As we celebrate the Fourth of July, I thought it would only be appropriate to write my first post in this blog, La Crosse’s Men in Uniform, and pay tribute to one of our local military heroes. During the first leg in our survey of the La Crosse County Historical Society’s military collection, we’ve combed through many artifacts from WWI. One of the most interesting so far has been the uniform of Dr. Edward Evans, former Chief of Staff at St. Francis Hospital and one of the most prominent surgeons in the Midwest during his time.
Dr. Evans was originally from Canada, and moved to La Crosse in 1888 in order to work at the Marine Hospital, La Crosse’s only hospital at the time, which was operated by the Franciscan Sisters. He quickly rose to prominence in the medical community, and eventually was promoted to Chief of Staff at St. Francis Hospital. When WWI broke out, Dr. Evans served as the United States base hospital surgeon in La Crosse for the first years of the war. Then in 1918, he offered his medical expertise to the U.S. Army, but was refused by the regular army medical corps because he was beyond the age of 55, the maximum age for service at that time. He then offered his service to the Red Cross and was enlisted to go to Europe. A newspaper article from May, 1918, titled “Fightin’est Family Has Been Discovered in Wisconsin Town,” states:
Dr. Edward Evans is the father of the “fightin’est family” in La Crosse. The surgeon, who has a wide reputation, has three children in the war. Some time this month he will go to Europe himself to work for the cause of democracy, sacrificing his practice which is netting him a large income, for a position which carries no salary with it.
It turns out that not only did Dr. Evans himself serve in the war, but so did three of his children. His eldest son, James, served on the western front driving ambulances for the Red Cross until he was wounded in action. His daughter, Mary, also went to France as part of a medical unit. Evans’ other son, Arthur, would go on to serve in the Italian Army as an ambulance driver.
While the historical record does not indicate how long Dr. Evans served in Europe, we do know that he survived the war and went on to live to the age of 72. From the three black bars on the sleeves of his uniform, we can tell that he most likely achieved the rank of captain during his time in the service of the Red Cross.
Coming to know the story of Dr. Evans has made me realize that these uniforms have much more to offer us than first meets the eye. Although at first military uniforms may appear standard and impersonal, they are actually very unique and individualistic if you take the time to analyze the artifact and its owner as one.