Ernest D. Fitch (1918/01/05)
A Mendocino farmer made his way to Arlington Cemetery by way of Santa Cruz.
Ernest DeMill Fitch was born on June 29, 1892, in the small dairy farming community of Manchester in Mendocino County, California. Information regarding his birth, family and early life are not available. His arrival date in Santa Cruz County is not known; however, in June of 1917 he was living in the San Lorenzo valley community of Zayante and employed by the Hartman and Perry Company as a "die-making laborer."
Ernest Fitch's military experience began on June 5, 1917 when he registered for the draft. At the time of his registration he was described as being single, of medium height and stature with light colored hair and light blue eyes. Ernest Fitch was part of the first draft contingency from Santa Cruz County, primarily made up of men between the ages of twenty-one to thirty-one. On September 22, 1917, the draftees boarded a train in Santa Cruz and were sent to Camp Lewis, Washington.
Upon completion of basic training, Fitch was assigned to Company E, 4th Battalion of the 20th Engineers, located in the Washington, DC area for additional training and deployment to Europe. A unit history indicates that
“Hikes, drills, fatigue duty, measles, mumps, changes of living quarters, extremely cold weather, and persistent rumors of departure marked the days of waiting for sailing orders, but a number of items of equipment were delayed, and Christmas came with no definite news. Finally the barrack bags were checked out, visitors were forbidden entrance to camp, and marched out of the University grounds at 12:30 A.M. on the morning of January 3, accompanied by a snowstorm.”
Private Ernest Fitch did not accompany his departing comrades on January 3 because of illness and he died two days later. The cause of Fitch's death is not known; however, the measles and mumps outbreak mentioned in the unit history may have been contributing factors. His remains were interred in Arlington National Cemetery across the Potomac River from Washington, DC.
(CAG; WWIDR; 20th Engineers, WWI 4th Btn 20th Engineer, http://www.20thengineers.com/ww1-bn04.html, [16 Sept 2008]); WRP October 8, 1918 4:3; USDVA)