There were many highlights from this past reunion. Perhaps the most unique was the performance of the musical piece, Arlington Sons, by David and Richard Pittsinger. David is a renowned Broadway star who commissioned the piece in 2011 to specifically perform with his son Richard, a soloist and graduate of New York’s Saint Thomas Choir School. The piece tells a very unique story, of a father bringing his son to Arlington Cemetery for the first time to observe the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns. It “illuminates a universal experience—the changing of the guard between generations—in a uniquely American context. It is believed to be the first-ever musical composition written for a real-life father and son.”

David’s motivation to commission a piece came from a desire to pay tribute to his late father, Richard M. Pittsinger who was a Tomb Guard in the 1950s. Composer Scott Eyerly, wrote the piece with this connection in mind. Observing the live performance, many Tomb Guards noted that Arlington Sons really told a multi generational story with David’s father Richard, the Tomb Guard, having an unseen but tangible presence.

The Society of the Honor Guard has a phrase, “soldiers never die until they are forgotten, Tomb Guards never forget”. Arlington Sons is the living embodiment of that idea and we salute the Pittsinger family for their moving tribute and thank them for sharing it with our members at our 2014 banquet! It was a once a lifetime performance and our organization thanks David and Richard for their commitment to paying tribute to the Unknowns and his father.

Richard Mayne Pittsinger, Tomb Guard 1954-55

Richard Mayne Pittsinger, Tomb Guard 1954-55

Last Saturday night at our 2014 banquet, four SHGTUS founding members received The Order of Saint Maurice on behalf of the National Infantry Association. The Order of Saint Maurice has five levels. A nominee for the Order of Saint Maurice must have served the Infantry community with distinction; must have demonstrated a significant contribution in support of the Infantry; and must represent the highest standards of integrity, moral character, professional competence, and dedication to duty. The same medallion is used for each level, with a attachment that identifies the level.

COL (Ret.) Lloyd Neale Cosby received the Primicerius (Highest Level) award. This is “for those who have made a significant and lasting contribution to the entire Infantry.” Richard A. Azzaro and James Cardamon received the Legionnaire level of the order. Legionnaire level is for “outstanding or conspicuous contribution to the Infantry”. Meredith Smith received the Civis level award, which is for “civilian personnel who have supported the U.S. Infantry.

Saint Maurice was Primicerius of the Theban Legion. In 287 AD it marched in service of the Roman Empire fighting against the revolt in the Berguadae Gauls. His men were composed entirely of Christians recruited from upper Egypt, near the Valley of the Kings. The Legion marched to the Mediterranean Sea, was transported across, and traveled across Italy to an area in Switzerland. Serving under Augustus Maximian Hercules, Maurice was ordered to have his legionnaires offer pagan sacrifices before battle near the Rhone at Martigny. The Theban Legion refused to participate, and also refused to kill innocent civilians in the conduct of their duty, and withdrew to the town of Agaunum. Enraged, Maximian ordered every tenth man killed, yet they still refused. A second time the General ordered Maurice’s men to participate and again they refused. Maurice declared his earnest desire to obey every order lawful in the eyes of God. “We have seen our comrades killed,” came the reply. “Rather than sorrow, we rejoice at the honor done to them.” At this Maximian ordered the butchery of the Thebans and the martyrdom of Saint Maurice. September 22 is the traditional feast day.

On behalf of all SHGTUS members we congratulate each of these Founders for their award and thank them for their contributions to the infantry!

L to R: LTC Ryan J. Morgan, Neale Cosby, Richard Azzaro, James Cardamon, Meredith Smith, and SFC John Wirth

Recently I had the pleasure of obtaining an advanced copy of Robert Poole’s upcoming book Section 60 and submitted the following review to the publisher. While I am certainly no authority, I hope that my review will at least pique an interest and entice you to get a copy for yourself. The book officially releases on October 21 2014.

IMG_2856

Robert M. Poole. Section 60: Arlington National Cemetery, Where War Comes Home. New York: Bloomsbury, 2014. 256pp. Cloth, $27.

Robert Poole, author of the critically acclaimed On Hallowed Ground, shifts his focus toward a single section of Arlington National Cemetery. Section 60 tells the stories of those that have lost their lives as a result of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of those who rest there lost their lives well before their time and while serving their country – the ultimate sacrifice.

Poole paints an emotionally vivid picture of Section 60 which he argues serves as the ad hoc memorial to those who perished as a result of these conflicts. Much like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the graves in Section 60 contain tributes and mementos from loved ones, admirers, and comrades in arms – many of whom may owe that deceased servicemember their lives.

Poole’s knack for the human side of a story abounds within the pages of Section 60. Through interviews with friends and family of the deceased, Poole is able to draw the reader into the narratives. Not only are these the stories of brave men and women who paid the ultimate price, but they are also the struggles and hardships of those that they left behind. Especially vivid are the stories of a nineteen year old recipient of the Medal of Honor, a father fighting for justice for his son’s death, an organ recipient given another chance at life thanks to a fallen soldier, and a man haunted by the demons of his own personal war. The death of a loved one is never easy and those buried in Section 60 are there for various reasons, but even in death, these heroes still have connections to the living. Poole masterfully ties those lost to their loved one’s struggles, whether it be for justice, life lessons, or simple admiration.

Not all those interred in Section 60 are from the current wars. There are those from wars past whose whereabouts had long been lost to time, discovered long after their disappearances. Poole discusses two such cases from World War II and Vietnam — making Section 60 a true memorial across generations.

Poole’s access to Section 60 is not limited to friends and family of the fallen. He also focuses on the men and women of the military in the Washington, DC area tasked with rendering honors to those buried in Arlington. Poole writes of the rigorous training involved with carrying a casket, folding a flag, and even firing the standard 21-gun salute. Each task as meticulous as it is expected to be flawless. He also follows the soldiers of the Old Guard’s storied caisson platoon who transport the remains along the solemn drives of Arlington to their final resting places.

Poole’s book opens with the quote, “People never die until they are forgotten,” and through Section 60 he has solidified the memory of the fallen to many more generations of Americans.

by Kevin Welker

Preservation Project Director,

Society of the Honor Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

 

 

 

Recently, we announced the recipients of the 2014 scholarships as selected by our scholarship committee. This year’s Freedom Scholarship recipient is James Wilson, brother of Case Wilson (Tomb Guard Identification Badge #547). James is currently enrolled at Sewanee: The University of the South and is majoring in environmental studies with an emphasis on sustainability with a minor in international studies. While most of the submissions were outstanding, his essay really stood out. Here is it in its entirety.

“HERE RESTS IN HONORED GLORY AN AMERICAN SOLDIER KNOWN BUT TO GOD.” Those words inscribed on one of America’s most sacred monuments speak to not only individuals, but to a nation. When my brother first took me to see the Tomb, I felt an overwhelming sense of awe. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is not merely a memorial it is the promise of a nation and her soldiers to serve and defend.  I have always respected my brother, but never more so than when I saw him as a Tomb Guard. I believe that my brother became a Tomb Guard to serve a higher calling:  to honor the men who had laid down their lives for their country and for their fellow soldiers without any desire for recognition.

It’s been said that “perfect valor is to behave, without witnesses, as one would act were all the world watching.” The men laid to rest in that tomb displayed perfect valor. The actions of those brave men in life may not have been witnessed by the world, but they will forever be remembered by the world. To me the Tomb represents a living history, a story of valor spanning generations. I believe that we live in the greatest country in the world, in large part due to the sacrifice of men like the ones buried in the Tomb. We live in a world where history is fast forgotten. To me the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is our country’s way of saying we will never forget the sacrifices made to make and maintain this nation.

When the Twin Towers fell, it felt as though the world stood still. One thing remained constant: the silent vigil of the Tomb Guards. The Guard still changed and the Tomb remained defended. When Hurricane Sandy hovered above Arlington National Cemetery, the sentinels continued their duties. For me, the Tomb is not simply a monument or a pretty piece of marble; it is America’s dedication past present and future. It is my firm belief that the Tomb and what it stands for will reside in the hearts of this great nation always.

In closing I believe the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier represents the deference of a nation. It is with a humble heart that we who are not soldiers witness the eternal vigil. It is my sincere hope that the Tomb remains a symbol of honor and true valor in a new and ever changing world. We cannot forget those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for this country. It is our duty as a nation to support the ones who defend us and to continue supporting our soldiers. As a brother of a Tomb Guard, and as a citizen, I want to thank you all for the dedication and for reminding us that freedom isn’t easy. You help us to remember that we would not be here without soldiers like the men who are buried in that tomb known only to God.  

Remember 9 11One of the most frequent questions we receive from our “ask your own question” section here at tombguard.org is about September 11th, 2001. Here is my perspective.

On September 11, 2001 I was assigned to the Tomb. I had recently earned my Tomb Guard Identification Badge in the previous month after nearly nine months of training. However, my relief was not working that day. I was waking up to the news of the World Trade Center attacks on nearby Fort Myer adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery. Immediately following the attack on the Pentagon, the approximate 30 soldiers assigned to guard the Tomb were summoned to the Arlington Cemetery.

In the aftermath of that day, the cemetery was closed around 1030hrs. Ceremonial guard duty was ceased at that time and two guards were posted in BDUs (battle dress uniform). Myself and another soldier were the first two soldiers assigned to guard the Tomb that day as the first ‘non ceremonial’ guards. A security perimeter was set up around the Tomb as well.

The day was hectic. In the ensuing days, some Tomb Guards were dispatched to the Pentagon to assist with locating survivors or to serve as body bearers. The cemetery opened some days later with the return of ceremonial guard duty. However, the Tomb was continuously guarded during this time. 

Later in the day, some of us went down to Section 68 for a better view. Debris from the blast was in the area supposedly, and law enforcement personnel shooed us away. It was an interesting day and a unique point of view to have. I can still see the columns of smoke rising above the trees from where the plane hit the Pentagon.

by Benjamin Bell

NEVER FORGET

Back Home

September 4, 2014 | Special Report

We have heard the old adage, “We take care of our own.” While many times this may seem like lip-service or an empty promise, members of the Tomb Guard family take it to heart.

A few months back I followed a story as it developed on Facebook concerning eBay, a Tomb Guard Identification Badge (TGIB), and four former Tomb Guards. Like many stories that involve the tenacity and determination of Tomb Guards, this story has a happy ending.

As it turns out, there was a TGIB listed from a seller on eBay. Anyone who has searched the multitude of items listed on that site will undoubtedly come across a plethora of TGIBs listed for sale. Somehow this particular badge stood out from the others. This one came with a name. Ryan Ball, himself a collector of Tomb of the Unknown Soldier memorabilia, came across the listing. According to his Facebook post Ryan let the members know that there was a badge with a name on eBay for sale.

That seemed to set the wheels in motion. Lonny LeGrand, Jr., himself an avid collecter of all things Tomb-related saw it as an opportunity to get this badge back into the hands of its rightful owner. Once he found the listing on eBay, Lonny immediately contacted the seller to find out more information, introduce himself, and see what kind of deal could be struck.

As it turns out, the seller of this badge comes from a family with a long lineage of military service. Although he did not serve, he has the highest esteem and respect for those who serve or had served in the military. Michael O’Reagan is the owner of Militarybizniz on eBay and deals in militaria. While he makes every effort to contact those whose names may be engraved on various medals, not all are successful. Through his conversation with Michael, Lonny said that he “has always made an attempt to reach out to the family or owner of a medal or such that he has found, [and] he believes from the bottom of his heart that something as special as this or other military awards truly belong in the hands of the owner or family.” When Michael received this TGIB, he saw the name on the back as L.C. Lerman. All attempts to find the owner had failed.

While L.C. Lerman may not have existed, enter Loren Ackerman — a former Tomb Guard and the proud recipient of Badge #343 who served in the late 80’s. For some reason or another Loren had lost possession of his badge. How it ended up on eBay still remains a mystery, but Lonny knew he had to get it back. “I immediately offered to give up one of my badges in return to put on eBay for him to sell.” Michael simply would not hear of it. He removed the badge from his auction and arranged to have the badge sent to Loren’s ex-wife Ellen. Another former Tomb Guard, Brian Compton, played an integral role in getting in contact with Ellen, who was elated that she was able to return the badge to Loren.

When I saw the picture posted on Facebook of Loren holding his badge, I was overcome with emotion. What a testament to our “Band of Brothers” that returning Loren’s badge was priority. Lonny had never met Loren, or even knew who he was. He only knew that he was a fellow Tomb Guard and he had to make sure the badge was safely back with Loren…where it belonged. “A Tomb Guard should never be separated from his badge,” Lonny said, “especially one that he wore on the mat.”

Amen to that…

Photo Sep 03, 21 06 13

Loren Ackerman, and his recovered Tomb Guard Identification Badge (photo courtesy of Ellen Ackerman via Facebook)

By Kevin Welker

 

My personal thanks to Brian Compton and Lonny LeGrand, Jr. for sharing the details of this story with me.

Every soldier who has guarded the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier since the 1930s knows that Lorimer Rich and Thomas Hudson Jones were the two men chosen as the architect and the sculptor of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – their names appear on the first step on either side of their work, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We have admired the sculpture on the Tomb during the night time. We marvel at the detail of the three figures of Victory, Peace, and Valor as we wait for them to somehow come to life.

But what do we know of the man who literally had one chance to “get it right?”

Thomas Hudson Jones was born July 24, 1892 in Buffalo, New York. His father was an engraver by trade and encouraged his son to be a sculptor. He attended the Albright Art School in Buffalo, and at 19 he won the Rome Prize Fellowship for three years of study at the American Academy in Rome. The judges, however, decided that he was too young to go at the time.

For a time Jones worked in the studio of Daniel Chester French as French worked on the sculpture of the seated Lincoln for what would become the iconic figure in the Lincoln Memorial. Jones left French in 1917 and entered the US Army where he served in World War I. Following the war he took the fellowship in Rome.

He returned to the United States in 1922 to sculpt and teach at Columbia University in New York City. In 1934 he returned to Rome to serve as a Professor of Fine Arts at the academy. Jones designed the ornate 50-foot-high bronze doors for the New Library of Brooklyn. In Washington, D.C., he designed three reliefs of law givers for the House of Representatives chamber in the United States Capitol (1950) and the Statue of Christ in St. Matthews Church in Washington, D.C.

In 1929 the Fine Arts Commission selected Jones and Lorimer Rich from among 74 sculptors and architects to design the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It turned out that the selection of Rich and Jones was the easy part. Delays in the selection of marble took nearly two years as the 50-ton die block was brought to Arlington…only to be rejected for a flaw. This started the process all over. In the meantime, the east side of the Memorial Amphitheater was renovated to open the view from the plaza all the way to the Potomac and Washington, DC. By December 1931 a replacement block had been delivered and work resumed. On the last day of 1931, the cap was placed over the crypt and sealed into place. It was now that Jones went to work sculpting the three central figures and the six inverted memorial wreaths – a commission he finished in a matter of weeks. On April 9, 1932 the completed monument was open to the public.

For Jones, it was this work that made him well known in government circles.

At the request of the Government, Jones left his McDougal Alley studio in Greenwich Village, New York in 1944 and started work for the Institute of Heraldry in Washington, DC where he stayed after the war ended. It was here that Jones went on to design well over 40 US military service medals including the World War II Victory Medal, Airman’s Medal, Women’s Army Corps Service Medal, Army of Occupation Medal, and the National Defense Service Medal.

Other works of note are the ornate 50-foot-high bronze doors for the New Library of Brooklyn. In Washington, D.C., he designed three reliefs of law givers for the House of Representatives chamber in the United States Capitol (1950) and the Statue of Christ in St. Matthews Church in Washington, D.C.

Thomas Hudson Jones died on November 4, 1969 in Hyannis, Massachusetts. By many accounts, the place of his burial is unknown; for the Tomb Guards, he will never be forgotten.

Kevin Welker

Sources:
Poole, Robert M. On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery. New York: Walker and Company, 2009.

United States Army Insignia Home Page

http://usarmyinsigniahomepage.netii.net/armyhome.html

Thomas Hudson Jones — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Hudson_Jones

Gold Star Mothers at the Tomb in 1930 with General John J. Pershing - courtesy Library of Congress

Gold Star Mothers at the Tomb in 1930 with General John J. Pershing

Lucky enough to have been one of the few who guarded the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier I can share a few thoughts about this very special day. My early memories of Memorial Day prior to time spent in the US Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment were cluttered with barbeques and for the most part, school-free days of leisure. Back then, I had yet to fully grasp the importance of the day. Today, it is the most significant of days in the calendar year to me. I hesitate to use the term ‘holiday’, as Memorial Day is a time to reflect and pay tribute. My most special memory of this day occured while I was Sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery is the most busy day of the year (although rivaled by Veterans’ Day). For Tomb Guards, it is a jarring break from the ‘normal’ routine of 21 steps, heel clicks, and guard changes. Throughout the day, the guard’s walk is broken up with multiple wreath layings from various groups and individuals. The day is filled with regular irregulars all the way from the President (whose wreath laying is followed by a televised speech and ceremony in the Memorial Amphitheater directly behind the Tomb) to the Boy Scouts, and the bizarre “Order of the Cootie” (a veteran’s group with roots in World War I who can lay over 100 wreaths each year depending on the number of VFW posts participating).

However, one group, the American Gold Star Mothers (AGSM), remains etched in my mind and continues to stir deep feelings whenever I reflect on the meaning behind their organization. I’m not sure if they were more solemn than the other groups, but in my mind’s eye they are stoic and dignified. From my position in “The Box” where the guard stays during the ceremony I was able to observe many groups on those days. I noticed the muted cutting up that these folks take when present at the Tomb on a hot day. Sometimes they laugh quietly and speak amongst each other, usually in awkward awe at the seriousness at which we carry out our duty.

These Gold Star Mothers neither cracked a smile nor cried as they laid their wreaths at the base of the Tomb and lined up along the chains awaiting the bugler’s rendition of “Taps”. At this time, circa 2002, our country was staring down the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom less than a year later. The ranks of the Gold Star Mothers were populated with many women with white hair, mothers to children lost in the Vietnam War. They were emblazoned in pure white balanced by the mid-day marble the Tomb resides on. As “Taps” played, I did noticed a few tears and hugs of support, and when they filed away I found myself heavy with emotion.

Their presence on the plaza represented alot to me. I thought of my own mother, at home worried sick wondering if her son would end up in Iraq. I thought of those women on the plaza, decades removed from seeing their child. Their pain was palpable that day. Many times, soldiers like myself enlist without batting an eye thinking about the ramifications of service, much less how it makes our mother feel. We are invincible ministers of death, trained in the greatest military the Earth has ever seen. Dwelling on the reality of service doesn’t really fit in with the mentality of success or mindset of anyone in the armed forces.

Of course the Gold Star Mother’s understand. Their white uniforms stand out in stark contrast to traditional mourning color of black. From their website, they explain the rationale behind this color choice:
“The decision by AGSM to wear white, rather than black, was a strong statement of how the women wanted to be perceived as they participated in the organization’s business. Yes, they mourned their lost children, but white made a symbolic statement that went beyond mourning, a statement of peace, sacrifice, innocence and goodness. Those were the things that their children had been and had died for – wearing white celebrated their children’s contributions while the gold star acknowledged their sacrifice.”

Sadly, the last decade has seen their ranks have increased in number, bolstered with the young mothers of this generation’s war. These days, whenever I think of Memorial Day, I reflect on the Gold Star Mother’s of America and their continued memorialization of those cherished sons and daughters lost in our country’s wars.

by Benjamin Bell

Originally written in 2011 for The Daily Beast.

This is a guest post (repost) from the Verizon News Center corporate blog, written by Peter Casale.

Rex and Sentinel Brett Hyde

Rex and Sentinel Brett Hyde

The true meaning of Memorial Day goes much deeper than a three-day weekend. It’s a day of remembrance for the men and women who have died valiantly for our country. For Verizon employee, Rex Looney (right), honoring our men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice is part of his every day.

A military veteran with a law enforcement background, Rex is a former Military Police, Patrolman and Deputy County Sheriff. At Verizon, Rex works in Legal Compliance. He’s responsible for validating and responding to legal requests for subscriber records via a subpoena, search warrant or court orders. Rex is a protector by nature.

In 2005, the avid photographer began taking pictures at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier located on the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. The memorial is dedicated to the unidentified soldiers who were killed in war and is guarded continuously 24/7 by specially trained men, of the 3rd United States Infantry Regiment known as The Old Guard.

One day, after taking several photos of the ceremonial Changing of the Guard, Rex knocked on the door of the Tomb Guard Quarters and donated the images. After a few more times, they showed their appreciation for his contributions by granting him unescorted access to specific areas not open to the public. Now, Rex has become “the unofficial official” photographer of the Tomb Guard. Over the years, Rex has captured countless images of the Tomb Guards. He’s become an Honorary “Line Six” Life Member of the Society of the Honor Guard Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Line Six refers to the sixth line of the Sentinel’s Creed – “My standard will remain perfection.”

Rex has access to many intimate moments in the life of Tomb Guards.

Rex has access to many intimate moments in the life of Tomb Guards.

And perfection is exactly what Rex captures in his photos. The Tomb Guards say, “Soldiers never die until they are forgotten. Tomb Guard never forget.” While Rex may not be a Tomb Guard, he’s an American and a veteran and he doesn’t plan on forgetting. This Memorial Day take a minute to participate in a National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. Think about those who have made the ultimate sacrifice – especially those that are unknown to man.

Verizon Foundation’s Matching Gift Program

Through the Volunteer Incentive Program, employees who log a minimum of 50 volunteer hours can earn a $750 grant for the nonprofit where they donate their service. Thanks to Rex’s volunteer work, the money was sent to a fund named in honor of SSG Adam L. Dickmyer, a Tomb Guard and personal friend of Rex who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010.

Rex’s work with the Tomb Guards and other interests is proudly on display on Flickr. View here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rexographer

Charles Whittlesey was not one to acknowledge the accolades of others. He was a humble man but remained loyal to those with whom he served. His service in the First World War was the thing of legend and perseverance against insurmountable odds that still inspires today.

Whittlesey bw

Whittlesey was born January 20, 1884 in Florence, Wisconsin to Frank and Annie Whittlesey – the eldest of four boys. The family moved to Pittsfield, Massachusetts sometime near the turn of the century when Frank received a position with General Electric.

Whittlesey graduated from Pittsfield High School and entered Williams College where he was a member of the Delta Psi fraternity. After graduating from Williams, Whittlesey attended Harvard Law School where he graduated in 1908. He then went to New York City to practice law with a private firm and then in 1911 he entered practice with his friend and classmate, J. Bayard Pruyun.

A month after the United States had entered the First World War in 1917, Whittlesey took a leave of absence from his law firm to join the Army. He shipped to France as a captain in the Army’s 77th Division, known as the “Metropolitan Division” since it was made up of mostly men from New York City – most of which were from the Lower East side and mostly the sons of immigrants. By September of 1917 Whittlesey was commissioned a major.

On October 2, 1918, Whittlesey and his command of 554 soldiers were ordered to move against a heavily fortified German position when the 77th Division was ordered into the Meuse-Argonne region as part of a massive American attack. Because the units on their flanks failed to make headway, Whittlesey’s troops were cut off from their supply lines, pinned down by German fire. The ensuing days were perilous for Whittlesey and his men as they were without food or water. Every movement was observed by German snipers and efforts to retrieve water from a nearby stream were halted because so many men were killed in the effort. For four days Whittlesey and his men resisted not only the German sniper attacks, but also German soldiers armed with grenades, trench mortars, and flame throwers. It was at this time that Whittlesey and his men became known as the “Lost Battalion.”

Because of their position, Whittlesey’s lines of communication were soon cut. Any contact with units in the rear would have to be made by homing pigeons. When an artillery unit received inaccurate coordinates, Whittlesey and his men found themselves victims of “friendly fire.” A hurriedly scratched message by Whittlesey found its way to the battery commander that read in part, “Our artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven’s sake stop it.”

On October 6, an effort was made to resupply Whittlesey’s battalion. Because of incorrect coordinates very few supplies reached the trapped men. It was at this time that the Germans contacted Whittlesey requesting his surrender. A blindfolded American prisoner made his way into Whittlesey’s lines with the German message. Whittlesey and Captain George McMurtry, his second-in-command, refused to acknowledge the request and pulled in the white panels used to signal Allied aircraft for fear of being seen as flags of surrender.

When more air reconnaissance missions were conducted, the men were located and eventually rescued on October 7, 1918. Of the original 554 soldiers involved in the advance, 107 had been killed, 63 were missing, and 190 were wounded. Only 194 were able to walk out unhurt.

Soon after the rescue of the Lost Battalion, Major Whittlesey was promoted to lieutenant colonel. He was relieved from further duty on October 29th and returned to the United States a war hero. On December 5th he was honorably discharged and the next day received word that he was to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor (his subordinates Captain McMurtry and Captain Holderman also were awarded the Medal of Honor).

Following his discharge, Whittlesey returned to his law practice, but found himself in constant demand for speeches, parades, and honorary degrees. A modest and sensitive man, Whittlesey was uncomfortable with the attention he received and shared very little detail as possible about his time with his men in the Argonne. His public speaking was limited to praising the enlisted men with whom he served, the common soldier who received little to no recognition for their uncommon bravery. So dedicated was he to his men of the Lost Battalion that Whittlesey left his sick bed to attend the funeral of a private who served under him. His last work as the Chairman of the Red Cross Roll Call in New York City was all based on the suffering of the wounded. He attended nearly two to three funerals a week, visited the wounded in the hospitals, and comforted the families of the dead. In perhaps his final act of gratitude to the fallen of the Great War, on November 11, 1921, Whittlesey attended the internment of the Unknown Soldier from World War I, along with several fellow Medal of Honor recipients.

Later that month on November 24th, Whittlesey booked passage from New York to Havana aboard the USS Toloa, a steamship owned by the United Fruit Company. On November 26th, the first night out from New York, Whittlesey dined with the captain and then retired for the evening around 11:15pm; it was noted that he was in high spirits.

Whittlesey was never seen again.

He was reported missing the next morning. It is presumed that he committed suicide by jumping overboard, although no one had seen him jump and his body was never recovered. His friends and family had no idea of his travel plans and were shocked when they received the news of his disappearance and that letters had been prepared to those close to him. None of the letters hinted to the reasons for his suicide and the recipients never made the letters public. His will, which was drawn up prior to his voyage, left his property to his mother. To his friend George McMurtry, Whittlesey left the original copy of the German surrender request.

Several theories existed at the time as to what had pushed Whittlesey to such depths of depression: deaths of soldiers that remained a constant reminder of the war, feelings of guilt over not surrendering to the Germans and prolonging the suffering of his men, or his inability to adjust to the life of a hero. Whatever the exact reason may have been, it is clear that his death was indirectly related to the unhappiness which occurred after his experiences in the War.

by Kevin Welker

Attributions:
Image
Image

New York Times: Col. Whittelsey, of the ‘Lost Battalion’ Vanishes From Ship, November 29, 1921
New York Times: Sought Whittlesey half day in midsea; Search Will Make Fruit Liner Toloa Late Reaching Havana, November 30, 1921