wonderment and intrigue when I was a little boy growing up in Abbeville and the church in the 1940s and 50s. It seemed to draw me,
and I wondered of it's source and reason for being. Its colors and arrangement are beautiful, and it contains a hidden, subtle beauty
within its outward appearance too.
The window is dominated by a standing soldier in his World War One uniform, a Doughboy, who is holding his Springfield '03
rifle, and wears the helmet that forever identifies those soldiers who wore it in World War One. An Angel hovers over the soldier, an
Angel of the Lord as my daughter used to call all Angels when she was a little girl. The Angel is female, and her colors seem
predominately white and pink and purple, depending on the light from outside coming through the window behind her. Another interesting
feature in the window, one one has to look close to see it - - as one gazes from inside to out - - is a Gothic Cathedral placed just to the
right of the soldier. Also visible are shattered buildings and houses - - those of a small town - - with hills located either behind or in front
of the buildings.
When I began making inquiries with Abbeville's townspeople as to the window's history, names such as the “Bradley boy,” or the “Parker boy”
began surfacing. And during my research in writing the Roll of Honor article of Abbeville's First Baptist Church the name “Captain Whitehurst”
surfaced, and I thought, “Who is Captain Whitehurst?” I did not know it then, but my quest for information about the window was on its way to
becoming a layered quest. The more I looked, the more new questions were raised. My quest became likened to peeling an onion, which
contained more and more mystery, as each layer peeled away.
My next inquiry was directed to our enthusiastic and energetic Church Historian, Mrs. Eva Lee Carter Hicks. She directed me to an article
she wrote and was published in one of our Church Directories several years ago. What I found out--and am still finding out-- is that we had
many young men and boys from our county who fought, and at least thirty-one from Henry County who died in that terrible war. It was called
The War to End all Wars and also The Great War. I plan to write of those men and their comradeship, suffering, attention to duty, sacrifice
and heroism, as I have learned it, in the months to come.
At the bottom of the stained glass window are inscripted these words:
In Memory of William S. Parker
Co. B 167 US Infantry Rainbow Division
Killed in battle St. Mihiel, France
Born November 11, 1896 - Died September 12, 1918
The following are words quoted directly from Mrs. Hick's article, which she titled THE SOLDIER AND THE ANGEL:
“The window was placed in memory of William S. Parker by Mrs. Mattie Parker, his grandmother. Little information could be found about
this family. In a telephone conversation with Lawre Bradley Beard Espy in September 1996, I learned that William S. Parker was a good
friend of Lawre's brother William Edmund Bradley who served in Company B, 167 US Infantry, Rainbow Division with Billy Parker. She
also told me that Billy Parker was reared by his grandmother who had a home behind the First National Bank on Williams Street across
the street from the home of Dr. Floyd, the father of Maureen Vickrey. The location of that home today (1996) would be almost directly across
the street from J and B Cabinet Shop.
In a conversation with Mr. Clarence Murphy in September 1996 I learned that Mattie first married Orlando Skipper; before she was widowed,
they had one daughter, Cora, (b. February 22, 1877 d. April 26, 1903) who married W. B. Parker. She died soon after giving birth to her second
child. Her first child was a son, William (Billy) S., for whom the window is placed. After the death of the daughter, Mattie married her daughter's
husband and the two of them raised the child.”
After numerous inquires I discovered that of the at least three young men from Abbeville who died in that war, all of them served together in
the same company and regiment of the same division and two men died on the same day. Two of those three--including Mr. Parker--are buried
in France and the other is buried in Abbeville's oldest cemetery, his date of death unmarked, and his tombstone includes no mention of his
service, or death in battle. It is a situation that needs rectifying and I was able to make an application with this county's Veteran's Administration
for an appropriate and respectful marker for Mr. William Edmund Bradley, who was, as far as I can determine, the first soldier from Abbeville
killed in WW I. The VA turned down my application for Mr. Phipps Kennedy because he is buried in France, but I did receive a monument for
Mr. William S. Parker. I plan to install the two monuments at the cemetery soon. It would be also be fitting and proper--in my opinion-- for
Abbeville's American Legion to conduct a ceremony and remembrance for them, and I plan to apply with them for such a ceremony and ask that
it be held on Memorial Day.
But let's go back to Mr. Parker's story. I wondered, why is a Cathedral included in the window and which Cathedral is it? I went to the Internet
and entered “Cathedrals in France” and pulled up twenty-seven cathedrals and churches, which included their pictures. From the pictures I
determined the Cathedral in the stained glass window is the Reims Cathedral, located of course, in Reims, France. Its location is close by to
where these men engaged in some of their fiercest fighting. It is a stunningly beautiful Gothic Cathedral, built on the site where a Catholic Bishop
baptized Clovis, King of the Franks, in 496. The present building's construction was begun in 1211 and took over 200 years to complete. From
988 to 1825 all the Kings of France were coronated there.
There are six American WWI battle death cemeteries in France. Just a few months before the end of the war a former American President,
Theodore Roosevelt, lost his youngest son Quentin, an aviator, in the war. (His son's death led to the early death of the former President, I
believe. He wandered his Sagamore Hill, NY mansion muttering “Poor Quentin, poor Quentin” for days on end before he died, at age 60, a
few months after the war ended).
American families who had lost family members in the war had the choice to either bring their loved ones' bodies home at government expense
and have them buried in their home towns, or have them buried in France. Former President Roosevelt made a stirring speech, and said, “Where
the tree falls, let it lie.” He encouraged American families to bury their slain sons in France, as he did his son. About 40% of Americans followed
his lead. Abbeville's Parker family and Phipps Kennedy's family followed his lead, and buried their son in the St. Mihiel American Cemetery,
located in France near the battlefield where they were killed. The William Bradley family, as mentioned earlier, buried their son in Abbeville.
When I began researching locally for those veteran's final resting places, I began by researching records of Abbeville cemeteries. Mrs. Marvin
Scott's HENRY COUNTY, ALABAMA CEMETERY RECORDS, published around 1963, was my first place to look. That wonderful lady devoted over
25 years of her free time compiling genealogical records for Henry County. The work she performed is comprehensive and impressive. In her
book, on page ten, it states that Mrs. Cora Parker, the mother of William S. Parker, was the adopted daughter of WJG and Martha Wood Skipper.
On February 1, 1903 she gave birth to a son, Newman Foy Parker. On April 26, 1903 Mrs. Cora Parker died. On July 20, 1903 the infant Newman
Foy Parker died. This left a father without a wife, a brother, William S. Parker, without any other brothers sisters--or a mother--and a grandmother
without a husband, son or daughter. Mrs. Scott's book also tells us that Mrs. Martha Wood Skipper Parker died on March 12, 1923. It does not
mention what happened to the father, Mr. William B. Parker.
Some people, when they hear of Mrs. Hicks' article and of the Grandmother (and mother-in-law) marrying her deceased daughter's husband arch
their eyebrows at the news. But perhaps this thinking is wrong. What if the purpose of their marriage was not primarily for conjugal purposes,
but was for economic, emotional and strength of family purposes? In 1903 Alabama was only 26 years out of Reconstruction--after the War
Between the States, Reconstruction ended in 1877--and had suffered greatly, economically. I would be surprised if anyone claimed Abbeville
was a wealthy town in 1903. What if the purpose of the marriage was for two people to band together primarily to raise a now “only child,” a
child they both loved beyond measure?
There appear to be no Parker family members living in Abbeville now. It is my guess that when their last child died in the war, less than two
months before the war ended--and then Mrs. Parker died just a few years later, in 1923, probably suffering from a broken heart--that Mr. Parker
moved from Abbeville. He was a man probably then in his fifties, looking for a new job and a fresh start, and trying to cope with the tragic loss
of two children and two wives in a too brief span.
Periodically during my life, my Mother would look directly at me, lovingly, and say “I would lay down my life for you.” Have you ever thought
what powerful words these are? Have you ever had anyone say those words to you, and mean them? I never doubted her sincerity or the
seriousness of her words. I cannot think of any other words one human soul can say to another human soul that carry more power, or love.
Just thinking about what my mother said to me can bring tears to my eyes, even today.
When I look at THE SOLDIER IN THE WINDOW I see that same kind of love. When I look at the window I see sacrifice, from a loving, widower
Father and a loving Grandmother/Mother. When I look at the window I see a family who must have spent their most precious savings, their
“last farthing,” on a magnificent stained glass window in loving tribute to their Son/Grandson. When I look at the window I see devotion.
When I look at the window I see a Father/Grandmother/Mother who loved William S. Parker beyond measure. When I look at the window I
see a holy window reposing in a Holy House. When I look at THE SOLDIER IN THE WINDOW I see two people who, if it were only in their
power, if they could just bring him back to life, would willingly and gladly lay down, would sacrifice, would swap, their lives for their son.
© 2002, by M. Ken Bedsole