The Clays and World War I

Throughout most of the world, 2014 begins the commemoration of the first world war.  On June 28, 1914 the Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, assassinated Franz Ferdinand, the Archduke of Austria, and his wife, provoking a European crisis that ended in war scarcely one month later that would eventually engulf most of the world.  The war lasted over four years and took a terrible toll in human life and physical property.  The French speak of the “lost generation,” because so many young men died or were horribly wounded.

The United States entered that war near its end, but American men flocked to the nation’s banners.  My research in one branch of the family suggests that the Clay family enthusiastically met its obligation to the nation.  The descendants of Henry Clay the Statesmen had learned from the time they were born that duty to country was a major family value.  Clay men of military age rushed to serve their country.  Goodloe McDowell, a great-great grandson, dropped out of Yale University in his sophomore year to enter the army.  He served as a Captain of artillery in major battles across Europe, writing home to the Lexington newspapers about the conflict and his role in it.  He was twenty years old when he enlisted.  Henry Clay Simpson, a great-great grandson, attended military school as a boy.  An outstanding athlete, he volunteered for service.   Kenneth Bynum Kenner, another great-great grandson and a member of a branch that had settled in eastern Tennessee, had heard the Civil War stories of his grandfather, Harry Boyle Clay, who had ridden with General John Hunt Morgan.  In the branch descending from Henry’s son James, two members of the family sought to serve under somewhat unusual circumstances.  Captain Charles Donald Clay fought in the Spanish-American War and was seriously wounded in the Philippine Insurrection.  He returned to service in 1917 well passed sixty years of age.  Too old to fight he served throughout the war in the Quartermaster Corps, retiring a second time as a Colonel.  Colonel Clay refused to allow his own son to follow the example of Goodloe McDowell.  He had educated his two sons to attend West Point and he insisted that his name sake, Charles D. Clay Jr., remain a cadet at the Academy.  The younger Clay collected enough demerits to be expelled, but, alas, the war ended before he could participate.

I suspect that numerous other Clays answered the call to service.  If you know of members of your branch who served please share the information with the Society.  To compile a list of Clays who fought in that war would honor them and the family of which they were a part.  If you have ancestors who participated, the National Archives maintains the service records of many soldiers.      

 – Lindsey  Apple