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Forum, Nov. 21: Understanding the role played by Vermonters in the ‘Great War’

Published: 11/20/2021 10:00:25 PM
Modified: 11/20/2021 10:00:11 PM
Understanding the role played by Vermonters in the ‘Great War’

I found Madeleine Johnson’s Nov. 14 Perspectives column (“When the Yankee Division saved Paris”) very interesting. To that information should be added the role of Vermont soldiers in that division, and especially men from the Upper Valley.

The 1st Vermont Infantry Regiment, National Guard was part of the Yankee Division. More than 1,760 Vermonters served in that regiment, including men from many of our local communities. They were in machine gun and ammunition train companies. As part of the American Expeditionary Force, they participated in the various military actions mentioned in the column.

In total, more than 16,000 Vermonters joined the armed services during the war. Hundreds were killed or wounded. Many had physical and emotional scars that lasted well beyond their service.

In 2017, the Bradford Historical Society had a major exhibit and accompanying program on the men from the area who served in World War I. At that time, I posted an essay on that subject on my blog at larrycoffin.blogspot.com. I included some of the letters soldiers wrote home.

Two stories are worth repeating. Fred Louanis and Marin Murphy were best friends and juniors at Bradford Academy in 1917. When America entered the war, they dropped out of school, enlisted in the 1st Vermont Infantry Regiment and served on the Western Front during some of the most bitter fighting. When they returned to Bradford, Academy, officials felt their service warranted a diploma and allowed them to graduate with the Class of 1919.

In 2017, The Smithsonian Channel had a special on the Yankee Division and detailed how up to 5,000 soldiers were housed, at least temporarily, in large underground caves.

In March 1918, John Russell, of Newbury, wrote home to his parents and described being housed “in an enormous cave, formerly a chalk mine.”

I hope this information gives readers a brief understanding of the role of Vermonters in the “Great War.”

LARRY COFFIN

Bradford, Vt.

The writer is the curator and past president of the Bradford (Vt.) Historical Society and a retired social studies teacher.

Let us celebrate our endless variety

I was deeply moved by a guest essay in The New York Times on Nov. 17. It was written by Michael J. O’Loughlin, a correspondent for America Media, a Catholic news organization. He is a gay man.

In his essay, O’Loughlin tells of a nun who for many years ministered to gay men who were dying of HIV-AIDS during a time when 43% of Americans believed the disease was just punishment for “immoral sexual behavior.”

He was so touched by this nun’s caring that he wrote a letter to Pope Francis and received a reply. The pope wrote, in part, “Thank you for shining a light on the lives and bearing witness to the many priests, religious sisters and lay people, who opted to accompany, support and help their brothers and sisters who were sick from H.I.V. and AIDS at great risk to their profession and reputation.” The pope continued: “Instead of indifference, alienation and even condemnation ... these people let themselves be moved by the mercy of the Father. ...”

O’Loughlin is still uncomfortable in the Catholic Church, but remains bound by his deep connection to his heritage, and more profoundly to the Eucharist.

I am an Episcopalian and I, too, am bound to the Eucharist as being God’s presence. I also believe that human beings are created in endless variety, from eye color to skin color, talents and sexuality. Instead of calling anyone sinful, let us celebrate our individuality. As they say, vive la différence.

ANNE HARMS

West Lebanon

Recounting earlier car-train collision

The locomotive’s paint job was scarcely wrinkled. The blue-shrouded wreckage told the generic story: “Car collides with moving train. Train wins. A life is lost.” The tragic story of the Vermont Law School student who so unfortunately died last week (“Driver killed in collision with train,” Nov. 17) brought to mind my own experience.

Years ago, in the 1980s, the northbound Amtrak train I was riding in had settled into a slow but steady pace north of Brattleboro. Route 5 shared the narrow Connecticut River valley, and only a shallow swale separated the road from the railroad.

Suddenly, a puff of dust on the west side. Someone cried, “We hit a car!” The emergency braking made my footsteps unsteady as I rushed to the rear vestibule. A muscular passenger identified himself as an EMT. As a lowly pediatrician, I readily yielded leadership him. We jumped down.

The car we had struck was a small Japanese hatchback. It had not been on a road, much less on a bona-fide grade crossing. It lay on its back, dripping fuel. The right door had been caved in to the center of the car.

The EMT did a quick, through-the-window assessment. Then, in mutual amazement, we watched the driver slowly wriggle out of his steel cocoon. The driver — clinically intoxicated — had a minor head bump but no other evident trauma. We pieced together (or imagined) that his girlfriend lived on the “other side of the tracks.”

Close as we were to the highway, a crowd soon gathered, and before long a Vermont state trooper arrived. The lucky victim we had helped rescue had now become an unruly drunk in the eyes of the trooper.

He was evacuated from the scene, the trooper finished his paperwork, and the engineer bought me and the EMT two cups of coffee.

As we reboarded the train, my last words to the EMT were, “Do wash thoroughly. We may have been working in poison ivy.” (If we were, the washing did the trick.)

JIM HUGHES

West Fairlee




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