George W. Quinn
from the collection of Brian Quinn
George W. Quinn was
a runner who was dispatching a message from Lt. Arthur
McKeogh to Major Whittlesey when he met his fate at the
hands of three Germans, who in turn also met
their's. The attached document is the most complete
story of George Quinn which we have kept in our family's
history. It includes the poem written by Lt.
McKeogh in honor of George Quinn. The poem was
subsequently published in the Saturday Evening Post and
when his mother read the poem in the Post it was the
first knowledge she had of her son's death. Also
included in the attached is the letter which was written
to George's mother Caroline by Lt McKeogh as they were
connected to each other through the Saturday Evening
Post. I hope you enjoy reading both the poem and
the following letters.
George W. Quinn
George W. Quinn was born in Sweden, N.Y., September 3
1889, son of Nicholas and Caroline Quinn, of Greece, N.Y.
Entered the service at Spencerport, N.Y. February 24,
1918, at the age of 28 years, as a Private, being
assigned to Company D, 308th Infantry, 77th Division. He
was trained at Camp Devens, Ayer, M.A.; and Camp Upton,
Yaphank Long Island. Embarked overseas, April 6 1918. The
last letter his mother received from him was dated June
2, 1918, which said that her son was encamped in an
orchard in bloom, and was about to enter the trenches.
After waiting months for further word, Mrs. Quinn moved
from Charlotte, N.Y. to Hilton, N.Y.
Private Quinn was killed in the Argonne Forest on
September 29, 1918, while attempting to carry a message
between Major Charles W. Whittlesey and the latter's
Adjutant, Lieutenant Arthur McKeogh, during the
operations immediately preceding the German occupation of
ground in the rear of Major Whittlesey's famous command,
the "Lost Battalion" The Adjutant had been sent
back with a score of light machine gunners to silence
machine gun positions that had cut communications with
the rear during the night, and gave Runner Quinn a
message to Major Whittlesey, which was never delivered.
Nothing was learned of Quinn's fate until four months
after the Armistice. After lying out in the jungle depths
of the Argonne all winter, almost buried by vines and
underbrush, his body was accidentally found by an
American burial squad. The message, with and unposted
letter to his mother, was found on the body, the papers
being hardly legible. The identification was made
positive by the tag, which bore Quinn's serial number.
Near the fallen runner were the bodies of three Germans.
It was clear from the manner in which they had fallen
that all three had been crawling up to Quinn, who must
have killed them even as their bullets hit him mortally.
When military authorities tried to notify Mrs. Caroline
Quinn, the mother, of the death of her son, the letter
was returned because she had already moved. Later a poem
written by Captain Arthur McKeogh, describing the
incident of Quinn's death in detail, and dedicated
specifically to him, was published in the Saturday
Evening Post. Mrs. Quinn read this poem, and wrote to the
Saturday Evening Post explaining that because she had
moved to another village, leaving no forwarding address,
poem was the first notice she had of her son's death. The
poem is printed in full below:
(To Private George W. Quinn, Co. D, 308th Infantry,
killed in action near Dead Man's Mill, Argonne Forest,
Sept. 29, 1918)
They didn't give Quinn the D.S.C, for they don't know how
But three still forms around him sprawled, they could
They could have told before he was cold -
If he hadn't plugged their hide.
No one was there when the thing was done, deep in the
No one but Quinn and the three in gray, and there the
four have stayed,
Where the night winds' hush through the soughing brush
Is a psalm for the Unafraid.
We'd never have known he was bumped save in the strangest
And that was when, from overseas, came a note the other
Which made it clear why we didn't hear
From the Major during the fray.
But Quinn would have reached the new P.C. if saint or
He'd have plowed that message through honeycombed hell -
he was offspring of the wood,
And he knew its craft long ere the draft
Had sucked him in - for good.
A terrible hick from up the state, he fell in with the
And nobody knew who his buddy was - he was short on the
But in rifle pits when they tallied hits
It was rare that his bullets erred.
Yet he shouldn't have drawn the infantry - with his sight
in one eye bad,
And a mean little limp that he tried to hide, poor old
Well farce was fin when they picked on Quinn
As a runner!
The best we had!
So you don't compree it eh? Well,
neither did we at first,
But through all the Vesle and then the Aisne when Jerry
sent his worst,
It was: "Private Quinn! This chit goes in
To the Major
Now show a burst!"
And despite the best that Fritz could spill, Quinn ever
Ever until that morning - near a cemetery, too -
When they cut our line with their Maxims' whine,
And Quinn was two too few.
We had milled around their cushy nest till men and lead
When I started Quinn with a yelp for more, and - well I
That my jerky scrawl was the last roll call
He'd answer - for three below.
The Boche must have wormed around our flank on a path
that had been clear,
A right of way that Quinn bought in a price you'd reckon
But a runner's trail is long - its hail
After he left there wasn't much chance to wonder if he
Another runner had wiggled through, and soon we pushed
With never a thought that Quinn had fought
Till the trail was blazed in red.
And I didn't hear of his little show, things hummed so
thick and fast,
Until from a Captain of pioneers there came the note at
"Quinn died as game as his racial name!
And it wasn't odds he asked."
The Captain had found him measured out with his fallen
Had found the message- the torch you say? - that he bore
for you and me;
It was tucked away for that certain day
When the trail's eternity.
No - the didn't give Quinn the D.S.C., but the tomb
wherein he's laid
Was fashioned for all the ages from God's blessed sun and
And the night winds' hush through the soughing brush
Is a psalm for the Unafraid.
A letter from Captain Arthur McKeogh
to Private Quinn's Mother gave the following details:
I have your letter with inquiries concerning Private
Quinn, whose gallant conduct in France I tried to extol
recently in the Saturday Evening Post. It is a source of
real gratification to me that this caught your eye
because since learning of his death I have been eager to
communicate with his Mother or some of his relatives as I
know how keen their anxiety would be.
For about six weeks previous to his death Private Quinn
was one of approximately fifty runners, assigned to me as
Battalion Adjutant of Major Whittlesey's famous command,
which you may have read of as the "Lost
Battalion." It will gratify you, I know, to realize
that your son served with this notable band.
I have only the finest things to say of your boy, I met
him first some time in August, 1918 when as Battalion
Adjutant, I asked Lieutenant Paul Knight, then in Command
of Company D, for advance runners inasmuch as we had
suffered considerable casualties from previous
engagements. At the time George reported to me, we were
in the second line of the Aisne Front, burrowed away in
little holes on the protected side of a hill, which
afforded us some protection from the German shells. I
soon found that your son could be depended upon to
discharge most satisfactorily any job given to him; he
was one of my most dependable men, intelligent in the
matter of forwarding messages, sometimes of very great
importance, and the kind who could be counted upon to
fulfill his mission where others might fail. He was
serenely indifferent under shellfire and, quite frankly
watching his coolness in moments of stress, served as an
inspiration to me.
He was perhaps the quietest of my men, and I had learned
that under the stress of trying conditions the man to do
a thing was he who had previously done the least talking
about his ability to do it. George had a reputation among
his comrades for being somewhat shy, but equally a friend
of all who sought his company, and he was noted for his
liberality, on numerous occasions having loaned his
associates money when they had spent their own.
When the Lost Battalion was first cut off I had left
Private Quinn in charge of a runner post of three men
just north of a little cemetery in the Argonne Forest on
the forth day of that attack. His post was one of
thirteen of which he and his two comrades constituted
Post 12. The Germans had stationed machine guns in and
around Post 10, and when I was first in command of a
small party to try and drive them out it was your son who
guided me to their position. On that morning, September
28th, we were having a rather bad time of it north of the
cemetery near Dead Man's Mill. I met George where I had
stationed him the previous day with another runner at
Post 12, about one hundred and fifty yards south of the
point where I had just left Major Whittlesey. I was on my
way with fifteen men to attack some machine gun nests at
the cemetery itself about two hundred yards still further
south. When I tell you that I had left George at the Post
I mean simply that I had designated during the advance of
the previous day a certain spot just off a footpath which
was just like any other spot in the woods - dense vines
and bushes, close growing saplings and towering above
them trees almost as old as France itself. When I came to
George's Post he was alone because his fellow runner was
attempting to deliver a message.
"Three Boche just came up the path about fifteen
minutes ago, Lieutenant," Quinn said to me,
"and they don't seem to know we're here because they
were strolling along just as we might be some place in
back of our lines, talking very excitedly over a piece of
paper that one of them seemed to be reading. They stopped
before the came up to me (George and his buddy had put up
their pup tent a few feet off the path) and the fellow
who was reading tore up the paper and they all turned
around and went down the hill. I would have taken a crack
at them if the other fellow had been with me."
And while we were having this conversation, George
suddenly looked sharply over my shoulder, picked up his
rifle and fired. I turned, quickly, having had my pistol
in my hand since early morning, to hear the unearthly
scream that a man mortally wounded always gives. Together
we ran over to the spot where he had fired and found a
German infantryman already dead, with his knees hunched
up in way that would have been funny if it were not
tragic. Several of my men immediately fell upon the
German's knapsack and took from it his black bread and a
can of some sort of hash. We were all quite hungry, not
having had anything to eat for about a day and a half. I
let the men collect what they could from the Boche, in
the way of food, and I started forward with my little
detachment with George at my side to guide me to the
double trees where we suspected the machine guns were. It
was then about half past nine in the morning. We began to
engage the machine guns and exchange fire, after having
had a parley with the German commander in which, lacking
a sense of humor, he demanded that we surrender; and so
on until about noon, when not having heard from Major
Whittlesey and knowing that he must be hearing my fire, I
decided to send Quinn with a message to the Major telling
him that the Germans were pretty strongly lodged around a
cemetery and that we would appreciate it if he would send
me a Stoke's Mortar, a weapon that throws a small shell
with high explosives contents. Now please remember that I
had less fear for George's safety when I gave him this
message than I might have had half a dozen times in other
engagements, for the reason that the ground over which he
was to travel, as we thought, had been cleared of the
enemy by our troops in the previous day and the distance
was not much more than 100 yards. So when he did not come
back to me in half an hour or so, I was surprised and
concluded that he had probably lost his way - that was
very easy to do I assure you - and I sent another runner.
It was by an odd coincidence that I learned of your son's
death, months later. I had inquired of the Regiment
Infantry Association, but learned they knew nothing of
him, then one day in April last, Captain Jack A. McGrady,
who lives on Arkansas Avenue in Lorraine, Ohio, wrote to
me through Colliers, in which I had published an article
carrying a reference to your son. Captain McGrady had
read the article and later while policing the area of the
forest had found the body of Private Quinn.
Among George's effects was the message which he had tried
to get through to Major Whittlesey and, as Captain
McGrady writes me there were also letters to his Mother,
and as he remembers it one to an Aunt in New Rochelle
(Williamsville). Unfortunately the letters could not be
preserved. In fact, it was so rare a chance as I can
hardly make clear to you that his body was ever found,
four months to the day after he had been killed. I say it
was a rare chance because the forest is really a jungle
and I have no doubt that there are many bodies there,
which never will be recovered.
Private Quinn must have put up a very good fight before
he went, to have taken along with him unaided as he was,
three of the crack German Infantry. I am very proud of
him. To me he typifies the kind of American doughboy who
faithfully performed all his duties, without any
grumbling, who took hardships as they came and who in the
end gave everything he had without any blowing of
Captain McGrady wrote me that Private Quinn was buried
with full military honors, in a temporary cemetery along
the Chalevaux road, where the Lost Battalion made its
stand. It was Captain McGrady's company that fired the
last salute above these graves. The Signal Corps he added
had moving picture machines there at the time, and it may
be that by inquiring of the Signal Corps in Washington,
you can learn, if you are interested, whether or not you
could see these pictures.
The bodies of those buried in the Charlevaux Valley have
since been removed to the big American cemetery at
Romagne, which will be a consolation to you to know will
be well cared for. The exact location of his final
resting place is Grave 20, Section 5, Plot 1 Argonne
American Cemetery No. 1,232, Romagne-sous-Montfaucon,
I am sorry indeed to learn that your misfortune was
doubled in the loss of your husband at the time, and I
hope you have taken consolation so largely due you from
the fact that your son did the finest thing it was
possible for a man to do in service of his country. For
myself I shall be one of those who, when I revisit
France, will pay very reverent tribute at his grave,
aware as I must be that it was much more than I could
ever hope to do.
A letter from Private Quinn's Mother said:
Mrs. Janes called and took George's picture and the poem
that Lieutenant McKeogh wrote, and some letters. She told
me she would call on you, for I am working and cannot
leave my job at present.
I think it is very kind of you folks to look after our
dead boy's history. Oh, how I wish I could have my boy
back! I am glad to hear of the good he has done for all.
Answering your question, I never received any
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