Stories for Seniors

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.


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.


WALK ON

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.