“The First”

The first person connected to Bethel to die in our century of warfare perished on April 20, 1918.

August L. Sundvall, ca. 1916

August L. Sundvall, from an obituary in his college fraternity’s 1919 almanac

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.

Sundvall's death as announced on nationally published casualty lists in May 1918

Lt. Sundvall’s death was announced around the country the first week of May 1918. Here in the Ogden (Utah) Standard he’s the first name listed under “Died from Wounds.” To the right is the story of a German-American who had been tarred and feathered in California by the so-called Knights of Liberty. (The same group also attempted to lynch a tailor in Oakland.) – Library of Congress


  1. […] • I’ll offer a fuller report next week on our digital history project on Bethel University’s experience of a century of modern warfare, but our blog has been busy. Among other posts, Fletcher wrote about the Vietnam War as a catalyst for the development of the “evangelical left,” and I considered how our work constitutes “preargument” or even “nonargument” scholarship and told the story of Bethel’s first World War I casualty. […]

  2. […] it takes shape. I’ve mostly focused on the First World War so far, telling the story of the first Bethel alum to die in that war and comparing Bethel’s experience of it to that of other colleges and […]

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