Illinois category
Wednesday, 13 November 2013 19:16

Honoring Our World War I Veterans Featured

Written by  Sandra Baksys
Designed by Melinda McDonald, Rochester, Ill Designed by Melinda McDonald, Rochester, Ill

More than 50,000 Lithuanian-Americans fought for the United States in World War I. This remarkable number was later leveraged to lobby U.S. President Woodrow Wilson to recognize the newly independent Lithuanian state that emerged from the War’s aftermath. Ironically, the vast majority of the young Lithuanian men who served America in World War I were fighting for a country they barely knew. Most were very recent, impoverished immigrants—not yet citizens–who barely spoke or read English and who, even more ironically, had fled Lithuania to escape 25-year conscription by the Russian Czar.

When we think of Jonas (John) Kedis, Joseph Kowlowski and Walter Rauktis, three young immigrants to Central Illinois who died in the War to End All Wars, we must face the fact that they died violently, far too young, and so very far from family and home. This is the tragic reality of war even for non-immigrants. But the fact that these young Lithuanian-born men were sent back across the Atlantic to die violently so soon after they had crossed the Atlantic with so much courage and hope strikes me with a special poignancy.

Thanks to exhaustive research of U.S. Census, draft and service record databases by our Lithuanian-American friend Tim Race of Elmhurst, Ill., we have the partial stories of Jonas, Joseph and Walter, whom we now honor in memory.


Jonas (John) Kedis, born about 1890 in Kaltinenai, Lithuania, arrived in the U.S. in April 1910 from the Dutch port of Rotterdam on the ship Rijndam. Although he lived at 7254 E. Washington St. in Springfield in 1916, Jonas was living and working in Chicago as an iceman for Commonwealth Ice Co. by the time he was drafted on June 5, 1917. About 27 years old of medium build with light brown hair and blue eyes, Jonas was an “alien” who had sworn an oath of loyalty to the U.S., and declared no dependents on his draft registration. He was killed on Oct. 9, 1918 while serving as a private with the U.S. Army’s 1st Engineer Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, and is buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, Lorraine, France. Ironically, if Jonas had survived another five weeks, he would have made it to armistice.

Walter A. Rauktis, born in Veikanus(?), Lithuania in 1891, was mining for the Jones & Adams Coal Co. on RR #8 and living at 2518 Peoria Road in Springfield when he registered for the draft on June 6, 1917. He described himself as single, but with a mother and father who depended on him for support. Walter had blue eyes and light brown hair, and was not yet a citizen, either, when he was killed in service to our country as a private with the U.S. Army 47th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division on July 29, 1918. Walter is buried in the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery in Fere-en-Tardenois, France.

Young coal miner Joseph Kowlowski, born in Mariampole, Lithuania in 1893, migrated from the Pennsylvania coal fields to Pana, Ill. sometime after 1910. He would have been in Christian County for 7 years or less when he was drafted in 1917. (We hope to get a few more details about Joseph’s life, death and burial place soon.)

The following Lithuanians from Central Illinois were registered for the draft and possibly served our country in World War I. Their names and counties are from a database developed by genealogy company Genealogics in much appreciated voluntary assistance to this project. Each is from Springfield unless otherwise noted. Many other Lithuanian-Americans from our area were drafted or enlisted and served in World War I, but their identities could not be verified because they listed their country of origin as Russia. (Lithuania was part of the Russian Empire until after World War I).

Joseph Damkus (came to Springfield in 1898, worked as a policeman after 1906 and lived with his wife Isabel Adomaitis at 1809 N. 10th St.,), Andrew Fraier, John Kalvatis (Montgomery County), Mike Kavaloski, (Macoupin County), Charles Kristute (Pawnee), John Kunski (Montgomery County), Stanley Norbut (submitted by descendant Rick Dunham), Stanley Patrilla (Auburn—also lived on Jefferson St. in Springfield with the Papir family), Charles Paulanski (Logan County), Joseph Paulauskas (moved to Detroit after the war), William Petraits (Christian County), Frank Petrowich (Auburn), Charles Raczaitis (Divernon), George Ragoznice, Charles Rumsas (Sangamon County), John Joseph Straukas (lived in Riverton as a nephew of the Grigski family), George Stravinski, Mike Trumbit (Macoupin County), Frank B. Vinson (Christian County), Stanley Yunker (went on to become the long-time pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Lithuanian Catholic Church), Andrew Zelowski (Christian County).

Last modified on Monday, 21 December 2015 08:45
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