Fallen son of Wilton is remembered

—Jeannette Ross photos

It is easy to forget someone who died 100 years ago, but members of Wilton’s American Legion Post 86 remembered their post’s namesake — James Bennett Whipple — with a ceremony June 3, the centennial of his death.

Dignitaries included U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), state Sen. Toni Boucher (R-26), state Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143), officials from the American Legion, and members of the Whipple family.

The American Legion was founded in France in 1919, after the end of the war the previous year. A group of Wiltonians submitted an application for a charter for a post here in April of 1920, and when it was approved, they named it for Whipple, the first Wiltonian killed in what was then called The Great War. Post 86 Adjutant Tom Moore said it was common for older posts to be named for WWI veterans.

During the ceremony, Moore recounted what is known of Whipple, who was born Feb. 7, 1893, the fourth of five children to Florentine and Clarence Whipple. They lived on 14 acres in the Grumman Hill/Kensett Avenue area.

His father died of a heart attack when James was 9, and he grew up to become a machinist by trade.

“To draw a picture of James, he was 5 feet, nine and a half inches, 136 pounds, with hazel eyes. A handsome man by any standard, he never married,” Moore said.

“On April 6, 1917, Congress declared war on Germany. Thirty-three days later, May 9th, James enlisted in the Marine Corps in Detroit, Mich. Upon completion of training in Port Royal, S.C., and with the 82nd Company in Quantico, Va., he was given leave for week.”

He left for France on Sept. 16 aboard the USS Henderson, a newly launched troop transport from Philadelphia. After a stop in Staten Island, the ship departed Sept. 23 and arrived in France on Oct. 5. James was assigned to the 76th Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, along with his younger brother, Joseph.

“By all accounts and military records, James was rated by superiors ‘of excellent character,’ and on March 11, 1918, showing potential leadership abilities, he was promoted to corporal. His pay as corporal? $6.60 per month,” Moore told those assembled.

“From April 18, to May 7, 1918, he spent all but one day on sick call. Family accounts tell us that both James and Joseph were gassed while in combat, and James was treated for this during his convalescence.”

James returned to his unit and was fatally wounded during the battle of Chateau Thierry, Belleau Woods. He was carrying a message to another unit regarding the enemy. He was 25 years old. His brother Joseph, upon finding out James was killed, retrieved the message and successfully delivered it.  

Whipple was temporarily buried at a cemetery at Lucy-le-Bocage until after the war. The War Department offered to bring him home to be interred, but Whipple’s mother said she wished her son to remain in France, buried with his comrades. Today he is buried in Plot A/Row 8/Grave 53 in the American Cemetery at Aisne-Marne, Belleau, France.

Fred Whipple Sr., son of Joseph and nephew of James, said his father was devastated when James was killed. After Sunday’s ceremony he told The Bulletin his father served as a dispatch writer — writing messages from the front lines to headquarters — while James served in the infantry.

Fred has visited James’ grave and said it was “sad, lying along with so many almost as far as the eye can see. It is a sad thing to look at, to see the sacrifice.”

Fred, who is a member of Post 78 in Ridgefield, said his family “felt honored to have a post named after James.” The brothers were close, he said, having lived together in Michigan and then training and serving together.

An Army veteran who was sent to the occupation of Germany from 1950 to 1953 as a sergeant with a heavy artillery unit, Fred was joined by family members on Saturday:

  • James Whipple, grand-nephew of James B. Whipple.

  • Ida Whipple, widow of James Whipple, nephew of James B. Whipple.

  • Fred Whipple Jr., grand nephew of James B. Whipple, and his wife Vaida.

  • Fred Whipple III, great-grand nephew of James B. Whipple.

With several dozen people in attendance, the ceremony included the National Anthem as sung by members of the Wilton High School Choir — Anna Clark, Nathalie Axel, Rachel Nadel, and Madeline Pennino a prayer, and comments from several guests.

Lavielle noted that Whipple, like so many other veterans, died alone in a foreign land. “I don’t think we fully appreciate what that means, to be fully alone at the moment of your death,” she said. “But that has been what happened to so many of our veterans. … we weren’t with them but they were very much with us and I think we owe them this gratitude and this thoughtfulness.”

Boucher recalled that 100 years ago, Wilton was a much smaller village. “But this particular post has been here all that time,” she said. “Not only to keep James Whipple’s memory alive but so, so many others. It is really a testament to each new generation that takes this responsibility on and provides this refuge for our veterans.”

American Legion Third District Commander Mike Keller recounted the post’s dedication to the community by supporting Boys State, boy and girl scouts, American Legion baseball, and Kick for Nick.

“Post 86 makes Wilton, Connecticut, and the nation a better place,” he said.

Blumenthal said those at the ceremony, as well as everyone in the state, “can never forget the extraordinary sacrifice and service given to us by men and women who serve in uniform.” Fewer than 1% of Americans serve in the military, he said. “The longest wars in our nation’s history have been fought by a smaller percentage of our population than ever before.”

To the Whipples, he said, “families serve along with the men and women” and deserve more support. We should honor our veterans with action. The kind of action that provides healthcare and job opportunities and skill training.”

“James Whipple in his model of public service ought to inspire all of us” to honor all veterans.

Both James Whipple and Fred Whipple Jr. offered a few words of thanks, and then high school bugler Conor Bendett played taps as the flag was lowered and folded. Post 86 Commander Don Hazzard brought the flag to Fred Whipple Sr., placed it in his hands, and saluted.