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Edwin C. Creeger, Jr.

Namesake of Legion Post 168

by Richard D. L. Fulton

Edwin C. Creeger, Jr. was born on August 21, 1920, in Thurmont to parents Edwin C. and Ethel Creeger.  He was his parents’ only child. 

The family’s address was given as having been 7 North Church Street, Thurmont. Creeger’s father owned and operated the Creeger Motor Company in Thurmont, and he had served in France during the First World War.

Creeger graduated from Thurmont High School in 1937 and from the Lebanon Valley College in 1941. 

According to an article published on October 27, 1943, by The (Frederick) News, Creeger “had always been especially talented along musical lines and after having majored in this subject, became music supervisor at the Lower Paxton High School, Harrisburg.”

At a Thurmont High School Alumni Banquet held on June 1, 1942, Creeger sang “Johnny Doughboy Found a Rose in Ireland” and “River Stay ‘Way from My Door,” accompanied by a pianist, as part of the entertainment held during the banquet.

He was still employed at the Lower Paxton High School when he was granted a leave of absence to enlist in the Navy.

Creeger enlisted at 21 years of age on July 7, 1942, in the Naval Reserve.  Upon enlistment, he was listed as having been 5’ 9” in height, weighing 180 pounds, having gray eyes, brown hair, and a ruddy completion.

He initially received training at Marietta College in Ohio (World War II had briefly turned the Marietta College into a pilot training center, according to the Marietta Times).

He then received additional training at the Davis and Elkins College in Elkins, West Virginia, and at the Naval facility on the University of Georgia campus in Athens, Georgia. That training was followed by additional training in Hollywood, Florida, probably at the Naval Training School there.

Having completed his training, he graduated as a navigator on June 23, 1942, in Hollywood, Florida.

Ensign Creeger had been on sea duty since September 10, 1943, according to The (Frederick) News, which further noted that he “had spent a two-week leave with his parents before leaving for service on September 20.”

Nearly a month following his visitation leave with his parents, Creeger met his death on October 23, 1943, when his plane was shot down at Dunkeswell, East Devon District, Devon, England, deeming him almost certainly as a casualty of the Battle of the Atlantic, said to be the longest, continuous military campaign in World War II.

The (Hagerstown) Daily Mail reported on October 28, 1943, that Creeger had been killed “in the performance of his duty and in the service of his country,” further reporting on November 10, 1943, that, “The Naval officer was killed in the crash of a seaplane, presumably somewhere in England, the Navy Department announcement said.”

His body was interred in the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial, Coton, South Cambridgeshire District, Cambridgeshire, England.

The (Frederick) News, announced in their November 17, 1945, issue that a new American Legion Post was being formed in Thurmont and would be named the Edwin C. Creeger Jr. Post 168, in honor of the fallen aviator. 

The (Frederick) News further reported on December 1, 1945, that “The father of the Thurmont youth who lost his life in World War II, and after whom the new post of Legion is named, was elected Commander of the Thurmont organization.”

Creeger was a member of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Thurmont.

On August 21, 1944, Creeger’s family published a Card of Thanks in The (Frederick) News, which read, “To our very good neighbors and wonderful friends of Edwin, Jr., and ourselves, we wish to thank each and every one from the bottom of our hearts, for the many wonderful words and acts of consolation in our very dark hour of sorrow…  His Mother and Father.”

Edwin C Creeger, Jr.

The Fatal Crash of #6157

Richard D. L. Fulton

Based in part on The Last to Fall: The 1922 March, Battles, & Deaths of U.S. Marines at Gettysburg by Richard D. L. Fulton and James Rada, Jr.

The year was 1922, four years after the end of the First World War, when more than 5,000 Marines—along with all the equipage of war (tanks, machine guns, artillery, etc.)—descended upon Gettysburg, following their week-long trek from Quantico, Virginia, to the historic Civil War battlefield of 1863 for their annual summer maneuvers, combined with their public reenactments of Pickett’s Charge.

The column left Quantico on June 19 and arrived on the Gettysburg Battlefield on June 26, having camped along their march in the several communities, the last of which was in Thurmont. On June 26, the column marched out of Thurmont, proceeded through Emmitsburg, and pushed forward for Gettysburg.

Along their route on the “the long march,” squadrons of post-World War I bi-wing dive-bombers and scout-planes circled overhead to “protect” the column and their supplies (the march itself was conducted as if being in enemy country from Quantico to Thurmont).

One of those five-plane aerial squadrons had been captained by a highly decorated WWI hero, Captain George Wallis Hamilton, who had distinguished himself at the Battle of Belleau Wood in France by his fighting in the Marine infantry. Riding along as passenger in Hamilton’s two-seater de Havilland DH-4B (#6157) was Gunnery Sergeant George Russell Martin.

Hamilton’s squadron was scheduled to have the honor of leading the Marines onto the Gettysburg Battlefield. On June 26, Hamilton’s squadron left at 12:30 p.m. and headed-out to rendezvous with, and escort, the Marine column as it left Thurmont, his squadron flying overhead as they marched through Emmitsburg on their trek to Gettysburg.

Nothing unusual was noticed about Hamilton’s plane as he escorted the Marine column toward the battlefield, but as the squad circled the field preparing to land on an impromptu airfield that the Marines had created on the Codori farm (the main encampment site for their maneuvers and reenactments), his plane appeared to be developing problems.

According to the Record of Proceedings of the (Marine) Board of Investigations (held on July 2), “That (Hamilton’s) DH-4B was under perfect control from Quantico, Virginia, to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania).”

But as the captain’s squadron broke formation to begin landing, the “DH-4B airplane #6157 went into a tailspin from a left turn from which it did not recover and crashed to the ground,” according to Record of Proceedings. 

The crash occurred in the area of Johns Avenue and Culp Street, just missing a carnival that had been set up along Steinwehr Avenue, and was located very closely to the front yard of the John’s Farmhouse.

Hamilton was found deceased in the wreckage, but Martin was still alive. He was transported to the Warren Hospital (Gettysburg Hospital) where he expired a short time later.  Because both were engaged in Marine activities at the time of the crash, they then both became the last line-of-duty deaths to have taken place on the old Civil War battlefield since 1863.

The (Marine) Board of Investigations was never able to determine the cause of the crash, stating, “The board is unable to determine the responsibility for the crash of (Hamilton’s) airplane… and is not able to attach any blame of culpability to any person or persons in the Naval service.”

The motor of Hamilton’s plane was salvaged, and the wood and canvas burned. The remaining metal was sold as scrap and, after having been loaded onto a truck, was halted at the Town Square to allow locals to take pieces for souvenirs. Hamilton was subsequently interred in the Arlington Cemetery, while Marin’s body was sent back to his home in Buffalo and buried there.

Today, the site of the crash is marked by a memorial wayside dedicated to the two aviators who perished on June 26. The memorial was created by a consortium of area residents, members of the Gettysburg and Emmitsburg Marine Corps Leagues, and the Gettysburg Heritage Center.

The memorial wayside dedication was held on June 26, 2018. Members of the U.S. Marine Corps Historical Company, Marines from Fort Meade, and a Marine bugler from Marine Base Quantico participated in the dedication ceremony.

(Top, left) Captain George Wallis Hamilton and Gunnery Sergeant George Russell Martin (top, right); (Bottom) Removal of the DH-4B wreckage (note carnival tents in background). 

Source (Hamilton and Martin pictures): Buffalo Evening News, June 27, 1922

Source (wreckage): Leatherneck, April 1, 2014

From the June 26, 2018, Hamilton-Martin Memorial Wayside dedication: Participating Marine units and Naval officer pose in front of the John’s Farm House.

President Harding’s 1922 Visit to Gettysburg

Richard D. L. Fulton

Based in part on The Last to Fall: The 1922 March, Battles, & Deaths of U.S. Marines at Gettysburg by Richard D. L. Fulton and James Rada, Jr.

The year was 1922, four years after the end of the First World War, when more than 5,000 Marines, along with their artillery, tanks, and dive bombers, descended upon Gettysburg—following their week-long trek from Quantico, Virginia, to the historic Civil War battlefield of 1863—for their annual summer maneuvers.

The ensuing activities by the Marines at Gettysburg involved a good deal more than routine drills and mock battles as part of their training. Many of the “battles” held from July 1 through July 3, especially on the field of “Pickett’s Charge,” were open to the public, and on July 4, the Marines would reenact Pickett’s Charge as if the Union and Confederate forces had the military equipage that had generally been available to the Marines in the wake of World War I.

Why Gettysburg?  The Marines’ “invasion” of Gettysburg in 1922 traces its causation back to the 1918 Battle of Belleau Wood at the end of World War I as the result of the animosity that had developed between United States Army General John “Blackjack” Pershing, Commander of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) in Europe during the war.

That animosity was more or less of Pershing’s own making. In need of more manpower to resist the German attempt to capture Paris, the general requested that the Marines, who were (and still are) a branch of the U.S. Navy, assist in bolstering the forces of the U.S. Army present. Thus, the Marines became part of the forces arrayed to join in the counterattack on the advancing Germans.

As preparations for the the counter-offensive took place, Pershing ordered that the media could not mention specific Army units in their reportage of the war, but that decree could have no effect on the Marines, who were merely “on loan” to the Army.

To make a long story short, this resulted in the media gravitating more to focusing on Marine participation, since individual units could be identified, giving news accounts a more personable appeal… so much so that when the attack on the Germans in Belleau Wood broke the German Line, the Marines would then receive the lion’s share of the credit up to, and including, the Marines being billed on the front pages of American newspapers as being the heroes of Belleau Wood, in spite of heavy Army participation.

This “got under Pershing’s skin,” and then to add insult to injury, the French renamed it “Marine Wood.”

At the conclusion of the war, Pershing spearheaded an effort to have the Marines disbanded, and as his congressional support gained momentum, the existence of the Marine Corps was in serious jeopardy.  Even President Woodrow Wilson supported the effort.

From the end of World War I, all the way up to the end of World War II, there were more than a dozen attempts to disband the Marine Corps, leading to Robert Coram writing, in Brute: The Life of Victor Krulak, U.S. Marine, “But when the Marines were not needed, there was an ongoing effort to abolish them or absorb them into the Army … It seemed that the hardest fighting the Marines ever did was fighting for the privilege of defending their country.”

To counter this assault on the Marines, Marine Major General John A. Lejeune and General Smedley D. Butler developed a plan to combine their corps summer maneuvers with public events to promote the corps and advance its popularity in the public eye over and above the popularity which it had achieved at the end of World War I.

This led them to the idea of holding their maneuvers on Civil War battlefields and combining those maneuvers with public reenactments of the various battles. Ultimately, there would be four of these annual events: the Wilderness in 1921; Gettysburg in 1922; New Market in 1923; and Antietam in 1924.  Ironically, Pershing had previously dubbed the Battle of Belleau Wood as the “Gettysburg” of World War I. 

Thus, over 5,500 Marines of the Fifth and Sixth Marine regiments set forth from their base at Quantico on June 19, thereby commencing on “the long march” which would take their column of troops, tanks, artillery, and supply vehicles through Bethesda, Gaithersburg, Ridgeville, Frederick, and Thurmont, camping for the night in each of those towns before commencing with the final leg of their trek through Emmitsburg to the Gettysburg battlefield (which they reached on June 26). 

The Gettysburg encampment, which was established on the Codori Farm, was dubbed Camp Harding, so named for President Warren Harding, who also happened to be pro-Marine, as opposed to his predecessor, President Wilson. The Gettysburg encampment was estimated to have been approximately 100 acres in size.

The Marines would have some very special observers for their July 1 battle reenactment, including President Harding and First Lady Florence Harding, along with White House staff members and numerous military figures, including General Pershing (who had been lobbying for four years to disband the Marine Corps).

Since Harding and his entourage intended to camp with the troops at Gettysburg, the Marines created a canvas compound that would come to be known as the “Canvas White House.”

Work on the canvas structure was initiated in Quantico when Marine engineers created and assembled the frame of the entire proposed presidential compound, which, upon its completion, was disassembled and shipped to Gettysburg by rail, and then transported by trucks to the battlefield where it was then reassembled on the Codori Farm, located along West Confederate Avenue, just north of the North Carolina Monument.

The compound consisted of 11 canvas and wood structures (encompassing a total of 16 rooms and 6 bathrooms), with walls and ceilings covered with plasterboard.

All the tentage was provided with wooden plank floors and all were fronted onto a plank walkway leading from one end of the compound to the other.

The canvas and wood complex consisted of a central 40-foot by 25-foot reception room. Attached to the southern face of the reception room was President and First Lady Harding’s personal quarters, followed by three tents for male guests, and one tent for female guests.

Attached to the northern face of the room was Presidential Secretary George Christian’s quarters, also then followed by three more tents for male guests and one more tent for female guests.

The completed Canvas White House compound was some 400-feet in length and 175-feet in width.

Lastly, the entire compound was lit with electricity provided by on-site generators, and water was provided by “many miles of pipeline” the Marines had installed to tie the encampment into the Gettysburg water supply, allowing the compound to have hot and cold running water in the compounds’ respective bathrooms.  Radio communications was set up by the Signal Corps. Six porcelain bathtubs arrived, strapped to the bellies of six Martin MBT twin-engine torpedo bombers.

The president and his entourage left the actual White House and arrived on the Cumberland Township battlefield on July 1 and entered West Confederate Avenue, unloading the vehicles at the Canvas White House where they were met with a 21-gun artillery salute, which was preceded by a half-hour artillery barrage, representing the commencement of the charge—the barrage reportedly having been heard as far away as Hanover. 

Then, after settling into the compound, the president and members of his entourage watched the ensuing battle from a no-longer existing observation tower that had stood in 1922 in Ziegler’s Grove, along with Colonel E.B. Cope, Superintendent of the Gettysburg National Battlefield Park and a Union Veteran of the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg.

Retiring to the compound after the battle, Harding and much of his entourage spent the night in the camp and left on July 2. The Canvas White House, however, continued to serve as quarters for other guests and dignitaries through July 4.

CANVAS WHITE HOUSE COMPOUND:  A — The Canvas White House Compound; B — President’s public reception room; C — President and First Lady Hardings’ quarters; D — Presidential Secretary George Christian’s quarters; E — Three tents on each side of the main tentage for male guests; F — One tent on each end of the compound for female guests.

Courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps Historical Company, modified by R. Fulton

The not-yet finished Canvas White House as it appeared before July 1. 

President Warren Harding watches the maneuvers from atop the Ziegler Grove observation tower.