The first person connected to Bethel to die in our century of warfare perished on April 20, 1918.
Originally from New Richmond, Wisconsin, August Leo Sundvall had attended Bethel Academy early in its history, 1908-1909, when it was located at the intersection of Como and Carter in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood of St. Paul. (The Academy had opened in 1905 at Elim Baptist in Minneapolis, where Sundvall was a member.) He went on to graduate from Franklin College and was studying for a B.D. at the University of Chicago when he enlisted. After completing officer training at Fort Sheridan and being commissioned as a second lieutenant, Sundvall departed for France in January 1918 and was assigned to the 5th Marines.
American forces didn’t see significant action in World War I until late May 1918, over thirteen months after Congress declared war on Germany. But Sundvall was scouting German positions on April 19th when he suffered the wounds that took his life the following day. He’s buried at St. Mihiel American Cemetery in France and is listed on the roll of honor at Rockefeller Chapel in U. Chicago.
“Lt. Sundvall,” wrote future Bethel president H.C. Wingblade (then an Academy teacher) in the May 1918 edition of The Bethel Herald, “is the first of the Bethel Academy boys to contribute his devotion to his country in the measure of a supreme sacrifice.” Wingblade concluded the brief obituary, “How many more of our boys are to sacrifice their lives in this gigantic struggle for justice and freedom, the future alone can reveal. Lieut. Sundvall is the first.”
One year later, the yearbook reported that, of the eighty-eight Bethel students, alumni, and faculty to have served in WWI, four were killed or missing in action.