Sunday, October 11, 2009

91 Years Ago Tonight Part Three

American and French troops reached the soldiers trapped in The Pocket the evening of October 07, 1918. They returned to their units or were taken to hospitals. The Great War was almost over and they returned to their homes. But all wars leave their marks on the combatants. The men who fought in The Pocket carried it with them for the rest of their lives. Perhaps the best example is their commander, Major Charles W. Whittlesey.
After being discharged Whittlesey returned to his law practice in New York but remained in the spotlight. As a recipient of the Medal of Honor he was a popular if perhaps disappointing speaker who was short on details of his famous engagement. His talks centered on praising the enlisted men of his command.

In 1921 Whittlesey was promoted to Colonel and given charge of the reserve division of the 108th. This was a position he wasn’t seeking but didn’t feel he could refuse.

In November of that year the war was brought back to him in a most sobering manner. Whittlesey was asked to be a pall bearer for the remains of a World War One service man being laid to rest in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. This was yet another honor / duty he felt he could not refuse. The ceremony took place on November 21, 1921. Any misgivings he had were kept to himself as was his fashion.

Unknown to family and friends, Whittlesey booked passage on a steamship, the S.S. Toloa bound for Havana three days later – November 24, 1921. His affairs were in order. His rent was paid up a month in advance. Letters, addressed to relatives and close friends, were left in his cabin. The letters gave instructions for disposing of his estate but made no mention of his intentions.
On November 26th Whittlesey made a late night of it. He spent the evening drinking and in conversation with other passengers. Finally, he excused himself. Rather than going to his cabin he slipped over the side of the ship. His body was never found.
For almost a century people have been second guessing the reasons he took his life. I will not get into these out of respect to the man. I do think it fair to say he was another causality of the Great War.

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