Éloi Morin was born 10 September 1887 in the small town of Saint Calixte de Kilkenny, Quebec, about 35 miles north of Montreal. He was the fifth son of Onésime Morin and his second wife Céline Pelletier. Onésime and Céline had eleven children between 1876 and 1894. The family included two older sons of Onésime with his first wife.
Onésime was a farmer. In the 1890s he and Céline decided to move their family to the United States. His two eldest sons remained behind when they moved with five sons and six daughters to North Grosvenordale, a mill village in the town of Thompson, Connecticut. The family faced adversity almost immediately. Their six-year-old daughter Malvina died 27 October 1895, not long after their arrival. Eighteen-year-old Louis died a year later, on 20 November 1896, followed by five-year-old Aurore on 9 July 1897. Céline died the 26 March 1902, and her husband Onésime followed her a few months later, on 18 August.
In the following years, Éloi’s siblings married and started families of their own. Another brother, Mathias, died of influenza 16 October 1911. When his brother Anselme’s son was born in 1915, Éloi stood up as godfather for little Theodore “Eddy” Morin.
As the war started in Europe, Éloi and his two remaining brothers registered for the draft, even though none was yet a citizen. He entered the service in May 1918, as a private in Company F of the 116th Infantry of the U.S. National Guard. He did his basic training at Fort Slocum, New York. In June he and the other members of his unit boarded the U.S.S. Finland, a transport ship bound for France.
After their arrival they started more training before being sent to division headquarters at Praughoy, Haute-Marne on 2 July. Three weeks later they were detached to serve with the French 53rd Division in the Rougemont Sector. In October they were detached to service with the French 18th Division in the Meuse-Argonne. Throughout August and September they participated in numerous operations.
Starting on 8 October his unit participated in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. On the night of October 10th, almost the entire company was gassed. The remainder of the company was on the front line and supporting efforts until the night of the 18th, when they went into reserve. They remained there until the morning of the 23rd when they went back into action. That morning, Éloi was killed in action with two other soldiers.
In the tradition at the time, Éloi was buried were he fell. After the war, the U.S. Army went back to retrieve the remains of fallen soldiers. Family members were given the choice of having their loved ones interred in cemeteries overseas or returned home for internment at Arlington National Cemetery or another cemetery. Éloi’s siblings requested that he be interned at Arlington National Cemetery. The request was approved, but somehow never carried out. Éloi is buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France.
Because he was unmarried, a death benefit was initially paid to his surviving siblings. The army then discovered that he had actually directed his death benefit to go to his godson Eddy, who was only three years old when his uncle died. Sadly, Eddy’s father Anselme himself died only eighteen months later. A guardian was appointed for him to manage the funds. The family was very poor, and often had little to eat. Anselme’s widow Marie Louise, brought her youngest children to Central Falls, Rhode Island, to work in the mills there. She often petitioned for small distributions to help feed Eddy (and his siblings, although it wasn’t explicitly stated).
When Eddy was eighteen years old he met and fell in love with Yvette Ruel. They married at Central Falls 10 August 1933. When Eddy came of age in March 1936, he received the principal that had been managed so carefully for him in North Grosvenordale. Eddy and Yvette were able to use that money to buy a small house in a rural section of Valley Falls, in the town of Cumberland, Rhode Island. They went on to raise their children in that home, including their daughter Aline, my mother. My grandfather died in 1969 and my grandmother in 1982, but the home remained in the family until the turn of the century.
The living room of the home had an arched entrance. On either side of the arch were framed portraits. On the left were my grandfather Eddy and his brother Emile, who served in the Merchant Marine during World War II. On the right was a portrait of a young man in the uniform of an earlier time. In gratitude for his service, and for what he had done for the family, that portrait hung there for almost a half a century, until the day she died.
On Veteran’s Day we honor all our veterans who served. But this year, on the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, and just a few days past the centennial anniversary of his death, I especially remember Mononcle Éloi, his sacrifice, and the tremendous difference he made in the life of my family.