308th Infantry
Company D
George W. Quinn

Information 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.
Brian Quinn
December 2001

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:


Runner Quinn
(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 he died,
But three still forms around him sprawled, they could have testified;
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 Argonne glade,
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 way,
And that was when, from overseas, came a note the other day,
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 devil could;
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 city bird,
And nobody knew who his buddy was - he was short on the spoken word;
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 lumbering lad…
Well farce was fin when they picked on Quinn
As a runner! … The best we had!

The best? … 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 sifted through,
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 were low
When I started Quinn with a yelp for more, and - well I didn't know
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 dear,
But a runner's trail is long - its hail
Is "Where-Do-We-Go-From-Here?"

After he left there wasn't much chance to wonder if he was dead;
Another runner had wiggled through, and soon we pushed ahead
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 last:
"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 foemen three,
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 shade,
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 trumpets.

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, Meuse, France.

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 medals."

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