May 18: Edgar Roy Chandler
The Reverend Eben Saunders of Fargo was not only a minister, but a well-regarded historian of the Red River Valley. In 1918, from May to June, the Reverend Saunders wrote a column in the Fargo Forum in which he wrote brief biographies of North Dakota pioneers.
On this date, he wrote about Civil War veteran Aaron Chandler, who arrived in North Dakota in 1881. Chandler, a native of Ohio, homesteaded in Cass County. While the brief biography is interesting, a tragic tale is inferred in the line that reads: “[He] was grandfather of the late Edgar Roy Chandler, who made the supreme sacrifice … in action, May 9th, 1918.” Edgar Roy had died fighting in World War I only nine days before the column about his grandfather appeared in the paper.
Edgar Roy Chandler was born in 1894, at the family farm near Gardner, North Dakota. He went by his middle name, Roy. The family moved to Fargo and Roy attended the high school at the North Dakota Agricultural College. In July 1917 Roy joined the 164th Infantry, and he sailed to France that December. Roy wrote his last letter to his mother, on April 10th, 1918. He told his mother he had become a sniper, writing: “I have been in action against the Boche. I was out in ‘No Man’s Land’ once and I know how to keep my head low when the shells start to fly.” His mother believed he was probably in “no man’s land” when he died on May 9th.
Roy was the first soldier from Fargo to die in World War I. He was buried in the Somme American Cemetery in France, and his name is included on the All Veterans Memorial in Bismarck.
A memorial service was held for Roy in Fargo on May 25th, 1918. A year later, a ceremony was held at the North Dakota Agricultural College to honor the twelve alumni and students who died in the war. Trees were planted near the campus gates and the chemistry building to honor the 12 men.
102 years later, a woman in Phoenix Arizona was going through her late husband’s possessions when she found a letter written by his uncle Roy. It was that last letter to Roy’s mother, along with the telegram announcing his death.
Dakota Datebook by Trista Raezer-Stursa
- Author Unknown. “Aaron Chandler Passed Away,” The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, September 29, 1911, pg. 10.
- Author Unknown. “Bravest Woman in Fargo is Mrs. Chandler, Whose Boy is Killed,” The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, May 16, 1918, pgs. 1, 7.
- Author Unknown. “Edgar Roy Chandler,” State Heroes, https://www.veterans.nd.gov/heroes/edgar-roy-chandler, accessed April 20, 2023.
- Author Unknown. “Memorial Dedicated to Boys of ’17-’18,” The Spectrum, May 15, 1919, pgs. 1-2.
- Author Unknown. “Memorial for Fargo Soldier,” The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, May 25, 1918, pg. 7.
- Author Unknown. “Roy Chandler is Killed in France,” The Weekly Spectrum, May 23, 1918, pg. 1.
- Author Unknown. Compendium of History and Biography of North Dakota. Chicago: Geo. A. Ogle & Co., 1900.
- D’Anna, John. “How a World War I Telegram Connected a Young army Private to Arizona Sen. John McCain,” Arizona Republic, May 11, 2020, https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/phoenix/2020/05/11/how-letter-revealed-link-between-army-private-and-john-mccain/5179965002/, accessed April 20, 2023.
- Finding Aid. Reverend Eben E. Saunders Collection, MS 61, Institute for Regional Studies, North Dakota State University, Fargo.
- Saunders, Eben E. “North Dakota’s Builders,” The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, May 18, 1918, pg. 4.