Sgt. Cummings uncovers the story behind Earl Gladfelter

Photo by Lynn MacPherson
Sgt. Steven Cummings, left, and Martha Churchill display a poster he created with newly-found information about Earl Ivan Gladfelter. Milan American Legion Post 268 is named after Glafelter, 2017.

By Martha Churchill

He’s back! After 50 years in hiding, Earl Gladfelter is once again part of the Milan American Legion Post 268.
For about 60 years, Legion members had no idea who Gladfelter was. Now, a large, framed poster illustrating his life and military service is displayed in the Legion lobby, thanks to Sgt. Steven Cummings, Legion historian.
When he started his job as Legion historian, Cummings made up his mind he would dig up information about the legion’s namesake.
Finding Gladfelter wasn’t easy.
Cummings says he spent several hours scouring the genealogy books in the Milan Public Library, but to no avail. So he called on Martha Churchill, Milan’s unofficial historian.
Churchill contacted the Monroe Historical Museum Archives for help. In a few days, the archivist sent over a news clipping from the Monroe Evening News, describing a funeral for “Ivan Earl Gladfelter” in Milan. The news story said he was in the 32nd Michigan. He was killed in France in October 1918.
Apparently he was buried in France. Several years later, his remains were brought back to Milan where he was adopted by the American Legion.
The news clipping says he was buried in Columbus Grove, Ohio.
Once Cummings got a toe-hold from the news clipping, he went on a massive search for information about Gladfelter’s military service, his comrades in arms, his role in WWI, his family, and his burial.
Cummings had to chase down the information, because the news story from Monroe left a lot of unanswered questions. Why was his funeral two years after his death? How did he die? Why did the veterans in Milan name their legion past after Gladfelter?
Cummings searched military records and took a photo of Gladfelter’s gravestone at Truro-Osborne Cemetery in Putnam County, Ohio.
Besides surfing the internet, Cummings went out on foot in Ypsilanti. He found a 1919 memorial on the Cross Street bridge remembering the men from the 107th Field Signal Battalion with the 32nd Division. The plaque promised that the names of the men were at City Hall.
Cummings checked with the Ypsilanti City Hall, but they did not know anything about these men who gave their lives in WWI.
Churchill contacted the Ypsilanti Historical Society. Cummings hit “pay dirt” again, because the YHS had books containing all the names, including Gladfelter’s..
Gladfelter never lived in Milan. None of his family ever lived in Milan. But Gladfelter had a stronger connection to Milan than his family. Some of his comrades-in-arms were from Milan, so Gladfelter was part of the Milan family.
Having seen action during WWI, he must have had close ties to his buddies on the battlefield. Some vets in Milan apparently knew Gladfelter, after seeing action with him in France.
Thanks to Cummings’ research, Gladfelter will finally be remembered again at the Legion post that adopted his name.

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