This was first published a few years ago but it seems proper to repost it on Memorial Day 2022.
Our family has a strong tradition of men and women who have served our country from the Revolutionary War to present day. By and large, they have survived their service to go on to have careers, families, and long lives. Today, as we commemorate another Memorial Day, I want to write about two family members who were not so lucky and made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
My 2nd great uncle, Theodore William Clarke, served with the First Nebraska Infantry fighting for the Union during the Civil War. He was an unlikely soldier and most of what we know about him comes from the more than forty letters he wrote home to his mother Lydia Hornell Clarke and sister Mary Elizabeth Clarke Newton. The letters have been carefully preserved and handed down through the generations.
Theodore or "Trit" as he was nicknamed by the family was an unlikely soldier. Born about 1838 in Michigan, he was working for the telegraph company laying wire across Missouri and the Nebraska Territory when the war broke out. On July 15, 1860 he writes home stating, "I am in the employ of the Western Union Telegraph Company. We are engaged in the construction of the Pacific Telegraph running from Saint Louis to San Francisco in California... We're going along the Missouri River as far as Omaha City and then across to Fort Kearney... which is as far as we shall get before cold weather sets in." He is anxious for his little sister Molly, my 2nd great grandmother, to understand where he is and write August 5, 1860 from near Nebraska City, "It is about 60 miles from here to Omaha City and 180 from there to Ft. Kearney. By allowing about 5 miles for every working day you can look on your map and see anytime where I am."
|Theodore William Clarke|
from tintype in my possession
Trit stays with Western Union until they complete the line to Ft. Kearney and he learns to become a proficient telegraph operator feeling that he is making good money doing so. However, the situation changes when word of the secession of the southern states reaches the Nebraska Territory. He enlists as a 'fifer' or musician with the First Nebraska Infantry explaining to his mother on July 16, 1861, "I can never have it said that I, who have no one dependent on me and nothing but my life to loose, stood back in this hour of our country's peril and remained an inactive spectator."
His words turned out to be prophetic. Theodore spent more than 18 months with the First Nebraska, surviving the Battles of Ft. Donelson, and Shiloh before dying January 7, 1863 in Van Buren, Missouri. Like the majority of the Union casualties, Theodore died not of wounds but of a disease probably something like pneumonia.
|Battle of Fort Donelson fought February 14 through 16, 1862.|
Picture created by Kurz & Allison 1887
My cousin Phelps Wilson Long, Jr. also gave his life, not in a national catastrophe but in a global conflagration. The 1940 Federal Census finds Phelps as a 16 year old, living with his family and attending high school.
His father Phelps and mother Martha Allen Long were running the family department store in Tallahassee, Florida. Little sister Shirley was in the sixth grade. An older cousin Lindsay Pappy also lived in the home.
After High School, Phelps went off to the University of Florida in Gainesville and joined Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity. Probably no one anticipated the changes that would effect the family and nation in the next couple of years.
|Phelps is fourth from the right in the bottom row of the University of Florida|
Seminole Yearbook image from www.ancestry.com
|Private Phelps W. Long, Jr.|
copy of photograph in possession of his sister. Used with permission.
Phelps' unit was eventually sent to the South Pacific to take part in the battle for Bougainville, a strategic island that had been held by the Japanese since 1942. His unit, the 3rd Marine Division was given the task to take the hilly area around the Japanese field artillery. One of the most difficult positions to take was an area called "Helzappoppin Ridge". The Marines attacked there on December 12th. It wasn't until the 18th that coordinated attacks allowed the American troops to capture and control the ridge. Phelps was killed on the 16th.
His death left a huge hole in his tight knit family. My grandmother Hazel Allen Cone (his mother's sister) said that his mother never recovered from his loss. She died a mere five years later at age 47. Talking with his sister Shirley Long Collins last month is Tallahassee, she said that her father never got over Phelps death either. I could see the sadness over of the loss of her brother that remains with Shirley to this day. Phelps' parents eventually paid to have their son's remains returned to Florida for burial.
Hopefully, we will all take time among the picnics, boat rides, cookouts and other festivities to remember those whose sacrifices have secured our country and way of life.
Cecily Cone Kelly
P. S. For family members - Phelps W. Long was my paternal grandmother's nephew and my father's first cousin. Theodore Clarke is also on my paternal side, the brother of my 2nd great grandmother.
P.P.S Since this was written, I've discovered that Phelps Long received a posthumous Silver Star for his attempted rescue of another wounded Marine. His citation reads, "For conspicous gallantry and intrepidity while serving with the Third Marine Division in action against enemy Japanese forces in the Cape Torokina area Bougainville Island, Solomon Islands on December 16, 1943. He "courageously volunteered with another man to carry a stretcher out to a dangerous position in front of his lines and bring back a wounded pharmacist's mate. PFC Long made his hazardous way forward in the face of hostile fire and under extremly difficult conditions, succeeded in placing the injured man on the stretcher. Subsequently, raising himself slightly to move to the rear of the stretcher and pick it up, he was mortally wounded by Japanese sniper fire." The newspaper article also mentions that his parents also "received a letter from their son's company commander, Capt. Robert R. Lamb, USMC expressing tribute to the young Marines gallant bravery."