Title: Army Private, Spanish-American War; Navy Chief Machinist’s Mate, World War I
Birthdate: October 21, 1883
Death Date: January 18, 1927
Plot Location: Section 122, Range 2, Lot 172
The name on his application for a marriage license was John Berger, Jr. but he was always called Jack by his friends and family, including his three sisters. John Sr. was about 10 years old when he and his family immigrated from Germany in 1858. They disembarked in Philadelphia and settled in the northeastern Pennsylvania town of Towanda, 30 miles south of Elmira, New York. In 1864 the teenager was involved in his new country’s civil war as part of the 1st Pennsylvania Infantry. It was a dozen years later, in 1876, that John Sr. met and married an Irish immigrant named Carrie Long. They moved to Baltimore and that’s where Jack and the girls were born.
Just after the youngest, Florence, was born in 1897 they moved north to the family’s hometown in Towanda. Jack’s two older sisters soon found their mates and both were married, two weeks apart from each other, in October of 1900. The rest of this story is about Jack.
Like his father, Jack was 16 when he joined the Army. He was a private in Company B of the 12th Pennsylvania Infantry during the Spanish-American War, but the dates of service are missing. He switched to a Naval career in Philadelphia on March 3, 1900, and when his tour was up on October 20, 1904 he returned to civilian life in Towanda.
Two months later, he married a local woman, Lena Merithew, who was ten years older than him. They welcomed Pauline Merithew Berger on December 3, 1905. Life began to unravel, however, starting with the death of his mother 13 months after Pauline was born. His sister, Florence was only 10 at the time, so she went to live with the oldest sister, Ida. Jack’s other sister, Bertha, took in her father and cared for him until he died in 1910.
For reasons unknown, Jack returned to the service a few months later, going back to the Army in October of 1907. Then Lena died from heart failure in April, 1908 and life unraveled even further. Jack must have found someone, perhaps his mother-in-law, to help raise his daughter. He was at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas when his tour of duty was up in July, 1909 and he returned to Towanda.
It wasn’t long, however, before the sea was calling him, so he came back to the Navy for good on April 1, 1910. Seven months later his father died. Jack served as a Machinist’s Mate on 18 different ships between 1900 and 1918, including a stint at the submarine base in New London, Connecticut. Documents indicate he spent most of his time during World War I at the Philadelphia Naval Yard on a receiving ship which was used to process and train new recruits. In January, 1919 he was promoted to Chief Machinist’s Mate.
Later that year the USS Alden, built in Philadelphia, was launched. Jack was one of the original crew members, sailing on her maiden voyage to Europe and the Mediterranean. He saved photos of him at a hotel in Jerusalem while he was on leave, and this one in front of the Parthenon in Greece. The ship then traveled through the Suez Canal and reached the Philippines in early 1921.
He was still attached to the Alden off the coast of China in 1922 when he “got his papers.” He was transferred home to the Navy’s Reserve Fleet in Philadelphia on August 12 and then released from active duty the same day. Jack’s naval career ended, but a new marriage began on October 19 when he wed 28-year-old Anna Theresa Hinchey. Their daughter, Anna Daisy, was born in 1925. A year later Jack was diagnosed with bone cancer and had his left leg amputated the following year. It wasn’t enough to stop the cancer, however, and he died seven months later.
Jack’s life of service left an impression on both daughters. Although little is known of Pauline’s life, she met and married Lt. Henry Land who had a 30-year career with the Navy. Anna Daisy Berger was herself in the Navy from April, 1945 to January, 1946 based in Cleveland. Two years later she married Frederick Marshall who had been a musician in the Navy for four years during World War II, and two of their children served in the Navy as well.
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