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Press Photo by Linda Sailer
Vietnam veteran Brian Benesh places a flag at the grave of World War I veteran Homer J. Schlangen on Tuesday as part of the upcoming Memorial Day observance.
Press Photo by Linda Sailer Vietnam veteran Brian Benesh places a flag at the grave of World War I veteran Homer J. Schlangen on Tuesday as part of the upcoming Memorial Day observance.

An American hero: WWI veteran Homer Schlangen among those being honored for military service

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lifestyles Dickinson, 58602
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

Vietnam veteran Brian Benesh had been walking across the St. Joseph’s Cemetery when he noticed a grave marker mostly covered by sod. He was placing flags at the graves of veterans in observance of Memorial Day. Clearing the soil, the marker revealed the name of Homer J. Schlangen. He was born Aug. 21, 1890, and died 37 years later. “The only reason I knew he was a veteran was because the marker had an American Legion emblem on it,” he said. The discovery was made three years ago, but the grave continued to be on his mind. This spring, Benesh decided it was time to research the name.  “I went to the courthouse and looked up his name — there it was!” he said. Benesh had uncovered a true American hero — a machine gunner who fought in every major World War I campaign in France and who was awarded a Silver Star. “Very few decorations were given out during World War I,” he said. “Only two honors are higher than the Silver Star. I compare the Silver Star to the Medal of Honor today.” This year, Benesh and two fellow Vietnam veterans placed more than 860 flags on graves of area veterans. “People ask why I do this,” he said. “Here’s your answer. These people cannot be forgotten — they have to be recognized for their sacrifices.” The entry about Schlangen indicated he was born in Middletown, Ohio, and farmed in Billings County. He enlisted in the Machine Gun Company, Second Infantry of the North Dakota National Guard at Dickinson on June 30, 1917. He was called to active duty on July 15, 1917, serving with the Machine Gun Company, 164th Infantry, until Jan., 9, 1918. He advanced from a private first class to corporal and then sergeant. He served overseas from Dec. 15, 1917 to Sept. 3, 1919. He fought in engagements at Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne, Montdidier-Noyon, Ansauville and Saizerais (Loraine) and Cantigny. He was cited for gallant and courageous conduct during his participation in all of the four major operations of his division. He was discharged Sept. 25, 1919. “Being a machine gunner, how many times was he shot at,” Benesh asked. “The machine gun in World War I was a very new and most effective way of killing. When the enemy found somebody operating a machine gun, they targeted him. Lord only knows what he saw.” Benesh can only guess why Schlangen died at such a young age. He ponders that it was service-related — likely complications from gas in the trenches. “Mustard gas is a nerve agent that affects the nervous system and lungs,” he said. Benesh has never met the family, but it doesn’t matter. “I didn’t know this gentlemen, but for God’s sake, I want to honor him,” Benesh said. He calls on everyone to recognize veterans for their sacrifices. “Everybody comes to a cemetery on Memorial Day to see their loved ones and to bring them flowers,” he said. “Bring an extra flower. Look around for the flags I’ve put up and leave a flower. They deserve it.” Benesh started placing the flags in cemeteries 12 years ago. He welcomes donations to the Cemetery Flag Fund at the Dakota Community Bank to continue the project.  “The other reason I do this is for the young people,” he said. “No matter how old you get, you cannot forget who gave you what you have. Somebody paid a price or it and that’s what keeps me doing this.”

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