05/31/10 - posted by John Martini
My great-uncle died during the last great offensive of World War I -- the battle of the Meuse-Argonne Forest. A sergeant in the 91st Division ("California's Own") he was only about 22 when a German shell landed in the crater where he and another GI had taken refuge.

His name was Gaston Berges, and from the family photos was something of a hunk. It's said that when they held the memorial service in his home town of Salinas, at least three girls showed up claiming to be his fiance.

Years later, John Steinbeck wrote about Gaston's death in "East of Eden." The Steinbecks were neighbors, and the families were close: "It wasn't much fun then. ... Marty Hopps dead, the Berges boy from across the street, the handsome one our little sister was in love with from the time she was three, blown to bits!"

(The horrific fallout from this brief sentence was that my great-grandmother had never recovered emotionally from Gaston's death, and aside from my great-grandfather no one knew the gruesome details of his death. Helluva way for the family to learn.)

Some years back I wrote the American War Battle Monuments Commission about information on Gaston's internment and they sent me a photo of his monument in the sprawling Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery where over 14,000 young Americans are buried, most of whom died in the same offensive as the great uncle who I'll never meet.

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