“Blessed are they that have the home longing”:
St. Mihiel, Pershing, Spiritualism, and Capt. Walker Beale
By Mark Facknitz, PhD
This essay has its origins nearly thirty years ago in my first visit to the St. Mihiel American Cemetery near Thiaucourt. Astonished by the sheer number of crosses, aware of the vast openness of the landscape in this part of the Woevre plain, perplexed by the chapel’s mosaics of fasces, or the bundles of sticks and ax that became the primary icon of Mussolini, I was close to leaving when I looked west and saw the statue blandly named Soldiers Monument. Frankly, it was a relief. It seemed real. I was moved by it. I knew I was looking at something unlike the rest of the memorials and ornaments, but I despaired of knowing any more about it. I was wrong. Instead, at the edge of a lonely cemetery, I had a key to a way to understand the disparity between private grief and public rhetoric in the aftermath of the Great War.
World War One ought not to be the war we forgot before we forgot Korea. It shaped and continues to shape our destiny as a people. Abroad our Great War military cemeteries still make staunch and formal claims about the rightness and dignity of death in war. In each one sees the same white stone, the rows of crosses, the earnestness of visitors, and the unfailing scrupulousness of the grounds-keeping. The St. Mihiel military cemetery is, among other things, an accommodation to the historical catastrophe of 1914-1918, and in it, we can discern a pattern of private and public emotions that carry through—sometimes nobly, sometimes disastrously—to our time. At first getting the dead in the ground was a straightforward sanitary concern; how to remember them was far less simple. To impose a message of victory and order on a landscape that had borne so much disruption and carnage was at first a matter of severe tidying. Bookkeeper-straight rows of crosses, as early as 1920 our graves at Thiaucourt looked like this:
In time, as the wooden crosses were replaced with Carrera marble, it would be as orderly yet far more stately.
There appear to have been two phases in the making of commemorative monuments; a first in which bereaved relatives wandered among the disheveled crosses of ad hoc graveyards, or went among the Graves Registration workers as they exhumed bodies for repatriation or for transit to consolidation cemeteries. The distraught young woman from Tennessee in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night represents the raw and confused singularity of loss in the first phase. She has spent the day—while Dick, Nicole, Abe North, and Rosemary have explored the trenches of Beaumont-Hamel—looking for her brother’s grave. When Dick and his party are leaving and the rain is beginning, they see the young woman from the train that morning, “tears of vexation on her face” as she complains that the War Department’s instructions led her to another boy’s grave. She tells Dick “I been lookin’ for it since two o’clock, and there’s so many graves” (Chap. 13). Dick, a professional quieter and simplifier of women’s emotions, suggests that she lay her wreath on any grave with the trite comment “that’s what he would have wanted you to do.” Out of convenience, she leaves her wreath on the first grave inside the gate, and joins Dick’s party as they head back to Amiens, “leaving infinitesimal sections of Wurtemburgers, Prussian Guards, Chasseurs Alpins, Manchester mill hands and old Etonians to pursue their eternal dissolution under the warm rain” (Chap. 13).
Aside from the improbability of any American grave near Beaumont-Hamel—much less a large American cemetery the crosses of which resemble “the white caps of a great sea of graves” (the only U. S. cemetery in the Somme is at Bony, fifty kilometers to the east of Beaumont) Fitzgerald aptly renders the dilemma of the early independent women pilgrims. Unlike her urbane rescuer and his companions--drunken Abe North, the ingénue Rosemary, and his Dick’s “abstracted” wife Nicole--the young woman from Tennessee is dépaysée, wandering the site of a catastrophe among hundreds of names without identities, for in the modern condition, every man is no man. Fitzgerald grasps the young woman’s particularity, holding it against her brother’s accelerating disappearance as his death and others dissolve into a generalized idea of sacrifice and the unknown soldier becomes the highest expression of heroism. Where there is acute personal grief, the psychic remedy is to repress chaos with a bland piety, even a formulaic courtesy, and Nicole recognizes this when unremarked through the entire chapter, she appears at the end “reading over the guide-books to the battle-field that Dick had brought along—indeed, he had made a quick study of the whole affair, simplifying it always until it bore a faint resemblance to one of his own parties” (Chap. 13). This is what Dick is good at. This is what drinking is good for, Abe North would say.
In the second phase, after the grisly work of the Grave Registration Service, monuments are raised and ceremonies of consecration are held. The American War Mothers organization, founded in 1917, received a Congressional charter in 1925; American Gold Star Mothers, limited to women who had lost sons in the war, was formed later, in 1928. They were the primary objects of Congress’ Gold Star Mother’s Pilgrimage, legislation for which was signed by Coolidge and continued through the Hoover administration and into the early years of Roosevelt’s. At first, the paid journey was conceived of as limited to mothers; widows were begrudgingly added; sisters—like Fitzgerald’s girl from Tennessee—were entirely neglected; fathers were deliberately excluded; brothers, one presumes, were never in the discussion. G. Kurt Piehler argues that “American leaders looked to make the war dead a central symbol of national identity divorced from . . . divisive ties of class, ethnicity, religion, and region,” a program that sought “to press the war dead into further national service” and “required the consent or at least the compliance of their parents and widows” (169). The mothers who undertook the trip traveled comfortably in cabin class and slept in first-class hotels.
They were escorted by officers and medical personnel, had a week at government expense in Paris or London, and were accompanied to the grave of son or husband (Piehler 178).
Such a surplus of solicitude for the bereaved mother inverted the priorities that had governed the repatriation of the dead, a process in which the wishes of the widow preceded the wishes of the father, and the father’s trumped the mother’s. That contrast replicates a distinct difference between how America behaved at home and how the image of America was constructed in Europe. Slightly more than two-thirds of the bodies of the war dead, of whom more than half died of Spanish influenza, were returned for re-interment to states, cities, neighborhoods, and parishes that characterized the highly diverse regional, class and ethnic differences which the soldiers represented. As chairman of the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC), General Pershing remained directly involved in the design and construction of cemeteries and monuments, nixing family memorials and creating instead sprawling landscapes remarkable for their symmetries and Greco-Roman architectural grandeur according to his clear message of America’s new supremacy. In My Experiences in the World War General Pershing paused on the verge of recounting the AEF’s triumph at St. Mihiel for a digression on the work that occupied him later in the 1920’s:
Since the war the remains of those of our men who were left in France have been gathered into a few cemeteries, where they lie in precise rows under the shadow of our own flag within the sacred limits of their small bit of America. Most of these spots mark the field of valor where they fell and each has become a shrine where devoted comrades and countrymen may come in remembrance of American youth who consecrated their lives to a sublime cause. It has been a great privilege for me to be at the head of the commission to erect suitable monuments in our cemeteries and on our battlefields, through which a grateful people may commemorate the heroism of their sons. But no matter what else we may do to beautify the hallowed ground where our dead lie buried, nothing can ever take the place of the white marble crosses and stars that marked their graves. These stand as memorials of sacrifice and as symbols of our faith in immortality. (ii.257-258)
The memorials, first of all, represent a titanic tidying, literal and metaphoric, a process one can see reflected in two official guides to the battlefields published eleven years apart by the ABMC. The first, in 1927, resembles in many ways the earliest battlefield guides that Michelin was publishing in English as early as 1919. Their three volumes dedicated to Second Marne, the battle of St. Mihiel, and the Meuse-Argonne battle are designed for readers picking their way through ruins and wreckage. These earliest guides presume that shattered buildings, burned out trucks, and stacks of spent shells remain as landmarks. While the guides are softened by a few suggested side-trips to intact French towns, the primary audience is the person seeking to imagine the still fresh experience of American soldiers fighting in France. That basic impulse also informs the first, 1927, ABMC guide, which is punctilious about distances, place names, perspectives, and division and unit numbers. Published to mark the tenth anniversary of the United States’ entry into the war (Major Dwight Eisenhower was a contributing author) makes brief mention of the American cemeteries in a separate chapter near the end of the guide. We learn that the eight American cemeteries in Britain, Belgium, and France were made by collecting remains from “2,400 American burial places” (247) and the consolidation was complete as soon as 1922. The next chapter, the penultimate, describes projected memorials, none of which are complete by 1927 and reports “the Commission decided to construct a few imposing memorials rather than a great number of smaller ones” (259), specifically Chateau Thierry, Montsec, and Montfaucon, their grandeur more important than a more comprehensive and widespread commemoration.
The 1938 recasting of the guide, besides being much thicker and larger, has colored plates for medals and divisional insignia, more detailed and larger fold-out maps with divisional demarcations in color, and, overall a much more substantial effort, was offered for sale by the Government Printing Office for $2.75, unlike its predecessor at 75 cents. Less interested in the marking of places and perspectives, it still lays out an itinerary for a thorough motor trip, while offering a coherent and fuller narrative of American involvement which strikes a consistently triumphalist tone. It also has late chapters dedicated to cemeteries and monuments, now complete, offering far more information than the previous iteration. Yet this later guy also, in the midst of its battlefield itineraries, includes ample information on the cemeteries one would encounter. In brief, the dead are present in the midst and get the last word.
The Soldiers Monument gets its first mention. In its description of the St. Mihiel cemetery near Thiaucourt the guide points to a spot “between the trees and flower beds along one axis” where there is “a small monument depicting a typical American soldier in his wartime uniform, standing in front of a stone cross” (147). The whole is sixteen feet tall. A close look reveals not a typical soldier, for he is dressed and armed as an officer. Originally the statue was not intended to be a representative doughboy, nor even a generalized officer. Rather, he was 1st Lieutenant, a Harvard man, and a boy named Walker. This was intended first to be a mortuary portrait of an only child, the very mother’s son of Harriet Blaine Beale.
The sculptor was America’s most celebrated and sought-after, Paul Manship, who had already distinguished himself with a bust of John D. Rockefeller and a memorial stone for J. P. Morgan.
Six years before Manship began work on the statue, the young man’s mother, Harriet Blaine Beale, spent many hours using a planchette to communicate with spirits in the after-life. In this respect, she was like many bereaved family members after the war. Her companion in this activity was Anne Wintermute Lane who, as a young woman, was a little-known but accomplished painter of still lifes, having studied at the Mark Hopkins Art Institute in San Francisco, and who in a manner suggestive of the impressionists painted with strong simple lines and an equally simple and bright palette. In 1893 she married Franklin Lane, a San Francisco city attorney, Democratic progressive candidate for governor, a member of the Committee of Fifty named to guide the city’s recovery from the 1906 earthquake, later an Interstate Commerce Commission member, and from 1913-1920 Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of the Interior, in which capacity he was crucial to the development of the National Park Service. By the time Anne and Harriet were undertaking automatic (or involuntary) writing, Franklin was struggling financially, was ill with heart disease, and President Wilson was incapacitated with a stroke. In brief, she belonged to a Washington D. C. society that found itself at the end of its moment.
Harriet Blaine Beale (1871-1958) was similarly well-connected. The daughter of James Blaine, Secretary of State for two presidents, a key figure in the Credit Mobilier scandal, and the Republican candidate for president who lost to Grover Cleveland in 1884; in Henry Adams’ roman à clé Democracy (1880), Blaine appears as the corrupt “Prairie Giant of Peonia,” Silas P. Ratcliffe. In 1894, the year after her father’s death, Harriet Blaine married Truxton Beale, who at the age of thirty-eight had been his father’s ranch manager and President Harrison’s emissary first to Persia, and later simultaneously to Greece, Romania, and Serbia. Upon his father’s death in 1893, Truxton inherited the Tejon Ranch and became the largest private land-holder in California. The marriage was brief. There was one child, Walker Blaine Beale, born 1896. He appears to have had little exposure to his father during childhood and youth.
Late 1919 through spring 1920 must have been a very stressful time for both women, and yet, inspired by Margaret Cameron’s The Seven Purpose: An Experience in Psychic Phenomena (1918), they began a project that led first to two books, To Walk with God: An Experience in Automatic Writing, and, within a few months, its sequel, Life in the Circles: Further Lessons Received through Automatic Writing. They wrote motivated by what they “considered an imperative duty to add [a] small link to the chain of testimony which is binding our world each day more closely to the next” (Walk viii). As it had for Margaret Cameron, their way into the beyond began in fits and starts, until suddenly the gibberish and scribbles yielded coherent messages, showing, as Cameron expressed it, a “determination to exist in concrete form” while equally divided between destructive and constructive desires, the war, “a great conflict, resulting in a tie” (98). Unlike Lane and Beale, who write in the fresh aftermath of the war, Margaret Cameron finds her stride in late March 1918, about a month before the AEF is blooded at Seicheprey when sorely pressed by storm troopers, and two months before the first significant American offensive action at Cantigny. Her oracle offers the opinion that Axis “purposes are fundamentally autocratic, based on fear” and that “Germany has been able to fight so long because her purpose is conscious, while the Allies fight blindly but determinedly, moved by purpose they do not recognize” (99). Cameron’s first “lesson” concludes with the opinion that “the Great War [ . . . ] is the struggle that must be settled in the minds of men before there can be lasting and progressive brotherhood” (100).
For Lane and Beale, the news from beyond suggests that while the Armistice is signed and the combat is over, the war for progress and peace continues. Lane and Beale are moderately less personal than Cameron, though their “lessons,” like Cameron’s are abstract and highly urgent sermons on will, knowledge, joy, truth, understanding, sympathy, and love (which they think of as agape). Whatever one’s skepticism about the planchette, or aversion to its corniness, the actual messages of the spirit sermons would be familiar and inoffensive to Unitarians and Quakers, or indeed any broad church protestants willing to nod at the primary premise that “the greatest power in the world is love” (1). In fact, both books suggest that the spirit world spoke to Lane and Beale as if to convince them that nothing in the triumph of empiricism and materialism or the trauma of the Great War should make them doubt Christ’s commandment to love God, love neighbor, and love self. That message is inalterable, permanent. Different is how modernity and the war challenge one’s capacity to receive the message for we should be aware, a year after the Armistice, that “evil forces are gathering for a supreme effort” and “forces of light must all band together. The more passionately we engage our own light in the struggle the more we “shorten the time of waiting for eternity to begin,” an objective they conceive of as human participation in “the work of creation” (2-3). That effort leads us through the six linked circles of will, knowledge, joy, truth, understanding, sympathy, all encompassed by the unmoved outer circle of love. “All powers are therein. All work must be done, unless you wish to fail of final success, with their consent and aid” (Walk 89).
The second book, Life in the Circles, ends each chapter with this graphic, intended to suggest the linked virtues and the dynamic process of spiritual growth.
The ‘reasoning’—such as it is—is equally circular and repetitious, a characteristic the authors recognize and for which they apologize. The way is cleared for the unmediated message from the other side. In the process Lane and Beale are also effaced, certainly in their emotional and individual being. In fact, Beale bereavement and Lane’s recurrent illnesses, are alluded to only parenthetically or in the appendices to Life in the Circles. In a footnote in the introduction to To Walk with God, the authors mention that they have never “written automatically before” and that “while one of us had no insistent personal claim in the life beyond our own, the other had lost an only son, killed in the St. Mihiel drive” (iv). In fact, they left out passages thought “too personal for publication” (92). The spirit (or force) several times reassures them that it does not hurt to be dead and that the dead are beyond anguish. In the “Appendix” to Life in the Circles, one presumes that it is Harriet who asked after her son Walker with “Must I think of ______ as better off because he died?”—to which the answer comes—“No, think of him as alive” (172). And again, it is probably in reference to her dead son that she asks “When I next see ______ will it be the same between us?”—to which the answer comes—“Yes, you will see no change at first, and then you will see much growth and beauty” (173).
Sometime after the publication of these books, Harriet Blaine Beale commissioned Paul Manship to commemorate her son with the statue near where he was fatally injured. Instead, his monument wound up nameless at Thiaucourt. Overlooking bright rows of white crosses and triumphalist ornaments like the proto-modernist eagle at the center point of the cemetery’s forty acres, the young man is off to the side, remarkably informal in his downward glance and casual posture. Above his head, just below the Art Deco high relief personification of Fame, is inscribed “Il dort loin des siens dans la douce terre de France.” (He sleeps far from his own in the sweet earth of France.) On the pedestal below his feet, where a grieving Gold Star mother would cast her gaze, in Biblical English, “Blessed are they that have the home longing, for they shall go home.”
This remarkable statue succinctly captures a paradox of official remembrance by victorious combatant nations: specifically, the cemeteries and cenotaphs must serve a dual purpose. On the one hand, they need to address and mitigate the chaos and abjection of the mourners who come to visit the graves of their dead; on the other, they must articulate a uniform, hyper-coherent national identity that sends a strikingly clear message. To the French, among whose symbols of war and death blood often sanctified or impregnated soil, the memorial says the Americans came, died for France, in France, and will not leave. To the American visitor, the message is different. The sheer desire to want the boy home in America is enough to transport him as if death in a foreign land were merely a form of homesickness and passage on the Berengaria guaranteed by a grateful nation.
The distance between the English and the French messages is intriguing by itself, yet in fact, the statue's origin is even more richly interesting. Pershing kept a stony grip on the design of American cemeteries and monuments in France. Sometime in the mid 1920’s, he visited Paul Manship’s Paris atelier, checking progress on the Pegasus urn that became the centerpiece of the peristyle at St. Mihiel Cemetery. While there he saw the model for the statue of a young officer. It had been commissioned by a mother of a dead soldier, Harriet Blaine Beale, whose son, 1st Lieutenant Walker Beale was killed at Xammes, just beyond Beney-en-Woevre, in the St. Mihiel offensive. Mrs. Beale had purchased a small bit of land from the tiny and bombed out commune of Xammes on which to place Manship's statue of her son. Black Jack Pershing was not okay with this plan. However, Manship's son records that Pershing softened when he learned that Mrs. Beale was the daughter of James Blaine. John Manship, the sculptor’s son, credits his father with having broken the “impasse” by acquainting Pershing with the fact and also that she was sister-in-law to Walter Damrosch, whom Pershing credited with having greatly enhanced the martial music crucial to morale in the infantry, and who himself recalled that in early years he had felt toward Walker as a father toward a son. Thus, rather than erected as Walker Beale at Xammes, a few kilometers away, the statue became Soldiers Monument, “a handsome image of a young American who had died fighting in Europe” (Manship 113).
Pershing bent his rules, but he would not conscience the proliferation of variously fine, mediocre or tawdry private memorials to dead American boys to be scattered higgledy-piggledy through the French countryside. The compromise was to bring the statue into the confines of the St. Mihiel Cemetery. So, rather than incongruous and lonely in a nearly invisible village, Manship's memorial to Walker Beale was placed at the end of the lane delineating the right (WNW) axis of the cemetery. Over time, around the young soldier, the area has become shady, a place of recueillement apart from the appalling sweep of crosses, and distinct from the modernist eagle at the center point of the cemetery, the pediment of which bears Pershing's catch-phrase "Time will not dim the glory of their deeds."
Manship's young soldier is a marginal intervention, maternal in its sentiment, and more apt to suggest the ambivalences of a Gold Star Mother than to suggest the ethos of an American centurion. The pathos of the Manship statue is real. It stands out among the majestic Greco-Roman colonnades such as those around the peristyle at St. Mihiel itself, or at Chateau-Thierry and Mont Sec, and certainly by comparison to the Modernist set piece at the heart of the St. Mihiel cemetery. Manship's soldier, an idealized or even archaic portrait of a real person, is a startlingly evocative stand-in for every mother’s son. He is callow, demure, dignified, unafraid, and very much himself, a unique individual who, in spite of his singularity, is aesthetically up to the task of representing the more than four thousand dead in the cemetery. In this sense, it is a happy chance that drew him into the boundaries of the Thiaucourt cemetery rather than placing him among beets and bovines in the commune of Xammes, today an agricultural hamlet of fewer than 150 people. Indeed, his capacity to represent the many dead makes him perhaps the most American monument in France from the First World War, inspired and financed independently of the ABMC and its comparatively narrow ‘script’ or set of patterns.
Compared to the 1917 fiascos--Passchendaele for the British, Chemin des Dames for the French—the American elimination of the St. Mihiel salient was a brief, remarkably dynamic, and comparatively, uncostly offensive, having the effect of consolidating the AEF’s confidence in itself just prior to the Meuse-Argonne offensive. Indeed, the alacrity and the relatively few casualties inspired Francis Halsey, author of the Literary Digest’s instant history of the war. “Mont Sec,” he wrote, “the dominating height in the center of the salient had fallen without fighting” and the AEF “reached the German frontier, with the enemy swept back thirteen miles, and giving evidence of having withdrawn with expedition” (375). Badly confused Germans, unready and rumored to be ill-informed, “some 8,000 if them . . . gone out at the wrong end of the salient and so were captured.” Wrote Halsey, “the surprising thing was that the Germans did not fight” (375). The landscape of the battle, in memory, brought General Pershing to poetry:
The sky over the battlefield, both before and after dawn, aflame with exploding shells, star signals, burning supply dumps and villages, presented a scene at once picturesque and terrible. The exultation in our minds that here, at last, after seventeen months of effort, an American army was fighting under its own flag was tempered by the realization of the sacrifice of life on both sides, and yet fate had willed it thus and we must carry through. (ii. 267)
Indeed, the cost was real, as four thousand burials at the St. Mihiel Cemetery attest. On balance, Pershing was convinced that St. Mihiel was a “striking victory” which “completely demonstrated the wisdom of building up a distinct American army” (ii. 272-273) and which “must have tremendously heartened our people at home, as it gave them a tangible reason to believe that our contribution to the way would be the deciding factor” (ii. 273).
After the victory was secured “local operations continued, consisting of strong reconnaissances” (ii. 270). While on one such mission, reconnoitering with five others near Xammes after the 78th Division had relieved the 5th Division, Beale and three others received lethal injury when a German shell landed in their midst.
The first regimental history was promptly compiled by 1st Lieutenant Raymond L. Thompson, the regimental intelligence officer, who records that “on September 18th, Lieutenant Walker B. Beale, commanding Company ‘I’ was mortally wounded” (71/74). According to Thompson, Beale was taken by motor ambulance to the AEF hospital at Toul, today a forty kilometer drive. (Other reports have him dying much closer.) According to Thompson, he died either on route or shortly after arrival at the hospital. His comrades, however, did not learn of his death for several weeks, during which time news of Beale’s promotion to captain arrived. Earlier, Beale had declined an assignment to divisional headquarters, preferring “to remain with his company” and so “he returned to his death” (74). Thompson offers his opinion of the sum of the man: “He . . . proved a most efficient officer.” Captain Crozier, until then on special duty a Brigade HQ, returned to command “I” Company. Until then, young Beale, 1st lieutenant, had been acting at the commanding officer of the company.
In comparison to other commendations, Thompson’s appreciation of Beale seems phlegmatic, perhaps because among Beale’s comrades were soldiers of redoubtable spine. For example, one Sergeant James. B. Lawless was the measure of Sergeant York. His citation for the Distinguished Service Cross reads:
Sergeant Lawless showed extraordinary bravery and daring during the withdrawal of his company from a raid in the neighborhood of Thiaucourt on the night of September 22, 1918, the return of the raiding party being rendered more difficult by the fire of severe enemy machine guns. Sergeant Lawless picked up a rifle and some hand grenades and crawling up to the guns, unobserved by the enemy, bayonetted the men at two of them and put the others out of action with the grenades, thus saving many lives during the withdrawal of the raiders. Sergeant Lawless returned to his company unharmed. (100)
On the same day that Beale was mortally wounded, another sergeant, Robert Quiri of Company F, would earn a DSC, awarded posthumously, for while holding the right flank with half a platoon he “gave proof of extraordinary courage and devotion to duty” and “inspired great confidence and steadiness in his men by continually exposing himself to enemy fire in his efforts to see to their well-being.” Suddenly he was victim of artillery:
On September 18, after having both his legs blown off, and after receiving other wounds, he set the example of calmness and courage, hard to duplicate, by refusing to be evacuated to dressing station until he had given all information in his possession to his second in command. This example of devotion to duty inspired all, and called to the unlimited admiration of both officers and men. Sergeant Quiri died five hours later at the Battalion station. (99)
Similarly, 2nd Lieutenant Richard B. Rockwood, merited a posthumous DSC when carrying “an important message from Brigade . . . he fearlessly crossed a shell-swept area, delivered the message and while returning with reply was . . . wounded by a shell fragment.” Rockwood staggered on, “with great effort, notwithstanding his wound, . . . delivered the reply . . . and fell unconscious, dying shortly after” (99).
Lawless, Quiri, and Rockwood exemplify an extraordinary capacity to bear up and soldier on in circumstances of extreme stress, their devotion beyond the call, the warrior’s alacrity is not the only criterion. Indeed, they represent three of the seven Distinguished Service Crosses the 310th earned in September 1918 while holding the Limey Sector. The other four—a chaplain, a 2nd lieutenant, and two privates attached to the medical company—demonstrated courage and stamina born of extraordinary self-effacement in acts of compassion. By comparison, what does one say of a soldier who, doing his duty, falls victim to bad luck? In a section called “War News of Harvard Men” the first Harvard Alumni Bulletin of 1919 has this entry :
’18—Walker Blaine Beale, 1st lieutenant, 310th Inf., 78th Div., died of wounds in the head, legs and chest, Sept. 18, 1918, at Euvezin, France. Lt. Beale received his commission at the end of the first O. T. C. at Ft. Myer, Va., Aug. 15, 1917. When he was wounded he was on detached duty with the 89th Div., and was returning from a reconnoitering party with six other men. They were near Xammes, about 200 yards from the German lines, when the enemy observed them from a church steeple as they emerged from the woods; a shell dropped in the midst of the party and only two men survived. Lt. Beale is buried about a kilometre to the east of Euvezin. His home was in Augusta, Me.
The reference there is to his original burial; his remains are now in Plot D, Row 2, Grave 2 at the St. Mihiel American Cemetery.
In his very recent history of the American Battle Monuments Commission, Thomas Conner offers that it may have taken Pershing some time to acquiesce and, the committee fearing criticism, the minutes of the ABMC did not include the discussion that led to the decision to accept Mrs. Beale’s gift—though as with everything else the single vote that mattered was Pershing’s. Thomas Harlan Ellett, the cemetery architect, also approved of its inclusion. The sheer cost of the work might also have figured in the discussion. The statue was rumored to have cost Beale $40,000, this at a time when only one taxpayer in two hundred was earning between twenty-five and fifty thousand dollars (Treasury, 4). And no doubt the excellence of the art itself mitigated objections. Lieutenant Colonel X. H. Price, Secretary of the ABMC, in 1930, well after the statue was placed in the cemetery, commented that “such a fine work by an outstanding sculptor . . . [would] harmonize so well with the other features of the cemetery” (qtd. in Conner, 97).
Finally, could the ABMC refuse a free work from one of America’s most famous artists? Successful and sought-after at a very early age, Manship took his place among important American sculptors in 1913, the same year as the Armory Show, though working not in a modernist manner but in one that calls for comparison with classical sculpture, particularly in the older or archaic pre-Parthenon period of Greek art. Susan Rather argues that “Manship’s success seems to lie in the way his work negotiated the distance between tradition and modernity, for . . . critics found his early work intriguingly—that is, acceptably—fresh and modern” (1) This, says Rather, was a question of style, one “purged of tactile naturalism” in the place of which, in the manner of a classically inspired Bohemian sensualist, Manship’s “sculpture featured crisply articulated forms, taut, polished surfaces, and rhythmic contours” (1). Archaism, Rather argues convincingly, was “capable of mediating between modern art (with which it shared some formal characteristics) and academic art (with which it shared an acknowledged basis in the past) . . .” and so “was poised for widespread popularity” (7). It may also suggest Manship’s conception of his original task: starting from a particular and not terribly remarkable death create an image of sympathy and transcendence yet set in a time and place inhospitable to beauty and grace, at least until transformed by art.
A few years before the war, Manship, after a study trip to Greece, returned to the American Academy in Rome and offered the fellows there a discussion of “The Decorative Value of Greek Sculpture.” Equipped with transparency slides, he commented that he was “especially interested in the marvelous decorative qualities in all Greek Art but in [ . . . ] the archaic period in particular” (in Rather, 183). Toward the end of his lecture, there appears something of a personal manifesto, one suggesting a nostalgic if not melancholic regret of living, however prosperously, in a historical moment which strongly demarcates the end of something big and the beginning of something not quite so capacious:
In the . . . florid art of the Hellenistic age there was no expression which they could not carve in marble; in their complete mastery over their material they knew not what restraint was. They delight in creation and power. We behold their works with astonishment for they are the very culmination of skill. But their art is oftentimes a restless Art and after the first sensation has passed they often tire us and we return to the reposeful beauty of the early works, which sometimes do no at first appear to us—they may be still in pose and expression; the forms are often curiously and unrealistically rendered. Their appeal is not to our dramatic sense nor is it superficial. It is a deeper chord that is struck and a tone to which we can respond. (188)
From early in the twenties until the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Manship maintained an atelier in Paris and was often in the city when not traveling to America or Italy. During this period French critic Paul Vitry--curator of medieval, renaissance, and modern sculpture at the Louvre--wrote a long essay followed by photographs to acquaint the French public with Manship’s work. The book appeared as Manship was finishing his commission from Mrs. Beale and there’s no indication that Vitry saw or considered the monument to the young American officer now at Thiaucourt. Manship had already, however, executed and placed a memorial to two fellow residents of the American Academy in Rome, sculptor Harry Thrasher and the architect Walter Ward, both of whom died in the war. Beneath Barry Faulkner’s fresco Voyage of Youth on the Sea of Destiny, Manship placed a thick bench of red Verona marble, a kneeling soldier at each end. In mass, balance, and stoicism the memorial suggests classical antecedents, though beneath the bench, a frieze in low relief of soldiers who dress and combat suggest a undeniable modernity. To Vitry, the memorial represents “une énergie et un caractère qui en font une de ses oeuvres maîtresses” (an energy and character which make this one of his masterworks) and he adds “il ne peut plus ici être question ni d’archaïsme ni de pastiche, mais simplement de volonté forte et de style” (here it cannot be question either of archaism nor pastiche, but simply of strong will and style, 21).
Energy, character, will to style, and masterwork are terms equally suited to the Soldiers Monument. By the centennial of his birth, Manship was not wholly forgotten, but certainly neglected, considered more of Art Deco artisan than an artist. The catalog for the 1985 exhibition of his work at the Minnesota Museum of Art in St. Paul includes a pink Georgia marble prototype of Fame, which rendered in limestone becomes the high relief frieze at the center of the cross. The exhibition catalogue characterizes “Fame” as “Manship’s Art Deco style at its zenith” (58) and notes that his “handling of the square space with a subject that extends beyond the confines of the border recalls the sculptural metopes of the Parthenon” while the backward glance, the strong double line of horn and arm, wings on three sides exceeding the limits of the square frame, like her left foot, create “a sense of energy and movement” (58). Fame according to Horace carried the “illustrious dead” into immortality “on wings that never tire” (58) and her trumpet announcing their arrival was a Renaissance addition, insisting on a loud and dynamic eruption beyond the confines of the frame or moment. Ironically, then, Fame decorates a statue that was once intended to carve into stone the posterity of Walker Blaine Beale, as were Thrasher and Ward in Rome but is nowhere considered to represent an individual. Quite the contrary. Fame, anonymous and featureless, is the absurd premise of the modernist aesthetic of sensationless grieving. At the margins of the cemetery at Thiaucourt Manship’s statue surreptitiously inserts beauty and humanity in confrontation with a bloodless and triumphalist rhetoric of victory. A few years after the next war, Manship declared “more important than formalities and geometrical considerations is the feeling for human qualities and harmony and movement of life” (5).
One can argue that this small corner of a foreign field, forever American, represents a rupture between a public and manufactured idea of America at the beginning of the American Century and the deep and complex set of relationships and experiences of the aftermath of the war as lived experience, whether Harriet Beale or all her readers who in the aftermath of the war were spiritually smothered by the platitudes of the official version and the pomposities of public commemoration. Indeed, monuments are as much about repression and revision—forgetting—as they are about recall and historical fact. Hence, from the ethical standpoint, how we delve into the complexity of commemorations can teach us how to listen to the past, and how we deal skeptically with its most adamantly defended decoration of killing fields; and, urgently, how to become more aware of our own historical moment, and how to speak to the future from our own incoherent time.
American Battle Monuments Commission. A Guide to the American Battle Fields in Europe.
United States Government Printing Office, 1927.
---. American Armies and Battlefields in Europe: A History, Guide, and Reference Book.
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---. St. Mihiel Cemetery and Memorial. nd. https://www.abmc.gov/sites/default/files/publications/St.Mihiel_Booklet.pdf
Cameron, Margaret. The Seven Purposes: An Experience in Psychic Phenomena. Harper and Brothers, 1918.
Conner, Thomas H. War and Remembrance: The Story of the American Battle Monuments Commission. UP Kentucky, 2018.
Damrosch, Walter. My Musical Life. Charles Scribner’s, 1925.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. Tender Is the Night. Simon and Schuster, 1933.
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Harvard Alumni Bulletin. “War News of Harvard Men.” Vol. XXI, No. 14: 2 January 1919. 261-262.
Kittleson, Gloria et al. Paul Manship: Changing Taste in America. Minnesota Museum of Art, 1985.
Lane, Anne Wintermute and Harriet Blaine Beale. To Walk with God: An Experience in Automatic Writing. Dodd, Mead and Co., 1920
---. Life in the Circles: Further Lessons Received Through Automatic Writing. Dodd, Mead and Co., 1920.
Manship, John. Paul Manship. New York: Abbeville P, 1989.
Manship, Paul. “The Decorative Value of Greek Sculpture.” Lecture at the American Academy of Rome, May 1912. In Susan Rather, op. cit. pp.183-189.
Michelin & Cie. The Americans in the Great War. Three volumes. Clermont-Ferrand, 1920.
National Sculpture Society. Paul Manship: American Sculptors Series, 2. W. W. Norton, 1947.
Pershing, John J. My Experiences in the World War. Two volumes. Frederick A. Stokes, 1931.
Piehler, G. Kurt. “The War Dead and the Gold Star: American Commemoration of the First World War.” In Commemorations: The Politics of National Identity. Ed. John R. Gillis. Princeton UP, 1994.
Rather, Susan. Archaism, Modernism, and the Art of Paul Manship. U Texas P, 1993.
Thompson, Raymond L. A History of the Three Hundred Tenth Infantry, Seventy-Eighth Division, USA, 1917-1919. New York: Association of the 31th Infantry, 1919. Available at https://archive.org/details/historyofthreehu00thom
Treasury Department. Statistics of Income from Returns of Net Income for 1920. Government Printing Office, 1922.
Vitry, Paul. Paul Manship: sculpteur américain. Paris: Éditions de la Gazette des Beaux-arts, 1927.
Mark Facknitz is Roop Distinguished Professor of English at James Madison University. The 1989 winner of the Virginia Prize for fiction, his creative work has appeared in The Georgia Review, Shenandoah, Story Quarterly, The Iowa Review, and other journals. His essays on Raymond Carver, Anthony Powell, Henry Green, Joseph Conrad, Michel Tournier, and others have appeared in Studies in Short Fiction, CEA Critic, The Journal of Modern Literature, Twentieth-Century Literature, The Journal of Narrative Technique, and other publications. In recent years he has divided his research interests between the Great War and Willa Cather. His essay "Kitsch, Commemoration, and Mourning in the Aftermath of the Great War" appears as Chapter 16 of Jonathan Vance's The Great War: From Memory to History (Wilfred Laurier UP, 2016). He has published on Ivor Gurney's shellshock in The Journal of the Ivor Gurney Society, on war cemeteries and the margins of memory in Bridges, on Luytens and Thiepval as paradigms of commemoration in Crossings, and on pre-1914 gardens as trope for the soldier's remembered self in a/b Autobiography Studies. His not purely academic interest in the Great War depends on a German grandfather, prisoner of war in Japan 1914-1919; an American grandfather, an engineer in the AEF; and a great uncle who died for Canada. He holds an MFA from the University of Iowa and a Ph.D. from the University of New Mexico.