By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 25, 2006
Missing in action, presumed dead.
And eventually he faded from living memory. His generation passed away, with everyone who loved him, everyone who mourned him. Time rendered him faceless. He was just a name, one of hundreds chiseled in limestone in a cemetery chapel 4,000 miles from home.
LUPO FRANCIS PVT 18TH INF
1ST DIV JULY 21 1918 OHIO
A lost doughboy.
But now he is found.
Discovered by chance, unearthed in 2003 by archaeologists looking for ancient remains, Pvt. Francis Lupo of Cincinnati has returned from the front at last, nearly 90 years after boarding a troop ship for France. Tomorrow, the Army will bury him again, this time with honors at Arlington National Cemetery, laying to rest possibly the longest-missing U.S. soldier ever recovered and identified: a ghost of World War I.
Lupo, killed at 23, most likely on his first day in heavy fighting, will get a fine Arlington send-off, with all the Army's Old Guard solemn pomp: a horse-drawn caisson; a bugler; rifle volleys; a tri-folded American flag for his next of kin, a niece born 15 years after the armistice.
There's great solace in that Arlington tradition, if not always for a slain soldier's family, then for the military, comforted and reaffirmed by the enduring ritual. Perhaps no one alive now met this private; but he fell in uniform, and that's what matters to the Army.
The niece, Rachel Kleisinger, says she is probably the only surviving descendant of Lupo's who knew he existed before his remains were found. And she'll be the only person at the service who knows for sure what he looked like, from a photo she saw as a girl.
His battalion was pushing through wheat fields in northern France under German artillery and machine-gun fire that summer Saturday when Lupo was killed. Hastily buried in a shell crater, he was left behind with the rest of the dead as the battalion kept up its advance.
The grave, a few feet deep, one of many in those fields, was meant to be temporary. But war is chaotic and infinitely cruel. What happened to Lupo in combat, what became of his body, was never officially recorded.
Maybe the soldiers who buried him were killed an hour later. Or the next morning. A lot of battlefield graves were lost that way in the carnage. No one will ever know.
Lupo wasn't alone in that shallow grave. A second doughboy had been buried with him. Their bones were mingled. Small remnants of two uniforms were found, along with bits of gear. No identity tags turned up. But the dirt yielded pieces of a wallet, the name FRANCIS LUPO embossed in the brittle leather. Anthropologists and other specialists confirmed for the military that Lupo's bones were among those in the hole. But who was the other poor fellow?
Unknown. What's left of him is boxed on a lab shelf, a number without a name.
Another ghost.'A Handsome Boy'
Lupo's service record and a lab report describe a fireplug of a man -- muscular, 5 feet tall, maybe shorter, with olive skin, black hair and brown eyes. His Sicilian-born mother, who grieved his loss terribly until she died in 1949, kept a big picture of him in her parlor, a portrait of her son in uniform with an American flag.
Kleisinger, 73, recalls staring at it as a child, an old photo even then.
"Such a handsome boy," she says. "And very proud, I think."
It's long gone, that photo, and the military knows of no other. Still, pieces of his story survive, deep in archives and libraries -- footprints of a lost doughboy whose short life mirrors a big part of the American experience.
He grew up in a polyglot neighborhood near Cincinnati's riverfront, one of eight siblings born to Sicilian immigrants, his father a laborer. They lived in tenements before the war. Lupo later told the Army that one of his occupations as a young adult was "pugilist." He said his last year of schooling was the fifth grade. "For one of his station he presents average intelligence," a military doctor noted.
When rabid patriotism and war fever swept the country in 1917, he was an $8-a-week "supply man" for the Cincinnati Times-Star, delivering papers to newsboys. He went off to France with a confident generation, young men eager to fight "the Hun" -- until they met the horrific reality of modern, mechanized slaughter on the Western Front.
The war had been raging on several fronts for three years, with millions dead, when the first Americans landed in France. After a months-long buildup, the doughboys began fighting in large numbers in major battles in the spring of 1918 -- just as Lupo reached the front -- and eventually helped break a murderous stalemate that had consumed a generation of European youth in the trenches. By autumn, the war was over.
The price for the United States: about 116,000 dead, roughly 53,000 in battle, most of the rest from illnesses, mainly influenza. Tens of thousands of them were immigrants or, like Lupo, the first generation of their families to be born in this country. Nearly 4,500 of those killed are unaccounted for.
The limestone chapel stands in the countryside about 60 miles east of Paris by a forest called Belleau Wood, its tower rising 80 feet above the headstones of more than 2,200 doughboys killed nearby. No one who knew them visits anymore.
Soft light through stained-glass windows bathes the chapel's vestibule, where an inscription tells of 1,060 other men, their names recorded on the walls, American soldiers of the World War who fought in the region and "sleep in unknown graves."
Lupo's name is chiseled on a tablet to the right of the marble altar. His mother, Anna, traveled from Cincinnati to see it in the summer of 1931, a month-long round trip by train and ocean liner, a government-paid pilgrimage for Gold Star mothers. She was about 60 then. Her husband had died of pneumonia in 1922. She spoke no English.
Years later, it was plain to Kleisinger that the journey did nothing to ease her grandmother's suffering.
"Sweet" had always been one of Anna Lupo's pet names for Francis. " Ducce " was how she said it in her Sicilian dialect, or " sciue " when she used Neapolitan. In her late seventies, near the end of her life, a small widow sitting alone in a room, she sometimes would begin to cry.
"We'd say, 'Grandma, what's wrong?' " Kleisinger recalls. And Anna Lupo, still weeping, always in black, would stand, open a window and call out.
Sciue-ducce! . . . Sciue-ducce!
"It was like she was telling him, 'If you can hear me, come home,' " Kleisinger says. "You couldn't stop her. The best thing we could do was just leave her alone."War Tensions Brew
Who knows if he read the papers?
He started working for the circulation office of the Times-Star in 1913, when he was 18, and before long, the bundles he was delivering were filled with dispatches from vast fronts, telling of foreign armies clashing.
In August 1914, German divisions marched into northern France but stalled, and soon the combatants dug in, stalemated in elaborate trench lines from the English Channel to the Swiss border.
Year after year, the war brought epic bloodletting to scorched towns and river valleys: the Marne, Ypres, Verdun, the Somme. In time, Americans grew to revile the Huns depicted in British and French propaganda. Germany's intrigues in Mexico threatened U.S. security, and its submarine attacks on commercial shipping cost American lives.
Even in heavily German American Cincinnati, crowds of men cheered and waved their hats when Congress declared war April 6, 1917. Bands played in the streets. Men ages 21 to 30 nationwide were required to register for the draft at their polling places June 5, and nearly 10 million did, among them Lupo.
"It was a gay and mirthful throng fired with excitement," one paper said of the thousands of Cincinnatians who gathered to wish the young men well. Lupo claimed no exemptions; he reported to his registrar that he was 22, unmarried, unencumbered and fit to serve. The press gushed: "The next step is preening the American eagle for his overseas flight, as straight as this bird of hooked beak and strong talons can wing it."
Who knows if he heard the crowds singing?Into Battle
His draft letter came in September, and he reported for a physical.
As a boy, Lupo had been severely sick at least eight times, racked by some of the suite of illnesses that often proved fatal to children in his era: diphtheria, whooping cough, scarlet fever, rheumatic fever. The bouts left tiny ridges on his teeth that anthropologists would notice a century later.
The typical draftee was just under 5-foot-8. Lupo's height was listed as 5 feet at a time the Army's minimum requirement was 5-foot-1. Anthropologists think he was 4-foot-10. But no matter. America needed fighting men. "Excellent muscular," a doctor noted. He was inducted Oct. 3, 1917, and went off to fight in size 5 1/2 boots.
The making of Lupo the soldier began with a winter at Camp Sherman, Ohio, where he received his basic training. Then, with other new soldiers from the camp, he boarded a troop train for New Jersey. Eventually they crowded onto a ship in Hoboken, and, after a convoy was assembled, they got underway March 14, 1918, off to kick Kaiser Bill.
From the French port where he landed 12 days later, Lupo traveled inland, almost certainly by rail, jammed with other doughboys on a "forty-and-eight," a boxcar built for 40 men or eight horses. Within a day or two, lugging his haversack, he got off at a training depot, where he commenced drilling again and learning more about the trenches.
Finally, on June 2, he went into the line northeast of Paris, joining E Company of the 18th Infantry while the regiment was positioned near the battered village of Cantigny. The 18th, bloodied a few days earlier in fierce fighting to hold the town, needed replacements.
And here came Pvt. Lupo, in clean breeches and tunic, ready to fight the Germans. Raised by devout Catholic parents, he carried a prayer card in his brown leather wallet. It bore the image of a deceased French nun who would soon be canonized, St. Therese of Lisieux. And it bore words.
I will spend my Heaven in doing good on earth .
June passed quietly for Lupo's new outfit in a defensive sector near Montdidier, with some shelling, some trench raids back and forth, but no heavy fighting.
Probably no one briefed him on the big picture: After a long buildup, the Army was preparing for its biggest offensive operation since arriving in France, an attack on a German salient, a bulge in the line south of Soissons. The French-led assault would include the U.S. 1st Infantry Division, of which Lupo's regiment was a part.
His 2nd Battalion, with 938 men, was held in reserve July 18 as two American divisions and tens of thousands of French troops began the attack, including a push through vast, open crop fields. The advancing soldiers could see far across a landscape of deep ravines, low hills and stone farmhouses, a broad terrain studded with German artillery and heavy machine guns.
A Marine Corps officer fighting with the Army's 2nd Division recalled the battle's second day, July 19, in his diary:
"Wallace, hit in the legs, went down in the short wheat. . . . Overton was hit by a big piece of shell . . . his heart was torn out. . . . A man near me was cut in two, others would stand . . . then fall in a heap. . . . In a shallow trench . . . I found three men blown to bits, another lost his legs, a fifth his head. At one end of the trench sat a crazy man who with a shrill laugh, pointed and said over and over, 'Dead men, dead men.' "
On the third day, July 20, the doughboys of Lupo's battalion joined the battle. After passing the ruined village of Missy-aux-Bois, they were pushing east across hundreds of acres of low wheat, struggling to reach the bombed-out town of Ploisy.
He fell amid the acrid stench of manure and cordite. His skeletal remains are long past telling what killed him: a shell blast, a gust of machine-gun fire. The soldiers put him and the other man in a crater out there between the villages and kept moving.
Among the 2nd Battalion's 44 dead, wounded and missing that day was another young Ohioan, Arlow Griffith, a private in G Company. "I identified him after he was killed," a sergeant wrote, "and owing to the fact that we had to advance, I don't know where he is buried." Griffith's name is chiseled in the chapel limestone with Lupo's.
Not until the next day, Sunday, July 21, was Lupo recorded as missing. Three weeks later, back in Cincinnati, his name was in all the papers, one among dozens in long columns of tiny print, a new casualty list from overseas.
By then, Anna Lupo, whom he always listed as his next of kin, had received a wire at her home on West Ninth Street, a few lines of teletype from the War Department.
"Deeply regret to inform you . . ."Rediscovered
The campaign, eventually known as the Second Battle of the Marne, was a victory for the Allies. After more big battles, and many thousands more casualties, the war ended in November.
The fields around Soissons stayed mostly farmland through the decades, with industrial buildings here and there. Because ancient remains have been found in the region, the law requires an archaeological survey before new construction takes place.
That was how Lupo and his fellow doughboy turned up in 2003.
The French archaeologist who determined how the men had been buried found no corroded weapons or helmets. What he unearthed, besides the bones, were scraps of clothing and boots, some uniform buttons, bits of a gas mask, a rusted canteen-cup handle and other decayed pieces of gear. There were personal items, too: the stem of a tobacco pipe, a rusted straight razor, a warped No. 2 pencil, a comb with seven teeth missing.
And Lupo's wallet.
In 2004, the bones and artifacts were delivered to the Defense Department's Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii. Anthropologists, historians and other specialists there work to find and identify missing U.S. military personnel, almost exclusively from World War II on. None had dealt with a doughboy before.
After the lab finished its work last fall, the Army searched for next of kin, eventually finding Kleisinger in Kentucky. She is a daughter of Lupo's youngest sibling, Rose, long deceased. Rose was 7 when her brother Francis went off to Camp Sherman.
So Kleisinger -- 4-foot-11 -- will get the tri-folded flag at Arlington. No old men of E Company will be there, no aged veterans of Saint-Mihiel or the Meuse- Argonne. Of the 4.7 million Americans in uniform during Lupo's war, all but a dozen or so are dead.
And his mother, in her grave 57 years.
"I used to go to church with her and help her light the candles," Kleisinger says of Anna Lupo. "She would always ask the Blessed Mother to please bring him home. And I kept telling her, you know: 'He can't come home, Grandma. He's gone.' But she could just never accept it."