When American forces joined World War I, Kent Hagler of Springfield, Illinois, was desperate to join the military, but a childhood injury prevented him from serving. Undeterred, he joined the American Field Service in France as a volunteer ambulance driver on July 17, 1917. He wore this helmet throughout his time in France.
Hagler sailed off anticipating the “adventure of a lifetime,” a detail he shared in a letter to his parents. Instead, he came face to face with the horrors of war. In a letter to his brother, he outlined the grim reality of life on the front: ...the things that get you are the things that last for days…The gas; the cold; the rain and mud; no food for a couple of days sometimes for a week; bad sleeping quarters, at best in a dripping, muddy rat-and-flea-infested abri [a crude shelter]; and ‘last, but not least’ the rather disconcerting sight of your comrades suffocating or mussed over the lot.
Hagler rejoiced when the war ended in November 1918, but it would be four months before his unit was called back from the front and demobilized. Hagler returned to the United States in May 1919 and resumed his studies at Harvard University.
After graduation, he returned to Paris to pursue an advanced degree at the Sorbonne. On October 31, 1920, he was found in his apartment, dead of a stroke brought on by the exposure and wounds he experienced in the war. He was 22 years old.