by Joanna Metheny
Rollin G. Freshour was born February 4, 1896 in the small mining community of Jenny Lind in Calaveras County, after which his family relocated to Ripon. Before the advent of World War I, Freshour was a popular local boy with many friends, and worked as a butcher at a creamery in Modesto. He was one of the first to leave early in the war, and was sent to Camp Lewis in Tacoma, WA, where he was assigned to a regiment of engineers preparing for battle in France.
In June of 1918, Freshour was wounded in the battle of Chateau-Thiery. He was injured in a leg and the back of his neck, and the only way he was able to survive the onslaught of flying shrapnel, was horrifyingly by covering himself with the bodies of those fallen around him. He was one of just three men in his regiment to survive. After 3 days, a German man whose sons were fighting in the war came across Freshour, took him in, and cared for him.
At this point, Freshour had been officially declared Missing in Action, and his family believed him to most likely be dead. It is unclear why, but apparently is was several weeks before he was able to get to a hospital where the bullet was removed from his leg. After his healing, he spent the next six months in a German prison camp. His weight plummeted from 165 pounds down to an astonishing 85. Although he reported being treated well and suffering no abuse by the Germans, the prison rations were not enough to sustain his body.
At the end of the war when the Armistice treaty was signed, Private Freshour was released from the prison camp, but rather than being sent home immediately due to ill health, he was held back in Europe for military police duty. While there are conflicting reports as to why he was detained, the delay may have been due to the fact that his whole company was wiped out, along with all of his paperwork proving he was an American soldier.
During this time, Freshour was able to exchange some limited correspondence with his family. Although his family and friends wrote to him weekly, it seems he received only 5 letters, including one from his mother and one from his sister. A bit of their correspondence from the time was published in the Ripon Record, where one letter, written in May of 1919 near the time of his homecoming, was published in its entirety. In this letter, Freshour expresses his confusion that he hasn’t been sent home when just about everyone else has, as well as his thoughts on Germany:
“It’s a very nice country, but that’s about all you can say for it. The Germans haven’t much love for us, and we haven’t much more for them.”
Freshour couldn’t wait to get home and had been counting down the days. When he finally made it back to the states, he was already sick, and had contracted pneumonia by the time he was discharged from the Presidio. Upon his arrival, he went straight home to see his mother, and none of his friends were allowed an opportunity to see him, as he deteriorated rapidly. He was reticent to talk about his time oversees and what had occurred there, and sadly the majority of his experiences will likely forever remain a mystery as doctors recommended he “be kept in perfect silence” as they believed talking would delay his recovery. Sadly, his last few days were spent in delirium and it is reported he talked constantly as though he were still in battle and fighting the Germans, even “calling for more hand grenades”. A Dr. Gould is mentioned in several records, and he tried valiantly to save young Freshour, who never left the house again after his homecoming.
Rollin Freshour passed away just one week after returning home from the war on August 24, 1919, at the tender age of 23. His death rocked the community whom had been overjoyed at the news of his homecoming after going missing, only to lose him so soon after his return. He was survived by both of his parents, three sisters, and a brother. Services were held at the Freshour’s home. He was later buried at Park View Cemetery in Manteca, and pallbearers included other returned soliders Howard Clendenen, Warren Hageman, Leslie Hammock, Downing McBrian, Harry Preshaw, and Elmer Wolf. He received a farewell salute, and his gravestone holds the inscription “Gone but not forgotten”.
About the author: For nearly a decade, Joanna Metheny has been a freelance writer specialized in the coverage of local topics and community interest stories. A Central Valley transplant and Bay Area native, Joanna permanently relocated to Ripon and hasn’t looked back once. She loves the city’s proud agricultural history and small town feel. Joanna enjoys spending her time in the community, tending her garden, and discovering local secrets along Ripon’s backroads.