The Dowager’s Diary – Week One Hundred and Sixty-Nine

May 16-23, 1918 

“New York Boy Added to Honor Roll.” A newspaper clipping looking as sad and wrinkled as the event it was reporting on was pasted in Kate Roosevelt’s diary and dated May 20, 1918. The New York Times article read like something from a society column in describing a young man killed on the front, “Lieutenant William K. Bond Emerson, Jr., from one of New York’s leading families gave his service to the Entente Cause. Emerson was prominent in the younger set of New York and Boston and a popular undergraduate at Harvard. Lieutenant Emerson, filled with the conviction that France and Britain were fighting the battles of freedom, abandoned his studies and deserted the abundance of his American life for the privations and dangers of war by volunteering for active duty in 1915.” Kate continued, “Heard of Billy Emerson’s death at the front in France. He was in the Aviation Corps, observing artillery when he was killed.”

The Serbian Campaign Where Lt. Emerson Was Killed, 1918

According to World War One history, Lieutenant Emerson won recognition for courage, initiative and even self-possession and was given the Croix de Guerre for rescuing wounded soldiers. He was a true hero, risking his life while dodging enemy guns and fire to carry his incapacitated comrades to safety while fighting in the Serbian Campaign. He saw action on several fronts and passed through some of the most terribly contested battles of the war.

World War One Ambulance and Volunteer Drivers

William Emerson was the son of Mr. and Mrs. William K. Bond Emerson, Sr. who had a residence at 563 Park Avenue in New York City and an estate in Rye, New York. William Emerson, Sr. was a member of the New York Stock Exchange. Newspapers described him as “A powerful, though very reserved and unobtrusive figure in financial life. Other members of the Emerson Family are connected with the large banks in New York City.”

Harvard Men Volunteer for Service

Lieutenant Emerson left his class at Harvard in 1915 to go to France with the Volunteer American Ambulance Service. Two years later, former President Theodore Roosevelt’s youngest son, Quentin Roosevelt, followed in the footsteps of Emerson and many other patriotic preppies attending Ivy League Colleges when he left Harvard in 1917 to join the Volunteer United States Air Service. Quentin Roosevelt was killed two months after William Emerson when his plane was shot down during the Battle of the Marne on July 11, 1918.

They were two heroes whose patriotism trumped the promise that life as sons of wealthy and powerful men held for them.

Quentin Roosevelt

Roosevelt’s service was short-lived.  He served for only thirteen months. Emerson’s experience lasted longer. He served from 1915 to 1918 and got his first taste of trench warfare in the Vosges Mountains on the border of Germany in Eastern France during the months of the greatest German pressure in their effort to clear the French out of Alsace. In those days, American ambulance volunteer earned their laurels, working day and night under deluges of rifle shells, transporting wounded soldiers through treacherous mountain roads.

French Soldiers wearing the Croix de Guerre

Unlike, Quentin Roosevelt, William Emerson was able to return to the United States temporarily, to take part in graduation exercises and receive his degree from Harvard.

General Pershing honoring Harvard’s Fallen Heroes

Soon after, he was dispatched to France and later to Serbia. When he returned to France in 1917, war was officially declared by President Wilson and the United States was in the thick of things. At this time, Lieutenant Emerson, the young ambulance driver, was thoroughly familiar with the operations of “modern” warfare and educated in all of its operations. He was promoted and commissioned a second lieutenant in the Field Artillery Division. He attended a French artillery school for training and was attached to an American Field Regiment after completion of his course.

In March, 1918, Emerson was sent to join a French air squadron as an artillery observer and was killed just two months later.

Sharon Hazard’s Dowager’s Diary appears on Thursday.

On WAT-CAST, listen to Sharon talk about the series.

Photo One:
Harvard Volunteers
Harvard Archives

Photo Two:
The Serbian Campaign Where Lt. Emerson Was Killed, 1918
Wiki

Photo Three:
World War One Ambulance and Volunteer Drivers
Library of Congress

Photo Four:
Harvard Men Volunteer for Service
Harvard Archives

Photo Five:
Quentin Roosevelt
Wiki

Photo Six:
French Soldiers wearing the Croix de Guerre
Library of Congress

Photo Seven:
General Pershing honoring Harvard’s Fallen Heroes
Harvard Archives