Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Robert Van Cott - Namesake of Lakeview's VFW Post 1139

WWI is sometimes referred to as "the Great War" and the "war to end all wars", in part because the modern advances in weaponry caused devastation that was never seen before in military history. The advent of modern chemical warfare brought the horrors of war to a new level, and caused world powers to eventually recognize the need to ban the use of poison gas via the Geneva Protocol of 1925.

The picture at left is a photo of Robert Van Cott Jr., namesake of Lakeview's VFW post. Born in July 1898 to Robert Sr. and Ella (Julia) Van Cott, [Update - Thanks to correspondences with relatives, I learned that Ella and Julia were two different people. Ella, Robert's first wife, died in 1915 and Julia was Robert's second wife] not much is known about young Robert's childhood, other than the fact that he was a typical mischievous kid from Lakeview, Long Island. On New Years Day, 1916, 17 year old Robert and a buddy were caught stealing candy from a confectionery truck in Rockville Centre and Robert's father, Robert Sr. posted the $200 bail (almost $4,000 in today's dollars). Robert Sr. worked as a "lather" (some kind of woodworker), not a particularly lucrative profession, so it's safe to assume that $200 wouldn't have been easy for him to pay.

Robert Sr and Ella Van Cott, it seems, did not have an easy life. In all they had six children. Their second son, Divillo [Update - Elwood (Toby)], was born with some kind of developmental disablility and when they refused to see a recommended medical specialist in Rockville Centre, the state threatened to take custody of Divillo [Toby]. Their third son, Remsen, was later thrown in prison for larceny, only to escape from county jail in Mineola (causing the jailer responsible for his watch to be dismissed).

In mid 1917, Robert joined the Army after the US was drawn into war with Germany. He was detached to the 106th Machine Gun Battalion of the 27th armored Division. By April 1918, he was sent overseas to fight in France. On August 8th, the decisive Hundred Days Offensive commenced which eventually led to the Allies breaking through the vaunted Hindenberg Line.

In late September his unit was brought into a forward area near the enemy line near Bellicourt and on September 27th, he was killed in combat. Robert Van Cott Jr. died a hero in defense of his country, and was buried at the American Military Cemetery in Somme, France.

In the mid 1930s, when Lakeview organized its own American Legion VFW post, the natural choice was to name the post after the only veteran from Lakeview to be killed in action, Robert Van Cott. Robert's parents were still around to witness the tribute to their son - Robert Sr. died in March 1938. The photo at left shows the memorial stone that stands in front the the Van Cott VFW Post 1139, with the names of all Lakeview servicemen who died in service of their country, including Robert Van Cott, at the top of the list.

So, where in Lakeville did the Van Cotts live, and is the home still there? Strangely neither insurance maps of 1906 or 1914 list any property in Lakeview labeled Van Cott. However the following clue from the listing of mortgage assignments in the Brooklyn Eagle from May 28, 1910 might give us an idea:



Smith. I W, to R Van Cott, adj land Rhodes. Woodfield ....................$800

As is shown in the 1914 Belcher Hyde map to the left, the Smith property adjacent to Rhodes was on Woodfield Rd. across from the Lakeview fire house, just south of the intersection with Rhodes Ave.











The Nassau County property records show that the house at that location was built in 1868 and still stands, as is shown in the photo below, taken in 2000.

Are there any contemporaries of Robert Van Cott still alive today? As memories of WWI have faded into history, there remains only one documented American WWI veteran alive, 108 year-old Frank Buckles. Van Cott would have been 110 if he were still alive.

[Update - the above information about the location of the Van Cott's residence needs to be corrected. According to relatives, the Van Cotts lived in Lakeview on Erie Rd.]

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Jacob,

This is a very interesting story. I am a Van Cott descendant and have more information on this family, but what you have written here brings up some big questions. I wonder if you would be willing to help me or put me in touch with the Vital Records office for your county. I would also like to have contact information for the manager of the cemetery(ies) for these family members.

I would appreciate any help!

Vickie in Phoenix, AZ

Jacob said...

Vickie:

Thanks for your interest in my blog. I'd be happy to help you. If you'd like you can contact me offline at yossiaz@ aol.com.

Anonymous said...

Hi

I have read your article on Robert Van Cott and I am interested in where you received and verified your information. I lived in Lakeview on Woodfield Road and this family is related to me. Much of your information is incorrect. If you are interested in correcting your misinformation please contact me at dewittbetty@aol.com

FitChick said...

Robert,

Would you be interesting in contributing to the Malverne-West Hempstead Patch? http://malverne-westhempstead.patch.com

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