When the United States entered the First World War in 1917, many young men in Spokane rushed to join the Army and lend their part to the war effort. Three farm boys from Moran Prairie, Walter, Charles, and Ralph Burch, joined the Army but had very different wartime experiences.
Walter only got as far as Camp Lewis in Pierce County, where he spent the war in the mustering office. He would experience battle only vicariously, through the letters of his brothers at the front.
Charles, who was only 17 when he enlisted, was sent to France where he fought on the front lines. He wrote home often. “Look forward only to the days when we will be together again," he told his mother, "Remember me to all... Be cheerful always and smile, smile, smile.” Weeks later Charles was dead killed in a German surprise attack on his forward outpost. Ralph broke the news in a letter to their mother. "I can not help feeling a big, proud feeling, having had a brother who died so bravely, honorably, and for such a necessary, big and wonderful cause," he told her.
Ralph, the middle brother, took the death of Charles hard. He had been assigned a variety of jobs after joining the military. He initially served as part of the military police, then was reassigned as a cook. After his brother died, however, Ralph longed for combat. He was able to join a combat unit briefly at Chateau Theirry but then was assigned to directing traffic in the rear.
Frustrated, Ralph went AWOL He deserted his unit to join the battle at Verdun. An officer who discovered the deception said "he'd heard of men running away from the front, but never saw one run away to the front before."
Ralph would end up fighting in the Argonne forest in one of the last major battles of the war. "We took our objective with heavy losses," he later recalled, "My platoon lost ten....We were sprayed with shrapnel, and my face was cut slightly and the calf of my left leg."
Ralph had survived the war and came home in 1919, Charles was be to reburied in Spokane a few years later in Greenwood Cemetery.