Oct. 17 marks the centennial of Sgt. Guy Wallace Rosecrans’ burial in St. Joseph.
Rosecrans died just three weeks before the end of World War I when he was trying to start an airplane in France.
“How you did that back in the day, is hand propping the airplane,” Abe Forney, general manager of the Rosecrans Memorial Airport, said. “You actually put your hands on the propeller and spin the propeller and then there was this tragic accident.”
Other soldiers from St. Joseph served as pilots, however, Rosecrans was a mechanic according to Gary Chilcote, director of the Patee House Museum.
“It took a lot more mechanics than it did pilots to maintain these old airplanes,” Chilcote said.
Initially, Rosecrans was buried in St. Jean, France, after his death on Oct. 16, 1918. The process of bringing home a soldier during that time was complicated and having done so within two years of his passing was almost unheard of.
“They didn’t have airplanes that they could haul coffins and so they had to exhume him over in France and then get the body to a naval port and put it on a ship,” Chilcote said.
From there they had to transport him by train and eventually lay him to rest in Mount Auburn Cemetery on Oct. 17, 1920.
“After the war, they named the airport for him, but it was still a civilian airport,” Chilcote said. “Even during World War II, they still called it Rosecrans Field, but it was for him and not for any other reason.”
In addition, the MacDonald-Dugger-Duncan Post No. 11 American Legion paid for a bronze plaque to be placed on a 3-ton granite boulder in his honor, which has traveled to different airport locations throughout the years.
Forney, who has a passion for aviation in both teaching and its history, reflects on the advancements that have been made.
“In the last 100 years, aviation has changed a lot, so it’s just neat to see,” Forney said. “It’s neat to see how the airport has grown and how aviation has grown and it’s going to continue to change, too.”