On top of one of the rolling hills in Unionville Township in Monroe County, Indiana, there was a tiny rural church, the Pleasant View Baptist Church, long since abandoned by the congregation and torn down. But, next to where the small church stood remains the Pleasant View Cemetery where the family members of the church were laid to rest.
Toward the back of the cemetery nearly in the center stands a proud statue of a World War I soldier, tall and straight, looking forward at parade rest. The doughboy is carved from Bedford limestone, paid for by the boy’s grandmother as a tribute to Thomas Forrest Riddle, the fallen hero. The statue carved by one of the expert Owen County stone carvers stands next to a solid block of granite that has two names carved into the face of the polished red stone:
Next to that monument is a small red granite polished stone with the simple inscription:
These three gravestone are the outline of a family tragedy for the Riddles who farmed and lived in this rural area. Thomas Andrew Riddle and his wife, Elizabeth Angeline, had a big brood of children as farm families did in those days but within one month the Spanish Influenza struck the family killing 3 of their 13 children.
The Saturday February 22, 1919, Bloomington Evening World, ran an headline that tells the story: THREE INFLUENZA DEATHS IN ONE FAMILY ONE MONTH.
The story goes on, “Influenza-pneumonia has already resulted in the death during the present month of their members of the family of Mrs. James Riddle, eleven miles northeast of the city, and two more are still sick with the malady.”
“Forrest, the 21-year-old son, who returned from service overseas only last Sunday, fell victim last night. His brother Raymond, 21, was buried yesterday. A sister, Miss Amanda, died the first day of February.”
“The young soldier came back from the war in apparent good health only to find every member of the family in bed with the plague. He contracted the disease the same say and was so bad from the start that little hope was held out for him. He and his brother Raymond were delirious most of the week and the nurses did not know which one of the boys would be the first to go. The funeral of Forrest will be held at Pleasant View church tomorrow at 10:30 in charge of the Rev. Bayless. Forrest went to war with eight other boys of the same neighborhood, all of whom have returned. The others will set as pall bearers at his funeral. His comrades say he was in two or three big battles and was gassed, being in one of the hospitals in France two months.”
The Sunday September 7, 2003 Hoosier Times article by Bette Nunn reported that Thomas Forrest Riddle “enlisted in the Army June 4, 1918. He was assigned to Co. D., 12th Machine Gun Battalion, 4th Division. He saw battle at Chateau Thierry and Argonne forest and became a casualty of war from poison gas.”
The article also reported that on August 12, 2003, the heroic statue of Thomas Forrest Riddle was vandalized—and badly damaged, smashed into several pieces, his head separated from the body, and broken below his knees. Rightfully the community around the area was outraged and went to action. The statue was mended and the soldier once again stands guard over the graves of Amanda, Raymond, and Thomas Forrest Riddle.
I’ll never understand people who vandalize anything…especially graveyards….then there are those who vandalize sacred sites–the men who vandalized Native American artifacts in the Oregon standoff, the Isis vandals who destroy cultural sites– they all break my heart…I’m afraid that the current Republican candidates are vandalizing our sense of respect, honor, sensibilities, reverence, and hope…smashing them just as notoriously as those who break stone.
What I find so uplifting about this story are the amazing people who took their time, effort, and resources to restore the monument. It is a testament to people’s resiliency and the honor to which they place our fallen.
These Riddle boys would have been my GREAT UNCLES and have heard my grandmother REBECCA speak of their untimely deaths. She would tell stories of how this flu breakout affected all and how their mother would separate the family into the barn to live to avoid catching this. Was quite a time for living back when disinfecting was lye soap or homemade bleach