100 years ago...

photo of memorial marker for cosmer leaveaux

September 27, 2018

Guest column by Dwayne Sortor, IPF Custodian III

A hundred years ago this last summer, the Imperial German Army was throwing everything it had into a last-ditch effort to break through the British, French and American lines to move on Paris.

World War I was in its climactic last chapter. When the book closed, American soldiers and Marines had written their narrative in blood. Positions were won and retaken on an hourly basis as a war weary generation continued to annihilate itself, digging into the final reserves of its best and brightest. Michigan Agricultural College, now Michigan State University, gave up its share of favorite sons. Among them was a well-favored forester from the class of 1917 named Cosmer Leveaux.

The unlikely event wherein my sphere of existence and that of Cosmer Leveaux would cross paths took place one August night back in 2005. I was a full-time temp on third shift in Custodial Services back then working at Music/Music Practice.     

Our crew had always noticed a small plaque with ornamental grasses around it and finally decided to see what it said. We weren't expecting anything like what we found… The 8"x8" piece of bronze was a memorial from the agricultural engineering fraternity Alpha Epsilon dedicated to a brother who'd fallen in the Great War. Ironically, the day of the year on which he'd passed was the very same day we decided to walk over, given that it was 2 a.m.  

We often discussed this among ourselves and, being a history major, I'd become intrigued. Life happened rather quickly and I wound up becoming a full-time employee on second shift. My curiosity had stuck with me though and in November of that year I decided to visit the University Archives at Conrad Hall to see what I could trawl up. A 1917 MAC yearbook brought me face to face with Mr. Leveaux.     

General research yielded plenty of information about the battle in which he died. Leveaux was involved in enough extracurricular activities as to more or less be the star attraction of the yearbook. But what I couldn't find out at the time was what branch of the service he was in and how he died.

I wrote an article about it for the then Physical Plant News. I'd vowed to check periodically to see if could find out. Time got away from me. I became a Custodian III. Second shift became first and here we are 12 years after my first article and approaching the centennial anniversary of the Armistice ending the war. 

Information about the graves and circumstances of veterans has been made more readily available through the years and I've become informed enough to tell his story in vivid detail. 

Oh how do you do, young Willie McBride?

Do you mind if I sit here down by your graveside?......

And I see by your gravestone you were only nineteen

when you joined the great fallen in 1916 ......

-Eric Boyle. No Man's Land 

Leveaux was a son of Ludington. Michigan born in 1896 to one of the original pioneer families. He was active at MAC in the Cadet Corps, fencing, the forestry club (Xi Sigma Pi) and his fraternity Alpha Epsilon. 

Leveaux's brother Emery had joined the Merchant Marine and was an oiler on a ship sunk in the North Sea before the United States had entered the war. Emery was killed in the incident.  Ludington legend says Leveaux enlisted at the outset of American involvement to avenge Emery.    

It turns out Leveaux is quite well lamented for his era. His name is on a second monument at MSU by Williams Hall honoring then MAC's fallen sons. He is likewise honored on a monument in Ludington. Ludington VFW Post is named for Leveaux and Emery. Superior National Forest has a 1,625-foot Leveaux Mountain dedicated as his namesake.   

Corporal Cosmer Leveaux of the 119th Field Artillery Regiment, Battery A 32nd Infantry Division. United States Army was killed by shrapnel when German artillery scored a direct hit on the gun he helped man along with eleven others.

Cosmer Magnus Leveaux or "Joe" as his fraternity brothers and classmates called him, is interred in Plot D, row 34, grave 12 in the American cemetery at Oise-Aisne, France, a place that would once again fall under German occupation in a second Great War. 

I was born 50 years after he passed. I will have lived 28 years longer than “Joe” before this goes to print, celebrating my big 5-0 this year. I generally shun the pomp of "Spartan this and Spartan that" and root for our teams when they make the playoffs. 

My passion is writing and that tends to make me a bit of an outsider. Yet I think I found my Spartan story and it started by "meeting" Cosmer Leveaux and his friends through those black and white pictures. I get to tell their story and connect it to here and now.  

You see, guys like “Joe” and their legacies are the true foundations of these buildings you see on our calendars and postcards. Many of the last names coincide with the names of buildings. A gentleman with the last name of Chittendon appeared in many of the yearbook photos with “Joe.” Their ghosts whisper on the wind when you walk the trails in Baker Wood Lot or see the shadows of peregrine falcons as they pass overhead along the Red Cedar on their morning hunt. 

I am in love with the rich pre-history of our campus. It reaches out from around the corners and within the shadows when you least expect it to and can inspire you in ways you never dreamed possible. It's been an honor to revisit this story and share how much it's grown. If you are ever walking between Cowles House and the Music Building, be sure to say hi to “Joe!”