Columbus (WCMH) –This week, local historians are marking the centennial anniversary of the date Homer Lawson, an Ohio soldier, returned home to Columbus after being killed in action on the battlefields of France during World War I.
Lawson was laid to rest in Columbus at Greenlawn Cemetery in August of 1921
“Homer Lawson was born in Washington Courthouse so we claim him as one of our native sons,” said Paul LaRue, a local historian and member of the Ohio World War I Centennial Commission.
However, Lawson moved to Columbus with his mother before enlisting in the Ohio National Guard in 1917.
“There were about 8 thousand black Ohioans who served in World War I,” said LaRue.
More than 350,000 African American soldiers served during the World War I, but according to LaRue, many were assigned to non-combat duties.
“But Ohio had the 372nd, which saw heavy combat and that was the regiment Homer Lawson was in,” said LaRue added.
As a retired history teacher, LaRue created a lesson plan for Ohio teachers to preserve the legacy of Homer Lawson and the contributions of African American soldiers during World War I. The role black soldiers played during the was largely overlooked when troops returned home to a segregated society in the United States.
“Charles Houston who served in a different regiment was actually the mentor to Thurgood Marshall, but he serves as a World War I officer, and in fact he says after serving I wanted to come back and fight another war here in this country,” said LaRue.
“Any time we tell one soldier’s story, in some ways we’re paying tribute to every man and woman who served in the armed services,” he added.
Lawson made the ultimate sacrifice in service to the U.S. when he died on the battlefields of France on September 28, 1918. The American Battle Monuments Commission maintains the cemeteries in France, so record show the date and information about Lawson’s return home to Columbus.
“His mother’s name and her address and the ship that the body was brought back on,” said LaRue.
Washington Courthouse honored the legacy of Lawson by placing his name above the American Legion Post 653. A legacy LaRue says is an important one to remember.
“The folks at Greenlawn do a fantastic job of maintaining and honoring these men, but to see the headstone standing straight and the American flag, gosh it makes me proud,” said LaRue.
Today, more than 30,000 soldiers who fought in World War I are buried in eight cemeteries in France. Another 44,000 returned home to be buried on American soil.
The lesson plan LaRue created called “Searching for Homer Lawson” is free and available to all high school teachers.
To access the lesson plan, visit: https://ohiomemory.ohiohistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Searching-for-Homer-Lawson-Lesson-Plan.pdf