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World War I heroes are remembered

June 3, 2011
By WARREN SCOTT - Staff writer , The Herald-Star

BEECH BOTTOM - Noting the death earlier this year of Frank Woodruff Buckles of Charles Town, W.Va., the last surviving American veteran of World War I, the speaker at Beech Bottom's Memorial Day service took time to acknowledge another World War I hero.

H. Lawrence "Larry" Jones, who served as superintendent of Ohio County Schools for many years, also was a lieutenant colonel in the Army's Military Police Corps and served as provost marshal and commander of military police units in German, Korea and the U.S.

As speaker for the Beech Bottom program, he related the life of Charles White Whittlesey, who became known as the commander of the "Lost Battalion."

Whittlesey was a Harvard law school graduate who left his partnership in a Massachusetts law firm to join the Army at the start of World War I, Jones said.

He had been promoted to major by October 1918, when his division was charged with attacking heavily armed German troops in the Meuse-Argonne region of France, Jones said.

Whittlesey and the troops became surrounded by the Germans, but they held back German attacks for four days.

Cut off from supplies and communications, the battalion also also contended with "friendly fire" from Allied forces who didn't know of their whereabouts until a carrier pigeon reached them with the group's coordinates, Jones said.

When the enemy sent a captured American POW with a white flag and a request for them to surrender, Whittlesey refused.

Eventually the troops were rescued, and Whittlesey was promoted to lieutenant colonel and presented the Medal of Honor for valor at war, Jones said.

Of the original 554 troops involved in the attack, 107 were killed, 63 were missing and 190 were wounded, he noted.

Jones said following his discharge, Whittlesey returned to practicing law but was called upon to serve as a pallbearer for the burial of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery and often was sought for public speaking engagements, where he praised enlisted soldiers over himself.

Despite such notoriety, Whittlesey is believed to have committed suicide, at age 37, while traveling aboard the S.S. Toloa to Havanna, by jumping overboard.

He had made final arrangements before his departure and left notes in his cabin, but none revealed what led him to take his life, Jones said.

Jones said it's been speculated that the mild-mannered Whittlesey was unable to adjust to his newfound fame and others suggest he was responsible for an earlier carrier pigeon that gave coordinates that were slightly inaccurate.

But Jones believes Whittlesey suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor's guilt, a common symptom recognized by psychiatrists today.

"All gave some and some gave all, but whenever any comrades in war suffer, we all suffer," Jones said.

Serving as master of ceremonies was Beech Bottom Councilman Greg Sheperd, who read "In Flanders Field," a poem written by John McCrae, a Canadian officer, in honor of the many Allied soldiers killed in France while fighting German invaders during World War I.

Sheperd also read a response to the poem written by American professor Moina Michael.

Also participating in the service outside Beech Bottom's Municipal Building were the Beech Bottom Community Christian Church Choir, who performed patriotic music; World War II veteran Paul Cunningham and Korean War veteran Bill Cain, who placed wreaths at the village's two veterans monuments; the Ohio Valley Veterans Memorial Squad, which fired a military salute; and Brooke High School students Caitlin Luck and Kodey Liller, who performed taps.

Representatives of Holy Family Catholic Mission and Apostolic Life Church offered prayers.

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com.)

 
 

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