Area res­i­dent’s grand­fa­thers served in World War I

Con­flict ended 100 years ago to­day

The Record (Troy, NY) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Paul Post ppost@dig­i­tal­first­ Re­porter

SARATOGASPRINGS, N.Y. >> Charles Wheeler Jr. can trace his fam­ily’s mil­i­tary her­itage back to the Rev­o­lu­tion when an an­ces­tor named Josiah Whit­ney was a colonel in the 2nd Mas­sachusetts Mili­tia.

But to­day, his thoughts are with both of his grand­fa­thers who served dur­ing World War I, the “War to End All Wars,” which ended ex­actly 100 years ago on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – Nov. 11, 1918.

Wheeler’s pa­ter­nal grand­fa­ther, Lt. Thomas B. Wheeler com­manded the 309th Ma­chine Gun Bat­tal­ion of the 78th Divi­sion in France, while his ma­ter­nal grand­fa­ther, Ma­jor F. Marvin Cal­lan, com­manded Com­pany A of the 10th In­fantry Reg­i­ment.

“It’s pride and fam­ily tra­di­tion,” said Wheeler, a Saratoga Springs res­i­dent, Viet­nam vet­eran and third-gen­er­a­tion army lieu­tenant. “Hav­ing had the priv­i­lege of know­ing them is even greater.”

He owns a large col­lec­tion of Thomas B. Wheeler’s World War I equip­ment such as the boots, hel­met, field pack and map case he used while serv­ing on the front lines. There’s also a variety of medals he earned in­clud­ing the French Croix de Guerre, awarded for val­or­ous ser­vice, and poi-

gnant mem­o­ries con­tained in de­tailed per­sonal di­aries.

In one en­try, dated Feb. 3, 1919, Thomas B. Wheeler recorded what it felt like to learn about the birth of his first son. The war had ended three months ear­lier, but his out­fit was still over­seas and wouldn’t re­turn home un­til May 1919.

“It’s great to be called a fa­ther,” he wrote. “I’m so happy I don’t know what to do. I go to bed tonight happy and dream­ing of my fam­ily.”

Such joy was a far cry from the hor­rors of trench war­fare he faced dur­ing the war, which claimed 2 mil­lion lives on both sides of the con­flict, plus an­other 4 mil­lion wounded. Thomas B. Wheeler was a gas at­tack vic­tim, which con­trib­uted to his pass­ing in 1957, at age 67.

In 1919, Thomas B. Wheeler co-founded Al­bany’s first Amer­i­can Le­gion post.

The Le­gion, cur­rently cel­e­brat­ing its 100th an­niver­sary, was founded a year ear­lier on March 15, 1918 at the Amer­i­can Club in Paris, France, by mem­bers of the Amer­i­can Ex­pe­di­tionary Forces.

Both be­fore and af­ter the war, Thomas B. Wheeler was an of­fi­cer at APW Pa­per Com­pany in Al­bany,

which his grand­fa­ther, Seth Wheeler, had founded in 1871.

Thomas B. Wheeler mar­ried Mar­jorie Whit­ney.

Begin­ning in 1950, af­ter APW Pa­per Com­pany was sold, he ran W.M. Whit­ney & Com­pany, the largest and old­est depart­ment store in Al­bany, un­til his pass­ing. It was a large five-story build­ing, a block deep, on North Pearl Street.

The Wheel­ers lived on the for­mer Whit­ney es­tate in Loudonville, just south of Siena Col­lege. As a child, Charles Wheeler Jr. grew up and lived there as well.

Charles’s ma­ter­nal grand­fa­ther, F. Marvin Cal­lan, was a sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Ir­ish im­mi­grant and ran a suc­cess­ful Al­bany in­sur­ance busi­ness.

Cal­lan’s brother, Lansing, was a pi­o­neer­ing naval avi­a­tor who learned to fly with Glenn Cur­tiss, a com­peti­tor of the Wright Broth­ers and a founder of the U.S. air­craft in­dus­try. Cur­tiss’s com­pany built air­craft for the army and navy in the years lead­ing up to World War I.

Lansing Cal­lan over­saw con­struc­tion of naval air sta­tions in France dur­ing World War I, be­came a U.S. Navy ad­mi­ral and later worked for Cur­tiss’s com­pany, which is now part of the Cur­tiss-Wright Cor­po­ra­tion.

An­other brother, Col. Al­bert Cal­lan, was also a com­pany com­man­der in the 10th In­fantry Reg­i­ment dur- ing the war.

Leafing through old scrap­books, Charles Wheeler read­ily sees the sac­ri­fice that fam­i­lies of ser­vice­men made, in ad­di­tion to sol­diers them­selves dur­ing World War I.

For ex­am­ple, one news­pa­per head­line told what it was like when men left to go over­seas. “Women of Al­bany Brave at Part­ing: Wives Show Pa­tri­o­tism,” it says.

Many hus­bands, fa­thers, sons and broth­ers never came home.

Charles Wheeler Jr.’s an­ces­tors also served in the War of 1812 and Civil War. His fa­ther, Charles Sr., was a lieu­tenant in the famed 10th Moun­tain Divi­sion dur­ing World War II.

“My grand­fa­ther and fa­ther both went to Al­bany Academy, so mil­i­tary tradi- tion was in the fam­ily from the get-go while I was grow­ing up,” Charles Jr. said.

On La­bor Day Week­end 1968, Wheeler Jr. joined the army and later served a year at Long Binh, Viet­nam as a com­bat en­gi­neer from June 1970 to June 1971.

Re­turn­ing home, he went to work for Hy­att Ho­tels, fol­lowed by Al­bany County Cham­ber of Com­merce, which led to a job as di­rec­tor of the new Em­pire State Plaza Con­ven­tion Cen­ter.

Next, he over­saw con-

struc­tion and busi­ness de­vel­op­ment of the new North­ern Ken­tucky Con­ven­tion Cen­ter in Cov­ing­ton, di­rectly across the Ohio River from Cincin­nati. From there, he came back to the Cap­i­tal Re­gion to work for New York Rac­ing As­so­ci­a­tion as Saratoga Race Course fa­cil­i­ties man­ager. He re­tired as NYRA’s lo­cal di­rec­tor of com­mu­nity re­la­tions.

Wheeler Jr. is a past Friends of the New York State Mil­i­tary Mu­seum board mem­ber and is cur­rently on its ad­vi­sory board. It’s lit­tle won­der, con­sid­er­ing his fam­ily’s ser­vice to coun­try, that he has such an ex­ten­sive in­ter­est in Amer­i­can mil­i­tary his­tory.

“Be­ing in lead­er­ship roles was in­grained in me from the begin­ning,” he said. “They taught me the lead­er­ship tools, but it was up to you to suc­ceed.”


Charles Wheeler Jr., of Saratoga Springs, holds the hel­met his grand­fa­ther, Thomas B. Wheeler, wore dur­ing World War I.


Charles Wheeler Jr. owns much of the equip­ment his grand­fa­ther used dur­ing World War I in­clud­ing a hel­met, field pack, map case, boots, gas mask and var­i­ous printed ma­te­ri­als.


Lt. Thomas B. Wheeler com­manded a ma­chine gun unit in France dur­ing World War I.


Thomas B. Wheeler’s foot locker shows that he be­longed to the 309th Ma­chine Gun Bat­tal­ion.


Thomas B. Wheeler earned many medals for his ser­vice dur­ing World War I in­clud­ing the French Croix de Guerre for valor.

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