The story of Clayton Welty, a Bluffton Academy graduate of 1917, offers another voice to considerations of conscience during World War I. Welty, a member of Salem Mennonite Church in Kidron, Ohio, chose to enlist in the United States Marine Corps, rather than face the uncertain future following conscription.
Welty eventually crossed the Atlantic and saw military action in the fighting near Chateau Thierry in France. Injuries sustained by a shrapnel hit sent him to military hospitals, where his recovery was extensive. The Witmarsum printed letters from Welty which detailed his wartime experiences.
The leaders of Salem Mennonite Church voted to dismiss Welty from their congregation, excommunicating him on the basis of violating the church’s constitution by voluntarily enlisting in military service… while Welty was still a patient at Walter Reed Hospital in Maryland.
Letter, printed in The Witmarsum, October 27, 1917
A Letter from “Clayt.”
All Letters are Written on “Y” Stationery
Dear College Friends:—
I wish to thank the Witmarsum staff for sending their little sheet to us boys in the service, for it brings us college news and also gives us a glimpse at some of the other camps and thus helps us in overcoming our difficulties — lonesomeness especially.
Just a little about the Marine Corps:—It is the most efficient branch of all military organizations. Its duties are patrol and sentry guard on board battleships, naval bases and foreign islands. To illustrate their efficiency, imagine us marines drilling wells by hand to a depth of ninety-four feet cased with a 4 in. pipe, carry oyster shells for road building, hauling sand and gravel off barges. One Saturday evening we worked until 9:30 P. M. I sure was tired then but felt fine the next morning. We get good eats, so can stand good hard work. We sure have a bunch of huskies, they sure would look neat on the Bluffton Athletic field.
I wish I could send a palmetto tree as a remembrance. They sure are fine. They are very tall with wide fan shaped leaves; really the only living vegetation on this island. The negroes could raise cotton but they prefer to live off us.
The barracks are in fine shape, are kept clean, the floors being scrubbed every morning. We have bed-bug hunts every Saturday morning.
Our course here extends over a period of twelve weeks after which we will be sent to some finishing camp. We are on our last lay and we sure are all glad for a change.
The Y.M.C.A. is doing a great work. They hold meetings every Wednesday evening, Sunday morning and evening. They also furnish athletic goods so that we can enjoy all kinds of exercise.
Wishing you much success in your work
I am sincerely yours,
Private Clayton E. Welty
Paris Island, South Carolina, Company 11, USMC
29 March 1918
Adam Sommer, Pastor of Salem Mennonite Church, publicly announced the excommunication of Clayton Welty from the church, for voluntarily enlisting in United States military service, a violation of the constitution of the Salem church.
The Battle of Belleau Wood began, near the Marne River in France, with American, French, and British forces fighting against the German offensive. Clayton Welty was wounded in battle on June 14; the Witmarsum shared Welty’s recovery story, including letters from Welty himself, with readers beginning in September 1918.
Mention in The Witmarsum, September 14, 1918
Clayton Welty, Academy ’17, is again in America after having seen active service in France. He is now at Brooklyn where he is recuperating from a severe wound in the shoulder.
Article in The Witmarsum, October 12, 1918
Bluffton Student Returns From Front
Although not the first of our boys to enlist, nevertheless the first to see actual fighting and to have been wounded while in the service, is the distinction belonging to Clayton Welty. Clayton enlisted in the marine corps during the summer of 1917 and arrived overseas during February of this year. After some intensive training over there, he was sent to the front and it was not long until he was in actual service.
“Clayt”, as he was usually called here, was in the terrific struggle at Chateau Thierry which was really the turning point of the war, in favor of the allies. He was wounded on June 14th, having been in the fierce fighting from June 1 to 14, the hottest of which was June 4 to 6. At 6 o’clock on the evening of June 14 a piece of shrapnel from an exploding enemy shell went through his left shoulder blade into his lung. He was one of the many that were wounded during this terrible struggle, and for four days with wounded on all sides of him, lay suffering.
Then he realized that unless cared for he would die and so notified his captain who was also wounded. He was then taken to a base hospital, where the piece of shrapnel was removed. When he was sufficiently recovered he was sent to America and was taken to the naval hospital at Brooklyn. He is now on the road to recovery, although very weak and breathes with difficulty.
Welty who belonged to the marines was in the fighting at Chateau Thierry. There were 8,000 marines in this battle; while they held firmly and made a part of the history of the world that day, there were 6,000 casualties among them. Clayton happened to be in the most terrible of the Chateau Thierry battles, the one*' at Ballieu woods [Belleau Wood] in which they participated against overwhelming numbers of Germans. Not even a twig was left of the Ballieu Woods [Belleau Wood], which was the turning point of the German drive.
Clayton had the kindest words for the Red Cross as the nurses and doctors treated him in an excellent manner.
He arrived at his home last Friday where his parents are endeavoring, with tender care, to nurse him back to health again.
“Clayt” graduated from Bluffton academy in 1917 and had fully intended to carry on his college work the following semester. But he realized the necessity of men in the conflict and was willing to sacrifice his life, if need be. He heard democracy’s call and answered it willingly. He will be remembered as the varsity pitcher for the season of 1917 and as the man who kept “Hank” on the run for center of the basketball team. He was quite active in the various organizations at school and will always be remembered as a Bluffton friend and supporter.
Announcement in The Witmarsum, November 30, 1918
KILLED IN ACTION
Word was recently received here that Lieutenant Clair W. Welty of Apple Creek, Ohio, was killed in action on November 10. Lieutenant Welty was in the aviation squadron and it is believed that he was killed in aerial combat.
Mr. Welty is a brother of Clayton and Leo, who were formerly students here. Clayton, who was wounded in the battle of Chateau Thierry, is at present at the Brooklyn naval hospital. Clayt is progressing quite rapidly considering everything.
The Witmarsum expresses its heartfelt sympathy to the parents and family of these boys.
Announcement in The Witmarsum, January 11, 1919
Clayton Welty, a former Bluffton student, arrived in Bluffton last evening. We are certainly glad to have “Clayt” with us and are pleased to see him looking so well.
Article and Letter in The Witmarsum, March 29, 1919
CLAYTON WELTY IS IMPROVING
Clayton Welty of Apple Creek, O., hero of Chateau Thierry and former student of Bluffton College, has undergone his fourth operation and yet he writes to his parents, “don’t worry.” Several weeks ago he coughed up pieces of cloth that were carried into his lungs by the shot, and has been improving quite rapidly ever since. He is at present located at Walter Reed Hospital, Washington, D.C.
A letter dated March 12 to his parents is as follows:
March 12, 1919
Dear Parents and All:—Now since all danger is past I’m going to tell you everything.
I’ve already told you about my coughing up the two pieces of shirt that have been in my lung since last June. The first piece was coughed up Jan. 25th, the second piece on the 16th of Feb. Then on the 23rd, Sunday afternoon, while Uncle Ben was out, my back suddenly felt just a bit damp, later the “bloomin’’ thing was a reality and again the same trouble. From that time until my operation the same constant draining. After the Major found out the following day of my condition he again inserted a tube which I carried until last Wednesday. (The tube was inserted in the old wound.)
Now the big thing. Last Sunday Major Butler (ward surgeon) told me an operation is absolutely necessary. He told me just why so I at once said, Go ahead Major, you know what’s best.
On Wednesday, the 5th, at 2 o’clock, I visited that little, white room for the fourth big operation. I went to the room with all the confidence any lad ever had in any surgeon, also positively that after the operation everything would be well.
I am told by the surgeons I had a few more rib resections and that two large pockets of dead tissue and waste were found. All this was removed, one large drainage tube inserted and two Dakin’s tubes used for irrigation.
The first few days were trying, for I’ve had so much suffering, but surprised that I could so easily stand the pain.
Four days after I stirred up enough nerve to get out of bed for just a short time. Yesterday was up for a short time and today all afternoon, 1 to 5.
Now don’t worry, you see I’m getting along nicely. In a few days expect to be walking around (so far I’ve only been in wheel chair outside.
I have lots of friends, good friends, too. They have and are doing everything possible for my comfort and welfare. Mother, do not worry, you see I’ve told you everything now.
I did not want to, but knew you eventually would find out indirectly, so decided to tell you first hand. You can’t do anything except think about me, pray for me, for my recovery is sure miraculous. I’m feeling fine expect soon to spend another furlough with you all.
Regards and best wishes to all my friends and a lot to my home folk.
Announcement in The Witmarsum, May 3, 1919
Suffering Considerably from the Wound Received at Chateau Thierry
Clayton Welty, a former College student, is rather serious according to word received recently by his relatives at the College. “Clayt” who was wounded during the Chateau Thierry drive, has been convalescing in the Walter Reed hospital in Washington, D. C. He had been improving quite rapidly since the time he coughed up several pieces of cloth that had been carried into his body by the shrapnel but has been worse of late. His parents, who live at Apple Creek, Ohio, recently left for Washington, and they will undoubtedly stay there until he is somewhat improved.