Saratoga res­i­dent shares con­nec­tion to World War I

Vet­eran’s son shows pho­tos, let­ters, other ar­ti­facts from ‘the war to end all wars’

The Mercury News - - Local News - By Khal­ida Sar­wari ksar­wari@ba­yare­anews­group.com

In­side his bright and tidy first-floor apart­ment at the Saratoga Re­tire­ment Com­mu­nity, Lawrence “Larry” Hawkin­son sifts through trea­sured relics like the belt buckle that once adorned the waist of a Ger­man sol­dier in the First World War and the com­menda­tory note King Ge­orge V sent to his fa­ther.

As the coun­try pre­pares to ob­serve Vet­er­ans Day — orig­i­nally known as Armistice Day — the 94-year-old shared vivid mem­o­ries of his fa­ther, who served in World War I.

Sun­day marks the 100th an­niver­sary of the peace agree­ment known as the Armistice that ef­fec­tively marked the end of the war and one of the dead­li­est con­flicts in his­tory.

En­cir­cling a royal crown, the bronze and wooden buckle bears the in­scrip­tion “Gott Mitt Uns.” “It means ‘God is with us,’” Hawkin­son ex­plained. His fa­ther found it dur­ing the war. Funny thing, he quipped, the Amer­i­cans thought God was on their side.

His fa­ther, also named Lawrence, was one of them. The se­nior Hawkin­son served as a field medic in the war along­side dozens of other men from the Val­ley. In creased, but metic­u­lously main­tained notes and records, his fa­ther chron­i­cled his jour­ney from the South Bay to San Diego for train­ing and de­par­ture to Europe, where he even­tu­ally landed near Metz — a for­ti­fied city that ex­changed hands be­tween the Ger­mans and French a few times in the 20th cen­tury be­fore it fi­nally be­came French ter­ri­tory.

“My dad was a teacher in Lin­den near Stock­ton,” Hawkin­son said, peer­ing through sil­ver-framed glasses at a small col­lec­tion of black and white and sepia-toned pho­tos sprawled on his din­ing room ta­ble. “He taught there and then went into Stock­ton schools. Then WWI started and all these guys were go­ing to get drafted. Some­body thought it was a great idea to set up a med­i­cal team of guys that would be trained and doc­tors, den­tists and nurses from Santa Clara Val­ley or­ga­nized it.”

Near Metz, the med­i­cal vol­un­teers were sta­tioned right be­hind the front lines and treated wounded sol­diers ev­ery day for months un­til the op­pos­ing armies ceased fight­ing “at 11 min­utes after 11 o’clock in the morn­ing on the 11th day of the 11th month,” said Hawkin­son.

In one of his fa­ther’s let­ters, dated Oct. 1, 1918, he writes: “We hear about things at the front thru of­fi­cers who come from there di­rectly. They all say that the spirit of the Amer­i­cans is won­der­ful, and that no­body up there ex­pects the war to last longer than a few months. Their slo­gan up there is ‘Hell, Heaven or Hobo­ken by

Christ­mas.’”

But there would be no early re­turn for the se­nior Hawkin­son. He stayed for months to help Amer­i­can troops con­fis­cate am­mu­ni­tion from the Ger­mans.

That’s the short story of how a 23-year-old ed­u­ca­tor with roots in the South Bay ended up play­ing an un­likely role in one of the most con­se­quen­tial wars of our time. His son now proudly shows off an as­sort­ment of doc­u­ments and pho­tos — a glimpse into his fa­ther’s war­time ex­pe­ri­ence.

With the fight­ing over, the se­nior Hawkin­son even­tu­ally came home to the South Bay, be­gan a fam­ily and re­turned to teach­ing.

Over the years, the 40-strong band of med­i­cal vol­un­teers re­con­vened ev­ery year at some­one’s house. Many of those re­unions took place in a ranch house in Mor­gan Hill owned by Hawkin­son’s tent-mate, Ed­win Ac­ton. His son, a re- tired chemist, now re­sides at the Saratoga Re­tire­ment Com­mu­nity where he and the younger Hawkin­son rekin­dled their friend­ship in their later years.

The el­der Hawkin­son died of a heart at­tack at 68. But he passed on the love of teach­ing and the im­por­tance of ser­vice to his son, who’d go on to have a sto­ried ca­reer in his own right dur­ing World War II and later in the Bay Area aca­demic scene. The younger Hawkin­son put in 31 years in the U.S. Navy, climb­ing to the rank of com­man­der be­fore re­tir­ing.

These days, he spends his time a lit­tle dif­fer­ently. He re­mains ac­tive in the Na­tional Coun­cil of Teach­ers of Math­e­mat­ics — he says he hasn’t missed a sin­gle one of their 60 con­fer­ences — and al­ways has a book he’s read­ing.

At 94, he can still drive and feels spry enough to play golf — far re­moved in both time and space from the ar­tillery shells, mine ex­plo­sions and poi­son gas at­tacks fa­mil­iar to all those that served in the wars past.

Dr. Lawrence D. Hawkin­son holds a pho­to­graph of his fa­ther Lawrence Hawkin­son, taken in 1917-1918, in a San Diego Army train­ing camp, at his home in Saratoga on Oct. 4.

Hawkin­son holds a Ger­man belt buckle brought back after WWI. The buckle reads in Ger­man “Gott Mit Uns” which trans­lates to “God with us.”

A de­tail of a large panoramic framed pho­to­graph of the 158th Field Hospi­tal Com­pany, 115th San­i­tary Train at the home of Dr. Lawrence D. Hawkin­son in Saratoga on Oc­to­ber 4. His fa­ther Lawrence Hawkin­son is in the pho­to­graph, bot­tom cen­ter, with his arm on his knee.

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