Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Young Esperantist Corresponds Across Lines of Battle

An Esperantist
in Missouri
It’s not clear when George A. Irion learned Esperanto, though in 1911, he placed a listing for correspondence in the Amerika Esperantisto. At that time, he was 18 years old, and just finishing high school. He was the son of George and Agathe Irion, both of whom were immigrants from Germany. The older George Irion became a farmer in Missouri, although judging from the local newspaper accounts, the family managed some degree of social prominence, with the senior Irion on the board of the local country club.

As a ten-year-old, Irion had a brush with death. George went swimming with his brother fifteen-year old brother Billy, and their friends, Earl Skinner (18), Tom Shire (probably William T. Shire, 14), and Park Sellard (also 10). George nearly drowned, but, according to the Mexico Missouri Message of June 18, 1903, he was rescued by Tom Shire. While swimming, Earl Skinner could no longer stay afloat, and when his friends realized he was gone, all they saw was his hand waving. Mr. Skinner’s body was later retrieved from the pond.

The younger George, born on August 25, 1892, seemed to fit into a social atmosphere himself, and during his time at the University of Missouri-Columbia, he’s listed as taking a role in organizing various social activities. He was a member of a fraternity, the Student Council (he had also been in his high school’s student council), dressed up as Saint Patrick (an odd thing for a Protestant of German descent to be doing, but okay) for a St. Patrick’s Day celebration, and still managed to get a degree in Engineering.

Amid his local social activities, George Irion also kept up correspondence in Esperanto. The University Missourian wrote about his activities on November 5, 1914. There’s an likely error in the subhead which I will correct in context, and fess up to it later.


Freshman Gains Acquaintances Through Esperanto Study.

French Soldier Writes—No Word from the German.

George A. Irion, a freshman in the University, has a friend in the German army and one in the Allied army. He had never seen either of his friends.

Some years ago Mr. Irion, whose home is in Mexico, Mo., became interested in Esperanto, the universal language. He exchanged postcards and letters with other Esperanto students in foreign countries. In this way a friendship, which has lasted for several years, grew up between himself and Maurice Sergent of Mayenne, France, and P. Becker of Mainz, Germany.

Both Sergent and Becker left for the front with their regiments when war was declared. Mr. Irion has heard nothing from Sergent, but received a postcard from Becker Saturday.

It was mailed from Couvrot, on the Marne river, in France on September 18. It has no stamp. Instead, in the upper right-hand corner, is written: “Postage is to be paid by the recipient.” It was mailed at the “feldpost,” or regimental post office.

Becker says that he is well and has had many interesting experiences of which he will write when the war is over. The rigorous censorship prevented him from telling any details of army life, or even mentioned what engagements he has been in. He is a member of the crack Germany cavalry regiment, the “Koenig’s Dragoner” or the king’s dragoons. Sergent is a non-commissioned officer in the 130th regiment of the French army.

Mr. Irion also has acquaintances, which he gained through Esperanto correspondence, connected with the Russian diplomatic service at Sebastopol. These, Mr. Irion fears, are in danger of a Turkish massacre.

Pictures of these people who are engaged in making the world’s history, and of many other foreigners with whom Mr. Irion corresponds and picture postcards they have sent him, decorate the walls of Mr. Irion’s rooms at 605 Sanford Place. He has a number of war maps and atlases with which he endeavors to trace the moments of his friends.

The first subhead in the University Missourian reads:
ances Through Esper-
anto Study.
It’s possible that the subhead is talking about Maurice Sergent, but more likely that (as I amended it) they meant “freshman,” that is, George A. Irion, the subject of the article. The final subhead is also wrong, since it says that there is no word from the German. Rather, the postcard comes from P. Becker (of Mainz), who was in Couvrot, France when he sent it.

There is one other newspaper account of Mr. Irion’s college days that involves Esperanto. It’s in the Mexico Weekly Ledger (his home town paper) of May 27, 1915.
George Irion, of this county, a student at the University of Missouri has been elected secretary of the Cosmopolitan Club, which is composed of students from all nationalities. Mr. Irion is a great student of Esperanto.
See what I mean about social life? George Irion never met either of his two correspondents, and I say that without having any idea what happened to them in the war, because I know what happened to George. At the age of 24, George Irion registered for the draft. He was given a draft classification of 1, as reported on January 31, 1918 by the Ledger.[1] On March 28, 1918, it was reported that Irion had been drafted and would be reporting to Kelly Field, San Antonio, to be trained in aviation, although it seems the military later changed its mind. While he was there, according to the Mexico Weekly Ledger of October 24, 1918, the University of Missouri granted him a degree in absentia.

He was shortly thereafter transferred to the U. S. Radio School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he spent three months and had finished the course, when he became ill with the flu. This was the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. Mr. Irion died of the flu on October 16, 1918.[2] The scope of the flu pandemic can be shown by that adjacent to two of the articles about Mr. Irion’s death are articles about others who also died of the flu.

Although Mr. Irion never made it to the battlefields, in 1920, the French government issued a certificate of honor in his name. The Mexico Weekly Ledger noted on April 1, 1920 that although some thought these were only for those killed in action, the French government was issuing these for all Americans killed in service. The documents were signed by the French President, Rayond Poincaré, whose cousin, the great mathematician, Henri Poincaré, was an Esperantist.

He is also one of the people memorialized by the Memorial Union at the University of Missouri. The Columbian Evening Missourian noted Irion’s name among those honored on their December 1, 1922 article about the dedication.

George Andrew Irion didn’t make any impression on the world Esperanto movement; he didn’t have time. The charming young engineering student never had a chance to make his mark on the Esperanto movement.

  1. The same article notes that one Robert James was placed in the second group and insisted on being in the first group.  ↩
  2. One newspaper gives it as October 10, but his grave and other records give October 16.  ↩
A note beneath the notes. I've probably under-credited this. I've pulled together a number of sources, many of which repeat the same information, including both newspaper accounts and public records. I decided that scrupulous footnoting would grow tedious.

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