It is Week 15 in the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks’ writing challenge. This week’s writing prompt is Fire.
Nearly every human culture/religion has a god/goddess of fire. Ancient Egyptians had Ra and Sekhmet, the Romans had Vulcan, and the Greeks had Hephaestus. Agni is the Hindu god of fire, while the Celt god Áed’s name literally means “fire.” In Oceanic mythologies, the fire gods/goddesses include Gedi (Fijian), Pele (Hawaiian), Auahitūroa (Māori), and Ti’iti’i, (Samoan). While Native American nations have Xiuhtecuhtli (Aztec), Huracán (Mayan), Haashchʼééshzhiní (Navajo), Kananeski Anayehi (Cherokee),
Then, there was Prometheus, a Titan who defied the Greek gods by stealing fire and giving it to humanity. The fire that Prometheus bestowed upon humanity has been both a blessing and a curse. Without fire, humanity would not have been able to advance, and civilization as we know it would not have come into being. But fire is also the great destroyer, and lives have been lost because of its flames.
In our combined family trees, there are several people whose lives have been adversely impacted by fire, some more so than others, including Vaughn Odeal Spangler, Ora Frances (Spangler) Hesson, and Melissa Gertrude (Harwick) Depp.
My spouse’s Great-Uncle Vaughn Odeal Spangler (known as Vonnie by his family) was born on 17 July 1915, in Kanawha County, West Virginia, to parents Walter Lee Spangler and Willie Alice Kenney. He joined elder siblings Laura Ellen Spangler, born 1905; Mattie Alice Spangler, born 1906; Robert Lee Spangler, born 1908; Emery E. Spangler, born 1909; Morris H. Spangler, born 1910; and Lawrence G. Spangler and Omer A. Spangler, both born in 1913.
Four years passed. Then, on 22 December 1919, sister Reba Gwendola Spangler (my spouse’s grandmother) was welcomed to the family.
On 20 January 1920, the Spangler family was enumerated at 354 Sissonville Road in Sugar Creek, Kanawha County, West Virginia. Residing in the household were father Walter, age 36, a brick mason; mother Willie, age 33; Laura E., age 13; Mattie A., age 12; James R. L. (Robert Lee), age 11; Morris H., age 9; Lawrence G., age 7; Omer A., age 6; Vaughn O., age 4 years; and Reba G., newborn.
Brother George Washington Spangler arrived two years later on 22 January 1922.
Two years later, on 9 January 1924, sister Mary Elizabeth Spangler was born.
That same year, eldest sister Laura E. Spangler married Albert Avis Whittington.
Four years passed. Then, on 18 May 1926, the final Spangler sibling, Ora Frances, was welcomed to the family.
On 17 April 1930, the Spangler family was enumerated at 815 Crescent Road, in Charleston, Kanawha County, West Virginia. Living in the home were father Walter L. Spangler, age 46; mother Willie A., age 32; Robert Lee, age 21; Morris, age 20; Lawrence, age 18; Omer., age 16; Reba, age 10; George, age 7; Mary, age 6; and Ora, age 3 1/2. Vaughn, age 15, was nowhere to be found. Where was he?
It seems that at some point, Vaughn was married, incarcerated, and eventually divorced. This is known because on 26 April 1940, Vaughn Spangler, a married white male, age 24, was enumerated at the state prison in Moundsville, West Virginia. According to the census records, Vaughn only had a fourth-grade education.
A few months later, on 23 October 1940, Vaughn Spangler completed a WWII draft registration card. By then, he had been transferred out of the state prison to the Prison Labor Camp in Sandstone, West Virginia. According to the records, he was 5’7″ with blond hair and blue eyes and a tattoo on his inside lower right arm of a girls’ head wearing a cowboy hat, as well as the letters M.M.E.N.
On 11 February 1942, Vaughn O. Spangler enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army. According to the records, he was divorced with no dependents and worked as a semiskilled mechanic/repairmen of motor vehicles.
Vaughn was sent to Ft. Thomas in Nelson, Kentucky for basic training. Eventually, he was assigned to the 774th Tank Destroyer Battalion in the European Theater of Operations. By that point, Vaughn had moved up in rank and was a Technician Fifth Grade (abbreviated as T/5 or TEC5). Those who held this rank were often addressed as corporal or tech corporal. They possessed specialized skills (such as being a tank driver or mechanic) and were, therefore, rewarded with a higher pay grade.
On 12 June 1944, the battalion arrived at Gourock, Scotland. Two months later, Vaughn O. Spangler, along with the rest of the 774th, boarded ships, debarking at Utah Beach on 7 August 1944. From 12 August to 21 August 1944, the 774th joined the fighting in the Argentan–Falaise Pocket before running eastward across France to Lorraine as part of a cavalry screen and the 7th Armored Division. From 21 September 1944 to 3 February 1945, the 774th Tank Battalion was attached to the 83rd Infantry Division.
Vaughn O. Spangler was once again promoted; this time to a Technician Fourth Grade (abbreviated as T/4 or TEC4). He probably was addressed as sergeant; however, even though he was a non-commissioned officer, he would have had no command authority.
From 27 September through 13 December 1944, Vaughn’s tank battalion participated in the Battle of Metz. They then fought along the Saar in December 1944 en route to join the Battle of the Bulge (the Ardennes Counteroffensive) from 16 December 1944 to 25 January 1945. In late February 1945, the 774th converted to the 78th Infantry Division and drove to the Rhine in March 1945.
Then, on 3 March 1945, Vaughn Odeal Spangler’s tank was hit by enemy rounds and became consumed by fire. It is unknown if Vaughan Spangler died from the artillery fire or whether the engulfing flames were the cause of his death. Sadly, there were little to no remains left to salvage. Vonnie was “laid to rest” by his heartbroken parents and siblings in Childress Cemetery, Charleston, Kanawha County, West Virginia.
As mentioned earlier, Vaughn’s youngest sister was Ora Frances Spangler, nicknamed Orie.
Born 18 May 1926, Orie was living with her family at 815 Crescent Road, in Charleston, Kanawha County, West Virginia on 17 April 1930.
On 11 April 1940, the Spangler family was enumerated in Spring Hill, Kanawha County, West Virginia. Residing in the home, valued at $1,300, was father Walter, age 56, a brick mason; mother Willie Alice, age 53; son George, age 19; daughter Ora Frances, age 13; grandchildren Robert Jr., age 7; Evelyn Mae, age 5; and Margaret, age 4 (all children of son Robert Lee Spangler); and the Whittingtons: daughter Laura E., age 36; son-in-law Albert, age 38, a wrecker; and granddaughter Betty J., age 13.
Four years later, on 10 August 1944, Ora Frances Spangler married Perry O’Dell Hesson, son of Charles and Ona Hesson, in Mason County, West Virginia. Orie was 18 years old; Perry was 25 years old.
Seven months later, brother Vonnie was killed in action in Germany.
Then, on 4 December 1948, Orie and Perry were either living in Gallipolis, Gallia County, Ohio or visiting family/friends there when the unspeakable happened. Someone was repairing a car; Orie was watching. Suddenly, the vehicle caught fire, and Orie was engulfed by the flames. Once the fire was extinguished, Orie was rushed to the Holzer Hospital in Gallipolis. Unfortunately, the burns were too extensive, and Ora Frances (Spangler) Hesson died that same day; she was only 22 years old.
Within four years, two of the ten Spangler siblings had died horrific deaths. Stunned and grief-stricken, the family laid Orie to rest near her brother in Childress Cemetery.
The final family member whose life was impacted by fire was Melissa Gertrude (Harwick) Depp, my spouse’s 2nd great-aunt. Known as Gertie, she was born on 8 July 1879, to parents John Micheal Harwick and Matlida Jane Robinson. Gertie joined older siblings William Byron Harwick, born on 25 May 1875, and Mary M. Harwick, born on 7 October 1877.
On 3 June 1880, the Harwick family was enumerated in North Mahoning Township, Indiana County, Pennsylvania. Residing in the household were father Michael Harwick, a 25-year-old farmer; mother Jane M., age 23; William B., age 5; Mary M., age 2; and Melissa G., age 10 months. Living next door was John Michael’s mother, Anna Harwick, age 66.
The following year, brother James Irvin Harwick was welcomed to the family on 19 September 1881.
Five years passed. Then on 19 July 1886, brother Albert Barton Harwick (my spouse’s great-grandfather) arrived in the family’s Indiana County home.
Sister Alma Elizabeth Harwick came along on 24 July 1889.
A brother named Andrew Paul Harwick was born on 29 September 1895.
Sadly, only two months later, on 30 November 1895, John Michael Harwick’s mother, Anna Margretha (Keppert) Harwick passed away. All of the grandchildren, who must have enjoyed having their grandmother near, would have grieved her loss.
Two years passed. Then, on 8 July 1897, sister Mary M. Harwick wed William Edward Heitzenrater in Valier, Indiana County, Pennsylvania.
On 20 November 1899, Melissa Gertrude Harwick, age 20, gave birth to an illegitimate daughter named Carmen Eva Harwick. The father of the child was Dalton Lex Shrecengost, the son of David William Shrecengost and Margery Eunice Sprankle. Not long afterward, Dalton left Pennsylvania, eventually settling in Richmond, Virginia and changing his surname to Schreck. Gertie and her daughter remained in her parents’ home.
Meanwhile, about six months after the birth of her daughter, Gertie’s youngest sibling, a sister named Jennie Baird Harwick was born on 21 June 1900, in Valier, Jefferson County, Pennsylvania.
On 1 June 1900, the Harwick family was enumerated in North Mahoning Township, Indiana County, Pennsylvania. Living in the home were father Michael, age 45, a farmer; mother Jane, age 43; William, age 25, a day laborer; Gertie, age 21; James, age 19; Barton, age 14; Alma Harwick, age 10; and Andy Harwick, age 5.
On 21 January 1903, Gertrude Harwick married Miller Bowman Depp, son of Philip Bush Depp and Susan Neff. The justice of the peace for Jefferson County, Pennsylvania performed the ceremony.
Seven months later, son Dwight Harding Depp was born on 21 August 1903, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Life seemed to be going well for the Harwick family when tragedy struck. Youngest sister Jennie Baird died on 21 December 1903, in Valier, Jefferson County, Pennsylvania. She was only three years old.
Two months later, on 19 February 1904, Gertie and her baby were visiting her parents and her first-born child in their Valier home when another catastrophe occurred. According to the local newspaper, The Punxsutawney Spirit:
That night, after the children had been placed in bed…, the lamp which had been left in their room began to blaze up. Fearing an explosion, Mrs. Depp attempted to put the flame out with her skirts. While thus engaged, the globe and the top of the lamp were knocked loose and the oil blazed up, setting fire to her clothes. Mrs. Depp struggled and ran downstairs, but before the blaze could be subdued, she was terribly burned over the fore part of her body, arms, and face.
For seven days, Gertie “suffered untold agony” until 26 February 1904, when “death came to her relief.” She was only 25 years old. The paper went on to comment that “Mrs. Depp was highly esteemed by all who knew her, and the news of the terrible accident and her subsequent death from the injury came as a severe shock to her many friends.”
Melissa Gertrude (Harwick) Depp was buried in the White Church Cemetery, located in Hamilton Township, Jefferson County, Pennsylvania.
(As a side note: As if the death of two daughters in two months was not heartbreaking enough for Michael and Jane Harwick, a third daughter, Mary M. (Harwick) Heitzenrater, died from typhoid fever just two weeks later on 11 March 1904, in South Clayville, Indiana County, Pennsylvania. She was buried at the Round Top Church Cemetery in Trade City, Indiana County, Pennsylvania.)