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Dayton's War Service and War Bride

Dayton CommendationDayton Rosencrantz began his military service in 1917 as a captain in the Ordinance Department. On February 29, 1919, he was promoted to the rank of major. On May 7, he received an Army citation for “exceptionally meritorious and conspicuous services in the office of Chief Ordinance Officer, American Expeditionary Forces,” signed by Commander-in-Chief John Pershing.

In August, Dayton wrote to his sister, Mary Elizabeth, from the Champs Elysees Hotel in Paris. Without any pleasantries or explanation, he informed her: “I enclose a power of attorney to sign all checks in my name and to use the money as you may see fit. . . . Do not know when I shall get home—but will let you know when I get any definite dope.” It is the last extant letter from Dayton to The Hermitage for more than thirty years. On September 22, 1919, Dayton was honorably discharged from the Army in Paris.

While his Army record was positive, Dayton's personal relationships were convoluted. Before he enlisted, he appears to have had a particularly close relationship with a woman named Marjorie Hubbard in Augusta, Georgia. In a letter to Mary Elizabeth, Marjorie reported that Dayton, whom she called “Billy,” had written to her every day until October 1918, but then the correspondence ceased. In October 1919, she wrote to Mary Elizabeth:

I feel like calling you Elizabeth as this is the only way Billy spoke of his sister. It is about this wonderful William Dayton that I am writing you. It seems as if he has entirely forgotten his friends beneath the sun kissed hills of Georgia. I was one of the fortunate ones who heard from him while overseas, but for a year no news has reached Augusta from him. On September 24, 1918, he wrote for some Vicks Pneumonia Cure since he had a severe cold and nothing seemed to cure it. I sent the Vicks and other things. Haven’t heard since. Friends at Riverside Mills are apprehensive about him. Also let me know if he is slated for an early return to the states.

In early December 1919, Mary Elizabeth received a letter from Poitiers, France, from a Mathilda Rosencrantz. “I to be able to call you, my sister-in-law because I am the wife of my dear William since the 14 October,” she wrote. “We have been betrothed for several months. Unhappily we are to separate . . . [a]fter the demobilization of the American Army he has taken one engagement in the Lithuanian army.” Mathilda reported that William had left by boat for Korno, Lithuania, on November 6. She had received a letter from him while he was en route from Denmark but had not heard from him since: “I am very, very anxious and sad, because I love very much my dear husband.” Dayton does seem to have spent much of 1920–21 in Eastern Europe, opposing the Bolshevik Revolution. In a newspaper article published in 1930, Dayton claimed to have been a lieutenant-colonel in the Polish Army, to have been a technical adviser to Marshall Pilsudski, and to have been involved in an engagement near Warsaw.

After the war, Mary Elizabeth continued to receive letters from Marjorie. In a long letter dated August 1922, Marjorie said she was doing all in her power to get word from Dayton. “I’m glad he’s married,” she wrote, “and I know he will be good to his wife, for he was a Prince of a good fellow while in Augusta and numbered his friends by the score.” Mary Elizabeth received a call from Dayton, who was in New York and told her that he had come home alone. Mary Elizabeth apparently did not pass this news to Marjorie, who wrote in January 1925, “Any news from Billy?”

Word reached Bess and Mary Elizabeth about Dayton only intermittently during the next ten years. In September 1933, Bess wrote to her sister-in-law Katie in Boston:

We had a letter from Dayton about two weeks ago written at the Charles Hotel New Orleans. . . . He said Mathilda was in New York at the Travelers Aid—without funds—and sick. He asked us to bring her out here and keep her until he got on his feet and could make a home for her. We had not heard from him over six years, and then he came to get money. . . .

Before we answered the letter, a representative of the Travelers Aid came to see us to find out if we were willing take her. We told her it was impossible and put the whole case before her. We just told her the truth. Mathilda is quite feeble—had a stroke, a large goiter and a lame arm. Mrs. Storer [of Travelers Aid] said she would require care and medical attention. She told us Dayton had a position with [McGraw-Hill] Publishing Co., New York City, and was a traveling salesman. Mrs. Storer was very nice and said we were perfectly right in our decisions—and that I was too old a woman to have that responsibility. Elizabeth wrote two letters, one care of [McGraw-Hill] Publishing . . . and one to New Orleans.

Elizabeth’s letter to the publishing company was returned marked “Not at This Address.” Bess noted that she thought the case with Mathilda had been closed, but then she had received a letter from her. “They are trying to force her on us,” Bess said. “I am not strong enough to go through with this, and we cannot afford it. . . . Dayton is no good—and we do not believe he will make the slightest effort to support her. We feel she should return to France and be with her own family.”

Mary Elizabeth received a final letter from Mathilda in December 1939:

My letter is going to surprise you, because we do not write much to each other. I hope you will get it as I do not even know if you are still living in Waldwick or if you had changed your name by marrying. But do not worry . . . , as I am not going to ask you for anything or for any help. But first that question. Have you ever heard if William (your brother also my husband) is still alive or dead? For a personal reason I have to know. I have been trying my best in inquiring about it, but nobody was ever able to give me any information.

For the last 6 years I have been working hard and lucky enough to have my health and work, save a little money and does not care to spend any, on lawyer to find out about William. His last letter was from Baton-Rouge, La., about 6 or 7 years ago telling me that he had a pneumonia at that time. I wrote back to him and the letters returned to me with the notice “unclaimed letters.”

After that I never heard of him. If he dies over there, I should believe that some one would . . . have send a notice to you or to your house, as I remembered that William used to carry the address of Waldwick on his passport or some other papers. Please Elizabeth if you know anything, just let me know as it will be a great relief for me to know if he is alive or dead.

Do not think I want to marrie again. I am to[o] old now, but really is strange situation not to know if I am a widow or not. I wrote you a few years ago, but you and uncle George from Boston never answered being probably afraid to have to do something for me. I remember when I was desperate and sick . . . and William asked for your help—but I didn’t asked for anything . . . —and as soon as I was on my feet I never asked for anything. Well that passed and even forget about it. The only thing I want is to let me know if you know if William is dead or alive. I hope that you are and have been well.

In a postscript, Mathilda noted that after January 10 she would be living in New York City: “I go to one place or another with the people I am working for.” When Bessie Tyler learned of Mathilda’s letter, she wrote: “Sorry to hear you heard again from Mathilda, but why does she have to go to the expense of getting a divorce? I should think if he has deserted her for seven years, the divorce is legal. I so often wonder where he is.”

Ten years later, Dayton wrote to Mary Elizabeth that he had a wife named Jean and a daughter who had been born on March 17, 1933, in New Orleans. That would be close to the time that Mathilda had last heard from her husband. Dayton does not appear to have gotten a divorce before he remarried. It also is notable that, despite his long separation from his family, he named his daughter Mary Elizabeth. There is no record of any reply from The Hermitage.

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