My uncle Clancy Estes (Jack) Bunch was a golden boy of his generation in McDonald County. The oldest of seven children, he was born on a small farm in a log cabin near Jane, Missouri, in 1896. The family moved to an 80 acre farm on Big Sugar Creek in 1903. My mother, the baby of the family, was 16 years younger and idolized him. She was about 5 years old when he left the farm to work as a cowboy on a horse and sheep ranch in Wyoming, so she had few memories of him, but because of his tragic death at age 22, his memory hovered in the background of her life like a saintly ghost.
Uncle Clancy was often mentioned when I was growing up, and I felt I almost knew him. It seemed like he had just stepped into another room, but was still part of my family.
In my mom’s unpublished memoir, she recounted his fate. “When WWI was declared he was drafted as he was registered in Wyoming. He didn’t want to leave from home so he left from there. He died on October 18, 1918 in St. Dies, France from flu and yellow jaundice. They had marched them in the rain the day before he collapsed in order to get his company to the front lines. We received the telegram telling of his death on November 8, just three days before the war was over. He was buried in France until June 1921 when his body was brought back to Jane Missouri for final burial. Jane had been my parent’s home before moving to Big Sugar.”
Another account I read described how his casket was delivered to the train station in Lanagan and brought to the cemetery in a wagon hitched to a team of mules. Neighbors gathered at the graveside service and brought cut flowers from their yards to decorate his grave. A few years later, his army buddy came to visit and tell the family about his last days. He said that in addition to his physical illness, Clancy was severely affected by “shell shock” the WWI term for PTSD and would have never been the same had he recovered. I think my family took some comfort in that.
In other stories I heard about that time, Mom said that my grandparents were among the few spared by the Spanish flu that was rampant in the Big Sugar Creek valley that fall. She also said that caring for the sick and doing chores for the neighbors probably saved their sanity, as they were too busy to go into mourning. My 6-year-old mom was so sick that it took almost a year for her to recover, and she missed an entire year of school.
Additional information: I have been unable to find the words “St. Dies” on the internet which adds to the mystery of Uncle Clancy’s death. I recall hearing that he died in Flanders and as that term refers to an area that is in both France and Belgium, it appears that over time, some of the details have been scrambled. According to Wikipedia, this was a key area in the collapse of the Western Front and the end of WWI. The Hundred Days Offensive began on August 8 and ended on November 11, 1918. It mentions the 5th Battle of Ypres, the rains in October that made the land so muddy that provisions had to be parachuted to the soldiers. It must have been a horrific time. I have the small flag sent to my grandmother with a gold star that signified she was the mother of a fallen soldier. It will go to the McDonald County Historical Society as a token of the memory of a brave young man.