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Sahler Presentation Service Record Presentation VFW MagazineFrom left to right, Joseph Felice stands beside Cpl. Sahler's third-cousin once removed Corson Stephens, who holds a framed certificate of service issued by the National Archives. They are joined by VFW Post 287 Commander Tiffany Robinson (middle) and VFW Post 287 Chaplain Claresa Whitfield during the Post's Centennial Celebration on Dec. 7 of last year. 

Local citizen helps VFW post commemorate its WWI namesake

By IsmaeI Rodriguez, Jr.
via the Veterans of Foreign War magazine

When Joseph Felice drove through Main Street in Coatesville, Pa., last summer, he was drawn to one of the many pennant banners dangling above its sidewalks.

He had seen the banners several times since VFW Post 287 lobbied to have them hung for Memorial Day in his hometown of Coatesville, about 44 miles west of
Philadelphia.

But this time was different.

Felice, 35, who holds degrees in local and world history from West Chester University in Chester County, Pa., noticed that only one of the banners had been dedicated to a World War I veteran.

"It grabbed my attention because as far as I could determine, it displayed the only local WWI veteran," Felice said. "All of the other banners had been in honor of men and women who served in Vietnam, Korea and World War 11."

Inscribed on the banner was the name of Army Cpl. Wellington G. Sahler, who had been killed in action during the Battle of Meuse-Argonne in 1918.

The Journey Begins

When Felice returned home that day, he reached out to Post 287 via Facebook and discovered that Sahler was actually the Post's namesake. The other half of the Post's name, Sedan, represented the Eastern-most point that U.S. forces had reached in France before the Armistice was signed.

"I discussed my interest in Sahler with Post Chaplain Claresa Whitfield," Felice said. "We exchanged several emails, but she informed me that little was actually known about his personal history."

Whitfield, however, asked Felice to delve into research and invited him to present his findings in front of VFW members during the Post's 100th anniversary on Dec. 7, 2019.

Accepting the challenge, Felice soon plunged into a six-month journey that navigated the muddy waters of the past.

He mauled through limited clips, records and reports provided by several organizations that included the local newspaper Coatesville Record, the National World War I Museum in Kansas City, Mo., and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

The all-encompassing trip uncovered a troubled childhood, a friendship forged in a Coatesville steel plant that grew stronger in the trenches of a French province plagued by war, and a clerical error that has kept Sahler's kin from claiming the Citation Star - now known as the Silver Star.

Who Was Wellington Sahler?

Through Felice's research, he couldn't help but notice how tragic Sahler's life had been as a child.

"His childhood, although very tragic, impressed me a great deal;' Felice said. "Here was someone who had endured heartache and tragedy long before the atrocities of war claimed his life."

Wellington Sahler was born in March 1896 to Isaac Wayne and Rachel Sahler of Coatesville. He was just a 3-year-old when his father died from rheumatism in 1899. Then in 1902, Sahler's mother was murdered at a boarding house along 6th Avenue in Coatesville for refusing to accept a marriage proposal.

He became an orphan at 6 years old, spending a few months under the care of his mother's friend, Rebecca Grey, in Thorndale, Pa., before being shipped to a
boarding school in Philadelphia.

Read the entire article in the VFW Magazine.

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