Tag Archives: Veterans Day

Student Soldiers

One of the benefits, or should I say privileges, of teaching at a relatively large public university is the opportunity to teach a fair number of veterans: given the length of the Iraq and Afghanistan operations this will likely be true for the rest of my career. And then some. It’s not possible to generalize about student veterans any more than it is about any other category of student, but I will say that those that I have had in my courses have been mature, engaged, focused: they don’t like to waste time. Everyone in the classroom profits from their participation–actually, even their presence. I’m looking forward to my post-chair life when I will be able to teach more in general, and teach more veterans in particular. And hopefully learn from them as well. I’ve always maintained a certain professorial distance with my students, but there are two professors who I know of, one a predecessor and the other a colleague, who have really engaged with students soldiers, amplifying their voices in very meaningful ways. During World War II, the chair of the Salem State History Department was Edna McGlynn, who organized a letter-writing campaign for Salem soldiers fighting overseas, resulting in the exchange of over 1400 letters and postcards, now housed in the University’s Archives and Special Collections. Also there are the “Salem News Letters”, edited summaries of all the letters she received, mailed out to the campus community and all those Salemites in service. All accounts indicate that Dr. McGlynn also worked tirelessly to help both World War II and Korean veterans transition into civilian and campus life once they returned from war.

Veterans Day Letter

Veterans CDC

Veterans Salem Newsletter

6311698675_41c9c18d12_oJust one letter to “Miss McGlyn”; Edna McGlynn (second from right) with the Collegiate Defense Committee, for which she was Faculty Advisor; A “Salem News Letter” from the spring of 1945, announcing the death of Joseph Hancock, Class of 1943, who is pictured in the yearbook from that year: all, Salem State University Archives and Special Collections.

Flash forward 70+ years to the ongoing work of my colleague Andrew Darien, who has brought his decade-long work with Salem State veterans, encompassing several initiatives but best expressed by the “Student, Citizen, Soldier” project in which he has enlisted scores of undergraduate and graduate oral history students to document the varied experiences of veterans on campus and raise awareness of their service, sacrifices, struggles—and perspectives. Intended to foster a community dialogue on campus, this project now has a new website which extends its reach to everyone. I am struck by the continuity of purpose and commitment on the part of these two historians, separated by time and technology but united in their missions of enabling student-soldiers to tell their stories.

Darien

Darien2Dr. Darien at work. On this Veterans Day, hear the stories of Salem State Student Soldiers in their own words at salemveterans.com.


Memorial Markers

Look up: at many intersections of Salem streets, intensively but not exclusively in the center of the city, you will see bright black and gold markers with the names of veterans who sacrificed their lives in twentieth-century wars. I really don’t remember focusing on these plaques until late last spring, when all of the faded markers were replaced with new and shiny ones: just in time for Memorial Day, as I recall. Then suddenly they were very conspicuous to me–and hopefully to others. The markers are placed adjacent to the soldiers’ neighborhoods, so you can also ascertain the various ethnic neighborhoods of Salem in the last century, now not quite as distinct. They are as detailed as possible: name, rank, service, conflict, exact date and place of death: I immediately noticed how many young men died in the closing months of the Great War, just before Armistice Day.

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Squares of service in Salem, beginning with that dedicated to Private George C. Trask at the beginning of Chestnut Street. Nichols Square at Federal Street is dedicated to Captain Henry C. Nichols, who served in both world wars and Korea and was a “man about town” (and also the author of a popular little pamphlet titled Bewitched in Historic Salem). The distinct red marker designates veteran firefighter Raymond McSwiggin, killed in the line of duty in 1982. You can see a map of all of Salem’s Veterans’ Squares here: https://www.mapsonline.net/salemma/index.html.

 


Some Came Back

Given that I, along with every other historically-conscious person in the world, have been thinking about World War One and its aftermath in this anniversary year of its commencement, that has to be my focus for this Veterans Day. I’ve been thinking about the impact of the Great War on Salem and its inhabitants for a while, but I haven’t really had time to engage in any serious research: I suppose that I have until 2017! This is one of those cases of “anniversary history” where the American and European perspectives are not quite in sync. I have found one great digital database, however: at the State Library of Massachusetts. A five-year project to digitize over 8,000 portraits of soldiers has created an amazing resource that every descendant of a Massachusetts doughboy will want to check out. Most of the photographs are accompanied by “cut slips” of paper that I find almost as poignant as the images themselves: data sheets for prospective Boston Globe stories which lists the soldier’s name, hometown, and story: either “experiences” or “killed in action”. The photographs were taken before the men shipped out; the slips were made out after armistice was declared. Some of these Salem men came back, and some did not.

Annable

Corp. Walter W. Annable, Battery F., 101st F. A.; Came Back.

Redmond

Capt. Ernest R. Redmond, Battery E, 101st F. A; Came Back (and ran unsuccessfully for Mayor of Salem in 1925).

Marcotte

Corp. Henry J. Marcotte, Co. M, 103rd Infantry; Came Back.

Lynch

Corp. Henry F. Lynch, 301st F. A.; Came Back.

Murphy

Henry G. Murphy, 101st F. A. Battery D.; Killed in Action in France.

Bufford

O. J. Bufford, Battery D., 101st F. A.; Killed by accident in France.

These are just a few Salem men and their fates: the entire record includes many casualties of war and as many–or more–of disease: the immediate post-war influenza epidemic which decimated the United States and the world. Imagine surviving the trenches and then dying from the flu in an army camp back home–or nearly there. Of course every death is heroic, but some were officially recognized as such, like that of Thomas Upton of Salem, who received a Distinguished Service Cross posthumously for extraordinary heroism in action near Belleau, France, on July 20, 1918. He voluntarily crossed a zone swept by machine gun and shell fire to aid wounded soldiers, and was killed. Conflict and contagion in 1918, and cheering crowds for those that came back.

Some Came Back 1918 Leslie Jones

Some Came Back 2 1918 Leslie Jones

Armistice Day 1919 SSU Dionne

Massachusetts troops arriving in Boston in 1918, Leslie Jones Collection, Boston Public Library; the first Armistice Day Parade in Salem, 1919, Dionne Collection, Salem State University Archives.

 


 

 


Last Men Standing

We are accustomed to seeing photographs of veterans—of the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, of Vietnam, of World Wars I and II, of the Spanish-American War, and even of the Civil War—but not of the American Revolution, as the first daguerreotypes were made a half-century after its conclusion. But such images do exist, first compiled in an extraordinary book that I’ve just discovered:  E.B. Hillard’s The Last Men of the Revolution (1864). The Connecticut minister clearly had a mission of remembrance in the midst of the Civil War, and he made pilgrimages to the homes of six surviving Revolutionary War veterans, accompanied by Nelson and Roswell Moore, brother photographers from Hartford. I’m sure my Americanist colleagues know of this book, but its existence is a revelation to me: how shocking to gaze upon the images of men who, in Hillard’s words, “looked on Washington…[and] heard his words”.

Hillard’s little volume contains eagle-encircled images of the old men in their best dress, along with color plates of their homes and wonderful little vignettes which cover their experiences in the war and in life, along with their views of the “present rebellion”—no confederate sympathies here! There are also prescriptions for longevity: lots of smoking, moderate drinking, “no particular attention to diet”, lifelong physical exertion. You can see the book’s plates here, and below are individual carte-de-visite images from the Library of Congress–beginning with William Hutchings, who was born in my hometown of York, Maine (then Massachusetts, of course) and ending with Newburyport-born Samuel Downing, who harvested fifteen bushels of carrots on the 90-degree day before Hillard came to call.

Last Men Hutchings

Last Men Waldo

Last Men Link

Last Men Cook

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Last Men Downing

I wish I knew much more about the contemporary reception of Hillard’s book and the Moores’ photographs, but they are certainly inspirational now. “New” images of Revolutionary War veterans have been uncovered/discovered, most notably by Utah-based journalist and collector Joseph M. Bauman, who recently published his collection in a book entitled Don’t Tread on Me:  Photographs and  Life Stories of American Revolutionaries (2012) and “daguerreotype detective” Maureen Taylor, who has published two volumes entitled The Last Muster. Images of the Revolutionary War Generation. The more interest there is in something, the higher the likelihood of finding more of it, in the case of these rare daguerreotypes, uncatalogued family collections are probably the key source. You can see a lovely portfolio of Bauman’s collection here:  my favorites among them are another Massachusetts/Mainer, James W. Head, and the flamboyant George Fishley, famous resident of Portsmouth, New Hampshire and “last of the Cocked Hats”.

Last Men James W. Head

Last Men George Fishley

Revolutionary War veterans James W. Head and George Fishley: images courtesy of Joseph Bauman.


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