As Memorial Day approaches, my attention has been drawn to the lost story of Jess Martin Rodkey, PFC US National Guard 110th Infantry 28th Division Company G. PFC Martin was wounded on October 4 1918, the first day of the Second Phase of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive during World War One. His wounds were severe enough to warrant his immediate withdrawal from the front and discharge from active service in the National Guard.
Jesse introduced himself to me when I found his Purple Heart Medal, with ribbon and lapel pin in the presentation box, in a thrift shop. Being career Navy and knowing the significance of the Purple Heart Medal, there was no way I could leave the Medal in the shop for a ‘collector’ to purchase. I was fortunate in that the Medal is engraved on the obverse in a manner that is easily traced to mid-war era as a replacement medal. This was typical for World War One soldiers as they often were not issued the original medal at the time of their wounding.
Knowing who the Medal belonged to was only a quarter of the battle. Using my limited resources and rare spare time I researched Jesse’s history. Through the National Archives, Internet Archive, and Fold3, I was able to piece together when and how Jesse was wounded but precious little of his lineage to help me reunite his Medal with his family.
Jesse was born August 11, 1891 in Warriors Mark, Huntington County PA. He registered for the draft at age 25 while working for a farmer named George Zimmer(man?) in Camp Chase OH on June 5, 1917.
Upon arrival in theater, he would have first engaged the enemy during the Aisene-Marne Offensive. This offensive is commonly referred to as the Chateau-Thierry Offensive. However, this common reference ran me down a rabbit hole to Belleau Wood where the 110th was not involved. This Aisene-Marne Offensive was a few kilometers away but equally as brutal. The 28th Division began their campaign at Chateau Thierry and drove the German Line toward the Marne River. This would be the prelude to Belleau Wood.
His next engagement would be the Battle of Fismes. The German Army thought that this campaign would be the final push that would finally win the Western Front. This would be an extremely violent offensive in that the German Army introduced the use of Stormtroopers and “street fighting”. In addition the violent guerilla tactics, both armies engaged the use of flamethrowers. During the Battle of Fismes, the German Army would lose and recapture the territory several times before eventually having to withdraw.
Jesse’s final battle was the Meuse-Argonne Offensive where he was wounded by a bullet as his company advanced during the Second Phase of the battle. Their goal was to push the German Army past the Aire River. Jesse was wounded on October 4, 1919 and awarded the Purple Heart Medal for his Bravery in Action.
After his discharge from the National Guard, Jesse returned to Warriors Mark where he eventually got a job with Bellefonte Central Rail Road in State College, PA. He was married, possibly to an Effie C Wills and may have had a daughter named Loretta M who possibly married a Leroy Edward Johnson.
If any one of the two people other than myself who reads this knows somebody with the name Rodkey from the Harrisburg PA surrounding area, ask if they know about Jesse and where his living relatives might be.
I, personally, am eternally grateful for the sacrifices that Jesse Martin Rodkey, Private First Class United States Army Expeditionary Forces and all of the other unsung heroes that served beside him made for the preservation of World Peace.
Jesse, you may be gone, but you will NEVER be forgotten…