by Molly Young
Worn and tattered, with a strip of duct tape holding together its binding, an old atlas rested in Gretchen Landen’s home. Stretches of land and sea are illustrated on its pages, their corners curled from time.
But Landen didn’t realize a document from one of those foreign lands was tucked into the book of maps. Nor did she know the worn piece of paper honored World War I veteran and Albion native Manderson Lehr, who was killed in action on July 15, 1918.
“In recognition of the services rendered to France and her allies for the cause of humanity, this certificate has been issued to Sergt. Manderson Lehr…” begins the document’s heavy black lettering.
The citation, dated Jan. 23, 1918, recognizes Lehr’s distinguished service contributing to the Allies’ victory “over military autocracy and barbarism.” Several carefully-crafted drawings decorate the ornate certificate, and the artist’s signature, a penciled “Frank M. Armington,” can be found in the bottom right-hand corner. A wax seal, still partially-intact, was stamped on the document.
Landen can’t remember how long she’s owned the weathered volume, “The New Encyclopedic Atlas and Gazetteer of the World,” that harbored the document for so long. No names or addresses written on the book offer clues about its original owner. She suspects her late husband Jack acquired it at an estate auction or rummage sale.