Sina-cism: A fitting memorial

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Nearly a century ago some 2 million Americans crossed the Atlantic to fight in the first global conflict of modern times. The members of the American Expeditionary Forces who served on the Western Front were drawn from every state and class. Some had been in the United States for only a few years or months. Many had come to the New World to escape the poverty, want and warfare that had engulfed much of Europe since the summer of 1914.

Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

The members of the AEF answered their nation’s call. It is likely that few knew much about the geopolitical factors that ignited the conflict. Like most soldiers in most wars, they found themselves fighting for one another more than for any of the abstract ideals outlined by their commanders or their government.

They fought alongside British, French, Italian and Russian allies in places many had never heard of and could scarcely pronounce. They endured bad food and boredom. Those on the front lines faced bullets, poison gas and artillery shells.

More than 53,000 U.S. soldiers perished in battle.

Disease cut down at least 63,000 more. Many who had survived the fury of their fellow men fell victim to one of history’s most deadly flu pandemics.

Among the fallen of World War I were some 380 who had called Worcester home. Back in 1928, the city honored each of them with the creation of Memorial Grove in Green Hill Park. Rows of trees were planted, one for each victim of the war, and individual bronze plaques were dedicated.

Decades later, many of those trees are gone. The plaques are missing. Time, neglect and collective amnesia have obscured the role that these 380 Worcester residents played in history.

Now, the Worcester Parks, Recreation & Cemetery Division, working with the Green Hill Park Coalition, intend to restore Memorial Grove to its former grandeur. There can hardly be a better way to mark the centenary of World War I locally.

To be sure, many of the 380 are still remembered and honored for their deeds.

The square at Salisbury and Grove streets, for example, bears the name of Cpl. Homer J. Wheaton, an upstate New York native who was the first Worcester resident to perish in the war. On Feb. 27, 1918, Wheaton grabbed a hand grenade that one of his comrades had dropped and tried to toss it away from his men. It exploded, and he died shortly thereafter.

The more than 200 memorial squares scattered around Worcester include many others who died in World War I, including Sgt. James M. Beatty and Pvt. Peter D. Tamulevich, who were among those who died in the Aisne-Marne Offensive of July and August 1918, an effort that saved Paris from German occupation.

There are memorial squares for Isadore W. Baker and Carl L. Abramson, both infantry privates who died in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in October 1918, the final Allied push that made clear Germany would be defeated.

That may be the way of the world. We cannot fully recapture the past. But we mustn’t forget any of those who sacrificed so much in the conflict of 1914-1918, when a world raised on chivalry met modern methods of mass destruction.

But there is no square for Frank Protono, a saddler in the 19th Field Artillery Regiment, who also died that autumn. Nor is there one for wagoner Fred Bonyea, who died an accidental, duty-related death the previous spring, near Menil-la-Tour, France.

Does anyone today remember Peter Lankinen, a Pennsylvania native who died of disease in November 1918, leaving behind his sister, Ida? Or Albert L. Johnson, Engineer 2nd Class? Johnson was aboard the destroyer USS Manley on March 19, 1918, helping escort a convoy off the Irish coast, when it collided with a British ship, setting off depth charges that engulfed the ship in flames, killing Johnson and more than 30 others.

The participants of World War I are all gone. Their children are mostly gone or very old. Grandchildren and great-grandchildren now sift through the evidence of these lives, the heroism and fears of strangers in strange lands.

It remains possible to piece together their stories through newspaper clippings, military histories and family lore. But letters and medals get lost, uniforms fray and memories die with their owners. Stories grow obscure, until no one remains who knows or cares enough to preserve them.

That may be the way of the world. We cannot fully recapture the past. But we mustn’t forget any of those who sacrificed so much in the conflict of 1914-1918, when a world raised on chivalry met modern methods of mass destruction.

Whatever historians’ verdicts on World War I, those who died deserve a fitting memorial, a quiet grove where we and generations to come can reflect upon the past, and perhaps find a path to a more peaceful future.

More from Chris Sinacola:

Sina-cism: Hey Paris, we’ll always have science — on climate change, and why researchers need to open their eyes and their minds

Sina-cism: Of Antioch and Aleppo — on learning from history and finding perspective in the debate over Syrian refugees

Sina-cism: A true common core for education on high-stakes testing, curriculum standards and what really matters in education

Sina-cism: A run of the Mill situationon free speech and the vacuous nature of many modern campus protests

Sina-cism: I come not to bury Trumpon the spectacular rise of the presidential front-runner and the underestimated crowd that supports him

One thought on “Sina-cism: A fitting memorial

  1. The article on memorial Grove was great. Thank you for helping to highlight a another generations forgotten war, a forgotten memorial, a group of citizen soldiers, Marines and Navy personnel, many of whom were first generation Americans who served not only in the AEF but also the CEF and the BEF, some dying as early as 1916 on foreign soils. We cannot ever forget the Americans who died for this country so that this republic can live on.

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