A flag covered a bronze tablet, and a Gold Star mother who had lost a son to the Great War stood ready.
Silhouetted against the sky of a 1925 July day at the gateway of a new public highway outside Washington was a 40-foot-tall monument of rose-colored granite and concrete shaped like a cross.
At a cue, the mother pulled away the flag at the monument’s base, revealing the names of 49 local men who had died a few years earlier during World War I, permanently and forever recalled at the Peace Cross in Bladensburg, Md.
The names are still there on the giant war memorial in a traffic circle, passed by thousands of commuters a day outside the nation’s capital. But the men’s stories have been all but lost to history. And the permanent and forever aspect of the cross-shaped memorial is in doubt, just as the United States marks the 100th anniversary of the closing months of World War I.
A group gathers at the Peace Cross in Bladensburg, Md., circa 1920s. (Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission)
As soon as Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court could decide whether to step into a legal skirmish over the future of the memorial.
A federal appeals court ruling on a challenge brought by atheists has said the Peace Cross is an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion and told a state commission that maintains the cross on public land to remove it, reshape or reassign its ownership.
Legal pushback against that ruling has come from state politicians of both parties and more than 100 members of Congress who say the war memorial on government land should stand untouched and unmodified, and that if it does not, other memorials with religious features, whether in Arlington National Cemetery or in small town squares, could face destruction.
Ninety-three years after the Peace Cross was dedicated, with a fife and drum corps leading a parade and a Maryland lawmaker saying the memorial would “keep fresh the memory of our boys who died for a righteous cause,” the legal fronts in the struggle over the memorial are being newly mapped.
Still resting in the background, behind those battle lines, are the 49 old warriors.
Who were they?
Explore the soldiers honored by the memorial by clicking on a name.
Albert Norwood Baden
Sept. 12, 1893 - Oct. 10, 1918
Baden was based at what is now Fort Meade, Md., as a member of the 17th Infantry Regiment when he died of pneumonia, almost certainly related to the flu. The camp had been hit with an influenza outbreak in September 1918 and had been quarantined. By the end of the month, 2,000 men were sick. By Oct. 8, 77 had died. On Oct. 9, 75 men had perished in just 24 hours, newspapers reported. Baden was one of 32 soldiers who died there Oct. 10. He was buried in the cemetery of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in the community of Baden.
Henry H. Boswell
Sept. 10, 1888 - Dec.19, 1919
In a small retrospective story 10 years after the war, the Baltimore Evening Sun noted that Pvt. Boswell had died of battle wounds. He worked as a farmer and is buried in Holy Rosary Cemetery in Rosaryville. His tombstone reads: “Beloved son of George P. and Elizabeth Boswell...U.S. Soldier.”
Herman E. Burgess
Aug. 9, 1893 - Dec. 8, 1918
Burgess was born in the Brookland neighborhood of Washington and worked as a carpenter in Quantico, Va. He attended flight school in Texas in early 1918. He died of pneumonia.
April 14, 1890 - Oct. 6, 1918
Butler was a farmer with his father in Nottingham, Md. He died of bronchial pneumonia at Camp Sevier in South Carolina.
Vincent G. Cooley
Oct. 29, 1899 - Oct. 13, 1918.
Cooley was born in Elmira, N.Y., and worked in the U.S. Patent Office, according to his draft registration card. He was a member of the Maryland-based D Battery, 60th Regiment, Coast Artillery. He was killed east of Reims, France, and was buried on the battlefield by two buddies “amid a rain of German shells,” according to the Evening Star. His wife, Ella, got a telegram on Armistice Day, Nov. 11, reporting his death. Two days later, she received a letter from him, sent before he was killed, in which he said he was in good health and good spirits, and living in an abandoned enemy bunker. His body was returned to the United States and buried in Arlington National Cemetery on Aug. 1, 1921.
James H. Cooper
March 1, 1897 - Oct. 5, 1918
Cooper was a farmer in Aquasco, Md. He died of pneumonia at Camp Dix, N.J.
Dec. 7, 1890 - Aug. 9, 1918
On his draft registration card, Curtin listed his profession as “laborer” in the town of Mountville, Va. He was an Army private when he died in France of unspecified causes and is buried in the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery.
Harry Irvin Dennison
June 9, 1894 - Oct. 14, 1918
Dennison was from Clinton, Md., where he was a farmer with his father. He died of bronchial pneumonia at Camp Meade.
Wilmer Aubrey Disney
Dec. 27, 1893 - Nov. 20, 1918.
Disney was said to be the only man from Bowie, Md., to die in the war. He was a member of the First Maryland Ambulance Company, later the 113th Ambulance Company. In October 1918, he was commended for rescuing wounded comrades from no-man’s land after a raid on German lines. It is not clear what specifically he did to merit the praise, but another member of his company, similarly cited, dragged a wounded comrade under fire through mud, barbed wire and shell holes back to American lines. Old news accounts say Disney either died of disease or wounds. Before the war, he worked for a furniture company in Baltimore. His body was eventually returned to the United States and was buried May 30, 1921, in Baltimore’s Loudon Park Cemetery.
Joseph B. Edelen
May 16, 1897 - Oct. 16, 1918
Edelen lived in Waldorf, Md., and died of bronchial pneumonia at Camp Meade. He is buried at St. Mary’s Catholic Church Cemetery in Piscataway.
George Washington Farmer
Aug. 8, 1895 - Oct. 8, 1918
Farmer grew up in Laurel, Md., and was working for the Corby Baking Company in Washington when he enlisted in the Maryland National Guard with his twin brother, Thomas, in 1917. His twin was honorably discharged because of a disability the month before George left for France on the USS George Washington. He was killed in action in France and initially buried overseas before being moved to Arlington National Cemetery in 1921.
Thomas Notley Fenwick
Jan. 1, 1896 - Oct. 7, 1918.
Fenwick, of Hyattsville, Md., was said to be a member of a machine gun company in the 29th Division’s 115th Regiment, a unit composed mostly of Marylanders. He died of pneumonia in a hospital in France after being gassed in battle. Before the war, he was a standout pitcher on the Hyattsville baseball team. His body was brought home, and he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery on Jan. 14, 1921.
Edward H. Fletcher
April 15, 1897 - Oct. 4, 1918
Fletcher lived in Beltsville and served in Company A of the 11th Ammunition Train. He died of pneumonia at Camp Meade and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Joseph H. Ford
August, 1890s - Oct. 2, 1918.
Ford was born in Maryland, one of the seven children of a farmer and his wife. He was a member of the segregated 372nd Regiment, which saw heavy fighting with France’s 157th “Red Hand” Division. The regiment lost hundreds of men: killed, wounded and missing. After the war, a tall granite monument was erected in France in tribute to the regiment. Ford’s body was returned to the United States in August 1921, and on Sept. 22, he was buried in a “colored section” of Arlington National Cemetery. The inscription on his tombstone lists the wrong regiment for his service.
Ernest O. Garner
Jan. 5, 1887 - Jan. 22, 1918
Garner listed his profession as “porter” on his draft registration card. He lived in Baltimore and died of pneumonia at a naval hospital in New York. Garner is buried under a simple tombstone in St. Philip’s Episcopal Church cemetery in Aquasco, Md. Elizabeth Garner, believed to be his wife, is also buried there. She died in 1912.
Milton Edward Hartman
June 2, 1895 - Oct. 10, 1918.
Hartman, a farmer’s son with six brothers and sisters, was a grocery clerk in Washington before the war. Hartman was another Marylander in the 115th Infantry Regiment along with Snyder and Fenwick. He was killed in action, like Snyder, near Consenvoye, France. In 1919, a memorial service was held at Epiphany Church in Forestville, Md., where he had been a member. Members of the clergy and his old captain attended. “The whole countryside came,” according to the account in an Episcopal magazine. People “thronged the church and filled the churchyard ten feet deep...listening and participating through the open doors and windows.” His body was shipped home in September 1921. He was buried in the church cemetery on Sept. 27.
Thomas E. Hawkins
Aug. 6, 1896 - Sept. 25 or 26, 1918
Hawkins served in Company A of the black 333rd Labor Battalion. He was a farmer near Piscataway, where he was born. He died overseas of pneumonia and on Nov. 12, 1920, was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
April 28, 1888 - Oct. 2, 1918
Holmes was born in Washington and lived in Baltimore, according to his death record. He died of pneumonia at Camp Sevier, S.C.
Henry Lewis Hulbert
Jan. 12, 1867 - Oct. 4, 1918
Hulbert was a British-born, Medal of Honor recipient who was president of the Marine Corps baseball team. He joined the Marines in 1898, and was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1901 for heroic action during fighting in Samoa. He was killed on Oct. 4, 1918 and initially buried on the battlefield. His body was moved to Arlington National Cemetery in 1921.
Charles Francis Huntemann
Jan. 15, 1894 - Oct. 10,1918
Huntemann, of Mount Rainier, Md., sent an unusual souvenir to a friend in Washington from the theater of war. The Washington Star took note, and reported that it was a tiny airplane built by a British soldier out of German rifle casings. Huntemann shipped it to Hannah J. Hanway, 25, of Northwest Washington, in early September, about a month before he was killed. Huntemann had gone to Maryland Agricultural College, the forerunner to the University of Maryland. After joining the Army, he attended the French Warfare School at Harvard, where he became skilled in the use of hand grenades. He was shot through the heart while attacking a German machine-gun nest. His body, like many others, was not returned to the United States until 1921. A funeral service was held at his sister’s home on Sept. 16, and his body was escorted to Arlington National Cemetery by members of the local American Legion post.
1890 - Sept. 28, 1918
Lee grew up in Upper Marlboro, Md., and worked on a farm. He was killed in action in France and is buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery.
Ernest Pendelton Magruder
Oct. 23, 1871 - April 8, 1915
Magruder grew up in Upper Marlboro, Md., attended Georgetown University, graduated from Johns Hopkins University and received a medical degree in 1902 from what is now George Washington University. During a tour of surgery clinics in Europe, he married a Scottish woman, Maryel Alpina MacGregor and later returned home to teach surgery at Georgetown. Before the United States entered WWI, Magruder volunteered with the American Red Cross, serving as a chief surgeon in Serbia. While treating the wounded, he developed a high fever and headache, and died quickly of typhus.
Pfc. Essel Monshuer Maxwell
April 5, 1891 - July 1, 1918
Maxwell, whose mother lived in Lanham, Md., had strong family connections to the U.S. Army. His paternal grandfather, Martin, was a Civil War veteran and a member of the Union’s famous “Iron Brigade,” which fought at Fredericksburg, Antietam and Gettysburg. His maternal grandfather, Allen, also was a Civil War veteran. So was his maternal great-grandfather, Hiram, who commanded a Union regiment and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Essel was killed July 1,1918, at Chateau Thierry while rescuing a comrade under heavy machine-gun fire. He was awarded France’s Croix de Guerre posthumously, but his body was never identified and he officially remains missing in action.
Clarence R. McCausland
April 14, 1890 - Oct. 15, 1918
McCausland, of Pittsburgh, was a civilian draftsman serving with American engineers when he died of disease at a naval base in Brest, France. A 1915 graduate of what was then Carnegie Tech, he had been living in Washington and working for the government during the war. He was part of a special unit that shipped out for France in the fall of 1918. But he became ill, most likely with the flu, during the crossing. He died of pneumonia two days after landing, according to the Pittsburgh Press. His body and those of 20 soldiers who had perished in the war were shipped back to Pittsburgh on July 10, 1920. He was buried in Homewood Cemetery on July 12, 1920.
Lee Earle Merson
Feb. 27, 1891 - Oct. 23, 1918
Merson, of Laurel, Md., had worked for a lumber company and was married. He died of the flu in the naval hospital in Seattle. He had been in the service about a year. He was buried in Laurel’s Ivy Hill Cemetery, where his parents, Minnie and Horace, were buried in the 1950s.
Howard H. Morrow
April 1900 - Oct. 27, 1918
Born in Maryland, and raised in Washington, D.C., he tried to join the Army in the District but was judged too young. So he crossed the border and signed up in Maryland. Like many other Maryland doughboys, he served in the 115th Infantry Regiment, and, like Snyder and Hartman, was killed in action near Consenvoye. Morrow was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for rescuing a comrade under heavy enemy fire on Oct. 8. On Oct. 27, he suffered “multiple” gunshot wounds and died that day. His mother received his medal seven months later. His body was repatriated in September 1921, and he was buried July 23 in Alexandria’s Bethel Cemetery, where his father had been buried four years before.
Jan. 1, 1890 - Aug. 8, 1918
Parker was born in Mitchellville and worked at a saw mill before enlisting in June 1917. He died of tuberculosis while serving overseas in an unspecified location, according to his death record. It is not known where he was buried.
James Francis Quinsberry
July 10, 1886 - Oct. 10, 1918
Quinsberry, who trained at Fort Myer, Va., died of pneumonia in Liverpool, England en route to France. He was married with one child and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Quinsberry was born in Lexington, Ky., where his father was a prominent literary figure, before moving the family to Washington to take a job in the inspector general’s office of the War Department.
William Frederick Redman
Sept. 25, 1883 - Aug. 21, 1918
Redman was killed in a seaplane accident in France with two other Americans. He was born in Indiana and moved to Washington when his mother joined the Postal Service. Before enlisting in the navy, he worked for the Hupmobile car company. In 1919, his mother, Martha, was helped break ground for the new highway where the Peace Cross would be located. Redman is buried at Arlington.
Frank Roderick Richmond
July 12, 1886 - Sept. 24, 1918
Richmond was born in England and worked in the furniture business in Massachusetts. Richmond died of the flu while training at the Navy Yard in Boston. It is unclear whether Richmond lived in the area. His mother, Lillian J. Richmond, lived in Hyattsville and buried her son at Glenwood Cemetery in Washington.
Harry Preston Robinson
Sept. 11, 1896 - Oct. 30, 1918
Robinson was born in Hyattsville. His draft card shows that he was discharged from the service in March 1918, and “physically disqualified” from serving while recovering from an unspecified illness that presumably led to his death later that year. He is buried at Glenwood Cemetery in Washington.
Theodore R. Rochester
1897 - July 30, 1918
Rochester died in France of gas poisoning and wounds received in action, according to reports in the Evening Star and the Washington Times. He was born in North Carolina and had lived in Seat Pleasant, Md. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Frank C. Rorabaugh
Aug. 21, 1897 - Oct. 27, 1918
Rorabaugh was killed in action in France. His grandmother reportedly took ill and died soon after being shocked by the news of her grandson’s death. Rorabaugh was born in Manassas, Va., and lived in Howard County, Md. His place of burial is unknown.
Robert Curtis Rusk
Oct. 22, 1889 - Sept. 28, 1918
Rusk, who was was born in Loudoun County, Va., worked for a clothing company in Washington. An Army private, Rusk died in action in France and is buried at Congressional Cemetery in Washington. His sister, Myrtle, published a poem in his honor a year after his death in the Sunday Star: “For I lost one of the dearest treasures, brother. When your kind, true heart was stilled.”
John Henry Seaburn
Oct. 27, 1897 - Oct. 4, 1918
Seaburn grew up in what is now North Brentwood, Md., and joined the Army at age 16. He was a private in the 372nd Infantry Regiment, 93rd Division, a segregated unit known as the “Red Hand” Division assigned to the French army. He died in battle from gunshot wounds and was initially buried in a French military cemetery. His body was moved to Arlington National Cemetery in 1921. Seaburn’s papers are on display at the Prince George’s African American Museum and Cultural Center in Maryland.
Oct. 28, 1869 - June 13, 1918
Shoults was an expert stenographer who gave private classes in shorthand. He lived in Riverdale, Md., before joining the Army. In Washington, Shoults worked in the War Department. He served in France before being promoted and reassigned to London, where he was chief of the disbursing office. He died of disease and left behind a wife and son.
May 26, 1892 - Oct. 1, 1918
Smith, a farmhand from Brandywine, Md., died of pneumonia, almost certainly a complication of the flu, during the influenza outbreak at Camp Meade that affected thousands of soldiers. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
1894 - Oct. 9, 1918.
Snyder, of Hyattsville, Md., was one of the four children of Bradley and Bernice Snyder. His older brother, Albert, was also in the Army and was severely wounded. His paternal grandfather was a German immigrant, so it might have been hard for the boys to join the fight against their grandfather’s homeland. Maurice served in Company F of the the 115th Infantry Regiment and was killed in France at Bois de Consenvoye, northwest of Verdun. He “was [fatally] wounded in the back by either a rifle or machine gun,” his company commander, Capt. Philip C. McIntyre, wrote. “Cpl. Snyder fought gallantly and bravely stood by his post, at which place he rendered the supreme sacrifice.” In 1921, the year his body was returned to the United States, the American Jewish Committee in New York wrote his relatives, thinking they were Jewish, seeking to honor Maurice. His father wrote back, saying the family was not Jewish, adding: “There was no distinction between Jew and Gentile. Truly they played the part of good Samaritans.” In 1925, Snyder’s mother was the head of the American Legion auxiliary and helped unveil the Peace Cross.
John Arthur Sprigg
May 19, 1897 - Oct. 9, 1918
Not much is known about Sprigg, an Army private who was born in Forestville. He died of bronchial pneumonia during the flu outbreak at Camp Meade, Md.
Pierre Christie Stevens
July 14, 1858 - April 20, 1919
Stevens had already served in the Spanish-American war when he returned to active duty. He relocated from Berwyn, Md., to Philadelphia to serve as a disbursing officer of the expeditionary depot and was later stationed at West Potomac Park. Stevens “died unexpectedly” of unspecified causes at his home. Services were held at St. John’s Church on H Street in Washington, and he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Kenneth Pearce Strawn
Jan. 1, 1896 - Sept. 16, 1918
Strawn, a lieutenant from Landover, Md., graduated from Washington’s Business High School in 1915 and went overseas in November 1917 after attending aviation ground school at Princeton. He was reported missing and possibly captured by the Germans after his air squadron was attacked during a raid on German territory in north-central France. His three brothers were also in the service.
William A. Tayman
Feb. 18, 1893 - Oct. 5, 1918
Tayman, who was a bartender in Upper Marlboro, Md., described himself on his draft card as “short” and “stout.” He died of bronchial pneumonia at Camp Meade and is buried at Mount Carmel Cemetery.
June 20, 1896 - Oct. 19, 1918
Little is known about Thomas, who was born in Charlotte Hall, Md., and died of pneumonia at Camp Meade. He is buried at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in St. Mary’s County, Md.
Benjamin Eugene Thompson
Jan. 11, 1894 - Oct. 13, 1918
Thompson was born in Waldorf, Md., and worked for himself as a farmer. He could not use the forefinger of his right hand, according to his draft card. He died of bronchial pneumonia at Camp Sevier, S.C.
Herbert Page Tolson
Oct. 31, 1886 - Oct. 6, 1918
Tolson was born in Stafford County, Va., and worked in farming in Southern Maryland. He reported for training at Camp Meade in November 1917. Tolson is buried at St. Mary’s Episcopal Chapel Cemetery in Aquasco, Md. His cause of death is not listed.
Elzie Ellis Turner
May 26, 1890 - Oct. 17, 1918
A farmer for his father in Seat Pleasant, Turner was single when he enlisted in June 1917. He served as a cook in France and died of pneumonia. He is buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Washington.
Herbert J. White
Sept. 5, 1890 - Oct. 4, 1918
White was a chemistry instructor at Maryland State College in College Park, Md. He died of pneumonia at Camp Gordon in Georgia and is buried at St. John’s Episcopal Church cemetery in Beltsville, Md.
Walter Ernest Wilson
Oct. 2, 1892 - Dec. 16, 1917
Wilson grew up on his family’s farm near Brandywine, Md. He was a private in the Army and died of spinal meningitis at Camp Gordon, Ga. Wilson is buried in the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church cemetery in Baden, Md. A painting created in honor of Wilson and fellow veteran Albert Baden hangs inside the church with a plaque that reads: “For God and Country.”
Oct. 1, 1891 - Nov. 7, 1918
Winter worked for the B&O Railroad as a machinist. He had previously served as a fireman in the Navy when he reenlisted in June 1917. Winter was born in Germany and lived in Baltimore. He died in action and is buried at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France.
They were farmers from Southern Maryland, a prominent surgeon and medical school professor at Georgetown University, and a British-born, Medal of Honor recipient who was president of the Marine Corps baseball team.
Draft registration cards, census and burial records, and historical newspaper articles show that most were single men in their 20s.
But one was only 18 and enlisted in Maryland after he was told in Washington that he was too young to join. One was a man in his 50s, already wounded in battle and having no business being on the front lines.
They were killed in action overseas, mostly in France, or died of disease closer to home.
Alvergia E. Guyton never knew her uncle John Henry Seaburn, a private in the 372nd Infantry Regiment, 93rd Division, an all-African American unit fighting with the French army. But she heard stories about the 16-year-old, who left the town of North Brentwood in Maryland to join the Army, propelled by a desire to support his mother, Annie, and escape his father, John.
Alvergia Guyton and her brother, Addison Hobbs, with a photo of their uncle John Seaburn, one of the U.S. servicemen named on the Peace Cross in Bladensburg, Md. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)
Seaburn, somber in his uniform, looked out for decades from a framed photograph displayed in the formal living room of Guyton’s family home.
The refrain among relatives was: “John Seaburn is at the Peace Cross.”
The idea of knocking down or moving the memorial is an affront to Guyton, who donated her uncle’s letters and military records to the Prince George’s African American Museum and Cultural Center.
“I’m shocked they would even think about that. It’s been there all my life,” said Guyton, who is 84 and lives in a Leisure World senior community in Maryland with her husband, James, a military veteran.
“It’s history, and people can’t see it when they start tearing it down. You’re robbing the next generation,” she said. “Sometimes I think I’m too old-fashioned.”
By the summer of 1918, Germany’s great spring offensives in France had run out of steam, and Allied forces were starting to shove the German army backward. Newly arrived Americans joined French and British forces that had been fighting bloody battles on the Western Front for almost four years.
In June 1918, U.S. Marines and soldiers, at great cost in lives and over three weeks, drove the Germans out of Belleau Wood near the Marne River in France. In July, there were more Allied gains in fighting near Soissons.
And on Aug. 8, British, French, Canadian and Australian forces launched a massive surprise attack near the French town of Amiens that stunned the enemy and wrecked the morale of the German leadership. What followed were 100 days of almost continuous fighting, including a huge American push in the Meuse-Argonne sector of the Western Front in September, until the war ended on Nov. 11, 1918.
Many of the men whose names are on the Peace Cross were killed during those 100 days.
In the summer of 1918, Army Gen. John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force in France, went to an American encampment on the Marne River, about 40 miles east of Paris, to bestow medals for heroism on 37 U.S. Marines.
The ceremony was held in a broad field on the river bank. A regimental band played “Yankee Doodle” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
As the general went down the line of young men, he paused at a gray-haired Marine who stood before him soaking wet. He was Gunner Henry L. Hulbert, who had been in the Corps for 20 years and was on his fifth enlistment.
Hulbert, who was British by birth and often wore a handlebar mustache, was based at Marine headquarters in Washington and lived in Maryland. He was 51 and had been wounded in bitter fighting at Belleau Wood a few weeks before.
But at this moment, Pershing and others wondered why he had appeared wet at a ceremony where he was to receive the Distinguished Service Cross. Hulbert said he had been on the other side of the river, and, not wanting to be late for the general, plunged in and swam across. Pershing was so impressed that he recalled the event in his memoirs 13 years later.
Hulbert had already lived an adventurous life. He joined the Marines in 1898, after having an affair with his wife’s sister and fleeing the scandal. In 1901, he was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroic action during fighting in Samoa two years earlier.
Peace Cross honoree Henry L. Hulbert, shown as a Marine Corps lieutenant, received the Distinguished Service Cross in 1918. He had already received the Medal of Honor for action in Samoa in 1901. (National Museum of the Marine Corps)
After the brutal fighting in Belleau Wood, Hulbert was hospitalized with exhaustion. He would soon be erroneously reported killed in action. But three months later, he was in fact killed, on Oct. 4, 1918, and was buried on the battlefield at a place called Mont Blanc Ridge.
His body was moved twice, and in 1921 was finally transported on a refrigerator ship back to the United States. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery on Sept. 15, 1921.
Of the 49 men listed on the Peace Cross, more than a dozen are buried at Arlington.
When American soldiers died overseas, the War Department gave families the option of leaving the bodies in Europe for permanent burial or shipping them home at government expense for interment in national or private cemeteries, according to Mitchell Yockelson, a military historian and an investigator with the National Archives.
The bodies of at least three of the men named on the Peace Cross remain in American cemeteries in France, one is at Congressional Cemetery in Washington and the whereabouts of seven are unknown, according to an extensive review of records led by Jennifer Stabler, an archaeologist with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.
The religious affiliations of all 49 are not known. Six of the 17 men buried at Arlington have gravestones marked with a cross. Others are buried in small Episcopalian or Catholic cemeteries primarily in Maryland.
The relatives of one soldier, Maurice Snyder, were contacted in 1921 by the American Jewish Committee in New York, which thought the family was Jewish and sought to honor Maurice. Snyder’s father wrote back to say that the family was not Jewish, adding: “There was no distinction between Jew and Gentile. Truly they played the part of good Samaritans.”
Felled by battle and disease
Snyder and George Washington Farmer were two of the first local boys killed. They grew up in Hyattsville and, according to court records in the current litigation, died on the same day — Oct. 8, 1918. They perished within a few minutes of each other while “routing a German machine gun nest” in France, according to a news report.
Farmer, 23, was working for the Corby Baking Company in Washington when he enlisted in the Maryland National Guard.
Snyder, 24, had studied business in Washington before training for eight months at Camp McClellan in Alabama. He “was [fatally] wounded in the back by either a rifle or machine gun,” his company commander, Capt. Philip C. McIntyre, wrote. “Cpl. Snyder fought gallantly and bravely stood by his post, at which place he rendered the supreme sacrifice.”
Fifty-six men from Snyder’s unit, Company F, 115th Infantry Regiment, had been killed or wounded the day before.
The local American Legion in Hyattsville was initially known as the Snyder-Farmer Post.
The bodies of the two men arrived home from France almost three years after their deaths. A procession of more than 100 cars followed caissons bearing their flag-draped caskets from the National Guard Armory in Hyattsville, along Pennsylvania Avenue and west to Arlington National Cemetery for a short burial service.
It would be Snyder’s mother, Bernice, the head of the American Legion auxiliary, who would help unveil the Peace Cross six years after his death.
Ernest Pendelton Magruder, who was a Georgetown University surgery professor, is one of the men named on the Peace Cross. (Georgetown University Library)
Disease claimed others whose names are on the Peace Cross. Those include a well-known Washington surgeon, who died in the early years of the war. Ernest Pendelton Magruder grew up in Upper Marlboro, the son of the clerk of the Court of Appeals of Maryland. He graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 1895 and received a medical degree in 1902 from what is now George Washington University.
During a tour of surgical clinics in Europe, Magruder met and married a Scottish woman, Maryel Alpina MacGregor, the daughter of a British navy admiral. He later returned home to teach clinical surgery at Georgetown. Magruder also tended to thousands of fruit trees, mostly peaches, in Prince George’s County, Md.
Before the United States officially entered World War I, Magruder volunteered with the American Red Cross and in 1914 sailed from New York for Serbia to serve as a chief surgeon. Magruder wrote of “frightful casualties of grenade and shrapnel,” which he described as far different from the wounds caused by rifle bullets.
“The work has been so heavy altogether with converting buildings into hospitals, organization of the whole plant, sanitation, care of the sick and wounded — we began with thirteen hundred patients, mostly surgical — that when night came one could only tumble into bed,” he wrote in notes recounted in a speech by a Red Cross colleague, Ethan Flagg Butler.
A typhus epidemic broke out in Serbia, affecting many of Magruder’s medical colleagues in February 1915. He escaped but soon developed a high fever and headache, and after 11 days it was clear he would not recover. He died on the morning of April 8, 1915.
Ernest Pendelton Magruder died in Serbia while working for the American Red Cross. His brother, C.C. Magruder Jr., wrote a number of letters to the president of Georgetown University, where Ernest had taught clinical surgery. (Georgetown University Archives)
In the speech about Magruder, which was published in the Johns Hopkins Alumni magazine, Butler described his former colleague as “giving freely of his skill and sympathy to those who could never repay him” and for “honorably upholding, in the foreign war zone, the ideals of one of the noblest institutions of his native land.”
The doctor is buried alongside three generations of Magruders in a private plot in Mitchellville, Md., tucked into a suburban subdivision that was once the family farm.
Paul Collinson at the grave of great-uncle Ernest Pendelton Magruder in the family plot. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)The Magruder family cemetery sits atop a hill in Mitchellville, Md. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)
The flu pandemic that followed in 1918 was devastating. The disease killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide, about 30 million more than died in the war, according to the National Archives.
Between April 6, 1917, and July 1, 1919, influenza killed 57,460 American fighting men, 7,100 more than were killed in combat, according to a National Institutes of Health tally.
Albert N. Baden, a farmer with his father in Southern Maryland and member of the 17th Infantry Regiment, died of pneumonia, almost certainly from the flu, at Camp Meade, Md. The base was hit with an influenza outbreak in September 1918, prompting a quarantine. By the end of the month, 2,000 men were sick. Baden was one of 32 soldiers who died there Oct. 10.
Fellow Southern Maryland farmer Walter E. Wilson also died of disease, succumbing to meningitis at Camp Gordon, Ga. Both are buried in a small cemetery at the historic St. Paul’s Episcopal Church near Brandywine, Md. A painting created in their honor still hangs in the church with a plaque that reads: “For God and Country.”
A photo of Wilson, who went by “Ernest,” hung on a wall in the sitting room at the family’s farm. Wilson’s niece, Sue Jenkins, a parishioner and vestry secretary, remembers thinking as a teenager, “He was a handsome fella.” Her mother kept the leather calf covers that were part of her brother’s uniform.
Sue Jenkins, 81, sits in front of a painting at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church near Brandywine, Md., that honors her uncle and another World War I soldier, both of whom are listed on the Peace Cross and are buried in the church cemetery. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)
In the 1970s, on her way to work as a nurse in Prince George’s County, Jenkins drove around the grassy traffic median where the Peace Cross stands. Even then, the traffic circle was challenging to navigate, but it wasn’t until she saw news reports about the lawsuit that she learned that her uncle’s name was on the bronze plaque.
Jenkins announced a year ago at church that the memorial honoring two former parishioners was in jeopardy.
“We can’t take it down,” she said. “It wouldn’t be the same if it’s moved” to another location.
Erecting the Peace Cross
The Prince George’s Memorial Committee initially began raising money for the cross in 1919. Donations ranged from 50 cents to $100. There were ice cream sales, lawn fetes with moving pictures, a dance and an excursion to Chesapeake Beach with prizes for “loudest” costume and “best girl swimmer.”
Department stores, including Woodward & Lothrop and S. Kann and Sons, donated money. The three local newspapers — the Star, the Times and The Washington Post — each contributed $100.
In September 1919, hundreds of people gathered in Bladensburg to break ground for the monument and for a new 26-mile “National Defense Highway” to connect Washington and Annapolis.
The cross, with its horizontal bar extending five feet on either side, was designed by a Washington architect and sculptor, John Joseph Earley, who was known for his innovations in concrete. Initial payments were made for the foundation, but by 1922, the committee’s fundraising was lagging and construction stopped.
The American Legion took over the project, and the land was transferred from the town of Bladensburg to the post. To kick-start fundraising, small pins with a replica of the cross were distributed to donors.
To meet the July 12, 1925, deadline for the dedication ceremony, community members used picks and shovels to level the ground around the base. The cross and a stone retaining wall were completed at a total cost of $25,000, according to Prince George’s County Historical Society records.
At the initial groundbreaking ceremony, Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels spoke of the men who had faced “every duty expected” and said the memorial was “a cross that will stand for time and eternity, like the principles they defended.”
The cross has stood tall for decades. It survived flooding and earlier legal battles over ownership because of its location. A circuit court declared the state the owner in 1956. It was transferred to the park and planning commission in 1961 to allow the agency to address traffic concerns.
The state agency has since paid for maintenance and repairs, and has hired high-profile attorney Neal Katyal, a former acting U.S. solicitor general, to defend the cross at the Supreme Court.
The court battle
The case before the high court was initially brought by the American Humanist Association, a national nonprofit organization that has filed similar challenges throughout the country. The group won a similar case this month in Florida for the removal of a 34-foot-tall, World War II-era cross displayed in a city-owned park.
In Maryland in 2015, a federal judge declined to order the removal of the Peace Cross, calling it a historically significant and secular war memorial.
In a closely divided vote in March, the Richmond-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit characterized the monument as an unconstitutional government entanglement in religion and “preeminent symbol of Christianity.” One judge had suggested that stripping the arms from the cross could resolve the case.
At its first conference, on Monday, preceding the new term, the Supreme Court could decide whether to review the ruling from the 4th Circuit.
The appeal to the high court has the support of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) and members of Congress. The American Legion is represented in the litigation by First Liberty Institute, a religious-freedom organization. Allowing the 4th Circuit ruling to stand, the appellants say, puts other monuments at risk.
“The decision below calls into question the constitutionality of countless federal monuments, historic places, and national traditions that use a cross or other ‘inherently religious’ symbols or language to commemorate our nation’s history and to reflect values shared by the American people,” attorneys for a coalition of 109 members of Congress said in a court filing.
Monica Miller, an attorney for the American Humanist Association, told the justices in a court filing that a cross on public land “discriminates against patriotic soldiers who are not Christian, sending a callous message to non-Christians that Christians are worthy of veneration while they may as well be forgotten.”
It is the memory of the 49 local World War I servicemen that relatives and supporters of the monument say they are working to protect.
“Life and change flow by the small park in the form of impatient cars and trucks. That is disturbance enough,” 4th Circuit Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III wrote in dissenting from the court’s ruling. “I would let the cross remain and let those honored rest in peace.”