where the railroad tracks crossed Loyalsock Avenue. Eugene attended the Montoursville public schools and, like all the kids at that time, had to help with the family chores when he came home from the school, his father tried to earn money to support the family in whatever manner he could. Van was a teacher, a preacher, a lumberman, and an overall jack-of-all-trades. The family were members of the Church of our Savior Episcopal Church on the N. Loyalsock Avenue. Although there was a lot of work to do about the house, Eugene was allowed to participate in baseball during the summer. When he was in high school, he played for the Montoursville Warrior Baseball team and later played on several city and county teams. Perhaps one of the reasons his parents allowed him to play was to compensate for the sorrow they experienced when six of their children died at young ages due to illness. Eugene's one older brother, Guy, died in 1894. Another older brother and sister, Van and Jessie, died of diphtheria in 1904, a week apart from each other. A set of twins and another child died at birth as well. The family was robbed of the joy of seeing happy children at play too many times.
When Eugene finished high school around 1916, World War One was already in progress in Europe. The United States wasn't eager to be involved in another war but we did send food and supplies to Great Britain. This did not go unnoticed by the Germans. At the time, the German Navy had the largest submarine fleet in the world. These submarines, or U-boats as they were called, patrolled all the areas of the Atlantic Ocean scouting for any ships that might be sympathetic to the English or French cause. The U-boats practiced hit-and-run tactics. They were most effective running on the surface of the water when they could use their deck guns as well as their torpedos. They could also travel at greater speeds this way, but when the escape was necessary, they would submerge and disappear from their foes. After several American ships were torpedoed and sunk, public sentiment started to change. This change made declaring war on Germany unavoidable. The United States officially entered war on April 6, 1917. The economy, at the time, was in good shape because the country was not torn apart by the war. War trade though, was being disrupted by the war in Europe. Eugene Grafius saw an opportunity to serve his country, see the world, and be employed by joining he United States Navy Patriotism was riding high with all the young men eager to defeat the Kaiser and drive the Huns back to Germany. Eugene had heard stories how his grandfathers on both his mother's and father's side of the family had served during the Civil War to preserve the Union so, to him, this was the natural thing to do. Eugene enlisted on May 15 1918 and soon became a Seaman 2nd Class. He was stationed aboard the U.S.S Ticonderoga when was actually a German steamer seized by the United States Customs officials in 1917. The ship was built in 1914 and called the Kamilla Rickmers. This ship was fitted out by the US Navy as an animal transport.
On September 5 1918, the U.S.S. Ticonderoga docked at Norfolk. Virginia to load its cargo of horses and Army supplies. One has to remember that at this time in the century. horses still played a big part in the war as a pack animal and for pulling wagons. There were still some cavalry units that rode horses as well. Alter the Ticonderoga was loaded it joined a convoy in New York Harbor and on September it departed destined for a port in France called the Gironade estuary which it had visited just two months prior. An interesting side note is that the convoy almost wasn't allowed to leave New York Harbor because of a health concern at that time. There was an influenza epidemic that had spread across the United States and it was killing more people per day than were dying from the war. The doctors had discovered that the flu virus was airborne and would therefore: be spread through close contact with an infected person. President Woodrow Wilson was hesitant about sending more troops to Europe for the war effort because of the close conditions the troops would face while on board a ship. Any infected soldier could pass the virus to the rest of the ship in no time, which would in essence, be certain death for hundreds and thousands of soldiers and sailors. After much deliberation, President Wilson felt the end of the war was near at hand and that the presence of an overwhelming force would probably speed up Germany's surrender. Therefore, the convoy was ordered to proceed as scheduled.
On the morning of September 29, 1918, the Ticonderoga developed engine trouble and dropped behind thc rcst of thc convoy. Thcy were 1700 miles off the Atlantic coast, just halfway to their destination and at a point of no return. At 5:20, the following morning, just as the sun was lighting the sky the German submarine, U-152, was sighted about a mile away. crew was ordered to their battle stations, but, before they could react, a torpedo mashed into the Ticonderoga's hull. Ticonderoga was only equipped with two 6" guns, one forward and one aft. The U-boats usually used the same size guns but, as one of the shells pierced another section of the Ticonderoga, it was reported to be at least an eight inch shell. Without the promotion of the convoy escorts, the Ticonderoga was a sitting duck for the U-boat that was running on surface in order to utilize its full fire power. The forward gun of the Ticonderoga was blown away after only five or six rounds. The aft gun tried to pick up the slack but it was no match for the U boat that kept up a continuous barrage that lasted about two hours. None of the 237 men on the Ticonderoga, which included the soldiers assigned to be horse handlers, were able to escape the shrapnel that was flying everywhere on the deack of the ship. Almost every man on board, including the captain, suffered wounds of some sort. As the crew scrambled for the life boats, it was fiscrovered that all but one of the eight life boats hadbeen destroyed by the shelling. Thoese who were not badly wounded jumped overboard to fill that one life boat. One of the survivors swam over to the submarine to beg the officer to stop firing. By that time, there was no fight left in the Ticonderonga. The lieutenant on the U-boat pulled out his revolver and told the swimmer to go back to the lifeboat or he'd be shot. After there were about twenty or so survivors in the lifeboat, they were ordered alongside the submarine while the U-boat continued shelling the sinking ship. Two officers were taken prisoner from the lifeboat before the submarine slipped beneath the water leaving twenty - two survivors to drift for four days in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
the British steamer. S.S. Moorish Prime spotted the lifeboat and its survivors and brought them back to England. lt was then learned that the USS Ticonderoga had gone to its watery grave with 213 sailors and soldiers on board. Two weeks later. Mr. and Mrs. Van Grafius were officially notified that their son. Eugene, was among those missing from the ship. His body was never recovered. A month later. on November ll. Germany surrendered and peace was declared. Subsequently, the US. struck thc Ticonderoga from their list. This ship was the third to be called the Ticonderoga during the wars history and it wasn't until 1943 that the name was reinstated for an aircraft carrier in World War Two.
After the veterans returned home and tried to get back into society, they discovered their government was willing to turn its back on the victim's needs. In order to be heard, the veterans formed the Legion. This served a two fold purpose: by giving the veterans a place to gather and to as well as forming a united front to for medical care and job opportunities for the veterans. Montoursville organized their American Legion Post #104 largely through the efforts of George Champion and Peter Lehman. The meetings were held in a hall at Broad Street that previously was used as the headquarters for the Montoursville Board at the first meeting, there were 111 members and Mr. Lehman was elected as their commander. Post was called "Loyalsock". ln December. the original were for 1920 and a movement was started to change the name of the Post to a more personal name to pay tribute to the memory of a comrade. names were submitted and after much discussion they decided to name the Post after Seaman Eugene Grafius.
Since its inception. the American legion Post #104 has played an important part with the family. Eugene’s youngest sister. Florence married a World War One veteran. Peter Lundy was a member of the Legion Post and was elected commander in 1923. ln 1937 the Post was listed in the city directory as being located at 264 Broad Street. The Post then moved to temporary quarters in 1940 to 109 N. Montour Street. Eugene’s oldest brother, William, had four sons who served in World War Two between 1942 and 1945. At the end of World War Two the four sons returned home and joined Post 104. Around 1947 the Post moved to S. Mill Street along Loyalsock Creek in a building that used to be the Seaside, Hotel. In the early days this hotel was a popular gathering spot for the rivermen and raftsmen. In 1950, one of the sons. Thomas was elected commander of Post #104. Two years later the Post built a permanent headquarters at 1686 Broad across from the Montoursville Cemetery. In 1953 Thomas's older brother. William James Gratins. was elected commander. He was elected commander again in 1954 and 1955. There were five sisters who also joined the Legion's Auxiliary [Katheryn Dieffenbacher, Jane Neece, Charlotte Pittenger, JoAnn Hamm and Rachel Boyles] and several of their husbands joined the Legion as well. Three of the brothers became life members [Thomas, Daniel, and Jerome} which might be a record for any American Legion Post. Florence Grafius was a charter member of the Auxiliary, being one of Montoursvilles first Gold Star Mothers. After the war she was invited to sail to France on behalf of the War department . When their ship arrived at the site where the U.S.S. Ticonderoga sank, a wreath was thrown into the ocean after a brief ceremony.
This year marks the 80th anniversary of the death of Eugene Grafius. We will never know what he might have offered in life or what type of family man he might have become or what great things his children might have accomplished. What we do know is that his name lives on through the American Legion Post #104 and it has been a family to hundreds of veterans for several wars over the past 79 years. The members of the Post have been a positive influence to the community through civic deeds and they have enabled numerous students to pursue higher education from the various scholarships they receive through Post #104. I guess, in many ways, this would be the best family Eugene Grafius could ever have.