College Honor Rolls
"Honored here are all
Bowdoin generations who served
when our country called
and these who fell"
"They will come together again under high bidding and
will know their place and name. This army will live, and live on,
so long as soul shall answer soul, so long as that flag watches
with its stars over fields of mighty memory.
- Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Class of 1852"
"I hear even now our infinate fierce chorus,
the cries of agony, the endless groan,
Which through the ages have gone before us,
in long reverberations reach our own.
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Class of 1825"
I arrived at the campus of Bowdoin on a weekend afternoon when parents and new students were visiting for orientation and dorm room assignments. It was fun to see the various expressions on the students and parents as they got out of their cars, looked around, and then began walking to the dorms. Dads were gazing around and wondering how much more of the household budget was going to be spent on incidentals and Moms were stoically keeping their emotions in check.It was impossible to read the students correctly. As with most of the important moments in any life, each of them were being wrapped with the conflicting emotions of leaving home, beginning an adult life and greeting the first really big adventure.
The thing I had in mind was the contrast between these partings of parent and child and those of the 111 Bowdoin alums listed on the honor rolls for World War II, Korea, and VietNam. There is another monument somewhere in this area that honors those that died in World War I, but I couldn't find it, and in all of the confusion I figured it was best to just grab photos of this area and leave before the day was fully spent.
The honor roll listing for each conflict is by class, and I immediately noticed the class of 1906 was represented by Eugene Eveleth Wing. Gads, the man was 60 years old when he was killed in 1944! What was his story? I researched and found a fascinating story, although very incomplete. He wasn't in military uniform but he was certainly a combatant and deserves a great measure of respect for his courage and devotion.
Wing was an executive with the Marsman Corporation, a firm that had its roots in gold minining and which successfully grew into other fields. In 1941 Marsman had many industriial, distributing and aviation interests. Wing's story revolves around his social position as the Commodore of the Manila Yacht Club. As the Japanese began to advance on the Philippines, the club members dissolved their association and most proceeded to destroy their boats by burrning them to the waterline. There are some hints that Wing was actively gathering local intelligence which he passed to various US government agencies.
It's difficult to know the entire back story, but early in '42 Wing had, along with American author and economist Hugo Herman Miller, outfitted a 65 foot two masted schooner with the intent of escaping the Japanese occupation. Again, it is supposition, but it wouldn't be difficult to make a case that Wing and Miller had intimate knowledge of Philippine resources that could be useful to Allied miltary forces. The Japanese didn't split hairs, they considered Wing and Miller enemy agents.
The ex-patriot Americans managed to avoid Japanese blockade forces by sailing the schooner in darkness and ultimately reached Leyete. The pair were captured in November of '43 when Japanese forces swept over the island in a campaign designed to rid the area of resistance groups. They were taken to Samar and executed by beheading.
At about the same time that Wing was sailing to Leyete, JtJG Russell Dell, was sailing aboard the USS Edsall (DD-219) in the Indian Ocean. He was lost when the Edsall was sunk by enemy action on March 1, 1942.
The first Bowdoin alumnus to die as a result of World War II as Wilmot Ashley Tibbetts, Class of '35. He had married soon after graduation and by 1936 had a son. He was among the vanguard of young American men that crossed the northern border to join the Canadian Air Force. LAC Tibbetts enlisted at Montreal in February of 1940 and was killed in a training accident in July of 1941.
Also heeding the call of Canada's recruiting efforts was Edwin Scarritt Parsons, Class of '28. After graduation he had been employed in the oil business in Venezuela, owned an auto dealership in his hometown of Cairo, Illlinois, and may have been in the advertising business for a while. Enlisting in his mid 30's, Parsons was promoted to Flying Officer upon completion of flight training and killed in a flying accident on May 29, 1942.
LCdr John French, USN, graduated with the Class of '21. In November of '41 he had arrived aboard USS Arizona (BB-39) for what was probably his last assignment before retiring from the Navy. He was the ships Educational Officer and his combat station was in the conning tower. He was killed in action just four weeks after reporting aboard.
George Reed Jr, Class of '26, was working as an Ordinary Seaman aboard SS Naeco when it was torpedoed by U-124 on March 23, 1942. SS Naeco was one of eight ships claimed by U-124 in that month as it lay in wait between Bermuda and the northeast coast of America.
John Fizner Presnell was a star of the Class of '36. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, excelled in math, and was an undergrade assistant in math and chemistry, and graduated with a BA, Summa Cum Laude. For three of the four years at Bowdoin Presnell was a member of the National Guard. It wasn't any surprise when he received a Senatorial appointment to West Point, where he graduated third in the USMA Class of '40.
Within weeks of leaving West Point, 2nd Lt Presnell was arriving at Corrigedor. Just over a year later he was taken prisoner and moved north as part of the Bataan Death March. He remained in captivity three years, one of the longest known survivors of the March. In the Japanese POW camps Presnell was still an outstanding leader, constantly working to better the conditions of his fellow prisoners, even if that only meant giving a word of encouragement and a smile. He died of exposure aboard the hell ship Brazil Maru when prisoners aboard the ship stripped him of what clothing he had. His body was thrown overboard on January 19, 1945, just two days before the ship was scheduled to arrive in Japan.
The important point I want to make about the men on this honor roll is that I believe all of them were volunteers, not a draftee among them. They came from families committed to supporting America. When their parents bade farwell to these sons for the last time the risks were understood. The men of Bowdoin, the sons of America, would do their best to ensure that the Republic remained free and secure. They never knew the term "Safe Space" and likely would have laughed at the concept.
Monuments of this nature can be found on nearly every American college and university campus. Instead of being a place of reverent admiration of the courage and valor of generations past, the memorials are being disrespected and sometimes vandalized. No populace that allows this to continue deserves the sacrifices made by these men. And no nation, however strong, can continue to thrive and prosper without these sacrifices.