Post-War wedding united local nurse with soldier
MONTGOMERY – The date was Dec. 13, 1919; the place, Christ Lutheran (Stone) Church in Washington Township, Lycoming County. The occasion was the marriage of two veterans discharged earlier that year from military duty.
The groom, George William Blunt, born in Burnside, Louisiana, was a railroad employee in Harrison, Mississippi, when registering for the war in June 1917.
The bride, Margaret Myrtle Shaffer, born in 1882 in the Montgomery area of Brady Township, became an Army Nurse.
The couple’s point of contact had been Camp Pike (formerly Ft. Logan H. Roots) near Little Rock Arkansas.
Margaret’s choice of entering the medical field may have been due to her older brother, Joseph W. Shaffer, a physician with a general practice at his home in Harrisburg.
Meanwhile in 1917, and due to WWI, Camp Pike with new and larger facilities was a center training replacements for the American Expeditionary Forces preparing for overseas duty in France. The camp also received units of men sent to camp by the area’s local draft boards.
It was here Nurse Shaffer was assigned in early April 1918. Her 11-month stay would include the autumn of 1918 with the outbreak of Spanish influenza. During the epidemic, a barracks was converted into a hospital ward for the increasing patient load.
The camp was also the home of the U. S. Army’s 162nd Depot Brigade of the 87th Division. Lieutenant Blunt had been stationed there since Sept. 1917. For six months, Shaffer and Blunt were together at the camp until the latter’s discharge in Jan. 1919. Shaffer remained an additional two months until reassigned to the Philadelphia General Hospital from where she was discharged from duty on June 29, 1919.
Meanwhile, Blunt had secured a position as a machinist with the Milton Machine Works, producing Pack Cars for the railroad industry. This must have been the couple’s plan while awaiting the military fulfillment of the intended bride.
In 1919, the couple wed in the Stone Church in the bride’s native White Deer Valley. Their happiness would be tempered when in Feb. 1921, they grieved the loss of their only child, a son born two months prematurely at Williamsport Hospital. The infant was interred in the cemetery adjacent the church where they’d wed. In the Shaffer plot, he joined his maternal grandmother who died in 1910.
The couple remained residents of Milton where Margaret died in 1971 followed by her husband a year later. They were interred in Milton’s Harmony Cemetery where on a windy autumn day in 2017, this writer noted their gravestones. Had not Margaret’s marker being etched with “WWI Army Nurse,” this article would not have been written.
Imagine the surprise when research revealed Nurse Shaffer was a Brady Township native, putting her in The Luminary’s coverage area.
Often, this writer’s assignment includes annual candlelight services at the Stone Church hosted by the Montgomery Area Historical Society.
This past December, while seated in the raised overflow room overlooking the sanctuary, lights were extinguished and candles lit. In the dimness, one could imagine the scene of that December wedding of 1919.
At the altar and quite possibly dressed in his military uniform, the handsome Lieutenant awaited his bride. Following the nuptials, she folded her arm in his as they walked out the door and headed into a 53-year-long life together after meeting at a southern Army Camp.
The following is painted on a stained glass window in one of the Stone Church’s annex rooms: “In memory of G. W. Shaffer and wife.” The nurse’s parents were George Washington Shaffer and Mary Jane Dunn. As the family was prolific in the area, Margaret’s 10 siblings are noted and include: sisters Anna Belle Page, Sarah E. Myers, Misses Ida Mae and Laura Shaffer. Brothers, Robert W., Joseph W, Samuel S., George M., John H., and Oscar S. Shaffer.