This is part one of an ongoing Memorial Day series about Ricks College and BYU-Idaho alumni who made the ultimate sacrifice serving in the United States Military.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” -John 15:13
Pvt. Marshall Leslie Weekes
Despite his “frail”, slouched physique, Leslie Weekes carried a lot of weight on his family’s farm.
Born to John and Ida Weekes in a small log cabin in Sunnydell, 13 miles south of Rexburg, Leslie was attending a missionary preparation class at Ricks College when he was drafted into World War I. The oldest of eleven, his absence was difficult for the Weekes family, who had already lost a son, Lyman.
“Gentle” and “quiet”, wrote his sister in a three-page history. Leslie was most notable for the fact that he worked hard and “never complained.”
Having come from humble beginnings, John and Ida put a lot of effort into building a nice two-story home for their children — complete with running water and electricity. Leslie, as the eldest of the 11 kids, bore much of the brunt of that labor, helping with such things as digging the trenches for the water pipe.
Arriving at Camp Kearney in San Diego, California around June 1918, Leslie soon came down with appendicitis. His family would not find out until he returned home post-surgery, unable to stand straight. When he returned to base, he caught the flu and died on Dec. 2 at age 23.
In his last moments, he might have thought back to the chorus of his favorite hymn, Not Now, But in the Coming Years.
“Then trust in God thro’ all the days;
Fear not, for He doth hold thy hand;
Though dark thy way, still sing and praise,
Some time, some time, we’ll understand.”
Special thanks to the late Bertha Weekes Jeppson for the history she wrote on Leslie that was of much use in this essay.
Pvt. Melvin Peter Fikstad
Argonne, France was a far cry from Lyman, Idaho — especially for 26-year-old Melvin Fikstad. The son of a Norwegian immigrant father and a Utah-born mother, Melvin was working his own farm when he got called to duty in 1918.
Four years before engaging in the largest offensive in U.S. military history, Melvin departed on a different type of mission. In Centralia, Washington he and his companion, Elder J.O. Anderson, started a Sunday school for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that included about 12 non-Latter-day Saints. The area was favorable for Melvin. A local newspaper even reported positively on the pair.
“They are preaching a sound and scriptural doctrine and have the appearance of refined and clean young men,” the newspaper said.
Four years later, Melvin, a part of the 32nd Division, was a crucial part of the American role in ending World War I. In what’s known as the Meuse-Argonne offensive, the 32nd Division became the first Allied Army unit to break the Germans’ infamous defensive Hindenburg Line, doing so on Oct.14, 1918. They would defeat 11 German divisions.
Melvin endured five days of constant machine gun and artillery fire before his death on Oct. 19. The offensive would become the deadliest battle in U.S. Army history.
Pvt. Perry James Clegg
A descendant of Latter-day Saint pioneers from England, Perry James Clegg was born to William and Mary Clegg in Meadow Creek, Utah in 1895. His family relocated to Ucon, outside Idaho Falls, when he was a boy. He was living and working as a farmhand there when he was drafted into the War in 1918 joining the 160th Regiment of the 40th Division.
His division arrived in France in August and would be used to replenish veteran divisions. Perry, like thousands of other soldiers, came down with an unspecified disease and died on Aug. 21, 1918. Buried in France for two years, the Army returned his remains to Ucon in 1920 where he now rests.