Allen Travis Aultman was a 22-year-old Mississippi farmer when he was drafted to defend his country in the Great War.
Nine months later ? Oct. 9, 1918, to be exact ? the U.S. Army private was escorting German prisoners of war when he himself fell into enemy hands.
“They marched them. They starved them,” Aultman’s grandson Bryant Williams recounted almost a century later on a sunny Thursday in downtown Crossville. “They couldn’t even lap up water because of the chemical warfare.”
The Germans reserved a special hotbox torture for the young farmboy, all because of his last name.
“The guard said, ‘You’re a German. You’re a traitor. You’re fighting for the wrong side,’” Williams said. “He said that’s the closest he ever came to dying was being roasted.”
Aultman endured the cruelty and served his country honorably. But the recognition given to POWs eluded him for the following century.
Until Oct. 3. Six days shy of the 100th anniversary of Aultman’s capture, his only grandson accepted the POW medal posthumously awarded by U.S. Rep. John Rose at Cumberland County Veterans Memorial Park.
Williams’ wife, Linda, son and daughter-in-law, Jonathon and Stacey Williams, and grandchildren Noah, Emma, Joseph, Olivia and Isabelle stood by as he stepped forward to accept the long-overdue honor.
Witnessing the somber event were Mayors James Mayberry of Crossville and Allen Foster of Cumberland County, Veterans Service Officer Bill Ward, countless veterans and representatives of the Crab-Orchard Daughters of the American Revolution, Marine Corps League, Fleet Reserve Association, Patriot Guard Riders, Rolling Thunder, Vietnam Veterans Association, American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Daughters of the Union, Colonial Dames 17th Century, Daughters of Colonial Wars and Military Officers Association of America.
Williams describes the man he knew as Grand-Dad as a “great man, great individual.” He was something of a father figure to the youngster, whose own father died before he was born.
“He was just a hard-working, true salt-of-the-earth type of guy,” Williams said. “He didn’t put up with a bunch of mess.”
Williams and his mother lived in Louisiana, and he fondly recalls summers in Mississippi on the small farm with “the biggest garden you ever seen.”
“That was some of the best times of my life,” he said. “Going to Grand-Dad’s, eating watermelon, boiled peanuts and swimming at the Leaf River.”
Williams and cousin Nancy Fayard were Aultman’s only grandchildren, and the two often talked about gathering the documentation for the POW medal. Williams was spurred into action after the dedication of a Mississippi memorial for those who served in World War I. An asterisk followed the name of each POW.
Aultman’s was conspicuously absent.
“I’m going to see if I can get him an asterisk,” vowed Williams, who was determined that the cruelty his grandfather underwent for his country not be forgotten.
He gathered records and documentation before contacting Rose, who helped push the matter forward to secure the medal.
“We actually had everything they needed,” Williams said. “We just needed them to stamp it.
“I’m glad our family has finally proceeded in putting this to bed.”
© 2019 the Crossville Chronicle
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