Remembering Smallpage

There are too many veterans.

I say that with the utmost respect. I say it because, to my way of thinking, there are too many wars.

And too many deaths.

I believe you understand. You probably understand because, like the rest of us, someone you know is a veteran, loves a veteran, or has lost a veteran.

Their stories are all too common, especially this time of year.

Take, for instance, the well-told story of the five Sullivan brothers from Waterloo, whose deaths sparked change in the way our country asked families to go to war. History tells us that they were the sons of Thomas and Alleta Sullivan who served together on the USS Juneau. They all died due to its sinking around November 13, 1942. George Thomas Sullivan, 27, was a Gunner’s Mate Second Class; Francis Henry “Frank” Sullivan, 26, was Coxswain; Joseph Eugene “Joe” Sullivan, 24, was a Seaman Second Class; Madison Abel “Matt” Sullivan, 23, was a Seaman Second Class; Albert Leo “Al” Sullivan, 20, was a Seaman Second Class.

Brothers as Iowans and brothers in arms, they enlisted with the stipulation that they serve together. History tells us that there were at least 30 sets of brothers who served on the Juneau when it went down.

There were only 10 survivors.

Those deaths prompted the U.S. War Department to adopt the Sole Survivor Policy, which in part protects members of a family from the draft during peacetime, or from hazardous duty or other circumstances, if they have already lost family members to military service.

Melbourne Smallpage had no siblings.

He was the only child of Mr. and Mrs. R. M. Smallpage, who lived in Eagle Grove but had in their world important friendships with many folks in Webster City.

On May 31, 1917, Smallpage enlisted in World War I, according to the Daily Freeman-Journal’s files. He flew first to Allentown, Pennsylvania, ultimately to arrive in France on July 22, 1917.

He died in a hospital at Dijon on February 11, 1919.

“Melbourne was the only child of the family and was a very promising young man. He had many friends here in Webster City who were saddened by the news of his untimely death and who appreciated his fine qualities of character. He was a good soldier, a credit to American expeditionary forces, and gave him life to his country. …

Major T. K. Gruber wrote:

“Sergeant Smallpage went on leave of absence to Menton, Monte Carlo and Nice on January 31, 1919, together with other members of this command and while at Menton caught cold and complained he did not feel well. He stayed in bed where he was stopping for the remaining few days of his leave. On the last day of his leave he was advised by other soldiers with him to go to the hospital at Menton and fully recover before returning to Dijon, but insisted that they take him with them, as at that time this unit expected to move from Dijon to an embarkation port any day, and he was afraid that he would be left behind and not returned to the United States with us. … He reached Dijon very nicely on February 9, but his condition became worse and he died on the 11th.

“Sergeant Smallpage was a very efficient soldier and all of his work in the hospital was of the highest character, being a man that took personal pride in everything he did. He was thought most highly of by all members of this command and his death was very deeply felt.”

Sgt. Melbourne Smallpage was buried with military honors in the American cemetery in Dijon.

It was a lonely fate, but it was not the end of his story.

In June of 1921, Sgt. Smallpage returned to Webster City to be among his friends. He was buried at Graceland Cemetery on an early summer Saturday afternoon.

If you see his grave, marked by a distinctively beautiful headstone, stop by and remind him he is not alone.

Jane Curtis is interim editor of the Daily Freeman-Journal.


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