A reader’s theater production and slide program telling the story of Charles Campbell Gard’s military service during World War I will be staged at 1 p.m., February 17, in the Emma Ritchie Auditorium at the Butler County Historical Society, 327 North 2nd Street, Hamilton. Gard, a 1913 graduate of Hamilton High School, was the only son of Lutie and Homer Gard, owner and publisher of the Hamilton Evening News which evolved to become the Journal News. He served in the military from July 1917 until May 1919.
The script for the 70-minute program was written by Richard Piland and is based on more than seventy-five letters Gard wrote to his family and the wartime diary he kept while on the Western Front in France. Piland also researched and created the pictorial slide show that illustrates Gard’s career and service during the war. The cast of four actors that performs the script includes Marcy Piland, Tom Redman, Brian Smith and Greg Young. The program is free to the public.
Gard served in the Ohio National Guard, Battery E, Third Field Artillery before earning a commission as a Second Lieutenant at the Officers’ Training Camp at Fort Benjamin Harrison on August 27, 1917. He was first stationed at Camp Funston at Fort Riley, Kansas, and then at Camp Jackson near Columbia, South Carolina, before volunteering for the newly formed air service. Gard was trained to be an observer-gunner during flight school at Fort Sill, Lawton, Oklahoma, and received advanced training at Selfridge Field at Mt. Clemens, Michigan. After earning his Aviator’s Badge on September 10, 1918, he sailed for France and the Western Front where he served until returning to the states on April 20, 1919.
“Campbell had a wide variety of experiences during his tour of duty in France,” Piland said. “Many of them were very special like the time he flew in formation over the throngs of Parisians celebrating the signing of the armistice on November 11, 1918, and dropping flowers over President and Mrs. Wilson as they reviewed American soldiers at Langre on Christmas Day. He also was thrilled to have close encounters with General John J. Pershing; Edward, Prince of Wales; King Albert and Queen Elizabeth of Belgium.”
Piland also indicated that Campbell also had some very unfortunate experiences during his service. “During Lt. Gard’s Atlantic crossing in October 1918, he witnessed the collision of the Otranto and Kashmir troop ships and the loss of more than 400 soldiers. He also survived more than six separate plane crashes with only minor injuries.”
When Gard returned to civilian life in May 1919, he resumed working at the Evening News. On October 25, 1921, Campbell collapsed at his desk at the newspaper and died at the age of 26. The cause of death was myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. In 1926, Campbell’s parents revealed their plans to donate to the Hamilton Y.M.C.A. a fully equipped camp as a living memorial to their son. Camp Campbell Gard was dedicated on July 1, 1927 and is still in operation.
The historical society has published Campbell Gard’s wartime diary and will have copies of the 36-page book for sale at the program for $5.