Armistice Day in Litchfield

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The recent centennial of the end of World War I provides a timely opportunity to look back on how that occasion was marked in Litchfield. The following account of November 11, 1918, is from Alain White’s 1920 book, The History of the Town of Litchfield, Connecticut, 1720-1920:

“The Court House bell gave the local signal and soon all the church bells
joined in, ringing out the tidings in a perfect medley of noise.  The firemen manned the chemical engine, and started out on a procession all over the Borough, a crowd quickly gathered, and soon about 200 men, women and children were in line, headed by the Stars and Stripes. They marched down South Street, and at the invitation of the rector, Mr. Brewster, into St. Michael’s church, where the people with deep emotion, sang together the Doxology and the national anthem, and gave thanks with grateful hearts that the long terrible years of conflict were ended at last. Out again on the Green, a bonfire was built, and while it was burning brightly impromptu speeches were made. The day dawned, soft and mellow, as a November day sometimes is. About seven o’clock there was a little let up for breakfast, but the bells never quite ceased ringing. The dignified village of Litchfield had a disheveled look on that morning, very unlike its usual trim appearance. Papers, confetti, the remnants of the bonfire littered the center and plainly showed that the town had been up all night celebrating. Refreshed by breakfast, every one who could get there, hastened to Bantam to join the parade. A band, provided by the forethought of W. S. Rogers led the procession, which included about sixty automobiles. Another pause came for the noon-day meal, then came the Litchfield parade, in which Bantam joined. The marchers were headed by Frank H. Turkington, and the Home Guard, the D. A. R., the Red Cross, the fire departments, the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts, the service flag of St. Anthony’s carried by young women, and many automobiles were in line, a coffin dedicated to the Kaiser was a special feature.  Litchfield’s enthusiasm did not spend itself with these demonstrations, but finished the day with a patriotic “sing” on the Green in the evening, patriotic speeches and an appeal for the United War Work Campaign, which was then in progress.”

Amidst the understandable celebration, the town still mourned for its ten sons who died in the conflict. The sacrifices of these men were noted with a star next to their name on the town’s monument to its men who served in the World War. In many cases, those stars are now missing; in this centennial year of the Great War’s end, it seems appropriate for the town to repair this honor. But it is important to remember that these were men with lives and families, not just names on a plaque, deserving to be remembered for their sacrifices and experiences. They are:

Henry E. Cattey, who is often listed as being from the “Marsh District” of Northfield, but sometimes listed as being from Thomaston. He was a mechanic in Company I of the Sixth Infantry, and was killed in October 1918 while liberating the French town of Bois des Rappes in the first phase of the Meuse-Argonnes Offensive. 

Roy F. Cornwell, who enlisted as a member of the New York State Militia from his father’s residence in Ellenville, but had lived in Litchfield for some time. He died on the ship en route to France.

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Clayton Devines died of the Spanish Flu in November 1918 while at an army camp in Florida. Between 50 and 100 million people worldwide died of the epidemic.

Joseph Donohue – hometown unknown – was a student at the Connecticut Junior Republic who enlisted in the army and died in action on July 23, 1918, during a French and Americans advance on the Ourcq River. 

August Guinchi of the 56th Regiment Coast Artillery was gassed was driving a tank. In a weakened condition, he succumbed to typhoid fever October 31, 1918.

Robert Jeffries died of pneumonia on January 20, 2018, at Camp Gordon, Florida.

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Litchfield’s Morgan-Weir American Legion Post is named for Frank A. Morgan and James V. Weir, both of whom died in combat in World War I.

Frank A. Morgan was eager to enlist but was twice rejected from military service because he didn’t weigh enough. When the weight limit was lowered, Morgan became the first man from Litchfield to enlist. A corporal, he also became the first of Litchfield’s men to die in battle. His mother, Mrs. G. Durand Merriman, received a letter from her son’s commanding officer, providing details about his death: “Your son, Corporal Frank A. Morgan was killed June 20, 1918, near Mandres in the Toul sector. He was killed by the concussion of a shell; even though he died instantly, there was not a mark on him. . . . When we first went into the line he acted as a runner between the platoon and company headquarters and did his work so well that I proposed his name to the company commander as one to be made corporal at the first opportunity, and I am sure that had he lived he would have continued to win promotion. He is buried in an American Military Cemetery and the flag he fought for floats over his grave, while by his side are comrades who with him have paid the supreme price.”

Howard C. Sherry died of pneumonia on January 16, 1918, at Camp Johnston, Florida.

James V. Weir served in the 102nd Regiment alongside his brother, Thomas. Thomas provided the following account of his brother’s death at the Battle of Chateu Thierry:  “At the start of the Chateau Thierry drive they went over the top at 5:30 A.M. and went into woods the other side of the starting position. They relieved the Marines, with Marines on left and French on right; the position was in a horse shoe. The company went ahead and had to wait for the French. They went back and went ahead again without barrage. Co. H. was in the 2nd batallion. Enemy artillery fire was very heavy, 2nd battalion in support, 3rd battalion ahead and 1st in reserve. The company was in open field kneeling down in close formation, a German big shell came over and landed 200 yards away. A piece landed beside the two Weir boys and hit James between the eyes. Roy Hotchkiss helped to carry out and bandage James, who was taken to the 103rd Field Hospital at La Ferte and buried there”.

Of Pio Zavotti, little is known except that he was born in Italy and was killed in action fighting for his adopted country.  

                                     Calm fell. From Heaven distilled a clemency;
                                     There was peace on earth, and silence in the sky;
                                     Some could, some could not, shake off misery:
                                     The Sinister Spirit sneered: ‘It had to be!’
                                     And again the Spirit of Pity whispered, ‘Why?’
                                          – From Thomas Hardy, “And There Was a Great Calm”
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Hidden Nearby: The U.S.S. Pittsburgh Bell in New Milford

The monument in Honor of Admiral Henry Shepard Knapp on the New Milford green.

A granite shaft with a bell adorning it stands at the center of the New Milford green. It honors an American naval officer with deep family ties to the town.

Henry Shepard Knapp was born in New Britain in 1856, and graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1878. He served in the navy for the next 42 years. Gaining combat experience in the Spanish-American War, in 1908 he was given command of his own ship, the cruiser U.S.S. Charleston. In 1915, Knapp was named to command the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, and in 1916 he proclaimed the American occupation of the Dominican Republic, of which he would be named the military governor in 1917. He was promoted to rear admiral a week before World War I broke out.

During the war, Knapp was commanded American efforts to protect shipping from German U-Boats and was awarded the Navy Cross for this “meritorious service.” After the armistice Knapp served as naval attache in London, then commander of all American naval forces in European waters. During this time the U.S.S. Pittsburgh served as his flagship. He retired in 1920 but was so highly esteemed that he was kept on as a consultant and unofficial diplomat in handling crises in Haiti and the Dominican Republic and taught summer courses at the United States Naval Institute until his death in Hartford in 1923.

The bell of the U.S.S. Pittsburgh. It is interesting to note from the inscription that the bell had been used on a ship before, the Steamer Pensacola, which was commissioned in 1859 and decommissioned at Mare Island Navy Yard in California (visible on the bell) in 1911, a year before the Pittsburgh was commissioned. 

In 1951, New Milford’s Ezra Woods Post 31 of the American Legion erected the monument to Knapp on the town green. (Woods was New Milford’s first resident killed in World War I.) Knapp had owned property in town – including a commercial building on Bank Street – and spent summers in  New Milford at the family’s ancestral home.

In 1956, the Knapp house was donated to the New Milford Historical Society by Mary Clissold Knapp in 1956. This was the house of cobbler Levi Knapp who purchased it from Royal Davis in 1838. Parts of the house date to 1770, while much was of it was built in 1815. The house stands at the northern end of the green on the historical’s society’s property.

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Knapp’s flagship, the U.S.S. Pittsburgh. Not that the caption states the name as the Pennsylvania. The ship’s name was changed in 1912 so that Pennsylvania could be used for a new battleship.

Knapp’s flagship, the Pittsburgh – on which the bell once rang – was a 504 foot long cruiser, armed with 54 guns and when fully manned had a crew of nearly 900 men.  The New Milford monument is not the only memorial to Knapp’s service to the U.S. Navy. In 1943, the WWII destroyer USS Knapp was named for him

 

 

 

 

 

Hidden Nearby: The Birthplace of General Benjamin Foulois

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Benjamin “Benny” Foulois, a pioneer of aviation in the American military, was born on December 9, 1879, in the white building on Route 47 in Washington Depot that once housed the Washington Pharmacy. (The building is across Route 47 from The Hickory Stick Bookshop.) His mother was a nurse and his father a pipe fitter who had emigrated from France. At eighteen he enlisted in the army to serve in the Spanish-American War, serving in Puerto Rico, and spent time with American occupation forces in Cuba and the Philippines.

Foulois and Orville Wright

Foulois and Orville Wright

While in the Philippines, Foulois was assigned to the Engineering Corps, where he was tasked with creating maps of the area. This led to an assignment at the army’s Signal School and an expertise in the use of dirigibles in reconnaissance. From this vantage point he predicted that airplanes would soon become the military’s main source of intelligence, a prediction which resulted in Foulois being appointed to the army’s aeronautical board. In this capacity, he was charged with evaluating aircraft for potential purchase by the army. He earned a spot in the record books by serving as the navigator for Orville Wright on a July 30, 1909, flight from Fort Myer, Virginia to Alexandria, which achieved unprecedented average speed (42.5 miles per hour), altitude (400 feet) and distance cross country (10 miles). The army soon after purchased the Wright Model A Military Flyer.

Foulois in the cockpit.

Foulois in the cockpit.

Between 1911 and 1916, Foulois served in Texas, assisting General John Pershing in his operations against the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. In March 1911, Foulois and a flying partner accidentally shut off an engine, and their plane crashed into the Rio Grande. They both escaped without injury. During these operations, Foulois became the first man to conduct military intelligence operations from a plane, and the first to do so over a foreign country.

Foulois (left) with General John J. Pershing, commander of American forces in World War I.

Foulois (left) with General John J. Pershing, commander of American forces in World War I.

Foulois essentially built the American air corps for World War I. With a French request for 4,500 pilots and 12,000 combat planes, Foulois oversaw the production, maintenance, organization and operations of aeronautical personnel and equipment in the United States. He ultimately oversaw a budget of $640 million and was promoted to Brigadier General. After the armistice, Foulois drafted the air clauses of the Treaty of Versailles.

Sent to Germany after the war, Foulois found himself frequently discussing the potentials of air power with Hermann Goering, future commander of the Nazi Luftwaffe. Goering invited Foulois to join top German aeronautical organizations, and Foulois took advantage of this to gather enormous amounts of intelligence, which he sent back to the American government. He eventually sounded warnings about German capabilities and intent.

Foulois in 1962

Foulois in 1962

In 1931, Foulois was promoted to Major General and named Chief of the Air Corps by Herbert Hoover, and he put into place the development of new aircraft that would eventually include the B-17 and B-24 bombers, which became the workhorses of American forces in World War II. A clash with army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur led to Foulois’s retirement in 1934. He offered to return to the skies for World War II if offered a combat command, but when none came he spent the war directing civil defense operations in New Jersey. In 1963, Foulois appeared on the popular television show I’ve Got a Secret, with the secret that he had once been the entire United States Air Force. He died in 1967, and is buried in his native Washington.

Monuments to the Great War

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This summer marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I. The global conflagration, which resulted in nearly 20 million deaths, had an impact on the small towns of Litchfield County. The above photograph shows two red oaks in front of the Bridgewater town hall. They were planted in 1922 in memory of two town residents who lost their lives in the war, Joseph Wellwood and John Sheskey.

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Wellwood, 21 years old, enlisted in May 1917 and was assigned to an ambulance company. Sent to Kansas for training, he died there of scarlet fever in February 1918. Shesky was killed during an artillery barrage at the Battle of Vesle on September 3, 1918, a bit more than two months before the end of the war.

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Many of the towns in the county have monuments commemorating their dead from the Great War, or the World War; those who put up these monuments in the 1920s and 20s had no inkling that another world war was approaching. Typical of these monuments is the monument on the Litchfield green. Stars denote those who died in the war.

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However, a close examination of the Litchfield monument reveals that these stars were perhaps added to the monument later, with holes being drilled into the bronze and the stars inserted like a pin. Clayton Devines died of influenza (which killed 50 to 100 million people worldwide between 1918 and 1920) at training camp in Jacksonville, Florida. Joseph Donohue served in Company D of the 102nd Infantry. Killed in France, he had lived at the Junior Republic in Litchfield. His adopted hometown honored him by placing his name on the town monument and recognizing his sacrifice with a star still visible today.

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Henry Cattey was from Northfield, living on Marsh Road. He was also killed in action in France. While his name is on the memorial, next to it is only a small hole. Was there once a star that perhaps fell out over time? Cattey is not the only casualty of the Great War to have lost his star. Three names have stars next to them; six others have only the hole. It is fitting during this centennial that these stars be replaced and the proper tribute paid to these made who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.