Gone Too Soon

Lester Albert Ashbacher was born in Dunn County, North Dakota in 1919.[1]Lester graduated high school in Dickinson, North Dakota in June 1936, and started his adult life there.[2] I became interested in him because he was reportedly married to an extended relative. My initial goal was to confirm whether he and my relative had, in fact, been married. But the more I searched, the more intrigued I became with what became of this young man.

There was a gravestone with his name and military information at Dickinson Cemetery in Dickinson, North Dakota[3], but there was no one else with that surname buried in the same cemetery. Later, I found another gravestone with nearly identical information in Dakota City Cemetery, Dakota City, Nebraska.[4] The second gravestone is associated with an application for a veteran’s marker for Lester. Why were there two gravestones for the same person?

Census records are always a good place to start a genealogical search, and I soon learned that Lester was the son of Ethan L. and Esther E. (Mefs) Ashbacher, and that he had two siblings, a sister Eleanor who was born in 1917 and a brother Ralph who was born in 1921. Adding census detail to Lester’s history prompted more Ancestry hints including a very detailed record from his employment at Northern Pacific Railway Company beginning in October 1938.[5] Lester’s employment history revealed several stints as a trucker for his father’s drayage firm, one as a clerk in the local Red Owl grocery store, and one year at college. Lester started at Northern Pacific as a trucker; a year later he was either transferred or promoted to warehouseman. He remained with Northern Pacific until February 1941[6] when he was drafted into the military, serving with the 164th Infantry Company K, Americal Division, North Dakota National Guard.[7]

Lester is next found in Umatilla County, Oregon, apparently assigned to an Army post there. On February 21, 1942, Lester Albert Ashbacher and Florence Stella Reichert (the extended relative mentioned previously) were joined in marriage by a Catholic priest. Their marriage was witnessed by Lester’s brother Ralph and Florence’s sister Magdalen.[8] It was likely a short honeymoon as Lester was deployed to the South Pacific Theater sometime before November 30, 1942, when he was reported as killed in action (some of the Ancestry Family Trees I’ve viewed say he was killed at Guadalcanal, but I haven’t yet found a record with that information).

1942-ashbacher-lester-reichert-florence-marriage-certificate

Having learned the details of Lester’s war-shortened life, I was still puzzled why there were two grave markers for him, one in Dickinson, North Dakota, and the other in Dakota City, Nebraska. Lacking any additional information for the Dickinson cemetery, I moved on to the Dakota City cemetery where the search for the surname Ashbacher was productive, yielding four results. Lester’s name was there[9], of course, as were the names of his parents, Ethan Lester[10] and Esther Emily (Mefs) Ashbacher[11]. There was little biographical information for either parent except for links to each other’s Find A Grave memorials. Fortunately, Ethan’s bio included the names and dates of birth and death for the couple’s three children.

The fourth result for the Ashbacher surname turned out to be Lester’s sister, Eleanor, whose memorial included very detailed biographical information.[12] It turns out that Eleanor married Charles Beerman, a native of Dakota County, Nebraska, in July 1939. Charles and Eleanor returned to Charles’ home place after their marriage, where they farmed and raised livestock for many years.

I haven’t located specific information regarding Lester’s parents’ move from Dickinson, North Dakota to Dakota City, Nebraska (at some point between Lester’s death in 1942 and 1948 when Lester’s father applied for a veteran’s headstone), but it is reasonable to assume they decided to relocate to be near one of their children during their senior years (as a benchmark, Ethan and Emily would have been approximately 57 and 54, respectively, in 1948 when Ethan applied for Lester’s veteran’s gravestone). It is also reasonable that they might want a memorial to their son in their new hometown.

Epilogue: There is no indication that Lester fathered a child during his and Florence’s short marriage. Florence remarried in 1946; that relationship ended in divorce in 1967. Florence subsequently married at least two and perhaps three times before her death in 1996. Limited research indicates Lester’s brother Ralph was a military “lifer”, serving nearly 30 years in the U.S. Army initially between 1940 and 1945 and subsequently between 1950 and 1974. Northern Pacific Railway Company changed Lester’s status from “Leave of absence” to “Deceased-killed in action South Pacific War Theatre” in January 1947.[13]

[1] Lester Albert Ashbacher, Confirmation Register, St. John, Dickinson, North Dakota. Ancestry.com. U.S., Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Records, 1875-1940 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.
[2] Lester Albert Ashbacher, Employment Record, Northern Pacific Railway Company. Ancestry.com. U.S., Northern Pacific Railway Company Personnel Files, 1890-1963 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013.
[3] Lester A Ashbacher, Find A Grave memorial # 96097555. Ancestry.com. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.
[4] Lester A Ashbacher, Find a Grave memorial #106191530. Ancestry.com. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.
[5] Northern Pacific Railway Company, previously discussed.
[6] Northern Pacific Railway Company, previously discussed.
[7] Lester A Ashbacher, Application for Headstone or Marker. Ancestry.com. U.S., Headstone Applications for Military Veterans, 1925-1963 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.
[8] Umatilla County, Oregon, marriage license and certificate 19420038 (1942), Ashbacher-Reichert; Umatilla County Records, Pendleton.
[9] Find A Grave Memorial #106191530, previously discussed.
[10] Ethan Lester Ashbacher, Find A Grave Memorial #113675222. Ancestry.com. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.
[11] Esther Emily Mefs Ashbacher, Find A Grave Memorial # 40260629. Ancestry.com. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.
[12] Eleanor Edith Ashbacher Beerman, Find A Grave Memorial #76692324. Ancestry.com. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.
[13] Northern Pacific Railway Company, previously discussed.

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One thought on “Gone Too Soon

  1. Wanda…this is so fascinating. What an incredible story. You and your research is so appreciated. Love it when you publish the information that you have discovered.

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