The following stories are provided by library patron, Paul Murphy. Paul is a United States Navy veteran is a freelance writer living in Deerfield, NH.
GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH
In the largest amphibious invasion in the history of warfare, 25,000 ships and more than 156,000 brave soldiers from the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada stormed the 50 miles of Normandy, France beaches in a bold strategy to push the Nazis out of Western Europe and turn the tide of the war for good. The average age of the men who landed on the beaches in Operation Overlord was 20.
Concord’s own Peter Orlando was on board a communications ship just outside Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. Peter was just 22 serving as a radio operator in a mission tasked with pulling boats off the beaches at Normandy that were stuck or damaged.
In planning the D-Day attack, Allied military leaders knew that casualties might be staggeringly high, but it was a cost they were willing to pay in order to establish an infantry stronghold in France. Days before the invasion, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was told by a top strategist that paratrooper casualties alone could be as high as 75 percent. Nevertheless, he ordered the attack.
Because of bad weather and fierce German resistance, the D-Day beach landings were chaotic and bloody, with the first waves of landing forces suffering terrible losses, particularly the U.S. troops at Omaha beach and the Canadian divisions at Juno beach. But thanks to raw perseverance and grit, the Allies overcame those grave initial setbacks and took all five Normandy beaches by nightfall on June 6.
At its memorial site in Bedford, Virginia, The National Memorial Foundation lists 4,414 names enshrined in bronze plaques representing every Allied soldier, sailor, airman and coast guardsman who died on D-Day. That figure was the result of years of exhaustive research by librarian and genealogist Carol Tuckwiller and remains the most accurate count of Allied fatalities within the 24-hour period known as D-Day. Nineteen soldiers from Bedford, VA, whose 1944 population was about 3,200, were killed on D-Day. Three other Bedford soldiers died later in the Normandy campaign. Proportionally this community suffered the nation’s most severe D-Day losses.
While the D may have simply stood for “day”, it is just one of several D-Days in the war. Historians are still searching for the given names to those beaches (Utah, Gold, Juno, Sword and Omaha). They are code names for the naval task forces. They can change the names, but American soldiers are still going to show up in force, rain or shine.
Peter Orlando survived the war and returned to Concord, where he and his late wife Josephine built a house on Bedford Street and raised five children. In 2020 reflecting on his service in the Navy on that fateful day, Radioman Orlando said, “It was terrifying, and it was noisy, but we had a job to do, and we kept our heads down and did it.”
Today, at age 99, Peter Orlando has many more memories than World War II. We can thank him for our own.
ON THE JOB TRAINING
My wife Amy’s cousin Debby was put in charge of the family cemetery here in Deerfield, NH. She hired a local landscape company to maintain the property. She lived in New York, so she had to take their word that they treated the place with expert care.
I told her that I would take over the duties for free. I got the job manicuring the Granite Cemetery. I have made the decisions for the past decade as the caretaker. Of the 200 gravestones in the cemetery, many are more than 200 years old. I learned how to straighten many of the headstones and cleaned many others with the D2 solution. With many stones being so brittle, one must be selective in restoring those that will allow such treatment.
I have learned all the names and the dates on the gravestones. I feel as though I know everything about them. My favorites are the Johnson family. Captain Jonathan H. Johnson fought at Vicksburg during the Civil War, contracted swamp fever and came home to die on October 13, 1863. His son George was killed in battle at Spottsylvania on May 12, 1864. Nancy Johnson was left to raise eight other children without her husband or oldest son. She did receive the letters and diary that her husband wrote during his service with Company D – 15th Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers from October 1862 through August 1863 while part of the “Banks Expedition.”
In one of Captain Jonathan Huntington Johnson’s letters home, he told his 12-year-old son William that “The land is your friend. Please don’t wait too long to harvest the crops. If you are good to them, they will be good to you.” The land that the Johnson family harvested is where the Deerfield Fair is held today.
The life expectancy for a woman in 1860 was 40 years. Today it is 79. Medical advancements, improved living conditions and fewer wars means people live longer than in previous centuries. Nancy Johnson lived to the ripe old age of 94 years, five months when she died in 1909.
I ensure that new American Flags are placed on the graves that warrant them on: Independence Day, Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day. For me, it is not a prerequisite to have served in the military to receive a flag. I make one exception for Nancy Johnson. She may not have worn a blue uniform, but she is just as important to the cause as those on the firing lines.
I get to do this job for free. I get to mow, weed whack, wash, trim, and clean ‘em up. I get to give them a little love and show them that I care, and they give back to me, tenfold. I have a running conversation with Horatio Gates Cilley, Dartmouth College graduate and son of General Joseph Cilley. He is a great listener.
It doesn’t matter if it’s Concord, MA or Lincoln, NE, we will always remember those who died serving in our country’s armed forces. Veteran’s Day is for those who served. Armed Services Day is for those who are serving. Memorial Day might be the most important day of the year when we remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
A few minutes to visit is all it takes.
LET’S FINISH THE JOB
I was on a Zoom discussion on Wednesday with the Boston Globe’s Emily Sweeney and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Steve Kurkjian. The topic was reporting techniques and most of the conversation centered on Steve’s book and Netflix documentary, The Gardner Art Heist.
There were a few questions from the audience which Steve answered easily, but he did pause when Emily asked her final question of the night, “How do you get that one person out of 10 to tell you what really happened?” From Steve, “One just has to leave the comfortable news desk, put down the phone and hit the streets. They are dying to tell you.”
I did as Steve told me and took a ride to Cambridge. For the longest time, I have been fascinated by the Vietnam Wall. There are stories behind each name that is engraved. Many of us are quite familiar with the names of the Concord soldiers who were killed in action. I needed information on the soldier’s name inscribed on the Vietnam Veteran Wall, Panel 26E, Line 88.
After my twin sisters, Rosemary and Denise were born in 1962, there were now eight children under one roof at 3 Garden Rd. My parents decided that the house needed a big addition so my Dad got his brother George, the plumber to find us a carpenter. He thought that all those independent contractors worked together and helped each other out. Larry did get the house framed and the windows installed, but all the finish work like baseboards and molding were not done at all. He left his tools behind and never returned. I bet he is still at the racetrack.
My Dad was a principal at the Russell School in Cambridge. He told his tale of woe to the shop teacher, Mr. Duffett. He took the job to finish what Larry had left undone. He worked on Saturdays at our house for quite some time. He set up his little workshop in the cellar and took stock of what needed fixing. He was like a member of our family.
I didn’t see him for a few weeks. I asked my Dad if we had lost another craftsman. He told me that Mr. Duffett’s son, Edward had been killed in Vietnam. He would return at the right time. After three weeks, he came back to us. I had a nice conversation with him telling him how sorry I was for his loss. I went upstairs and made him six tuna fish sandwiches. When I brought the plate downstairs to him, he told me he would walk off the job like the other guy if he were forced to eat all of them. He had one. In a few weeks, he finished the job. I still think about him and his family.
During his service in the Vietnam War, Marine Corps Lance Corporal Edward Stephen Duffett experienced a traumatic event which ultimately resulted in loss of life on September 18, 1967. Recorded circumstances attributed to: Hostile Died of Wounds, Gun Small Arms Fire, Ground Casualty. Incident location: South Vietnam, Quang Tin Province.
My unnamed source told me that the City of Cambridge was a bit embarrassed in not having a Wall honoring their 16 soldiers killed in Vietnam. She mentioned that sometimes it takes an outsider to see what is missing.
In 1987, at a picnic, World War II veteran Roger Durbin approached Representative Marcy Kaptur, a Democrat from Ohio, to ask if a World War II memorial could be constructed. It took three presidential administrations — George Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush — and more than 17 years from the first conversation between Roger Durbin and Congresswoman Kaptur before the memorial was dedicated.
Once the pandemic is over, the plan is to erect a monument in Cambridge recognizing those Vietnam War casualties. Cambridge may be home to a prestigious university, but it can’t count the Harvard Vietnam War Memorial as its own. The engraved plaque on the campus lists 1964 class graduate, William Emerson from Concord.
Here’s hoping it doesn’t take the City of Cambridge 17 years to fulfill their mission.
IN MEMORIAM: IN HONOR OF ONE OF THE BEST
This article is reprinted with permission from my friend, Steve Kurkjian. He is a former Boston Globe journalist and member of their Spotlight Team. He is the author of the Gardner Art Heist. “This is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist” is now a four-part American documentary film on Netflix.
Steve told me that one of the early assignments a cub reporter would receive from the editor is writing obituaries. This assignment was particularly difficult for obvious reasons.
By Stephen Kurkjian, Boston Globe Staff May 28, 2006
I have traced his name on the wall of the Vietnam memorial in Washington: James McGarry. We were friends for only a couple of years, just as we were beginning our careers in newspapers, but 40 years later I can still recall with envy his jaunty walk, his natural manner, and the graceful way his fingers worked a manual typewriter, turning out copy as informed and poignant as reporters twice his age.
I took his place at the Globe. After graduating from Northeastern University in 1968, he had decided to enlist in the Marines – instead of being drafted – and he put his name in for the cub reporter position that he was giving up to join the service. I can remember him telling me that it paid $125 a week, almost twice as much as we’d be making at the State House News Service where we had met, and how the work was so much more interesting than covering those windy politicians on Beacon Hill.
I tried to talk him out of enlisting. Like everyone else he knew, neither of us supported the war, so I asked him, what about putting it off by going to grad school or wasn’t there some medical malady like your lousy eyesight that you could play up to gain a medical deferment? He chuckled and shook his head. He was worried about being drafted only because he would wind up being treated like a number. By enlisting in the Marines, he would have some options. Maybe, he thought, he could wind up as a reporter for one of the Marines’ publications and cover other servicemen fighting in Vietnam, writing about the conflict as our favorite author, Ernest Hemingway, had during World War II.
In retrospect, shirking his responsibility was just not something that Jim McGarry could fathom no matter what he felt about the war or how worrisome the prospect of going to Vietnam. He wasn’t raised that way. One of eight children who grew up on a turkey farm in Norton, he was expected to be up before dawn to help feed and water hundreds of turkeys before getting on a bus for a 5-mile trip to the Immaculate Conception grammar school in Taunton. That sense of mission ran through Jim’s family – his mother, the late Susan F. McGarry, worked as a registered nurse at Morton Hospital in Taunton for much of her life, and his brother, Peter, was a missionary in Uganda.
His siblings recall his passion for reading and how naturally he took to reporting in his internships at the Taunton Gazette and The New Bedford Standard-Times. He reflected, even more than the other children, his siblings recall their mother’s intelligence, engaging wit and gentle manner.
As another summer arrives, bringing with it a reminder of what families sacrifice in seeing their children sent off to war, the white sheets billow overhead from nearly every Highway bridge welcoming them back from Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s difficult to remember what life was like for those who returned from Vietnam. No parades, no celebrations yet more than 2 million served and over 58,000 died. Ten of those casualties who had ties to Arlington, including Jim McGarry, whose wife, Kathleen Cavanaugh, was raised in Arlington, will be added to the town’s list of fallen Vietnam veterans tomorrow at 11AM at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery.
They were, no doubt, like McGarry, some of the best of our generation. Even though he began working at the Globe as a news assistant during his senior year at Northeastern, he quickly rose to become a staff reporter, and his clippings show he was destined to be a star. Whether covering a tragedy on Boston’s streets or a lighter story, like a short-order cook taking his family to a city sponsored concert in Roxbury, he had an eye for the offbeat and a writing style that showed a sense of how best to tell a story. When the state Garden Club Federation succeeded in preserving a grove of trees along Route 1 on the North Shore, McGarry’s article began: “Only God can make a tree. But it takes a woman to save one.”
And the full-page article he did in August 1968 on how the 13 men on Death Row at Walpole State Prison were affected by the Beacon Hill debate on capital punishment was cited for years inside the Globe newsroom as a prime example of dramatic yet unbiased reporting.
But it was his story on the return of a 19-year-old Marine from West Concord killed in action in Vietnam in February 1968 that remains strongest in my mind. He told the story from the eyes of the young Marine who accompanied the body of Marine Lance Corporal Charles Sheehan as an honor guard.
“Marine Cpl. Ronald Hunsberger, 20, of Reading, Pa., stood beside the belly of a Northeast Airlines plane at Logan Airport Friday night and shivered. He was waiting for a body. The temperature was 24 degrees, the wind was strong and cold.” After telling about the lives of the two young men, who, though they had never met, were linked by this final mission. McGarry ended the article by writing: Cpl. Hunsberger didn’t even know where he was staying Friday night. He only knows he was in New York yesterday, and today he is in Concord, and Tuesday he will be in Pennsylvania.”
A year and a half later, I stood in the rain at Logan Airport besides Jim’s wife as she – accompanied by her younger brother, John; his uncle, Frank; his cousin, Edward, himself a Marine corporal; his father-in-law, Edward Cavanaugh; and his honor guard, Marine First Lieutenant Richard Upshaw of Rochester, N.Y., – waited for his body to arrive home.
He had been in Vietnam for just a week when he was killed in September 1969 while leading a patrol as a second lieutenant with the Third Marine Division about 4 miles from the Demilitarized Zone that then separated South Vietnam and North Vietnam. “He just wanted to go back to the Globe and continue his career as a newspaperman, “his wife, Kathleen said at the time. “He loved to write.”
He was 24 years old.
An estimated 47,434 American soldiers were killed in battle during the Vietnam War, which spanned from 1964 to 1975. An additional 10,786 died in the theater of war, but out of battle, making a total of 58,220 deaths.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial stands as a symbol of America’s honor and recognition of the men and women who served and sacrificed their lives in the Vietnam War. Inscribed on the black granite walls are the names of more than 58,000 men and women who gave their lives or remain missing. The Memorial is dedicated to honor the courage, sacrifice and devotion to duty and country of all who answered the call to serve during one of the most divisive wars in U.S. history.
Special thanks to Steve Kurkjian for keeping the memory of his friend, James Brian McGarry, alive.
WAITING FOR THE SUN
Imagine that you sacrificed your life in the Civil War, but your name is lost to history, including on your town’s Civil War Memorial. This is the story of George Washington Dugan.
Born in 1819 to Thomas and Jennie Dugan, there was no way to know that George and his mother would become household names in the historic Town of Concord. Sometimes, it takes a while for the public to be informed. In this case, it will be 158 years to complete the tale.
The 54th Massachusetts was an infantry regiment that saw extensive service in the Union Army during the American Civil War. The unit was the second African-American regiment, following the Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment, organized in the northern states during the Civil War. General recruitment of African Americans for service in the Union Army was authorized by the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Lincoln on January 1, 1863. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton accordingly instructed the Governor of Massachusetts, John A. Andrew, to begin raising regiments including “persons of African descent” on January 26, 1863.
At age 44, George Washington Dugan left the farm off Old Marlboro Road and enlisted in the Massachusetts 54th. He may have been persuaded by an advertisement in the Boston Journal recruiting “good men of African Descent.” I think it may have been the sense of pride for the freed slaves in Massachusetts. George, a widower, would be one of 450 Concordians who served in the Civil War, but the lone black soldier.
The all black 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment would engage in the Second Battle at Fort Wagner in Charleston, SC on July 18, 1863. A white officer, Harvard educated Col. Robert Gould Shaw, would spearhead the attack of the 281 men in his unit. George Washington Dugan among them.
Following the battle, commanding Confederate General Johnson Hagood returned the bodies of the other Union officers who had died, but left Shaw’s where it was, for burial in a mass grave with the black soldiers. Hagood told a captured Union surgeon that “Had he [Shaw] been in command of white troops …” he would have returned Shaw’s body, as was customary for officers, instead of burying it with the fallen black soldiers.
There were 52 soldiers missing in action. According to Brig. Gen. Leonid E. Kondratiuk, records for black soldiers were not kept until World War I. This would be the reason that George Washington Dugan was unfortunately left off the list, most likely having been buried, but never identified.
There are 48 names of the fallen soldiers etched on the rock in Monument Square. Through the work of Concord historian Rick Frese, a 49th name will be added.
The names of streets are often a lasting reminder of a town’s early history and are expressive of the personality of the town. Jennie Dugan Road in Concord is named for Thomas Dugan’s wife, whose name was also spelled Jenny. The Dugan home (no longer standing) was off Old Marlboro Road, near today’s Jennie Dugan Road.
I would say the Dugans have waited long enough for recognition as another great family from Concord.
I was researching World War veterans who would have celebrated their 100th birthday and came across the name of Joseph Dennis Sheehan. With help from Anke Voss of Special Collections of the Concord Public Library, I was directed to the 1982 interview by William Baily with Mary Sheehan Dalton.
Mary was born in 1914. Her parents were Edward and Kathryn (Sullivan) Sheehan and the family lived at 1880 Main Street. In the interview, she said, “I think we were very fortunate because my father was such a liberal person that he seemed to love everybody and they, in turn, seemed to love him because from the first time we moved into Concord, he was on committees in the town He was road commissioner, and then he worked with them on their budget, and all the different committees, finance committee and so forth, and was elected selectman for three consecutive terms and then was re-elected again on another term. He had a tremendous personality and although he was my father, I must say he was really a tremendous person. He moved to Boston as soon as the kids were born, but he couldn’t wait to move home to Concord. And when we moved back to Concord was just when I was old enough to start school. I had two brothers older, and three or four younger ones. I remember being told, “How lucky you are; we’re moving to Concord. We’re going back home to Concord.”
“And an older brother. who is not living now, happened to be born one year when they were visiting in Concord. His middle name was Concord. Dad was that proud of the town of Concord. That was instilled in us as long as I can ever remember, how lucky we are to be in Concord, and what a wonderful place it is, and everyone in it were just the best people in the world. Dad, to me, was ecumenical before the word was coined. He would go to the farm and get a carload of produce and go up to the Catholic priest and drop off a load and then go across the street to the Protestant minister and drop off another load there. And he’d say, “Don’t forget. Everybody is on the same road. We’re all heading for the same place. We just might go on different routes.”
Mary’s many brothers include at least two who are indelibly a part of Concord’s history. Her brother with the middle name of Concord would not live long enough to reach adulthood. William was a Concord High football player and manager of the track team. Concord had defeated Lexington, 2-0 on Thanksgiving Day in 1931. Following the game, William had contacted a cold and died just one month later.
1929- Concord-Carlisle 13, Lexington 0
1930- Concord-Carlisle 20, Lexington 6
1931- Concord-Carlisle 2, Lexington 0
Joseph Dennis Sheehan was born on March 1, 1920. Mary’s younger brother would be a track star at Worcester Academy and Northeastern before joining the United States Marine Corps in June of 1941 at 21. His actions in the battle of Peleliu were best summed up by his Commanding Officer 1st Lt. G. McKee, USMCR in a letter to Mary’s parents.
“By this time, you have been informed by the Secretary of the Navy of the death of your son, Joseph. This is the first time I have had the opportunity to write you of the circumstances of his death.
On October 9, 1944, we were ordered to send a demolition squad into the hills to clear enemy sniper from caves overlooking one of our medical areas. Joe volunteered to lead the demolition group. Throughout the morning, Joe and his men successfully cleared many caves of the enemy risking his life many times. At about 1000 hours, Joe was shot through the chest by a sniper and was killed instantly. He was buried shortly thereafter in the American cemetery on Peleliu island.
Joe was a good Marine in every sense of the word and extremely popular with both his Officers and men. I have had him with me for the past year and a half and I have never done duty with a finer soldier. I know that words of mine can not compensate for your loss, but I do want you to feel that you are not alone in your grief.
Each of us who knew him and have been associated with him for these many months feel a very personal loss. You must take what consolation you can in that he died fighting for that which he believed to be right. You have my deepest sympathy.”
The body of Sergeant Sheehan arrived in Concord at the Thoreau Depot Station on Thursday, October 28, 1948. Over four years after Joseph gave his life for his country, full military rites were accorded the hero on Saturday, October 30th. The recipient of the Purple Heart, Pacific Campaign Ribbon and the Navy Cross was laid to rest at St. Bernard’s Catholic Cemetery.
I would like to thank Mary Sheehan Dalton for taking the time to share her family history. Newspaper articles listing the last name of Sheehan are: Hartford Courant – 41, 278, Boston Globe – 25, 404, Chicago Tribune – 8, 320, Asbury Park Press – 3, 777 and St. Louis Post-Dispatch – 3,462.
It is my pleasure to learn about the Sheehan, Dalton and Mara families and their relatives. It continues to be time well spent.
SAMUEL MELVIN COULDN’T ESCAPE HELL ON EARTH
I’ve written about Samuel Melvin before, but his story is worthy of retelling.
On February 27, 1864, the first Union inmates begin arriving at the Andersonville Prison in Georgia. The prison, officially called Camp Sumter, became necessary after the prisoner exchange system between the North and South collapsed in 1863 over disagreements about the handling of Black soldiers. During the 14 months the prison existed, 13,000 of the 45,000 confined Union soldiers died. The prison was supposed to include wooden barracks but the inflated price of lumber delayed construction, and the imprisoned Yankee soldiers lived outside, protected only by makeshift shanties constructed from scraps of wood and blankets. Initially, a stream provided fresh water, but within a few months human waste had contaminated the creek.
One of the prisoners held captive at Andersonville was Concord’s own Samuel Melvin. Samuel and his brothers Asa and John, all members of Company K, First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, did not survive the Civil War. James Melvin, the only brother to return home, commissioned a sculpture by Daniel Chester French, who sculpted the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. The Melvin Memorial, “Mourning Victory,” was erected in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in 1908.
Private Samuel Melvin had been injured in the Battle of Spotsylvania on May 19, 1864 and was taken prisoner when he stopped to assist a wounded comrade. He was brought to Camp Sumter on June 3.
Some rules and regulations of the prison included rations being withheld if any men were missing at the two daily roll calls; limiting letters home to no more than one page; and punishing any theft with shaving half of the head and a maximum of 50 lashes by a whip.
Andersonville was built to hold 10,000 men, but within six months more than three times that number were incarcerated there. Andersonville, rated the worst of the 150 Civil War prisons, became synonymous with death as nearly 29 percent of its inmates died in captivity. Henry Wirz, who ran Andersonville, was executed after the war for the brutality and mistreatment committed under his command. He was one of only three Confederates executed for their atrocities during the war.
Not to be outdone by The Confederates, The Union Army kept pace with the enemy. Elmira Prison in New York was originally a barracks for Camp Rathbun or Camp Chemung. The 30-acre site was selected partially due to its proximity to the Erie Railroad and the Northern Central Railway. The Camp fell into disuse as the war progressed. According to Concord historian Rick Frese, the prison camp was dubbed “HELLmira” by its inmates. With a capacity for only 4,000, the site actually housed 12,000 Confederate soldiers, more than a quarter of whom would die in captivity.
(Interestingly, one of the conspirators of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, John Surratt, claims to have been in Elmira on a spy mission to gather information about the prison when Lincoln was shot. Upon hearing the news, he fled to Montreal.)
The exchange system had broken down in 1863 because the Confederacy refused to treat Black prisoners the same as their White counterparts. The South needed the exchanges much more than the North because of the severe manpower shortage in the Confederacy. In 1864, Union camps held far more prisoners than Confederate camps. Ulysses S. Grant decided that the growing prisoner gap gave him a decided military advantage.
Samuel Melvin would not be part of the prisoner exchange. He predicted that his “old bones” would be laid to rest at the prison. He never made old bones. He died at Andersonville on September 25, 1864 at age 20.
IT’S THE REAL THING
Every year on December 1, I relive my most memorable United States Navy experience. Today I relived it while once again looking for my John McCain M.I.A./P.O.W. bracelet that I wore in the 70s and somehow lost over the years.
Our ship, the USS Franklin Delano Roosevelt (CVA-42), was returning from the Mediterranean after having been deployed since February. I had joined the crew on May 4, 1971 in Athens, Greece, fresh out of boot camp and very far from home in Concord. The 10 months at sea had taken its toll on the sailors, and most couldn’t wait to get to the home port of Jacksonville, Florida.
With fewer than 10 days to go, most sailors were pretty edgy and basically just killing time. I finished my shift in the ship’s post office at 5 pm and headed up one flight of stairs with my friend, Bill Garrett. We were going to the flight deck to watch the air operations. It was amazing to see one arresting cable stop a plane in its tracks in two seconds. Taking off was exciting as well because the plane had to generate enough power in such a short space. The flight deck was 997 feet long and 78 feet above the water. When the plane takes off, it actually descends before it ascends. It is like falling off the edge of the earth. Two pilots had lost their lives early on in the cruise when the ship ran over their aircraft after a failed takeoff.
We watched the daily air show for 30 minutes and headed for the stairs. Bill told me to wait a minute while he went inside to grab something. He returned with a warm case of soda. On the wall was a fire extinguisher which he told me to grab and pull the safety pin. Bill grabbed the red bottle and gave the case of soda two shots of CO2. The cans were cold instantly. He grabbed a second case and we zapped that one, too. As we started to ice down the third one, Lt. Cdr. Kurtz came around the corner. We were taken into custody immediately. Kurtz claimed to have been aboard the USS Forrestal in 1967 where tampered equipment may have hampered fire contingencies.
The June 29, 1967 fire on board the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal was a devastating series of chain-reaction explosions that killed 134 sailors and injured 161. An unguided “Zuni” rocket had accidentally fired due to an electrical power surge. At the time, Forrestal was engaged in combat operations in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War. Future United States Senator John McCain, and future Four-Star Admiral Ronald J. Zlatoper were among the survivors. Eighteen of the bodies were buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
After getting a haircut and donning my freshly ironed blue uniform to meet the Executive Officer (X.O.), I arrived with my co-conspirator Bill at 7 pm in the stateroom of Commander Edmund Ingley. Two United States Marine Corps sentries were stationed outside. I went first, saluted, and stood at attention. My back was to the door as the X.O. approached and screamed at me within an inch of my face for 45 minutes. He would back away to catch his breath and then return with renewed vengeance.
Many more issues were working against me. The ship was 28 years old and in need of a major overhaul. The only time it looked clean was when somebody just painted over the dirt. The Commander had recently quit smoking due to some health concerns, and he was in a foul mood before I showed up. He hadn’t seen his wife since May. I was 19, and he went the full 15 rounds on me. I was more worried about my hearing than passing out. It took three days for the ringing to subside.
I was told to wait outside on the bench while the X.O. yelled at Bill. The Marine sentries told me to hang in there and that mine was the worst beating they could recall. Luckily for Bill, the X.O. was out of gas and he was out in three minutes. Our punishment was to weigh all 456 fire extinguishers on the aircraft carrier after our daily duties were complete. Sleep was not on the docket.
We had to meet with personnel from all the departments so we could locate all the bottles. Most of the nights, we went well past midnight. We carried a scale and a logbook. Each bottle required six entries in the log which was turned over to the X.O. nightly. When we finished each night, we had to go wake up a writer for the ship’s newspaper so our progress would be in the next day’s transcript. Why I didn’t save those is a mystery. I was so happy that I wasn’t in the ship’s brig, I made remarks each day saying how great it was to meet everybody.
It took 46 hours to complete our assignment. We met with the X.O. for breakfast on December 9, and Bill and I went to the head of the line. We sat and ate on the mess decks with the crew. Everybody on ship had read our daily tales. Many approached our table and had some funny things to say.
The X.O. was transferred on December 28 and I never saw him again. I can still feel him. That was a heavyweight bout, but I was and am still standing. What he didn’t know was that my belt had hooked onto the doorknob, and I couldn’t have fallen if I wanted.
Smoking is hazardous to your health. Warm soda ain’t much better.
Speaking of the real thing, John McCain was on my side today. I found the bracelet.
JUST ONE MORE THING
Name: Allen Ward
Birthdate: 13 Dec 1920
Home City: Concord
Home State: Massachusetts
Citizen Status: US Citizen
Death Date: 12 Feb 1953
Casualty Country: Korea
Casualty Type: Hostile – Killed
Casualty Cause: Aircraft Loss/Crash Not At Sea
Casualty Air: Fixed Wing Air Casualty Pilot
Service Branch: US Marine Corps
TogetherWeServed: “HMR-161 had been able to maintain an amazing record of flight safety conducting helicopter operations in a combat zone for 17 months without losing a man. Unfortunately, this record ended on 12 February 1953. Captain Allen W. Ruggles and his crew chief, Technical Sergeant Joseph L. Brand Jr., were about 25 miles south of Pusan on their way to rendezvous with an aircraft carrier that was to take them to Japan, when their helicopter crashed into the water. Mechanical trouble was believed to have been the cause; neither the bodies nor the aircraft were ever recovered.”
This appeared to be an easy assignment. Researching Concord soldiers killed in The Korean War, I found that three were buried at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Howard Francis Heyliger, James Edward Smith Jr. and Wilfred Wheeler are laid to rest in Concord’s only active public cemetery. They are also listed on The Monument Square Veterans Memorial. A fourth soldier, Capt. Allen Ward Ruggles is memorialized in The Court of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. The only problem is that he is not shown on The Concord Wall with the others. Was he overlooked because his remains were never found or was he not a Concord resident?
I visited the Concord Free Public Library. Special Collections has the documents and important material that could answer my military inquiries. There was no record of Allen Ward Ruggles, only an article on ukulele player, Thomas. After an exchange of emails, I had the privilege of speaking with the 92-year-old bandleader. I visited his home, but we missed connections. I spoke with his next-door neighbor, Susan Baldwin. She is a retired Concord librarian who worked in special collections. Susan was very helpful and a pleasure to talk to.
It turns that Thomas is not related to Allen. He was unaware of the exploits of the Captain who served in the Navy and the Marine Corps in World War II and Korea. He told me it would have been nice to have been related to him.
We are in the early stages of finding out if Concord had a fourth veteran killed in the Korean Conflict. Those who I have spoken to all want answers as well. It is only fitting on what would be Allen Ward Ruggles’ 100th birthday on December 13 that we solve the mystery. I feel like the TV detective, Peter Falk on Columbo who keeps saying, “Just one more thing” until we find those answers.
THE FORGOTTEN WAR
The Korean War was among the most destructive conflicts of the modern era, with approximately three million war fatalities and a larger proportional civilian death toll than World War II or the Vietnam War. It incurred the destruction of virtually all of Korea’s major cities, thousands of massacres by both sides, including the mass killing of tens of thousands of suspected communists by the South Korean government, and the torture and starvation of prisoners of war by the North Korean command.
The war began on 25 June 1950 when North Korea invaded South Korea following clashes along the border and insurrections in the south. After the surrender of Japan, at the end of World War II, on 15 August 1945, Korea was divided at the 38th parallel into two zones of occupation. The Soviets administered the northern half and the Americans administered the southern half.
Chosin Reservoir is a man-made lake located in the northeast of the Korean peninsula. The battle was fought over some of the roughest terrain during some of the harshest winter weather conditions of the Korean War. On 14 November 1950, a cold front from Siberia descended over the Chosin Reservoir, and the temperature plunged to −36 °. Navy Pilot Ensign Jesse L. Brown’s plane was hit by a Chinese anti-aircraft gunner on 4 December. Brown was unable to exit the Corsair despite valiant efforts by Lt. j.g. Thomas J. Hudner Jr. to free him from the wreckage. Due to the proximity of enemy troops, Brown’s body could not be recovered. Temperature with the wind chill may have reached – 70. The plane was napalmed in the morning per order. Thomas J. Hudner Jr. would receive the Medal of Honor for his actions.
Three soldiers are honored on the Monument Square Veterans Memorial in Concord for actions in the Korean Conflict.
SGT Howard Francis Heyliger United States Marine Corps
BIRTH – 30 Jun 1914 DEATH – 18 Oct 1951 (aged 37) North Korea
BURIAL – Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
Master Sergeant Heyliger was a veteran of World War II. In Korea, he was the pilot of a F7F-3N Tigercat fighter with Marine Night Fighter Squadron 513, Marine Air Group 12, 1st Marine Air Wing. On October 18, 1951, while on a combat mission, his aircraft exploded and crashed.
James Edward Smith Jr. HM3 Navy Hospital Corpsman, 1st Marine Division
BIRTH – 26 Nov 1928 DEATH – 8 Nov 1950 (aged 21) South Korea
BURIAL – Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
“Hospital Corpsman Third Class Smith was a member of the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade. He was Killed in Action during the battle for the Pusan Perimeter while tending his wounded comrades near Chindong-ni, Korea on August 8, 1950 by an enemy gun-shot wound.”
LT Wilfrid Wheeler III VC-3 Composite Division, United States Navy
BIRTH – 12 May 1925 DATE OF LOSS – 24 May 1953 DEATH – 29 July 1954
BURIAL – Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
Lieutenant Wheeler was the pilot of a F4U-5N Corsair night fighter with Composite Squadron 3 aboard the carrier USS BOXER(CVA-21). On May 24, 1953, while conducting night operations over North Korea, his aircraft was observed to crash in the vicinity of Soho-ri. He was listed as Missing in Action and was presumed dead on July 29, 1954.
2/5 is the most highly decorated battalion in the Marine Corps, and their motto, “Retreat, Hell!”, comes from the French trenches of World War I, when a Marine officer named Lloyd W. Williams was advised by a French officer to retreat and replied, “Retreat? Hell, we just got here!”
Why do I think Lloyd may have been from Concord?
I KNOW YOU’RE OUT THERE SOMEWHERE
Since my post last week, the story of United States Marine Corps Captain Allen Ward Ruggles has taken on a life of its own. The pilot was killed in action on 12 February 1953 when his helicopter went down in the Sea of Pusan. According to every record I have found in my ceaseless searching, Captain Ruggles was from Concord, MA.
Phone calls to the Marine Corps, Navy, American Battle Monuments Commission, National Archives and Concord Town Clerk were on the docket. Searches were made on The Korean War Military Service Records, Korean Conflict, National Personnel Records Center sites and a host of others. In addition, I received information from The Pentagon and Department of Defense. I received tremendous help from Jeff Bernard, Jackie Buckley Fearer and Sarah Schooler as well in my search.
My biggest break came when I reached out to Steve Kurkjian. Steve is the author of The Gardner Art Heist and winner of The Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. He told me I needed his friend Walter Robinson, editor at large for the Boston Globe to help me. He sent me the email information for Walter. After a few exchanges, we spoke on the phone. Walter is the renowned investigative reporter featured in the movie, Spotlight. His part was played by Michael Keaton in the 2015 movie which won an Academy Award for Best Picture. We talked about that, too.
I visited the West Lawn Cemetery in Littleton, MA after I researched Captain Ruggles’ parents. Allen’s wife, Mildred had filed an application for a headstone on March 21, 1953. The flat marker for Captain Allen Ward Ruggles was placed next to the father Edward, who had died in 1949. His mother, Harriet would be buried next to them in 1963. Allen and Mildred’s son, Gary was born in 1948, died in 1995 and is buried in Keene, NH. I really wished I could have spoken to him.
On the third phone call with Walter, I told him what I had uncovered. I had followed his directions on checking certain sites, calling The Marine Corps in Quantico, VA and hounding the town clerk for information. Walter didn’t mince words when I asked him if Captain Ruggles was really from Concord or was I wasting my time.
From Walter, “I’ve been doing this stuff for a long time. I know what I see. In my expert opinion, that kid is from Concord. It takes time to the get the answer, but you can see the goal line. Call me, anytime.”
In the meantime, I will continue my search. Captain Ruggles, lost at sea and a 14-hour flight from home, needs to be recognized. Putting his name on The Korean War Military Monument in Concord alongside Howard Francis Heyliger, James Edward Smith Jr. and Wilfrid Wheeler III isn’t too much to ask. If it truly is Concord, we are almost there.
EIGHT DAYS A WEEK
It is this week every year that I relive my most memorable United States Navy experience. Our ship (USS Franklin Delano Roosevelt CVA-42) was returning from the Mediterranean Sea after having been deployed since February. I had joined the crew on May 4, 1971 in Athens, Greece, fresh out of boot camp. The 10 months at sea had taken its toll on the sailors, and most couldn’t wait to get to the home port in Jacksonville, FL.
With fewer than 10 days to go, most sailors were pretty edgy and basically, “just killing time.” I finished my shift in the ship’s post office at 5PM(1700) and headed up one flight of stairs with my friend, Bill Garrett. We were going to the flight deck to watch the air operations. It was amazing to see one arresting cable stop a plane in its tracks in two seconds. Taking off was exciting as well because the plane had to generate enough power in such a short space. The flight deck was 997 feet long and 78 feet above the water. When the plane takes off, it actually descends before it ascends. It is like falling off the edge of the earth. Two pilots had lost their lives early on in the cruise when the ship ran over their aircraft after a failed takeoff.
We watched the daily air show for 30 minutes and headed for the stairs. Bill told me to wait a minute while he went inside to grab something. He returned with a warm case of soda. On the wall was a fire extinguisher which he told me to grab and pull the safety pin. Bill grabbed the red bottle and gave the case two shots of CO2. The cans were cold instantly. He grabbed a second case and we zapped that one, too. As we started to ice down the third one, Lt. Cdr. Kurtz came around the corner. We were taken into custody. Kurtz claimed to have been aboard the USS Forrestal in 1967 where tampered equipment may have hampered fire contingencies.
The 1967 USS Forrestal fire was a devastating fire and series of chain-reaction explosions on 29 July 1967, that killed 134 sailors and injured 161 on the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal (CVA-59). An unguided 5.0 in (127.0 mm) Mk-32 “Zuni” rocket, one of four contained in an LAU-10 underwing rocket pod mounted on an F-4B Phantom II, accidentally fired due to an electrical power surge during the switch from external to internal power. The surge, and a missing rocket safety pin, which would have prevented the fail surge, as well as a decision to plug in the “pigtail” system early to increase the number of takeoffs from the carrier, allowed the rocket to launch.
Forrestal was engaged in combat operations in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War at the time, and the damage exceeded US$72 million (equivalent to $511 million today) not including the damage to aircraft. Future United States Senator John McCain, and future four star admiral and CINCPACFLT Ronald J. Zlatoper were among the survivors. 18 members killed were buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
After getting a haircut and donning my freshly ironed blue uniform, Executive Officer’s mast was at 7PM(1900) in the stateroom of Commander Edmund Ingley. Two United States Marine Corps sentries were stationed outside. I went first and saluted the X.O. I stood at attention as he told me to close the door. My back was to the door as he approached. For 45 minutes, he screamed at me within an inch of my face. He would back away to catch his breath, and would return with a vengeance.
There were many more issues working against me. The ship was 28 years old and in need of a major overhaul. The only time it looked clean was when somebody just painted over the dirt. The Commander had recently quit smoking due to some health concerns, and he was in a foul mood before I showed up. He hadn’t seen his wife since May. I was 19 and he went the full 15 rounds on me. I was more worried about my hearing than passing out. It took three days for the ringing to subside.
I was told to wait outside on the bench while the X.O. yelled at my friend, Bill. The Marine sentries told me to “hang in there.” They said it was worst beating they could recall. The X.O. was out of gas and Bill was out in three minutes. Our punishment was to weigh all 456 fire extinguishers on the aircraft carrier after our daily duties were complete. Sleep was not on the docket.
We had to meet with personnel from all the departments so we could locate all the bottles. Most of the nights, we went well past midnight. We carried a scale and a logbook. Each bottle required six entries in the log which was turned over to the X.O. nightly. When we finished each night, we had to go wake up a writer for the ship’s newspaper so our progress would be in the next day’s transcript. Why I didn’t save those is a mystery? I was so happy that I wasn’t in the ship’s brig, I made remarks each day saying how great it was to meet everybody.
It took 46 hours to complete our assignment. We met with the Executive Officer on the morning of December 9. Bill and I went to the head of the line for breakfast with the X.O. We sat and ate on the mess decks with the crew. Everybody on ship had read our daily tales. Many approached our table and had some funny things to say.
The executive officer was transferred on December 28 and I never saw him until today when I looked in the yearbook. I can still feel him. That was a heavyweight bout and I’m still standing. The only reason was that my belt had hooked onto the doorknob, and I couldn’t have fallen if I wanted.
Smoking is hazardous to your health. Warm soda ain’t much better.
THE RIGHT STUFF
My sister Helen periodically sends articles and family artifacts to my siblings and me. She oversees the logical distribution of items that were stored at our house on Garden Road in Concord. I generally get the military memorabilia.
I remember attending the wake of Louie Dobbin with my parents. My mother deemed it appropriate that I pay my respects. She recalled that I had played stickball with Louie and other kids in my grandparents’ Brighton neighborhood. I don’t think I had ever met his sisters, who were named in the obituary as Mary, Roseanne, and Lynn.
Louie’s parents, Brigadier General John Dobbin and his wife Ellen, lived next door to my grandparents, Thomas and Lena Burns. The two empty-nester couples were the best of friends.
Not long ago, I happened to read a story about Rising Star Quilts in Lexington. This organization crafts quilts for veterans and those in need. On the website, I was interested to see that the quilting team photo caption identified one of the members as Ellen Dobbin Liberman. My curiosity finally got the best of me; I had to know if she was related to my grandparents’ neighbors. Recently, after an extensive search for her phone number, I made a call to Vermont as I waited in line for my first COVID-19 shot. I had hit paydirt.
It turns out that the obituary had her name wrong. It wasn’t Lynn. I was actually speaking with Louie’s sister, Ellen.
Ellen generously shared memories about the Dobbin family, and we discussed the Boston Globe article written by her brother-in-law, Douglas McCay. Ellen said it was not true that Douglas was the one who told the General about his son’s death. In fact, the Marine Corps ― of course ― sent one of their own to personally relay the information to the General, who was with his family at the wake of his father, also named Louis. The Marine respectfully pulled the General aside to deliver the devastating news.
The grandfather and grandson had died on the same day, May 18, 1967.
The anti-war article by Douglas was not in line with the beliefs of Brigadier General John Dobbin, who flew 125 combat missions in fighters over the Pacific during World War II. He was awarded the Navy Cross for “his extraordinary heroism as a fighter pilot” in leading his squadron against Japanese planes attacking Henderson Field in Guadalcanal.
Last Sunday, Ellen called me at 8:23 PM, wanting to know if it was too late to talk because she had more memories she couldn’t wait to share. “Of course not. Call any time,” I said. She remembered that my grandfather parked his car in her parents’ garage and her Aunt Kay rented the first floor of my grandfather’s two decker next door. Also, her great grandmother was a Burns just as my mother was. We’re not ruling out the possibility of being related somehow.
Ellen and I are planning to meet in person after we complete our vaccines. She requested that we meet at her favorite candy shop, Priscilla’s, on Walden Street.
We can’t wait.
HE’S ONE OF OURS
The CCHS Driver’s Education Class started right at 7PM on Tuesday, July 9, 1968. We were in the auditorium for orientation. The instructor was Mr. Bolger. He told us that Greg Cann would not be joining us tonight because his older brother Doug had been killed in Vietnam. He told us to take a 15-minute break and be back at 7:20.
Doug Cann was a 1966 graduate of Concord-Carlisle High School. He had joined the military on August 1, 1967. He lived on West Street in Carlisle.
I walked over by the cafeteria and the gym. I spoke with Coach O’ Connell about what had happened. He had just gotten the news the same time as we had. I could see the tears in his eyes. I never thought for a second that Coach would ever cry. He said that “they killed another one of ours.”
The news didn’t travel as quickly as it does today. Specialist Four United States Army, Douglas Allen Cann was killed at Binh Duong, Vietnam by hostile enemy fire on July 2, 1968. He had been in the Armed Services for only 11 months. We were given the horrific news a week later.
There were only 14 boys from Carlisle that entered CCHS in the fall of 1966. The list includes Bob Barrington, Jon Barron, Bob Byrne, Greg Cann, Stephen Daigle, Bill Dolan, Steve Knute, David Lovering, Robert Metivier, Mark Mortensen, Greg Murphy, John Torrey, David and Wayne Wright. There were 170 boys in the Class of 1970. Carlisle kids didn’t even make up nine percent of the class population. World War One historian and classmate Mark Mortensen sent me the names. I hope they all remember their hometown hero.
Coach O’ Connell was right. Doug Cann was one of ours. Just because he put his head on the pillow on West Street in Carlisle doesn’t mean he wasn’t part of what makes Concord great. Once one is accepted into the historic little town, they are ours to keep.
NOT WAITING AROUND
With the weakness of the United States military prior to World War II, it stands to reason that young men might want to help. According to John Collins, PhD Chemistry, Princeton University, “By the late 30’s, FDR was worried that the country was ill prepared to fight any war. Graduates of West Point and the Naval Academy went to reserve units. The Army was simply undertrained, understrength and undertalented.”
Joseph D. Sheehan of Concord, MA, a graduate of Worcester Academy and third-year student at Northeastern University, would leave school and join the United States Marine Corps in June of 1941. The 21-year-old track star was taking a break from his studies to serve his country. It takes 10-20 years of training to produce someone who can command a division. Joseph would be light years ahead of his competition in being prepared to lead.
The Battle of Peleliu, codenamed Operation Stalemate II by the United States military, was fought between the U.S. and Japan during the Mariana and Palau Campaign of World War II, from September to November 1944, on the island of Peleliu.
U.S. Marines of the 1st Marine Division, and later soldiers of the U.S. Army’s 81st Infantry Division, fought to capture an airstrip on the small coral island of Peleliu. This battle was part of a larger offensive campaign known as Operation Forager, which ran from June to November 1944, in the Pacific Theater.
The battle was controversial in the United States due to the island’s lack of strategic value and the high casualty rate. The defenders lacked the means to interfere with potential US operations in the Philippines, and the airfield captured on Peleliu never played a key role in subsequent operations. The +high casualty rate exceeded all other amphibious operations during the Pacific War.
Major General William Rupertus, Commander of the 1st Marine Division, predicted the island would be secured within four days. It took 73. In one six-day period of intense fighting, U.S. casualty rate was 71 percentage. 40 percent of the Marines and soldiers that fought on the island died or were wounded.
For Joseph D. Sheehan of Concord, serving with the First Engineer Battalion, First Marine Division, losses were over 90 percent with 42 of 46 soldiers killed in action. His valiant efforts in leading his demolition squad against heavily fortified Japanese forces helped the U.S. to gain control of Peleliu Island.
Navy Cross Citation:
Awarded Posthumously for Actions During World War II
The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Sergeant Joseph D. Sheehan (MCSN: 310043), United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty while serving with the First Engineer Battalion, FIRST Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Peleliu Island in the Palau Group, on 4 October 1944. Vigorously supporting the advance of a friendly company, Sergeant Sheehan led his demolition squad with furious aggressiveness. When the enemy hurled the full force of their huge gun-batteries against the onrushing Marines and held them up with the merciless enfilade fire of one cave-emplaced machine gun which struck down forty-two of the forty-six men in the advancing unit and forced a temporary withdrawal, he fearlessly pushed on alone despite the ceaseless pounding of the heavy Japanese weapons. With the hostile cave as his objective, he relentlessly worked his way forward and, reaching his goal, dropped a powerful demolition charge into the Japanese position, destroying the valuable machine gun and annihilating the entire gun crew. By his intrepid initiative, resolute fortitude and decisive action in a critical situation, Sergeant Sheehan contributed essentially to the final crushing of a ruthless and fanatic enemy, and his great personal valor and unwavering devotion to duty throughout reflect the highest credit upon himself and upon the United States Naval Service.
A Japanese lieutenant with twenty-six 2nd Infantry soldiers and eight 45th Guard Force sailors held out in the caves in Peleliu until April 22, 1947 and surrendered after a Japanese admiral convinced them the war was over.
The body of Sergeant Sheehan arrived in Concord at the Thoreau Depot Station on Thursday, October 28, 1948. Over four years after Joseph gave his life for his country, full military rites were accorded the hero on Saturday, October 30th. The recipient of the Purple Heart, Pacific Campaign Ribbon and the Navy Cross was laid to rest at St. Bernard’s Catholic Cemetery.
The exploits of all the Concord soldiers who served in World War II get better by the minute. While soldiers from all wars do their part, it seems that the WWII ones ratcheted the intensity up a notch. We can only imagine what they were thinking when facing insurmountable odds. Self-sacrifice comes to mind every time for me.
FROM HARVEY WHEELER TO HEAVEN
The 1940 United States Census has the Meade family listed at 6 Elm Place in Concord, MA. The father, Francis P. Meade, was a corrections officer at the reformatory. Francis and Anna (McLaughlin) had seven children, ages two to twenty. Francis Jr. was the oldest and the first to join the military, enlisting in the United States Army in 1942. The second son, William, had finished school where he played on the Concord High football team. He worked as an assistant cook in a restaurant before taking a job at Fort Devens. William had an interest in flying and signed up for the Army Air Corps. Boot Camp was at Fort Bragg, NC. The waist gunner was assigned to 368 bombardment Squadron. A third brother, Robert L. didn’t want to be left behind so he joined the United States Navy.
A letter on file at the Concord Public Library from Major John M. Regan to Francis P. Meade Jr. (apparently Francis Sr. had died) reads: “The Adjutant General’s Office regrets to inform you that your brother, Staff Sergeant William J. Meade is missing in action over Continental Europe on November 3, 1943. During the time your brother was in my command, his every act was that of a soldier and to maintain a high sense of duty was his uppermost endeavor. No one could have devoted a greater effort for the eventual welfare of our great Democracy and on behalf of the members of this Squadron and me, I wish to express my deepest and sincerest sympathy to you and your family.” – Major, Air Corps John M. Regan 368 Bombardment Squadron.
The library shows a subsequent letter, this one from the War Department: “William J. Meade was a crew member of a B-17, (Flying Fortress), which departed the British Isles on a bombardment mission. With the mission completed over Wilhelmshaven, Germany, the plane was headed back to England. It was lost as the result of a collision in air over the North Sea. I have the honor to inform you that, by direction of President Roosevelt, the Air Medal and three Oak-leaf clusters have been awarded to Staff Sergeant William J. Meade for exceptionally meritorious achievement, while participating in 23 separate bomber combat missions and in the destruction of one enemy airplane, enemy occupied Continental Europe. The courage, coolness and skill displayed by this enlisted man upon these occasions reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of the United States. The Purple Heart was instituted in 1782 by George Washington and is the first American decoration. President Roosevelt has requested that we inform you that the Purple Heart has been awarded posthumously to Staff Sergeant William J. Meade, Air Corps, who sacrificed his life in defense of his country.”
Amazingly, all of these events happened in less than one full calendar year, 1943. Only 22 years old, William left behind six siblings and his mother Anna. Unlike many of the other Concord soldiers killed in action in World War II, there is very limited information available. What we do know is that William James Meade is a credit to his family as well as his country.
THE WORST PLACE ON EARTH
The first Union inmates begin arriving at Andersonville prison, which was still under construction in southern Georgia. Andersonville became synonymous with death. During the 14 months the prison existed, more than 45,000 Union soldiers were confined here. Of these, almost 13,000 died here. Henry Wirz, who ran Andersonville, was executed after the war for the brutality and mistreatment committed under his command. Tried and found guilty by a military tribunal, Wirz was hanged in Washington, D.C., on November 10, 1865. Wirz was the only person executed for war crimes during the Civil War.
The prison, officially called Camp Sumter, became necessary after the prisoner exchange system between North and South collapsed in 1863 over disagreements about the handling of black soldiers. The stockade at Andersonville was hastily constructed using slave labor and was located in the Georgia woods near a railroad but safely away from the front lines. Enclosing 16 acres of land, the prison was supposed to include wooden barracks but the inflated price of lumber delayed construction, and the Yankee soldiers imprisoned there lived under open skies, protected only by makeshift shanties called “shebangs,” constructed from scraps of wood and blankets. A stream initially provided fresh water, but within a few months human waste had contaminated the creek.
Andersonville was built to hold 10,000 men, but within six months more than three times that number were incarcerated there. The creek banks eroded to create a swamp, which occupied a significant portion of the compound. Rations were inadequate, and at times half of the population was reported ill. Some guards brutalized the inmates and there was violence between factions of prisoners. With sunken eyes, blackened countenances from pitch pine smoke, rags, and disease, the men look sickening. The air reeks with nastiness.” Still another recalled, “Since the day I was born, I never saw such misery.”
On May 19, 1864, Samuel Melvin was in the battle of Spottsylvania, Va., and was taken prisoner when he had assisted a wounded comrade to the rear. The 20-year old Private Melvin from Concord, MA was brought to Camp Sumter, Andersonville, Ga., arriving there on June 3. He became ill from diarrhea on Sept. 13. In his diary, the next day, he wrote that it was “very bad and will soon carry me off, if it is not checked.” Ten days later, on Sept. 25, 1864, he died from that illness and was buried in Lot 9735.
My friend, Gerry Smith spent 15 months as a POW in Germany during World War II. He joined the board at Andersonville to ensure that conditions for prisoners of war were humane. The historic Andersonville National Cemetery and the National Prisoner of War Museum honors prisoners of all wars. The remains of Samuel are laid to rest at Andersonville. His youngest brother James erected an elaborate memorial in memory of his three brothers, Asa H., John H. and Samuel at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord, MA.
Samuel kept a diary during the Civil War. With the capture of Atlanta by General William Tecumseh Sherman on September 10, 1864, prisoners held out hope that they would be exchanged or paroled. Melvin’s train wrecked and he was returned to Andersonville.
FATHER’S EARTHLY JOURNEY
William Mowry Cook, the son of Harry and Ethel Cook from 12 Garland Rd., graduated from Middlesex School in Concord in 1931, excelling in football, hockey and baseball. He was awarded an undergraduate academic degree from Harvard University in 1936 where he was treasurer and president of the Crimson’s prestigious drama club. Whitney was commissioned an Ensign in the United States Naval Reserve on May 28, 1936. He worked in the Advertising Department of Boston Transcript before his active duty call-up for the Navy on July 1, 1940. His first assignment was at the United States Naval Academy serving as a cadet instructor in English, Government and History.
Arriving in Manila on December 5, 1941, Whitney reported to the USS Luzon. As part of the Asiatic Fleet, he participated in the Philippine Campaign of 1941-42 in Manila Bay, Bataan and Corregidor. Much of the fleet was destroyed by the Japanese.
Under the command of Lt. General Jonathan M. Wainwright, the 4th Marine Regiment, the United States Army, the US Navy and locally recruited Filipino soldiers, resisted valiantly, inflicting heavy enemy losses in men and aircraft. Soldiers were living on 30 ounces of food per day and drinking water was almost nonexistent. In a radio message to President Franklin Roosevelt, Wainwright said, “there is a limit of human endurance, and that point has long since passed.” Cook was captured and surrendered at Corregidor on May 6, 1942.
In 1944, more hell ships were being sent from the Philippines to Japan, and were being torpedoed and sunk, POWs were temporarily held at Takao Camp awaiting transfer to other ships. On January 9, 1945 the Enoura Maru was bombed and disabled by aircraft from USS Hornet while in harbor. During the raid, the Enoura Maru took several hits – maybe as many as five, according to some of the surviving POWs.
Released from the POW camp after more than two years, Jonathan M. Wainwright witnessed the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri in September 1945, and then returned to the Philippines to receive the surrender of the local Japanese commander. He did not see himself as a hero, but as a “failure because he had surrendered.” The people and the government of the United States thought differently, however. Wainwright was awarded a fourth star and the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The 32-year-old Lieutenant Jr. Grade (LTJG), Whitney Mowry Cook, in addition to his parents, left behind two brothers, Stuart and Gardner. He was awarded a Purple Heart and a Presidential Unit Citation after having spent more than 32 months as a POW. He was killed by that US Navy carrier plane attack in the harbor aboard a Japanese Prison Ship in Takao, Formosa along with 350 Americans.
I don’t know why we don’t have schools, bridges or roads named after Whitney. I would say he fits the description of somebody who is admired and idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, and noble qualities. That is “a war hero.”
NOT ON MY WATCH
Born in Cambridge on July 8, 1911, Frank was the second son of Ernest and Anna Anderson. He had an older brother, Ernest Scott (mother’s maiden name). His parents had emigrated from Sweden in 1902 and were naturalized in 1910. The father was a machinist at the Boston Navy Yard and the family lived in Somerville. The 1930 Census has the family in Concord. Frank was a farm laborer and also worked as an assembler in a machine shop. He had joined the United States Naval Reserve on December 28, 1940 after having spent six years in the National Guard.
Built as a luxury steel hulled yacht in 1929 and once owned by Barbara Hutton the Woolworth heiress, the USS Augustine (PG-54) was sold to the US Navy in 1940 and converted to a naval patrol vessel for coastal defense and convoy escort duties. Having departed New York City in the afternoon of January 6th escorting a Southbound convoy bound for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the ships fought through rough winter seas as they passed to the East of Cape May, NJ.
For reasons unknown, the St. Augustine departed her position in the convoy and moved to seaward, possibly to investigate a sonar contact, and unwittingly crossed the path of the tanker M/T Camas Meadows. By the time both ships realized they were in danger, it was too late to take action; the St. Augustine was caught on her Port quarter as she attempted to come to Starboard, and the bow of the Camas Meadows dug in and opened her like a tin can for a third of her length before she broke free.
UNITED STATES NAVY CASUALTIES – ANDERSON, Frank A, GM1, 4009418, USNR, from Massachusetts, location Atlantic Ocean, missing (pm), Gunner’s Mate First Class. Parents, Mr. and Mrs. Ernest John Anderson, 6 Hawthorne Lane, Concord, Mass.
USS ST. AUGUSTINE -The Navy Department has notified the next of kin of casualties of the USS St. Augustine, patrol gunboat, which was sunk January 6, 1944, in a collision with a merchant vessel off Cape May, New Jersey. Thirty members of the ship’s company survived. The vessel sank within four minutes, taking to the bottom 115 men of her 145-man crew. Loss of the St. Augustine was announced by the Commandant, Fourth Naval District, on January 7, 1944.
“While standing in water up to his waist on the main deck, without regard for his own personal safety, Gunners’ Mate First Class Frank Arnold Anderson set all depth charges in order to prevent the possibility of underwater explosions. His inspiring initiative and gallant spirit of self-sacrifice undoubtedly saved the lives of many men who would have perished and is in keeping with the highest standards of the United States Naval Service.”
The President of the United States takes great pleasure in presenting the Navy and Marine Corps medal to Frank Arnold Anderson, as set forth in the situation.
For sailors, attempting to save their vessel and then, if necessary, abandoning it while trying to survive is a real process that they must be prepared to complete. Based on testimony from those who have survived torpedo hits and other attacks that doom a ship, the experience is even more nightmarish than most can imagine.
Who would believe that Frank Arnold Anderson would just do his duty and accept fate? Probably just the Christenson, Fredenburgh, McPhillips, Johnson, Forcier, Murdoch and Terry families on Hawthorne Lane in Concord.
SMALL TOWN VALUES, BIGTIME PLAYERS
A look at the 1880 Census revealed some important questions: Relation to Head of House, Marital Status, Occupation, House Number, Dwelling Number, Cannot Read, Cannot Write and Attended School.
The marriage of Joseph Daniel Murray and Mary A. Sullivan in Concord in 1880 started the journey for a family that deserves some recognition for their contribution to our American Way of Life.
Joseph Daniel Murray Sr. and his wife, Mary A. raised four children. According to our records, the oldest daughter Mary was born in 1881. She joined the convent at 18, became a nun and served the Catholic Church until her death in 1967. The youngest sister, Annie lived a relatively short life, dying in 1910 from a three-day appendicitis attack at age 16. Her father, the grocer had died of kidney failure just two years prior. Mary was tasked with raising two boys as well on her own.
The oldest son, Joseph arrived in 1884. He was in the 1901 Concord High School graduating class and joined the United States Army prior to his 18th birthday without his parent’s permission. He was subsequently sent home to Concord. He would later join the United States Marine Corps in 1909 as a private and would soon become an officer.
Joe embarked on a 25-year military career, seeing action in France in World War I with the 43rd Company, 2nd battalion, 5th Marines at Vierzy, France. He suffered a serious bullet wound to the head but continued the fight. For that, he was awarded the Croix De Guerre, a French military decoration created to recognize French and Allied soldiers for valorous service. He was also awarded a Purple Heart and the Silver Star.
Following World War I, Joe was in command of the Portsmouth, NH Navy Yard. He was also stationed in Nicaragua as second in command of American Legation in Peking, China. His wife, USMC Yeoman First Class Lillian Murray was killed in an earthquake in Managua on March 31, 1931. President Herbert Hoover aided Nicaragua with Marine Corps troops where 5,000 people had died. Joseph Daniel Murray retired as a Lt. Colonel in the United States Marine Corps to Concord in 1934.
“Joe” was faithful – faithful in his old Concord ideals, faithful to his men, faithful to his superior officers, faithful to his country. The motto of his beloved Marine Corps might well have been written about him – “Semper Fidelis” – A BOYHOOD FRIEND
Not to be outdone by his older brother, Paul, born in 1891, graduated from Concord High School in 1908. He received degrees from the Army and Navy Academy in Washington in 1912 and was commissioned in the United States Army when he joined the 5th Infantry at Plattsburgh in 1913. He was stationed in Panama from 1914 through 1917. He also served in France as an Executive Officer of the 3rd Corps school as a Major.
Between the two World Wars, Paul served at numerous posts in Manchester, NH, Columbus, OH and Fort Sam Houston, TX.as a military instructor with the 26th Division. This was in preparation for his assignment as Company Commander at Camp Edwards on Cape Cod where he trained troops for overseas duty, including Concord’s Company H.
In April of 1942, Paul commanded the 363rd Infantry at camp White, OR. He moved to Camp Roberts, CA to direct the 16th Infantry Replacement Training Center and saw duty on special missions in Central and South America. He retired as a Full Colonel in 1945, having participated in two major conflicts.
I would say the Murray family answered all those questions from the 1880 Census Survey with flying colors. Mary waved an American flag on Monument St. on November 11, 1918 prior to a ceremony at the Old North Bridge.
I have visited the graves in Arlington National Cemetery of Joseph Daniel, Lillian, Eileen and Paul. It should be an easy assignment to spend time at the graves of Joseph Sr. and Mary A., Annie and Mary at St. Bernard’s Cemetery. I know my way around there pretty well.
Arlington National Cemetery held its annual removal of wreaths, known as “Wreaths Out’ on January 11. 35,000 volunteers removed the 245,000 wreaths which were placed by the graves on December 14, 2019.
I promised I would visit the graves of Concord soldiers, Joseph Daniel Murray and his brother, Paul. In between, I would also visit the graves of two other soldiers who have Concord connections in Captain Charles William Pigott and Captain Thomas J. Hudner Jr.
Captain Charles W. Pigott, United States Marine Corps, died in an air crash on land on May 18, 1969 in VietNam. He was assigned to VMFA-542, MAG11 1st Marine Air Wing, arriving just 13 days prior. He lived in Lexington until he was 16 before moving to Providence, RI. He was 24 years of age and the husband of Carol Crockett.
Captain Thomas J. Hudner Jr. received the Medal of Honor for his actions in trying to save his wingman, Ensign Jesse L. Brown on December 4, 1950, during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War. He was a military and civil rights hero. The guided-missile destroyer, USS Thomas Hudner(DDG-116) bears his name.
Joseph D. Murray from 6 Monument St. in Concord was a United States Marine Corps Major. He commanded the 43rd Company, 2nd battalion, 5th Marines at Vierzy, France in July 1918. Under heavy fire, he led his company and gained the objective. He was wounded in battle, receiving a purple heart. He would later be awarded the Silver Star. He is interred in Section 7 Grave, 9066-RH.
On my way to Section 3 Grave, 1535-B to visit Joseph’s brother Paul, I got a bit sidetracked. The graves for the Medal of Honor recipients are so easy to find. There are no signs posted to point these out. The eyes tend to gravitate toward them.
Rear Admiral Richard E. Bird Jr. US Navy, Captain Harry Parks US Army, Sgt. Alan L. Eggers US Army, Brig. Gen. Francis Safford Dodge US Army, Major Audie Murphy US Army, one of the most decorated soldiers in history, and Major General Daniel Sickles US Army were just a few stops along the way before my final stop in visiting the gravesite of Lt. Colonel Paul Murray.
I recognized the name, Daniel Sickles. His military career had ended at the Battle of Gettysbury in July 1863 when he had moved his troops to an untenable position where it was virtually destroyed. He had disobeyed the orders of Major General George G. Meade. Sickles continued the fight and was wounded by cannon fire, had his left leg amputated and eventually was awarded the Medal of Honor.
It was getting dark when I found the gravesite of Lt. Colonel Paul Murray of the United States Marine Corps. The younger brother of Joseph deserves more than the few minutes of time that I spent with him.
I promise to research and write about the two brothers from Concord. I won’t be pressed for time.