UD tells sto­ries of WWI fallen

Class re­searches his­tory be­hind Memo­rial Hall names

Newark Post - - Front Page - By JOSH SHAN­NON jshan­non@ches­pub.com

When mil­i­tary groups, politi­cians, stu­dents and fac­ulty de­scended on the Uni­ver­sity of Delaware cam­pus in 1925 for the ded­i­ca­tion of Memo­rial Hall, UD of­fi­cials un­veiled the “Book of the Dead” that would be dis­played in the build­ing’s lobby.

Each page of the book would list the name of a Delawarean killed in World War I and a brief bi­og­ra­phy of the ser­vice mem­ber, of­fi­cials said at the time.

The Book of the Dead has re­mained a fo­cal point of Memo­rial Hall, and each morn­ing, ROTC mem­bers cer­e­mo­ni­ously turn one page of the book. How­ever, the book was never com­pleted and lists only the names of the fallen. The de­tails of their lives were lost to his­tory.

Now, some 90 years later, a group of UD stu­dents has taken the first step to­ward ful­fill­ing UD’s orig­i­nal prom­ise. Over the last se­mes­ter, English pro­fes­sor Bernard McKenna’s class has combed through mil­i­tary records, old news­pa­pers and other re­sources to find in­for­ma­tion on 35 of the 270 peo­ple hon­ored in Memo­rial Hall.

“What we have to­day is a start,” Ge­orge Miller, as­so­ciate chair of the Depart­ment of English, said. “I doubt we’ll ever be able to ful­fill the orig­i­nal prom­ise, but it would be a fit­ting trib­ute to those who served and gave up their lives, to com­pile the life his­to­ries of those who sac­ri­ficed so much.”

McKenna said he as­signed each of his se­nior English cap­stone stu­dents sev­eral names from the book and tasked them with find­ing as many de­tails about the ser­vice mem­bers as pos­si­ble.

“They were to look un­til they struck gold,” he said. “It took dozens of hours of work for one name.”

Not only did stu­dents find out bi­o­graph­i­cal de­tails of the fallen, some were also able to find in­for­ma­tion on neigh­bors and class­mates with whom the sol­diers likely grew up.

“You could recre­ate a sense of life in that com­mu­nity,” McKenna said. “It’s such a rich life story to be told.”

On May 10, the stu­dents pub­licly shared those sto­ries dur­ing a memo­rial event at the Roselle Cen­ter for the Arts. Each stu­dent gave a brief pre­sen­ta­tion on one ser­vice mem­ber as a screen be­hind them dis­played pho­tos and news­pa­per clip­pings.

Stu­dent Ni­cole Lund talked about Lawrence Wit­sil, a UD alum­nus from Wilm­ing­ton who was drafted into the Army and died from an ill­ness just five weeks be­fore the war ended.

Lund painted a pic­ture of a well-liked elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing stu­dent known for his in­tel­lect and his pen­chant for whistling as he walked around cam­pus.

“It’s easy to imag­ine just an­other care­free 21-yearold walk­ing down The Green af­ter class, greet­ing friends and soak­ing up the warm sun­shine,” Lund said.

Her class­mate Linda El­lis said re­search­ing Thomas Amory had a pro­found im­pact on her.

“This past se­mes­ter has been awe-in­spir­ing and the one above all that will stay in my mem­ory for the rest of my life,” she said.

A Wilm­ing­ton na­tive, Amory was in­jured in France and af­ter spend­ing three months in a hos­pi­tal was given the op­tion of tak­ing a non-com­bat role. How­ever, he in­sisted on con­tin­u­ing to fight and was later killed in bat­tle. His sergeant called him “the best of­fi­cer God ever made,” El­lis said.

She added that when she be­gan re­search­ing Amory, she had al­most im­me­di­ate suc­cess.

“In­stantly, the in­for­ma­tion started to spit out, and pho­tos started to ap­pear,” she re­called.

It was the pho­tos of the 25-year-old sol­dier that were most poignant.

“Those eyes just grabbed me,” El­lis said. “There was a ma­tu­rity in those eyes years be­yond his age.”

El­lis, who went back to school to fin­ish her de­gree af­ter re­tir­ing from a ca­reer as a le­gal ad­min­is­tra­tor, said she plans to con­tinue re­search­ing Amory even af­ter she grad­u­ates.

“My search doesn’t end now,” she said.

Stu­dent R.J. Po­pio was able to visit the Wilm­ing­ton home where his re­search sub­ject, An­drew Con­lin, lived.

“It’s in­ter­est­ing to bring life back to th­ese men who lived and died 100 years ago,” said Po­pio, who is re­tired from the United States Air Force. “I can ap­pre­ci­ate their sac­ri­fice. They gave all.”

McKenna said he plans to com­bine the stu­dents’ work into a bin­der that will be avail­able at Memo­rial Hall. He also hopes to con­tinue the project with a fu­ture class, not­ing there are 235 names that still need to be re­searched. He also hopes to lo­cate some of the fallen sol­diers’ de­scen­dants and share the re­search with them.

The project has al­ready had a huge im­pact on Ne­wark res­i­dent Bar­bara Mor­ris, who was able to learn new in­for­ma­tion about her grand­fa­ther, James Tull Reed.

Af­ter hear­ing about the project, Mor­ris con­tacted McKenna with the hopes that one of the stu­dents had un­earthed doc­u­ments about Reed. While Reed’s name had not been as­signed to a stu­dent, McKenna was able to pro­vide her with some de­tails and in­vited her to share them dur­ing Tues­day’s pre­sen­ta­tion.

Reed died from the flu while train­ing at Fort Meade in Mary­land. His death came just four weeks af­ter Mor­ris’ mother was born and shortly be­fore the war ended.

Mor­ris said she knew very lit­tle about her grand­fa­ther, but through the re­search learned that his train ride from Wilm­ing­ton to Fort Meade took him near where she lives in Ne­wark.

“While we never crossed in time, I feel like we’ve crossed in space,” she said. “I feel very dif­fer­ently when I hear the train now.”

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF UD

ROTC cadets salute af­ter turn­ing a page in the Book of the Dead in Memo­rial Hall. An English class spent the past se­mes­ter re­search­ing the lives of some of the 270 fallen sol­diers listed in the book.

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