Those Daring Young Men…

These three old real photo postcards were found in a trunk in Roseville, California a number of years ago and offer a view of the very tentative nature of early flight.

The Aircraft in question seems to be a Curtiss Model D Headless Pusher which would date the photographs to sometime around or after 1912. Whether or not they depict an actual sequence of events of a given day and relating to a specific aircraft is hard to say but such events certainly did occur with frightening regularity. The pilot can clearly be seen sitting proudly at the wheel of his flying machine and although I have found other images of him at the helm of the same aircraft I have yet to be able to attach a name to him. Captions that accompany those images seem to make him out to have been a pilot employed by the Curtiss Aeroplane & Motor Company as opposed to an independent pilot.

Curtis Pusher 1

Above: “Before going up.” Photo: Edward T. Garcia collection.

(based on the rather unique way he wears his hat and his facial features this “Daring young man” may be (I stand to be corrected if I error on this point) Canadian born pilot John Alexander Douglas McCurdy (1886-1961) who was instrumental in helping Glenn Curtiss start Curtiss Aeroplane & Motor Company. He later became the 20th Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia.)

Curtis Pusher 2

Above: “Up.” Photo: Edward T. Garcia collection.

Each of the three cards as a period pencil notation on the back that express a slightly morbid sense of humor in their brevity. The first simply states: “Before going up”. The second card in which the aeroplane appears almost like a small insect reads: “Up” and the third “Down…End”. The fate of the pilot is as uncertain as his name and one hopes that he was able to walk away from the shattered pile of sticks and canvas to fly another day.

Curtis Pusher 3

Above: “Down…End” Photo: Edward T. Garcia collection.

Note: Although these three photos were found in Roseville, California they probably originated with a family that had moved to the Roseville area from Mason City, Iowa.

Postmark – U.S.S. Arizona


Seventy-seven years ago the battleship USS Arizona was sunk by Japanese bombs during the infamous surprise attack that launched a reluctant United States into World War Two.

This commemorative postal cover harkens back to a happier time on the great ship in 1938 while the Arizona was stationed at San Pedro, California along with the entire U.S. Navy Pacific battle fleet.  The cover was issued by American Naval Cancellation Society and postmarked San Pedro on board the Arizona on February 12, 1938. The recipient was a Mr. Paul Bilsland of Wenatchee, Washington.

USS Arizona Postal Cover

USS Arizona Postal Cover Reverse

Above: The front and back of the Abraham Lincoln commemorative postal cover postmarked 12 February 1938 on board the battleship U.S.S. Arizona at San Pedro, California. Source: Edward T. Garcia collection.

While postmarked on board the Arizona, the cover actually commemorates President Abraham Lincoln and bears a short quote from his Gettysburg Address: “That these dead shall not have died in vain.” The quote is especially poignant in an almost surreal way when one considers the terrible fate the ship and her crew would suffer just a few short years later.

The reverse side of the cover bears two large stamps from the American Naval Cancellation Society as well a small one that bears reads:  “M. M. Parker, USS Arizona, San Pedro, California, (A.N.C.S. 450)”. Parker, actually Melton M. Parker, created the commemorative cachet of Lincoln and hand applied the light coloring used to accent the image.

While obviously a member of the Naval Cancellation Society Parker also appears to have been a member of the ship’s crew, possibly its acting postmaster. He seems to be the same Melton M. Parker who held the rating of SK2c (Store Keeper, 2nd Class) and shows up on the muster sheet for San Diego Naval Air Station in 1939 having transferred there from the USS Arizona on May 8, 1939.

Parker would continue to serve at San Diego until transferred to the Naval Training Center at Los Angeles, California on February 14, 1942.  Parker would actively serve in the U.S. Navy throughout World War II and during the Korean War, retiring as Chief Warrant Officer after 31 years of service. Parker died at San Antonio, Texas in 1977.

Melton Murry Parker

Above: Chief Warrant Officer Melton Murry Parker in a photo taken sometime after World War Two. Photo: U.S. Navy/Parker/Stickland Family Tree/

USS Arizona

Above: Happier times – The USS Arizona in heavy seas off the coast of California in the 1930s. U.S. Navy/National Archives.

USS Arizona Memorial

Above: Still bleeding – the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor. The oil that still leaks from her fuel oil bunkers can be clearly seen in this recent photograph.

The Soldier-Printer

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to curate an exhibit titled African American Military Portraits from the American Civil War. The exhibit was created to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the end of the war and was hosted by the California African American Museum and  the historic main branch of the Los Angeles Public Library in Downtown Los Angeles. With its main component consisting of photographic portraits of black soldiers who fought for the Union, each image in the exhibit was accompanied by new biographical and historical research. This carte de visite from the Gladstone Collection in the Library of Congress in one such image.

John N. Sharper was born on May 21, 1841, in Herkimer, New York the son of Samuel and Jane Sharper. He was a printer by trade when he enlisted as a private in “G” Company, 14th Rhode Island (Colored) Heavy Artillery on October 3, 1863, at Providence, Rhode Island.

John Sharper

Above: The carte de visite portrait of Private John N. Sharper of the 14th Rhode Island (Colored) Heavy Artillery (later 11th Heavy Artillery Regiment, United States Colored Troops) c. 1864 Photo: Gladstone Collection of African American Photographs,
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

After his enlistment, the 14th Rhode Island (Colored) Heavy Artillery was incorporated into the regular U.S. Army and was reorganized as the 11th Heavy Artillery Regiment, United States Colored Troops. The 11th was attached to the Department of the Gulf and was stationed at Matagorda Island, Texas and New Orleans, Louisiana.

Putting his pre-war trade to good use, Sharper was appointed post printer while stationed at New Orleans, a post he held until he received a disability discharge at the Corps d’Afrique Military Hospital in New Orleans on September 11, 1865.  He returned home but possibly due to his service-related disability, John Sharper died on April 5, 1866. He was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Herkimer, New York where his much-weathered memorial can still be seen.

Sharper Grave

Above: A detail of John N. Sharper’s headstone located at Oak Hill Cemetery, Herkimer, New York. Photo:

Reconciling Family Tradition with History

This photograph was filed away in my collection for many years simply because I had been unable to confirm the story that came with it when purchased in 2000. According to the information that accompanied the sale the great-great-granddaughter of this Highland sergeant stated that his name was William Henry Jenkins of the Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) and that he had been born in England in the 1870s. He supposedly stood over 6 feet tall and had served at some point as a member of Queen Victoria’s bodyguard. Additionally, she stated that he had married his 2nd cousin Mary Jenkins and that the couple had two sons: Stewart, born at Edinburgh Castle and James born at Sterling Castle. It was also said that the family moved to Canada sometime around 1905.

Unfortunately, at the time I had not been able to confirm or disprove any of this story. I always take any oral history that may be attached to a photograph (or any historical artifact for that matter) with a grain or two of salt not so much because I disbelieve the integrity of the teller but simply because I know how jumbled family history can become after the passage of 100 years. Recently I reopened the file on William Henry Jenkins and was able to confirm a greater part of the recollections of his great-great-granddaughter.

William Henry Jenkins was born at Hastings, Sussex on 8 March 1868 the son of Frederick and Sarah Jenkins.


Above: Like father, like son. An undated photograph depicting Sergeant William Henry Jenkins of the Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) with his eldest son Stewart. Photo: T. Garcia collection.

He attested for short service with the Royal Highlanders (The Black Watch) as No. 4133 on 16 June 1890. He was 21 years, 3 months old at the time and was a stone mason. He was stated as standing 5 feet, 10 inches tall. This was not the “over six feet” that his great-great-granddaughter recalled but still rather tall for the time period.

Jenkin’s Statement of Service is rather brief and to the point. Posted with the 2nd Battalion he was appointed lance corporal in 1890 (some details of his records are difficult to make out) and promoted corporal in March 1892. Appointed lance sergeant on 24 October 1895 and promoted to sergeant on 18 December 1896. He was permitted to extend his service to 12 years on 4 May 1897.

He was posted as sergeant to the Depot, Royal Highlanders on 25 August 1898 and extended his term of service once again on 1 November 1902 to complete 21 years with the colours. Jenkins received a certificate of cooking from Aldershot on 13 September 1891 as well as one other qualification certificate at Aldershot the nature of which cannot be made out due to the low quality of the document image.

On 4 December 1902 Jenkins transferred to the Military Provost Staff Corps as No.1322. Sergeant William Henry Jenkins was discharged at his own request after 18 years of service on 11 June 1908.

Jenkin’s deployment history is equally short and to the point:

Home: 12 June 1891 – 21 October 1899
South Africa: 22 June 1899 – 21 August 1901
Home: 25 August 1901 -11 June 1908

According to his service papers, Jenkins was entitled to the Queen’s South Africa Medal with the single clasp “Cape Colony”. The medal rolls for the Queen’s South Africa Medal dated 10 June 1903 states that he was entitled to a pair of clasps: “Cape Colony” and “South Africa – 1901”. This same roll mentioned Jenkins being invalided home. His medical history sheet states that it was an attack of neuralgia that sent him home from South Africa.

His service records state that William Henry Jenkins married Miss Mary Hannah Jenkins in October 1897. With their surnames being that same it is quite possible that they were indeed cousins. Their two sons are also mentioned: Stewart William, born at Edinburgh Castle on 31 August 1902 and Frederick Norman on 25 August 1907 (the location is unreadable in the document).

The family arrived at Quebec, Canada on board the RMS Empress of Britain on 5 June 1908 (his retirement date from the army at stated in his service papers as 11 June, 1908 some six days after the family’s arrival in Canada so Jenkins must have received permission to depart Britain before his formal retirement date.) They lived in Quebec for several years where William took the time to join the (53rd) Sherbrooke Regiment. He served with that unit for a total of 3 years, 5 months. The family moved on to British Columbia sometime before World War One where William once more sought out the local regiment – this time the 30th British Columbia Horse – which he joined and in which he served 2 years, 11 months.

On 1 August 1918, the now 49-year-old William Henry Jenkins attested as No. 2706155 for the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force at Vernon, British Columbia. Interestingly his gives his family’s address as the Internment Camp, Vernon, British Columbia. He was discharged on 11 April 1920 at Vernon, British Columbia.

This mentioned camp was one of many set up throughout Canada during World War One to house enemy aliens. The camp at Vernon held several thousand people of Ukrainian descent who were considered subjects of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Obviously, the Jenkins family were not internees but William must have been employed in some fashion at the camp. His attestation papers give his profession at this time as a wood carver.

Jenkin’s service papers state that he served with the 11th Battalion, Canadian Garrison Regiment, and he apparently remained in Canada during the duration of his enlistment. His discharge documents also list the medals he was entitled to for his combined military service. Here it is stated that he was entitled to the Queen’s South Africa Medal with four clasps, the King’s South Africa Medal (presumably with its usual two clasps), the Long Service & Good Conduct Medal and the Edward VII Coronation Medal. Since his entire enlistment during World War One was spent in Canada he was not entitled to any of usually awarded medals for that conflict.

Jenkins 2

Above: A page from William Henry Jenkins’ Canadian World War One discharge papers. His medal entitlements as listed here – The Edward VII Coronation Medal, the Queen’s South Africa Medal with four clasps, the King’s South Africa Medal and the Long Service & Good Conduct Medal – are at odds with his earlier British service papers and Anglo-Boer War medal rolls. My tendency is to assume that this latest document is correct simply because the discharge board could well have had access to additional documentation not readily available today. Photo: Library and Archives Canada.

William Henry Jenkins passed away at Naksup, British Columbia on 15 April 1943.

Note: Jenkins great-great-granddaughter related that he had once been appointed to serve as part of Queen Victoria’s bodyguard. I have found nothing in his service records to show he ever served in such a capacity while in England. His entitlement to the Edward VII Coronation Medal indicates that he was among the selected NCOs and other ranks of various regiments invited to take part in the coronation ceremonies in 1902. It is quite possible that Jenkin’s service in the coronation was translated years later to service with the previous reigning monarch.

Additionally, the discrepancies in official documents regarding Jenkins’ medal entitlement will probably never be fully resolved unless his named medal group turns up.


Mounted Photograph (cut album page)
8 1/4 Inches x 5 3/4 Inches (21cm x14.5cm)
Unknown Photographer
Unknown British Location
c. 1900s

He Chose the Western Front to Paradise

2017-18 marks the 100th anniversary of the United States involvement in World War One. Very little seems to officially being done to commemorate the events and the veterans who took part in them. Some time ago I was curating a proposed exhibit that commemorated the contributions made to the war effort by African American soldiers and sailors from California. Ultimately and quite regrettably this exhibit never came to fruition but I thought I’d share the story of one of the soldiers who were to be highlighted in the exhibit. I used well-established research techniques along with a good dose of what I have learned over the past 20 years as a genealogist to piece together the life of Sergeant Edwin Mosely Thompson of the 25th Infantry and 805th Pioneer Infantry, United States Army.

Edwin Mosely Thompson.png

Above: Private (later sergeant) Edwin Mosley Thompson in a highly evocative real photo postcard portrait taken while he was stationed at Schofield Barracks, Oahu, Hawaii Territory c. 1915. Thompson would voluntarily leave the safety of garrison duty in Hawaii for service in the muddy trenches of the Western Front. Thompson wears his expert marksman badge just above the pocket of his tunic. Photo: California State Library.

Edwin Mosley Thompson was born on May 8, 1898, in Sacramento California being one of five children of William Joshua Thompson and Sarah Mosely. The elder Thompson was a plumber by trade. Little can be discerned regarding Edwin’s youth prior to his enlistment in the army. He was not yet seventeen when he volunteered in November 1914 and was assigned as a private to the 25th Infantry Regiment which was performing garrison duty in Hawaii Territory. While the World War was already raging in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Far East, America had not yet been drawn into the fighting and duty in Hawaii must have been of the preferred postings for army personnel.  The 25th Infantry was one of the famed “Buffalo Soldier” regiments of the regular U.S. Army and would remain to garrison Hawaii throughout the war.

With America’s entry into the war on April 6, 1917, Edwin Thompson volunteered for combat service in Europe. He was one of a cadre of 25 veteran members of the 25th Infantry – many of these “old soldiers” like Mosely were not long out of their teens –  were assigned to newly raised units of volunteers and draftees and by their example were expected to impart a steadying influence on the new raw recruits. Mosely was assigned to Company G of the 805th Pioneer Infantry then being organized at Camp Funston, Kansas, Nicknamed the “Bearcats”, the 805th was a white officered but otherwise all-black unit made up of men primarily from Missouri and Mississippi.

Edwin Mosely Thompson Service Card Back

Above: Filled by his mother while Edwin Mosely Thompson was still overseas, his California War History Committee service card gives a remarkable amount of detail regarding the soldier’s life prior to joining the army. One interesting detail is his pre-war job as a second cook on the Southern Pacific Railroad. Source: California State Library.

The Bearcats arrived in France in July 1918 and were assigned to the Department of Light Railways and Roads. Something of a hybrid regiment, the 805th like all pioneer infantry were generally detailed to engineering and construction duties but were also expected to act as regular infantry as the need arose. Edwin Thompson had qualified as an expert marksman while still in Hawaii and this skill must have been of more than a passing value while in France.

Colors of the 805th

Above: The colors of the 805th Pioneer Infantry as they appeared in the regiments official history: Victory – The History of the 805th Pioneer Infantry, American Expeditionary Forces by Major Paul S, Bliss (1919).

While at the front, G Company was detailed to protect, repair and maintain a two-kilometer section of the Avocourt-Esnes Road near the French town of Avocourt. On at least one occasion G Company was subjected to a German poison gas attack but suffered no casualties. In the unit’s official history – Victory: History of 805th Pioneer Infantry, American Expeditionary Forces – it is mentioned that on moonlit nights the company was also subject to German aerial bombardment. In total, the Bearcats would serve a total of 39 days at the front.


Above: Members of the 805th move a wooden decoy of a French Renault light tank. It is quite possible that the 805th may have built this decoy as well as others like it. Decoys such as this were intended to fool German reconnaissance flights. Photo: Signal Corps, U.S. Army.

With the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918, Thompson and the 805th were stationed at Chateau de Chatel-Chehrey while awaiting their place on troopships home. To pass the time they busied themselves with various entertainments including inter-regimental baseball games between the Bearcats and other black units. Under the management of Captain George M. Bragan, the team kept a perfect 10-0 record. The team’s perfect record was no doubt helped by the presence of several “ringers” in the lineup. These included William P. “Plunk” Drake, High R. Blackburn, and Otto C. “Jay Bird” Ray, all of whom would go on to post-war professional baseball careers in the Negro Leagues with the Kansas City Monarchs.

In July 1919 Edwin Thompson along with the rest of the 805th returned to the United States on board the USS Zeppelin. At some point prior to his discharge on June 4. 1920 Thompson was promoted sergeant. The regiment was entitled to the Meuse-Argonne battle streamer on its regimental color and its individual members – Edwin Mosely Thompson included – were entitled to the World War One Victory Medal with the Meuse-Argonne battle clasp.


Above: The United States World War One Victory Medal with the Meuse-Argonne battle clasp. Each man of the 805th was entitled to this medal for his service in France during the war.

Thompson returned to live with his parents who were now residing in Los Angeles and found employment as a civilian cook with the U.S. Army – possibly at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro. He was married by this time with his wife’s name being Beatrice.

Beatrice had died by 1930 when Thompson had moved to Kansas City where he was employed as a valet at a theater. Perhaps he was bitten by the acting bug while working at the theater because in 1931 he had returned to California to marry Miss Claire Marie Countee Fields and the occupation he listed on the couple’s marriage license with that of an actor. The couple does not appear to have had any children.

Former sergeant Edwin Mosely Thompson passed away at the age of 56 on July 20, 1954, and was buried with full military honors at Golden Gate National Cemetery, San Bruno, California.

Research Project: Tracing a Campaign Medal to a British Born U.S. Soldier.

Researching early United States campaign or service medals can be problematic at best and sometimes impossible. To put the subject of this specific medal into proper context, it might serve well to briefly outline the history of early U.S. issued campaign or service medals.

John Osborne Powell PI Medal Front

Above: The Philippine Insurrection Service Medal (Army type) No. 7239, issued to British-born First Sergeant John Osborne Powell of A Troop, 14th U.S. Cavalry.

As early as the American Civil War (1861-1865) there had been some parties in the U.S military who sought to establish the issuing of medals along the lines of European campaign awards. This idea met with stiff opposition from the military establishment who thought the whole idea reeked of European elitism, and possibly more to the point of the matter was a Congress which opposed the cost that might be entailed in creating and issuing such medals in large numbers.

During the war, the Medal of Honor was the only medal or decoration of any type issued by official sanction although at least one Union general – Benjamin Butler – took matters into his own hands and at his own expense created the so-called Butler Medal. The Butler Medal was an award for valor issued only to the African American troops serving under his command and not a campaign medal in the common sense. Interestingly Butler wrote that the British Crimean War Medal was the inspiration for his design. Lacking anything to commemorate their long, hard service during the war, other Union veterans took to wearing their Grand Army of the Republic (a private organization of Union veterans) membership badges to signify their veteran status. The badge did nothing to denote how extensive or short a veteran’s service in uniform might have been.

This issue languished until 1905 when on the 40th anniversary of the war’s end a Civil War Campaign medal was finally authorized. Still, Congress refused the needed funds and the War Department took it upon itself to create the medal in 1907. The medal was issued in two styles, one for the army and one for the navy and although called a campaign medal it was more, in fact, a service medal since the only criteria for presentation was to have served in uniform between required dates of 1861 and 1865. Additionally, the medal was only issued to veterans still alive on are after 1907.

One also runs into a problem tracing the recipients of American campaign and service medals. Unlike their British counterparts which were generally engraved with the recipient’s service number, rank, name, and unit, usually on the planchette’s rim, American medals were sometimes impressed with a serial number only.   The Civil War Medal only had the first 554 issued with a serial number and only these can be traced as to the original recipient. Unless an unnumbered medal has an unbroken line of provenance there is no way to determine to whom the medal was issued too.

Later medals, such as this Philippine Insurrection Service Medal (also first authorized in 1905) were all issued with serial numbers although only some of these can be traced to specific soldiers or sailors. Three types of serial numbers were used. Some medals used a simple serial number, other had the number preceded by a prefix of either “No.” or “M No.”. Only the Philippine Medals with the “No.” prefix can be traced. Another problem lies in the erratic nature of the medal rolls themselves.

Unlike British medal rolls which list the same service information engraved on the specific medal’s rim and which were prepared and maintained by the recipient’s regiment, American “rolls”, or possibly more correctly indexes,  are simply a numerical list of serial numbers cross-referenced to a man’s name. Sometimes the man’s rank and unit are also listed, sometimes only his branch of service. Sometimes nothing more than his hometown and sometimes just a name and nothing else.

Eventually, all pretense as to keeping track of to whom a campaign medal was issued to, was scrapped and by the time of World War One the numbering system was abandoned.

Luckily for us, this particular Philippine Insurrection Medal was impressed with a serial number preceded by a “No.” prefix – No. 7236 – which can be traced to a specific soldier, and his story is perfectly suited to the “Great Game” section of Often called the Philippine Campaign Medal. this medal was issued to U.S. military personnel who took part in suppressing local rebellions on the islands after the close of the Spanish-American War. Qualification dates were between 1899 and 1913.

John Osborne Powell PI Medal No

Above: The prefixed serial number impressed on the bottom rim of Powell’s medal.

The recipient of this medal was First Sergeant John Osborne Powell of A Troop, 14th U.S. Cavalry. Powell’s story is an interesting one. A British subject by birth, he was born on 13 December 1872 at the British Consulate in Baghdad, in what was then Turkish Arabia, to Commander Walter John Powell of the Royal Indian Marine (basically the Anglo-Indian Navy but in general practice more like an Anglo-Indian Coast Guard) and Nicocris Susan Holland. At the time of his birth, the younger Powell’s father seems to have been serving in some as yet undetermined detached duty at Baghdad. Interestingly the Commander had his master’s certificate issued to him in Baghdad in 1871.

The 1881 Census for Westbury-on-Trym, Gloucestershire, lists Powell with his mother, brother, sister, cousin and two servants. Powell’s mother, Nicocris is listed as the family head and rather curiously their address is given as Baghdad. One assumes that Westbury-on-Trym was the family’s hometown and they were enumerated in absentia. Why John Walter Powell was not enumerated or listed as the head of household is unknown.

On 1 July 1889, 17-year-old John Osborne Powell arrived at New York on board the SS Adriatic. The ship’s manifest listed him as a student but no other clues can be gleaned at why he chose to visit the United States. What he did and where he went after arrival is unknown but on 24 August 1893, he enlisted in the U.S. Army at Vancouver Barracks in Washington State as was assigned to E Troop, 4th U.S. Cavalry. At the time of his enlistment, he gave his occupation as a farmer. One wonders what prompted Powell to choose a military career as an enlisted man in the U.S. He was not yet a citizen (he would become one in 1904) and one would have thought that with his father being an officer in Her Majesty’s service that certain advantages may have been available to him had he decided to pursue a military career in Great Britain.

In any event, he was discharged after his first term of enlistment on 31 July 1898 at Honolulu, Hawaii Territory with the rank of sergeant. His character was listed as “excellent”. He almost immediately reenlisted on September 17, 1898, at the Presidio in San Francisco, California with H Troop, 4th U.S. Cavalry for a one year term of service being discharged at Honolulu, Hawaii Territory on February 23, 1899, with the rank of corporal. Again his character was listed as “excellent”. Powell had clearly decided on a career in the U.S. Army by this time.

The U.S. Army’s enlistment registers may not be complete since Powell’s next enlistment is dated March 24, 1902, at New York with F Troop, 7th U.S. Cavalry and was discharged as a sergeant on February 25, 1905, at Boise Barracks, Idaho. His character being “very good”.

Powell would continue reenlisting on the following dates and locations: October 30, 1906, Vancouver Barracks, Washington State (G Troop, 14th Cavalry), 14 December 1907, Vancouver Barracks, Washington State, (F Troop. 8th U.S. Cavalry) and being promoted 1st Sergeant during this enlistment. December 14, 1910, at Fort Stotsenburg, Philippine Islands (14th U.S. Cavalry). Interestingly, Powell’s discharge from this enlistment took part onboard the United States Army Transport “Thomas” during the vessel’s transit from the Philippines to California. His rank at this time was that of ordnance sergeant.

Powell seems to disappear from the Register of Enlistments after this last entry but his career can be picked up in the U.S. Army’s Returns from Military Posts. He apparently returned to the Philippines before 1914 as an ordnance sergeant after spending some time at the Presidio at Monterey, California. Back in the Philippines, seemingly now with the Ordnance Department, he was stationed at Camp Keithley on the southern island of Mindanao. The Returns show him at Camp Keithley until March 1915 when the Return for Camp Keithley states that Powell was: “Relieved fr [sic] duty at Camp Keithley. P.I., per SO 50, HPD., dated March 5, 1915. Left post on March 25/15.” “SO 59” appears to involve leave – possibly extended – being granted to a soldier.

Powell continued to serve as an ordnance sergeant and later master sergeant with the Ordnance Department through World War One, retiring from service as a master sergeant on November 8, 1921. At some time prior to September 1, 1919, he had been promoted 1st lieutenant in the Ordnance Reserve Corps. As of now, I have been unable to determine where and it what capacity Powell served during the U.S. participation in World War One. The 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri which destroyed 80% of the enlisted service records for the World War One era may preclude finding out more regarding Powell’s wartime service, although I do intend to submit an inquiry.

Powell had married Miss Mary Bowen Hooper at Baltimore, Maryland on January 18, 1919. The couple does not appear to have had any children.

Powell applied for a passport in 1921 to visit England, Belgium, and France with his recent bride. Powell’s mother, Nicocris was still alive so the couple no doubt spent time visiting her. Powell’s father had died in 1913. There is no evidence at this point that Powell served with the American Expeditionary Force during the war, but if he did perhaps he was taking his wife to see the localities involved with his wartime service.

John Osborne Powell Passport Photo

Above: A uniformed John Osborne Powell in a photograph taken from his 1921 U.S. passport application. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration. 

In the rather voluminous correspondence involved with his passport application, Powell relates his active service in the Philippines, on the Mexican Border, and during World War One. His service in the Philippines is confirmed by this medal and its corresponding mention in the Philippine Insurrection Medal index. Additionally, the index for the Spanish War Campaign Medal lists Powell as being entitled to that medal (No.7630) and mentions him being stationed at Savanna Proving Grounds in Illinois when the medal was issued (September 19, 1919).  Powell was also entitled to the World War One Victory Medal although due to the lack of records it is not known what if any battle of service clasps to his Victory Medal Powell may have been authorized to wear on the medal’s ribbon. The current whereabouts of these last two medals are not known.

After retirement from the army Powell and his wife took up residence in Maryland where in the 1940 Census he is listed as a farmer by way of occupation. Sometime prior to 1948 the Powells’ moved to La Jolla, California, not far from San Diego.

John Osborne Powell died on March 30, 1960, at La Jolla, California and was buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego.

Remembering One of the Forgotten

While his biography is currently featured in my exhibit These Truly Were the Brave, the story of Private Ora Leland McCoy of El Monte, California can also be told here in observance of Memorial Day.

The German policy of unrestricted submarine warfare was one of the driving forces behind America’s entry into World War One. The Germans had declared the sea lanes around the British Isles a war zone and any ships – even those of neutral nations – were subject to attack and sinking without warning. The torpedoing of the great Cunard liner RMS Lusitania on May 7, 1915, took 128 American lives and help set the U.S. on a course towards war with Germany and her Central Powers allies. The lurking, unseen menace of the German U-boats would figure quite tragically in the wartime experiences of Ora Leland McCoy.

Born on January 23, 1888, at Fall River Mills, Shasta County, California, Ora Leland McCoy moved with his family to El Monte, California, just outside Los Angeles around 1894. The McCoy family was financially secure – Ora’s father, Frank Marion McCoy had been a successful farmer before retiring. The elder McCoy and his wife Sarah would have a total of eleven sons and daughters. Working as a delivery man for some time, Ora would eventually partner up with his brother Benjamin and become tobacconist, opening a cigar store on Main Street in El Monte.


Above: Private Ora Leland McCoy of the 158th Aero Squadron photographed while training to be an aircraft mechanic at Kelly Field, San Antonio, Texas. Photo: California State Library, California History Section.

Perhaps it was a familiarity with motor vehicles gleaned from his days as a delivery man that led Ora to be posted for training after enlistment as a mechanic at Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas with the Army Air Service. After completing training he was assigned as a private to the 158th Aero Squadron, Army Air Service. The 158th was ordered to England and departed Texas for New York in early January 1918. Two days prior to embarking on the SS Tuscania McCoy wrote home in what would be his last letter to his family. Printed in the February 28, 1918 edition of The Arcadia Tribune it read in part: “I have taken out $10,000 insurance in favor of you. Tell all the bunch and all the folk’s goodbye for me. We have orders to leave, but don’t yet know where we are going.”

McCoy and the 158th boarded the Tuscania on January 24. Converted to a troop transport during the war, the onetime passenger ship was loaded down with some 2,013 United States Army personnel from various units. The voyage was probably uneventful until the Tuscania neared the Scottish coast. On the morning of February 5, she was spotted by the German U-boat UB-77 which proceeded to stalk her until 6:40 pm when under the cover of darkness she fired two torpedoes at the unsuspecting transport. One torpedo struck the ship near the engine room on the starboard side. The ship quickly took a list to starboard and began to go down by the stern. Reports stated that there was no panic although rough weather and darkness created a good deal of confusion. Due to the ship’s starboard list, the port side lifeboats became almost impossible to launch and many men ended up being washed into the frigid waters while others simply decided to swim for it and jumped overboard. Private Ora McCoy was in all likelihood one of these.


Above: February 1, 1918 headline from the New York Times announcing the sinking of the SS Tuscania.

Some of the men in the water where drawn into the propeller wash of the British destroyer HMS Mosquito which was attempting rescue operations while others were crushed between the hulls of the two vessels. Many would have simply succumbed to exhaustion and the cold and drowned. In all 210 persons were lost in the sinking of the Tuscania, 165 of them United States military personnel.

Ora McCoy’s body was found washed ashore on the Isle of Islay the next morning and buried there along with the remains of other American servicemen lost in the sinking. In 1920 his body was exhumed at his family’s request and returned to the United States and reinterred at Savannah Memorial Park in Rosemead, California.


Above: Temporary cemetery in Islay, Scotland, with the interments of those who died in the sinking of the SS Tuscania. Photo: The National Archives.

Today, long forgotten by most Americans on a windswept promontory on the Isle of Islay stands a tall stone monument which was erected in 1920 by the American Red Cross in memory of the victims of the sinking of the Tuscania and another ship the Otranto. On the monument’s dedicating plaque there is a short poem that reads:

On Fame’s Eternal camping ground

Their silent tents are spread

While Glory keeps with solemn round

The bivouac of the dead.


Above: Remembrance Day ceremonies at the Tuscania & Otranto Memorial on the Isle of Islay.