John Russell Small was born on September 18th, 1895 in Fort Recovery, Ohio to Owen and Olive Markwith Small. When John was only six months old, his mother and father moved from Fort Recovery to Defiance, Ohio, with him and his four siblings.
John had a boyhood typical of one at the turn of the twentieth century. Playing baseball with friends, fishing with family, running around then cooling off in Robert’s Swimming Hole (located in the Auglaize River) were part of a boys charmed life. In 1912, sixteen-year-old John played End on the Defiance football team. The following year, 1913, he received the honor of being named Ohio All-State End.
In June of 1914, John graduated from Defiance High School. He intended to enroll in the Defiance College, which his brothers had attended, but it was obvious to all who knew John that the “spirit of adventure” was very much a part of his life. It was no surprise to John’s family or his friends when he announced to them that he had volunteered for military service instead.
At first, John was part of the expedition in pursuit of the bandit, Pancho Villa, along the United States border with Mexico, but when President Woodrow Wilson declared war with Germany on April 6, 1917, John’s Company G, which later formed the 37th Division, became one of the many to be mobilized for the escalating war in Europe.
When Johnny Doesn’t Come Marching Home is an account of John’s experiences before, during, and after WWI as told by his daughter Marian Small through the letters, diary entries, and stories John shared before his death in 1978. Stories filled with wonderment and love, and later disillusionment when he came home from the Great War a disabled and emotionally-altered man.
John wrote many letters to his family and to Mary (his sweetheart and wife) while in the service of the United States. Mary gave John a diary before his departure to France and he wrote in it faithfully. The diary was by his side as he sailed aboard the Pocahontas across the ocean, marched to the various trenches in No Man’s Land, and when he woke up in a hospital in France after going Over the Top and getting severely wounded.
Mary and John’s mother kept all the letters and the diary John wrote in during the war. The many letters written to John by Mary while he was overseas and in the trenches of France were lost when he went Over the Top in Verdun. The letters and diary entries that survived are now being published as a reminder of the valor that built this great country of ours and continues to fight for its founding principles. This book is also being published to honor the memories of every soldier; a testament to what the strength and will of any person can accomplish, even in the face of calamity.