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World War I

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A photo of a partly destroyed French church was taken by Lt. Marco C. Smith Jr. in 1918. Photo from the Smith family

By Beverly C. Tyler

On Nov. 15, 1918, Lt. Marco Carmelich Smith Jr. wrote to his grandmother Eliza Tyler from France: “To say the least, one can live somewhat in peace, now that the Armistice is signed. Beforehand we had had rumors of one but as old Lame Rumor is always present we passed it off as such until the official notice came. We all had our watches out at 11 a.m. on [Nov.] 11th and it was very noticeable that cannon that had been thundering away all morning ceased firing exactly on the hour. So now, as I say, we can live in peace. No more gas masks or helmets, and at night we can have all the light we want.”

A 1918 photo of Marco C. Smith in uniform. Photo from the Smith family

Smith was born Oct. 2, 1886, at his father’s family home, called Fairholme, which was built circa 1824 and expanded circa 1860, in what is now the Village of Old Field. His great-great-grandfather, Walter Smith, a descendant of one of Setauket’s original settlers, Arthur Smith, was the Old Field Point Lighthouse keeper from 1827 to 1830. Marco Smith’s father, the first Marco C. Smith married Mary Amelia Tyler, daughter of Charles and Eliza Tyler, this writer’s great-grandfather and great-grandmother.

Marco Smith Jr. enlisted in the U.S. Army July 8, 1918, and was commissioned as 1st Lt. of Engineers, Company F, 2nd Battalion, 22nd Engineers. He was first assigned to Fort Benjamin Harrison, near Indianapolis, Indiana, and then transferred to Camp Merritt in Bergen County, New Jersey, where troops boarded ships on their way to the war in Europe.

Smith was on leave briefly July 28, when he married in Mamaroneck, Marjorie Aldrich, daughter of Capt. Clarence Aldrich and Irene Hand of East Setauket. According to a newspaper clipping, “Military orders hastened the ceremony, and the groom is now supposed to be on his way to France.”

Smith sailed for France July 31. He was assigned to the 1st Army Aug. 28, as an engineer on light railway construction for the Meuse-Argonne Offensive until the end of the war Nov. 11. He spent most of his time in the area around the village of Montigny-sur-Meuse and continued to be stationed there until March 3, 1919.

On Dec. 16, 1918, Smith wrote: “My dear Grandma, Here it is past the middle of the month and I haven’t started my usual monthly letter to you so here goes for this evening.”

Smith noted that the mail was arriving more regularly since the Armistice and that he had just received a letter from his grandmother written Oct. 18 as well as one written by his mother and dad Nov. 27. He continued the letter: “Sometimes I marvel that I am not sick as we sure are subjected to some pretty severe conditions at times. One night I just slept on the wet ground in a pouring rain and felt fine the next day. … We are very historically located too being near to Dun [Dun-sur-Meuse], Stenay and Sedan. This was sure some hard earned ground as everywhere are evidences of many battles. I believe the part where we were tho’ is about as bad as any. We sure thought so at the time. … Lord, when you see some of the shells old ‘Fritz’ uses to amuse us with, it’s no wonder we were “alarmed” at times. But after all, most of my feelings go to the poor French people who are slowly returning to their destroyed homes. … How they are going to make a go of it this winter is beyond me. … and the tales they tell of the hardships endured while prisoners. They are barely believable. I cannot write of them; they are too sad. Loads & loads & loads of love for yourself and everyone, Your loving grandson Marco — Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.”

Marco C. Smith and his wife Marjorie in an undated photo. Photo from the Smith family

In his Jan. 22, 1919, letter, Smith writes: “Just now we are trying to arrange for some pleasure trips for the men. They have been my faithful workers ever since the drive began on Sept. 26th. And it has been rather tiresome and tedious to them to have seen nothing but shell torn areas since that date. The trip we are planning for them is to Sedan which is only about 25 miles from here.”

The three villages mentioned by Smith — Dun-sur-Meuse, Stenay and Sedan — are between 29 and 40 kilometers northeast of Verdun, site of the longest lasting battle of World War I. During 1916, there were more than 300,000 French and German casualties there.

Smith was reassigned to the engineers office, District of Paris, from March 10 to June 3, 1919. He returned from overseas July 11 and was discharged July 31, 1919. On Feb. 21, 1920, he was commissioned a captain in the Engineer Reserve Corps. He returned home to his wife Marjorie, with a house in Brooklyn and a job in Manhattan as an engineer with the New York Central Railroad. According to family information, Smith and his wife maintained the house in Old Field as a summer home until four months after their first child, Marco C. Smith III, was born April 25, 1927. Smith became a trustee of the Village of Old Field when it was incorporated in 1927, and he also served the village as mayor. The couple’s second and last child, Judith, was born Aug. 9, 1932. Marjorie died in 1953 and Smith died July 8, 1961.

The three letters Smith wrote to his grandmother Eliza, written between Nov. 15, 1918, and Jan. 22, 1919, and copies of the photographs he took in France will now be a part of the Three Village Historical Society archival collection.

Beverly C. Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

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At a Labor Day celebration on the Village Green in 1919, above, Setauket’s Ernest West is second from right in the front row; George West is second from right, fourth row; Harvey West is third from left, third row. Photo from the Three Village Historical Society

By Beverly C. Tyler

“Victory and Peace,” the headline proclaimed, “War Ends — Fighting Ceased at 6 a.m. Monday.” It was Nov. 11, 1918, and World War I had come to an end for the Americans fighting in Europe. In a railway car in the French Forest of Compiègne, at 5 a.m., the German delegates accepted the strict terms of the armistice and at 11 o’clock that morning the world war came to an end.

Percy, Ernest, George and Harvey West of Setauket all served during World War I. Photo from the Three Village Historical Society

President Woodrow Wilson that morning issued a proclamation that said, “My fellow countrymen. The armistice was signed this morning. Everything for which America fought has been accomplished. It will now be our fortunate duty to assist by example, by sober friendly council and by material aid in the establishment of just democracy throughout the world.”

The men and women who served in “the war to end all wars” were coming home. Many of the soldiers were suffering from what they called “shell shock.” Today we know it as post-traumatic stress or simply PTS. Other world war soldiers were gassed. In many of these cases soldiers came home without revealing their need for help. In other cases, soldiers were treated and released back into civilian life with or without continued care. Many soldiers never recovered from their wartime experiences.

The following year, after the soldiers and sailors had returned home, a celebration, parade and memorial service was held Labor Day, Sept. 1, 1919. As reported by the Port Jefferson Times, “All Setauket was there and most of Long Island by the appearance, for long before the time scheduled for the start of the procession, automobiles began to line the road on either side. Promptly at 2:30 p.m. the 42nd Infantry Band from Camp Upton led the parade away from the dock at East Setauket.”

The parade continued along Shore Road from the harbor and then paused while the Rev. A.Y. Holter dedicated the new East Setauket Park in honor of those who served in the war. The parade then re-formed and proceeded up Main Street, turning right at the Methodist Church and continuing to the Village Green.

The parade brought out many local groups and some $5 gold pieces were awarded as prizes. The award for the best decorated carriage went to  Henry Smith of Setauket whose buggy was decorated with pumpkins and other farm products. One of the decorated trucks that didn’t win a prize was in the shape of a submarine chaser, with real guns mounted fore and aft. Among the groups that marched were the mechanics of Setauket and Port Jefferson and 70 or so soldiers and sailors who later posed for a picture on the Village Green. Others in the parade included a car filled with men who had fought in the Civil War, men on horseback, decorated trucks carrying members of various organizations and school children carrying a “Welcome Home” sign.

Muriel Hawkins, of East Setauket, daughter of Clinton West, remembered the parade and how her uncle Ernest West, who was a ship’s carpenter in the Navy, made seven trips across the Atlantic and back during the war. Ernest was one of four brothers who served during the war. The other three, George, Harvey and Percy were in the Army. All four were the sons of Setauket blacksmith Samuel West and all four returned, in some cases with mental and physical scars that would last the rest of their lives. There was, however, a lot of family support as their father, Samuel West raised 10 children, with help from his own extended family, as his wife, Ida Hulse West, died after the delivery of their 10th child.

A young Forest West, born June 19, 1910, wears a child’s World War I uniform with his Uncle Harvey West on Bayview Avenue, East Setauket, looking north. Photo from the Three Village Historical Society

Percy Hulse West was born July 18, 1889, and enlisted in the U.S. Army April 13, 1917. The War Department telegram written Oct. 21, 1918, to his father says, “Deeply regret to inform you that it is officially reported that Private Percy H. West, Infantry was severely wounded in action about August twenty-eight [actually July 10]. Department has no further information. Harris, Acting Adjutant General.” Over the next few months, Percy was transferred to a number of different Army hospitals including Army Hospital No. 3, Rahway, New Jersey. 

On Nov. 5, 1918, Clinton West, Town of Brookhaven justice of the peace and Percy’s brother, wrote to Maj. Fayermather at the hospital requesting information “regarding the revoking of the furlough of my brother Private Percy H. West. Father was quite upset as this was Percy’s only furlough since his enlistment in May, 1917. He being the first of our local boys to return from active front line service and crippled, we had planned to give him a good time and a chance to visit his relatives and friends …” On Nov.18, 1918, Samuel West, Percy’s father wrote to Capt. Sellers to request “that Percy might be allowed a little time to see his people [in East Setauket] after the service he has rendered his country.” Additional letters from Selah Strong and H.G. Rogers were received at the hospital with the same requests.

Percy did return after he was discharged March 3, 1919, as he is pictured in the photo of the celebration on the Setauket Village Green Sept. 1, 1919, as well as a family photo taken the same day with his father and his other three brothers who served in the war.

The following year, the 1920 census lists Percy as living at “Mattawan State Hospital, Beacon, Dutchess County, NY.” In the 1930 census report, Percy was living as a boarder with Fred and Lydia Bartoo (or Barton) in Oxford, Chenango, New York, where he was working at a golf course. Percy died July 6, 1957. Percy’s brother Ernest West returned to East Setauket and continued working there as a carpenter until his death in 1966. Percy’s brother Harvey West, in 1930, was a patient in the Middletown State Homeopathic Hospital in Orange County. He later went to live with his brother George and Elsie West in Stratford, Connecticut. He died in 1967. George West, following World War I and his return home, lived the rest of his life in Connecticut, in 1920 with his sister Hazel West Jayne and her husband Robert Jayne. George married Elsie in 1922 and made his home in Stratford, Connecticut. He died in 1975.   

“World War I was the first ‘modern’ war. Industry enabled weapons and explosives to be manufactured in vast quantities that brought death and destruction on a scale never previously experienced by mankind and that affected all combatants. On Sept. 18, 1918, American Sgt. Charles S. Stevenson wrote: “This is the seventh day of the St. Mihiel drive and I find myself sitting in a thick, muddy forest, with my knees and a gas mask as a table, writing to you. It was some drive. Small, in comparison to many operations, to we rookies it was a real battle. Machine guns, rifles, shells, aeroplanes and tanks — everything you read about — I saw ’em all. We followed the first line (the attacking party) for twelve hours and ours was a sort
of ‘after the battle’ review. I saw all kinds of German trenches, barbed wire entanglements, busted houses, burning trees, deep shell holes, torn-up railroad tracks, peaceful gardens, dynamited bridges.All kinds of German prisoners passed me on the way back.” (Exhibition: Fields of Battle, Lands of Peace: The Doughboys 1917-1918 — National World War I Museum, Kansas City, Missouri). This exhibit has been touring the world and is now at the Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois until Nov. 18.

Beverly C. Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

Editor’s note: Armistice Day was changed to Veterans Day in 1954.

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President Dwight D. Eisenhower makes Veterans Day an official holiday. Photo in the public domain

By Rich Acritelli

Veterans Day is a time to remember all of our past, present and future members of the Armed Forces, but it was only about 60 years ago that President Dwight D. Eisenhower officially created the holiday we know today. Much happened on Nov. 11 even before it became a date of remembrance — there were significant losses and gains for our militaries during this month throughout history.

In the fall of 1776, Gen. George Washington was reeling from one loss after another that sent his army retreating from Long Island, Manhattan and across New Jersey toward Pennsylvania. It was a dark moment in the Revolutionary War for Washington to lose ground to the British, though he ultimately led the colonies to victory.

President George H.W. Bush rides in an armored jeep with Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. in Saudi Arabia, Nov. 22, 1990. Photo in the public domain
President George H.W. Bush rides in an armored jeep with Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. in Saudi Arabia, Nov. 22, 1990. Photo in the public domain

During the Civil War, in November 1863, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was summoned to Chattanooga, Tenn., to prevent a total collapse of Union forces against the Confederacy. As Grant headed into the beleaguered city, he saw northern forces terribly hurt from the nearby Battle of Chickamauga. President Abraham Lincoln sent 20,000 soldiers from the Army of the Potomac to aid the defensive and later offensive efforts of Grant to defeat the South in that region, and while the Confederates had been on the verge of gaining a huge victory, Grant opened up the “Cracker Line” to Chattanooga, with additional men, supplies and horses to deter the enemy. Grant’s calm and cool presence helped secure a much-needed victory for a thankful Lincoln, who saw the battle as one of the greatest tests of survival for the Union.

Eisenhower had his own recollections of this date through his experience leading the Allied Forces during World War II. As a new commanding general, he planned the mid-November 1942 allied landings of Operation Torch against the Germans and the Vichy French in North Africa. From Morocco to Algeria, untested American military troops drove to destroy the war machine of Germany. The chainsmoking Eisenhower eagerly waited in Gibraltar for news that his men had achieved all of their objectives against the enemy. Two years later, in the fall of 1944, Eisenhower looked eastward as his forces operated on a broad front against the Nazis in France. By that time, his armies were nearing the German frontier with the belief that their bitter enemy was about to surrender. Little did he know that Hitler was planning a final December offensive, which would later be called the Battle of the Bulge, to drive a wedge against the Allies on the Western Front.

In 1990, President George H.W. Bush led the American efforts to destroy the strength of Saddam Hussein. That dictator had invaded Kuwait and was poised to attack Saudi Arabia, but the U.S. aimed to protect the Saudis through Desert Shield. Two weeks after Veterans Day, Bush was eating Thanksgiving dinner in the desert with the American military forces that eventually led the fighting into Iraq and Kuwait to defeat Hussein’s Republican Guard army.

Over the last 15 years, the United States has been in a constant state of warfare against aggressor and terrorist forces. From the deserts of Iraq to the mountains of Afghanistan, American service members from across the country have tirelessly fought against an enemy bent on hurting our way of life. Currently, this mission has expanded over the skies of Northern Iraq and Syria to limit the growing expansion and influence of ISIS.

Americans should not neglect the “Forgotten War” veterans of the Korean conflict who bitterly fought against the communists during that Cold War battle, nor the Vietnam War veterans who honorably served for a decade in that Southeast Asian country.

May we always remember and honor our veterans from every American conflict, on Veterans Day and throughout the year.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College. He was a staff sergeant in the New York Air National Guard 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton Beach.

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Harry S. Truman was president during a critical time in the United States. Photo in the public domain

By Rich Acritelli

He came from humble beginnings to make one of the most critical but grave decisions in United States history.

Born on May 8, 1884, to a poor Missouri farming family, Harry S. Truman’s roots were far removed from those of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. While he was a capable student, his poor eyesight prevented an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He never attended college, and was expected to help with the family business. But to get away from the boredom of agriculture, he enlisted in the National Guard and, though he would have been exempted from Selective Service, re-enlisted at age 33, when President Woodrow Wilson declared war in April 1917.

At once, Truman’s superiors and peers voted that he become an officer, and the future president was proud to take on the role. His soldiers saw him as an organized and bright leader who took care of his men. After training in Oklahoma, Truman and his artillery battery traveled to New York City, where the Missouri soldiers were some of the first Americans to be transported on the USS George Washington, a confiscated German passenger ship that was used to transport a portion of the 2.5 million Americans who fought on the Western Front. While in New York, Truman was not overly impressed with Manhattan and, in fact, liked Paris better when he visited that city after the World War I armistice.

Once in France, Truman learned how to fire the French 75-mm field gun, the best artillery weapon produced during the conflict. He was promoted to captain and the head of an artillery battery, and proved to be an honest man, speaking objectively to superior officers about the needs of his men. Near the front, Truman trained with Gen. John J. Pershing and led his battery in the 1918 Muesse-Argonne offensive. He was one of the 600,000 soldiers used to punch a hole into the tired lines of the German military. It is possible Truman’s guns fired some of the final shots before the Central Powers surrendered on Nov. 11, 1918.

The interwar years were spotted with success and failure for Truman. Once the war concluded, Truman desperately wanted to marry his Missouri sweetheart, Bess Wallace, and for a brief time he was a partner in a thriving clothing store with a veteran from his unit. While he had good sense, the business closed and Truman refused to file for bankruptcy protection. Some 20 years later, right before he became president, he finally paid off those debts.

Did you know?

President Truman was a talented piano player. According to the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, as a child he woke up at 5 a.m. to practice for two hours, and music was one of his passions throughout his lifetime.

Truman got his political start as a county judge, with help from Kansas City Democratic political boss Thomas J. Pendergast. While he probably favored Pendergast on municipal building projects in return, he was seen as a clean politician and later won a spot in the U.S. Senate. Truman was a key advocate of Roosevelt’s New Deal as well as measures to supply American allies with military necessities early during World War II. He used a common-sense approach to leadership, stemming from his time as a farmer, a captain in the Army and a businessman, and it was an approach small-town Americans understood.

As Roosevelt ran for his fourth and final term, he picked an originally reluctant Truman as his vice president. But shortly after the victory, Roosevelt’s health declined. After four months in office, Truman was commander-in-chief. Americans, saddened over the trusted Roosevelt’s death and in the midst of war, knew little about the make-up of Truman. During World War I, he was a junior officer under future Gens. George C. Marshall, George S. Patton and Douglas R. MacArthur, but he was now their boss. And the stakes were higher — the Manhattan Project gave the U.S. the atomic bomb. Truman had a tough call to make.

It was 70 years ago this month that Truman authorized the military to drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was a strategy to end the war, save American lives and demonstrate the nation’s immense power to the Soviets. About his controversial decision, the plainspoken Truman said he could not have looked into the eyes of American mothers who lost a son in combat knowing that he could have defeated the Japanese earlier but chose not to.

The presidency was a difficult chore to handle, but Truman never wavered from his responsibilities. Though he faced criticism during the postwar recession and the earliest moments of the Cold War, he was the underdog figure with a bullish sense of honesty that helped win World War II and set a precedent for American dealings with the Soviet Union for decades to come.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College. He was a staff sergeant in the New York Air National Guard 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton Beach.

The Lusitania is docked in Liverpool sometime before 1912. Photo from the Michael Poirier Collection

Nancy Dorney will spend several hours at Pier A in New York City on May 7 honoring relatives she never met.

A retired shop owner from Stony Brook, Dorney will join officials from Great Britain, Ireland, Germany and other countries to pay tribute to those who took a journey that ended abruptly and in many cases tragically exactly 100 years earlier when a German submarine torpedoed and sank the British ship Lusitania off the coast of Ireland as it was heading for Liverpool.

Among the 1,198 killed that afternoon were 128 Americans, which included 39-year-old pianist Charles Harwood Knight and his 42-year-old sister Elaine. The Knights were Dorney’s great-great-uncle and aunt and, for a time, were also her grandmother Millicent Lawrence’s guardians. After the sinking, which took 18 minutes, the Knights, who were traveling in first class, were never found.

The Knights “disappeared off the face of the Earth because they decided to take the ship that day,” Dorney said.

The sinking of the Lusitania, like the loss of the Titanic three years earlier, raised questions about what actions could have prevented the death of so many at sea. It also triggered active discussion about what role the United States could or should play in World War I.

The German government had warned of an aggressive campaign to sink ships around the British Isles that they believed were carrying munitions and reinforcements for the war. Some thought the Lusitania, which, at 24 knots, was the fastest cruise ship active at the time, could avoid becoming a target. The ship, however, had shut down one of its boilers to keep down costs, bringing its top speed to 21 knots, said Michael Poirier, co-author of the book “Into the Danger Zone: Sea Crossings of the First World War.” In the waters where the Germans had been patrolling, the ship was only going 18 knots, said Poirier.

The Lusitania “was handicapped by not speeding through the danger zone,” Poirier said. There are so many “what ifs,” he added.

In the aftermath of the sinking, opinions in the United States were sharply divided over the proper course of action. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, who had run for president three times and was an outspoken member of the Democratic Party, urged the country to steer clear of involvement.

Bryan thought the sinking didn’t immediately require farm boys from the middle of the country to risk being “killed for the rights of wealthy Americans to travel through war zones,” said Michael Barnhart, a distinguished teaching professor in the History Department at Stony Brook.

Even if America didn’t enter the war, Bryan didn’t want the sinking to become “a line in the sand,” where, if the Germans cross that line in the future, America “paints itself into a corner and has no option but to go to war,” Barnhart continued.

Teddy Roosevelt personified the other side of this argument, urging the United States to come to the aid of the British. Roosevelt viewed the sinking of the Lusitania “as an example of barbarism,” Barnhart said.

Political cartoonists at the time described the Germans in terms similar to the way people view ISIS now, Barnhart said.

Sensing that the country wasn’t eager to become involved in war, President Woodrow Wilson demanded that “Germans give the citizens of neutral nations a chance to get away in lifeboats before the ship on which they had been sailing was sunk by a German submarine,” explained Richard Striner, a professor of history at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland. The Germans told Wilson the British had deck guns on their passenger ships that the British could use if the submarines surfaced. Wilson, Striner continued, suggested the British get rid of these guns but, not surprisingly, the British refused.

Ultimately, however, Wilson did what Bryan feared, indicating that future attacks would bring the country closer to war. In protest of the president’s posturing, Bryan resigned. In 1917, the Germans “realized that turning the U-boats loose would bring the U.S. into the war,” Barnhart said, but, they resumed their attacks anyway amid a shift in political winds in Germany. The United States joined the war on April 6, 1917.

As for Dorney, she has delved deeper into the lives of distant relatives who were important for her grandmother. Charles Knight, who people called by his middle name Harwood, was an accomplished pianist and, as Dorney described, a bit of a character. He forgot the organ music he was supposed to bring to a family funeral and played a somber version of a ragtime song from 1896, called “There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.”

The last anyone heard from the Knights was when they sent a note to Dorney’s grandmother that contained a list of first-class passengers aboard the Lusitania, with names including Alfred Vanderbilt and Charles Frohman. A theater producer, Frohman helped develop such stars as Ethel Barrymore and John Drew, relatives of current actress Drew Barrymore.

As the former owner of Pride’s Crossing, a housewares and furniture store in Stony Brook, Dorney said she has an appreciation for what she’s learned about the Lusitania. The woodwork on board was “beautifully made and included interior design and artwork that were magnificently done.”

Dorney and those attending the wreath-laying ceremony in New York will heed the words Poirier said are so often connected with the sinking of the Lusitania: “Lest we forget.”

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A World War I cannon usually resides at the memorial park in Port Jefferson, above, but is now at the local American Legion post awaiting repairs. Photo by Elana Glowatz

A cannon that saw World War I battlefields in Europe and retired to a grassy home on Port Jefferson Harbor has gone on a brief vacation, after a local veterans group took it away for repairs.

American Legion Wilson Ritch Post 432 in Port Jefferson Station maintains the war memorial at the small Brookhaven Town-owned park between Route 25A and the harbor, across from Port Jefferson Village Hall.

According to Bob Elfers, commander of the post, the memorial’s cannon is at the Legion because “the wheels are totally shot” and it needs welding work and a fresh coat of paint.

The wheels have wooden spokes and rims, with a metal hub and reinforcements.

“The wood just totally disintegrated over the years,” Elfers said. Exposure also caused rusting on the body of the cannon.

Elfers said his group is having someone repair the wheels and weld the rusted parts, and the cannon will be sanded and painted.

The cannon, which is American Legion property, is a German WWI weapon, though Elfers said he does not know its exact history or when the post acquired it, and said no one at the post is old enough to be able to speak to that.

A World War I cannon usually resides at the memorial park in Port Jefferson but is now at the local American Legion post awaiting repairs, above. Photo by Rich Acritelli
A World War I cannon usually resides at the memorial park in Port Jefferson but is now at the local American Legion post awaiting repairs, above. Photo by Rich Acritelli

According to Rich Acritelli, a Legion member as well as a military history expert and social studies teacher, the cannon was built by industrial company Friedrich Krupp AG in Essen, Germany, which is in the northwestern part of that country, close to the Netherlands.

The company built armaments as well as naval ships during that period, particularly U-boats.

Acritelli said the cannon was not a heavy artillery weapon and it could have been used in two different ways: either mounted on wheels to assist the German infantry or mounted on a ship for the navy.

Because it was used during World War I, the cannon is roughly a century old.

It is likely that an American soldier took the cannon home with him, a common practice at the time, Acritelli said. It is also likely that soldier was serving on the Western Front, because that was where most of the U.S. military went during WWI.

Aside from the cannon, the memorial park in Port Jefferson contains flags and stones that pay tribute to those who served in wars throughout the nation’s history, as well as a central WWI stone monument.

That WWI monument has a story of its own: It was unveiled on Memorial Day in 1922 and was originally located on East Main Street, on the grass in front of the former First Baptist Church of Port Jefferson.

Elfers said he is hoping the cannon will return to the park in May, in time for Memorial Day.

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