By John Singleton
Next year, 100 years will have passed since the remains of WWI soldier Sylvester Simmons were shipped to his half-brother, Joseph Bernestine (or Burnstein) in Cypress. I’m hoping the people of Natchitoches can help me find out where Sylvester is buried.
Pvt. Simmons died December 10, 1918, in Toul, France, and was buried there. His killer wasn’t a German- it was pneumonia. Like thousands of people worldwide in 1918-19, he was a victim of the influenza pandemic and was buried the day after he died.
This is where Natchitoches figures into the story. Not too many people know this, but the United States Government offered to ship back the remains of American soldiers if the soldier’s family made the request. Simmons’ family made that request and as a result, Bernestine received the remains of his half-brother May 1, 1922. Yes, he received Simmons’ remains nearly three-and-a-half years after he died. This is where the trail goes cold.
I find nothing to indicate where Pvt. Simmons was buried. Some folks might wonder, what’s the big deal? Simmons died of pneumonia, so it’s not like he is a war hero. I beg to differ. This young man was assigned to the infantry to fight, knowing that he might very well be killed in battle.
I think he was probably overcome with sadness as he lay in that military hospital, watching his fellow soldiers dying every day from influenza related illness. Dying on the battlefield would have been his preference, not lying on a cot waiting for the pneumonia grim reaper to take him. We owe it to soldiers like Pvt. Simmons to make sure he isn’t forgotten.
Editor’s Note: If you know anything about the whereabouts of Sylvester Simmons’ remains, please feel free to reach out to me at (318) 352-3618 and ask for Hannah, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Or contact Singleton directly at email@example.com.