Saturday, September 17, 2011
In Belleau Wood, Walter Spearing, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a University of Pennsylvania man, who had been one of the first Marines to "ship over," received the wounds which caused his death. His comrade in arms had been "Sol" Segal, of Alliance, Ohio, barely twenty years old. And when the grave had been filled, "Sol" sat beside it and, upon paper captured from a German dugout, wrote a letter of consolation to Spearing's mother that is destined to become a classic—in the Marine Corps, at least. A letter of an overwhelmed man it is, a man grieving for the "bunkie" who is gone, yet strengthening the mother who, he knows, grieves deeper than he:
At the Front, June 26, 1918
DEAR MRS. SPEARING:
THERE is grief in my heart and in the hearts of all of my comrades for the great sorrow that this war has brought to you and to us. We all unite to express our heartfelt sympathy and condolence to the mother and family of one who has fallen in a cause as imperishable as will be the names of those who have fallen to defend it. Should there be anything my comrades and I can do to mitigate your grief and to allay your sorrow — some little keepsake of Walt as a Marine, perhaps — but name it, dear lady, and it shall traverse the ocean to you.
Because you do not know me, please do not think it presumptuous for me to write. You are Walter's mother — I was his inseparable friend and comrade; that makes us two kindred souls in common grief for our nearest and dearest. Then, too, this letter fulfills a duty that I am bound by oath and will to perform. Many months ago, Walt and I promised each other, that, should the "God of Battles" call to one, the other would console the sorrowing mother. Now Walt has gone West to Home and to you forever, but his figure, his voice, his wonderful personality will always be living truths to me. I, myself, should the great call come, will go gladly, confident of a reunion and with faith in the eternal truth of that cause for which I die.
Beneath the green in Belleau Woods, forever connected with the "Honor of the Marines," lies Walt with two comrades, dead on the "Field of Honor." Above their graves the stately pines sway in their grandeur, an imperishable monument. But greatest of all epitaphs is that engraved within the hearts of his comrades. "A man, than whom there was no peer in kindliness, in understanding, in comradeship, beyond compare." Wre alone know what could have been had circumstances so willed it. Whatever befall, whatever sorrow fills us, one thing I swear to you, here hard by that lonely grave — the very paper that I write upon taken in a captured German dugout — I swear that Walt is well avenged, that he has not died in vain, for his spirit leads us on to ultimate victory. You are proud, I know, for you are the mother of a martyr — a martyr in a holy cause, Freedom and Liberty.
Dear lady, the very thought that you are in grief tears my heart. Do not sorrow; death, after all, is not so terrible, and here — why, here it is glorious.
Mother, hi the name of the Twenty-third Company, in the name of the Marines, I salute you, and all my comrades salute you.
Taken From My Book, "Pennsylvanian Voices of The Great War" McFarland Publishing.