Today at long last we find Mortimer at the end of his journey--at least concerning his military service. The first image above is of Mortimer's Honorable Discharge Certificate. It reads:
Army of the United States of America
To all who shall see these presents, greeting:
This is to certify that by direction of the President and under the provisions of section nine of the act of Congress, approved May eighteen, nineteen hundred and seventeen, Mortimer Mertz Lawrence, First Lieutenant, Air Service, U.S.A., was honorably discharged from the military in The United States Army at Camp Grant, Illinois on the 6th day of June, 1919.
Here too we see the end of Mortimer's collection at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum.
The second image above is of Mortimer's Honorable Discharge Chevron.
Following his return to the U.S. after spending two years in the Army with one overseas in Europe, Mortimer made his way back to Beaver Dam. There he resumed his work at the Western Malleables Company. Mortimer married Lenore Margret Williams in 1924 and shortly thereafter began raising a family. His son, Richard Lawrence, went on to serve in the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II. The Wisconsin Veterans Museum was fortunate enough to receive the donated Mortimer Lawrence Collection from Mr. Richard Lawrence.
Following his wartime experience, Mortimer joined a local American Legion post and was an active member. He remained in Beaver Dam the rest of his days. Mortimer M. Lawrence passed away on December 19, 1960.
The final image is of the Lawrence Family home in Beaver Dam from approximately the time of Mortimer's return.
In a number of his letters home, Mortimer maintained that although his duties as an Aerial Observer weren't always the stuff of newspaper headlines, it was nonetheless important work. He was right. Without the day-to-day work by he and his fellow airmen, reconnaissance would have been hampered, almost certainly resulting in further loss of American lives.
Mortimer's journey from basic training camp stateside to flying photographic missions above war-torn Europe, was met by a daily resolve to do his duty. Like every soldier, Mortimer had a job to do and did it to the best of his ability even in the face of danger or death. For this reason, we call him--as we call every soldier--a hero. Mortimer truly was the "Eyes of the Army."
Received at Beaver Dam, Wis.
8AU A 29 NL
Rockford Ills May 19 1919
Thomas D Lawrence
310 N Center St BeaverDam Wis
Arrived at CampGrant Sunday night hope to start on fifteen day leave Thursday will let you know when I arrive as home am well and fine lots of love
947AM May 20
Roosevelt Field, LI
Well tonite I feel that we are about to be on our way home. We have most all of our records finished, unless some killjoy come along and upsets the basket. We sent out all the men who went to camps East of the Mississippi on Sunday and yesterday all the men from near here were discharged. Now about all we have left is Californians and Texans with a few men from other States West of the Mississippi. We hope to get rid of them on Thursday. Then we will wind up the records and the supply accounts, send the headquarters and supply detachment on their way and look around for a quick way home. I think that I will probably have to take a detachment of men to Camp Grant, that is unless I want to pay my own way home. I really can’t see the use of that, not the way things look now. So I may have to stick around until another bunch of troops goes out. But that won’t make any difference for I want a little time here to see Jack, Uncle Al, Gene Hanson and others including Bill Duckstein, if he is in New York, so if the first detachment goes out too soon I may wait over till the second.
Had you letter with the violets a few days ago. They sure were fine. Today I received you answer to the first letter I wrote you (the only other one besides this) and I can tell you that it seems very good to get an answer in such a short time. I am very glad to hear that everybody is well, for until I first heard from you I was worried.
I am fine as ever but rather tired from steady work and long hours. Lots of love to all.
Note the bottom of Mortimer's stationary. It reads:
"To the writer: Save by writing on BOTH sides of this paper.
To the folks at home: Save Food, Buy Liberty Bonds and War Savings Stamps."
Although the stationary was likely manufactured during the war, even with Armistice signed, the country was still on a war footing. Messages imploring citizens to be conscious of the war effort remained present long after the fighting in Europe ceased.
104th Aero Squadron
Roosevelt Field, Long Island, N.Y.
As yet I have not heard from you since I wired you that I had landed and I am wondering whether there is anything the matter at home. I am more uncertain than ever since I received a few letters this afternoon dated from April 14th to 21st and telling that Mother had been sick. I hope that I am mistaken and that everything is Okeh, but I can’t help being a little worried. I hope you received my message, sent Sunday morning from the dock, in good time and that this morning’s wire comes to you without delay.
I tried to send a cable from Camp Genicart just before we left, but we got out in such a hurry and there was so much to do that it was impossible to send anyone to Bordeaux with it as would have been necessary. Then I tried to send a Radiogram from on board the Orizaba, but that was no go either, for some reason they only sent a very few and mine was not one. So the next best thing was to telegraph from the pier which I did. I wired Ruth at the same time and had an answer from her the next morning at 9:30, so I rather hope your message came thru in good time too.
I was much surprised to receive Mother’s letter of April 16th, saying that she had been sick. You see I have missed all the ones between that and the one telling me she had started for Milwaukee. The letters I had today were held here by a cable sent from the P.O. at Genicart as soon as we got there. That cable was sent on the 11th or 12th so all letters previous will have to go to France and back before I receive them.
We went thru the Mill at Genicart on Sunday, April 13th, the Squadron’s favorite date and mine. Then we got busy on passenger lists and other evils that were a lot of work and finally got our orders late Thursday evening to proceed to the docks at Bassens the next morning. We were loaded on the “Orizaba”, a converted Ward Line boat, and sailed at six P.M. on Good Friday. That is the outfit’s favorite day of the week for moving. Our last day in France was surely a wonderfully beautiful one and I will have a pleasant last memory of that unpopular country for some time to come.
The Orizaba is a rather small boat, but manages to carry over 3700 men as there is practically no cabin space. But fortunately she is an eight day instead of a twelve or fourteen day boat, so all around we were rather lucky. We were mighty lucky to be on her for nine squadrons were first scheduled to sail on her and later six were cancelled, but for once 104 was lucky and we were one of the remaining three. On account of very rough weather for the last 48 hours we didn’t make dock on Saturday as we hoped, but we anchored in the bay, in sight of the Goddess, at about ten P.M. We made pier about nine Sunday morning and came out to Camp Mills in the afternoon.
Our trip was a good one. Only rough weather was during the last 48 hours. We came the Southern route, so it was dandy and warm all the way. Easter Sunday was the most beautiful day imaginable and we were all the king pins of the world because we were on our way home. It sure is a “grand and glorious feeling” let me tell you. Only I can’t really believe that I am here. I have been so busy since landing here that I have not been able to see a thing of the country, and how this place has changed since I saw it last 16 months ago.
We arrived at Camp Mills at 5:30 Sunday afternoon and before the men were settled we had orders to go thru the Mill at 6:30 and go we did. The next morning we did some rather necessary paper work and in the P.M. moved to Mitchel Field (the old Garden City same where I was in ’17). But on account of the crowded condition there we came to Roosevelt Field the next morning. Roosevelt Field is a brand new one about a mile from Mitchel and a mile and a half from Hazelhurst Field.
We have an immense amount of paper work to be done before the men can be discharged so I have been awfully busy. The work naturally falls on the Adjutant (me) but it is more so now as Lieut. Waters’ wife is here and one of us has to be around camp all the time. Of course I stay. But I am glad to do it as he has been very nice to me and Mrs. Waters is a peach. They are more or less Newlyweds as they were married in May ’17 and before the novelty wore off he went to Kelly Field and then overseas. But if all goes well I hope to be able to get away from Saturday noon till Sunday nite to see Uncle Al. Our preliminary work is as near finished as it can be till we get orders as to what happens to each group of men.
I telegraphed Uncle Al from the pier and had his answer on Monday afternoon. He had seen the notice in the New York Herald saying that I was here. Now don’t laugh because my name and home address was in all the New York papers on Monday morning, in fact if it hadn’t been for the story about me I doubt if the 104th would have received any publicity. I am sending you a copy of the Tribune so that you will know what I mean. On the pier one of the sergeants sicced [sp] a reporter on me to get this story and when he (the reporter) asked me about it I was so surprised that I said it was true and then he had to have the whole business. I thought that very few people in America knew about the thing, tho it was published in Air Service Journal in March, so I had reason to be surprised when the reporter asked me, but I learned later how he knew. The Tribune story is true except that we were on a photo mission when it happened, that is the only mistake.
I called Uncle Al up yesterday, just happened to be near a phone and have enuf time. They are all well. Allen is at Annapolis again.
I hope Mother is all well by this time. I hope to hear in a day or two from you. I am going to be awfully busy for a while so I may not have time to write much and with Govt Ownership or control it costs so much that I can’t afford to telegraph much. So don’t get worried if you do not hear regularly, I promise to let you know if anything is wrong.
I haven’t the slightest idea when I will get out of the Service. Of course with all the poppycock they are requiring now I would not consider staying. I know I could qualify for a commission in either Artillery or Infantry, but the Air Service is the only thing I want and that is not desirable under present conditions. By the way did you know that 104 is to be a permanent squadron in the Army? That doesn’t mean the present personnel, but merely the designation, so that makes more work for us than if it was to be disbanded.
Lots of love to all,
With Mortimer's return to the U.S., he would receive two Overseas Service Stripes (also known as Overseas Chevrons), one for each six-month period he spent in Europe. These would have been worn on the lower left sleeve of his uniform, just above the cuff. They are pictured above.
The following is a transcription of a series of newspaper accounts detailing Mortimer's action on November 10, 1918:
New York Herald
April 28, 1919
The Orizaba, which docked in Hoboken yesterday after an eight day trip from Bordeaux, had fine weather all the way across the Atlantic.
Members of the 104th Aero Squadron came back with the story that the last Boche airplane of the war to be downed by the Americans was through the clever work of Lieutenant Mortimer M. Lawrence, of their squadron. Lt. Lawrence was on board the Orizaba. His home is in Beaver Dam, Wis. Three 'planes from his group went out on November 10th and were flying ten miles over the German lines, when a Boche made a dive at Lt. Lawrence’s machine. He outwitted the German and brought him down by machine gun fire. The German was killed. That was in the Argonne Forest section.
April 28, 1919
Badger Flier Brought Down Last German Plane
From the Journal’s New York Bureau
New York—Among 15,000 fighters who arrived on the transport Orizaba from France was an American aviator who is officially credited with having brought down the last German plane of the war. He is Lieut. Mortimer M. Lawrence, Beaver Dam, Wis.
Lieut. Lawrence was with the One Hundred Fourth aero squadron. A few hours before the signing of the armistice he went up over German lines northeast of Stenay with two other planes.
"We were just looking things over," said Lieut. Lawrence, "and were not on any particularly offensive mission, when we saw a flock of boche planes coming for us. We made no effort to give them a fight. On the contrary, we started for home. There were sixteen of them. We dived to increase our speed, and as we came up again I found the star performer of the enemy just above me. He was jockeying for position to put us out of business, but I got an opening and made the most of it.
He drifted just where I wanted him to go, and then I let him have the best my machine gun could deliver. He went spinning down, a hopeless wreck.”
New York Tribune
April 28, 1919
Among the 15,000 fighters who returned yesterday, was an American aviator who is officially credited with having brought down the last Boche ‘plane of the war. He was Lieutenant Mortimer M. Lawrence, of Beaver Dam, Wis., who returned on the transport Orizaba, which had a passenger list of 3,798 officers and men.
New York World
April 28, 1919
Downed Last Foe Plane
With the 104th Aero Squadron was Lieut. Mortimer M. Lawrence of Beaver Dam, Wis. who was officially credited with having shot down the last German plane of the war. This was east of the Meuse. He was taking photographs for mapping the country with two other planes when attacked by sixteen German machines. The three American planes returned safely.