Sepp Scanlin, 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum Museum director, talks about the displays outside of the commanding general's office. Hays Hall was one of several stops July 10 during the Hidden History Tour, hosted by the 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum Museum and the Fort Drum Natural Resources Branch. (Photo by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs Office)
Hidden History Tour offers new sites, insights for visitors at Fort Drum
Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (July 10, 2019) -- The history of the 10th Mountain Division (LI) is well-chronicled in books, documentaries and news articles that trace the lineage from its alpine roots in the 1940s to the light infantry unit of the modern era.
Still, they say, seeing is believing. That is what why Fort Drum History Tours have become so popular in recent years, bringing in people by the busloads to see some of the historical sites throughout the installation.
On July 10, nearly 20 community members attended the Hidden History Tour and visited places that were inaccessible to the public in the past.
“We wanted to highlight some of the historical elements at Fort Drum that the American public is interested in, but can’t routinely see because they are in places that are fairly busy most of the time,” said Sepp Scanlin, 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum Museum director.
Those sites included Hays Hall – the headquarters of the 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum – and two 2nd Brigade Combat Team battalion headquarters.
“Knowing a lot of the historical architecture at Fort Drum, I picked some things that had a theme that would link them together, but also had a human interest element that people would connect with naturally,” Scanlin said.
The first memorial the group visited was outside the headquarters of 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, which honors the 11 infantry and aviation Soldiers who were killed in a training accident on March 11, 2003.
“The reason I wanted to highlight this is because there are a host of memorials here on Fort Drum that are just like this – hidden away, but very purposely selected and placed by the units,” Scanlin explained. “This memorial is for an aviation accident involving Soldiers preparing to deploy to Iraq in the early stages of the war. Both units – the aviation and infantry units – got together and proposed a memorial with a lot of debate about where it would be placed.”
The organizations discussed placing it at the site of the accident, or where the aircraft had departed, but ultimately they decided that the 4-31st Infantry headquarters was the right place.
“The Army does not build memorials, so units have to figure out how to raise the funds for them,” Scanlin said. “The actual planning and construction of most monuments are done external to the Army, which is really unique, and it is why they are very personal to the units.”
At the entrance of the headquarters stands “George,” a giant polar bear statue. The 31st Infantry Regiment took the nickname “Polar Bears” from the fearsome predator that Soldiers would encounter in Siberia where they guarded rail lines, warehouses and supplies in Vladivostok during the Russian Revolution in 1918. During this deployment, 30 Soldiers were killed, nearly 60 were wounded in action and 16 Distinguished Service Crosses were awarded.
Inside the headquarters, Scanlin highlighted some of the unit history on display in glass cases and on the wall. As a former 4-31st Infantry battalion intelligence officer, Scanlin said that one of the more distinguished items displayed is the Shanghai Bowl. The large silver punch bowl was made in 1932 from silver dollars collected by officers that were given to them by the Chinese government grateful for their support.
“Then the regiment is stationed in the Philippines, which is not a great place to be at the start of the Second World War because they had to fight off the Japanese invasion,” Scanlin said. “They are one of the last units standing when the Philippines surrenders.”
When Bataan fell to the Japanese during World War II, the unit buried its colors along with the silver bowl and matching cups so they would not fall into enemy hands. The Soldiers were subjected to torture and humiliation on the Bataan Death March and during three years of captivity. Nearly half of the regiment Soldiers who surrendered at Bataan died as prisoners of war. Capt. Earl Short, the officer who had buried the Shanghai Bowl, was ordered back to retrieve it in 1945.
“He’s convinced he knows where it is, and he does not want to leave until he finds the bowl,” Scanlin said. “Unfortunately, he’s so sick that they tell him he needs to go back to the states to recover. But the engineers promised that they would continue the search.”
The Shanghai Bowl was eventually recovered and returned to the regiment.
“It’s a pretty profound story, and it has an emotional connection with the Soldiers of this unit,” Scanlin said. “Imagine this being your bowl, and this is your regimental silver. There are very few more moving ceremonies than having your first cup of grog from the original silver bowl.”
The next stop on the tour was the 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment headquarters, and it began at the unit memorial. The Soldier’s Cross features a pair of combat boots, a service rifle with bayonet and a helmet resting on top. The base of the monument bears plaques of fallen service members, to include Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sgt. Travis Atkins and Pfc. James Henry Martin Jr.
“The building itself is named Martin Hall, named after the very first Soldier memorialized on a plaque,” Scanlin said. “He died in Somalia on Oct. 4, 1993, in what is commonly referred to as the Battle of Mogadishu. The division lost three Soldiers as part of its deployments to Somalia early on, and two of them in this exact battle.”
When the battalion conducts formations, Soldiers face the memorial as a continual reminder of the sacrifices of those who served before them.
“I find these memorials so profound because they are literally the units’ true fingerprints,” Scanlin said. “We tend to make things look the same in the Army, but a memorial is one of the few places where things look different because it is personalized to the unit.”
Inside the headquarters, Scanlin spoke of some of the historic campaigns and Soldiers who had represented 2-14th Infantry Regiment. He said that the unit’s nickname, the Golden Dragons, derives from their deployment to China in the early 1900s during the Boxer Rebellion.
That’s where Cpl. Calvin P. Titus, a musician with E Company, 14th Infantry Regiment, answered the call to duty with the words, “I’ll try, sir.”
“Two companies are trapped between the walls and the tower, with the enemy shooting at them from all sides,” Scanlin said. “The only way out is to get over the walls. The commander asked who was willing to make that climb, and that’s when the young musician stands up and famously says, ‘I’ll try, sir.’”
Titus was the first to climb the section of wall not occupied by rebel soldiers, and he provided suppressive fire while others would follow with their weapons slung until they breached the wall. The unit was presented with a gift of silver bars from a thankful Chinese government. These were subsequently melted down and made into the unit’s ceremonial punch bowl. It was named the Titus Bowl in honor of their heroic bugler.
For his actions during the Boxer Rebellion, Titus received the Medal of Honor and an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
“His timing is pretty good when he arrives at West Point, because it is also the coming centennial of the academy,” Scanlin said. “So they decided he would receive his Medal of Honor at a ceremony as part of the centennial celebrations.
“This is the only time I know of when a Medal of Honor recipient is presented his award by another Medal of Honor recipient,” he continued. “President Theodore Roosevelt was the person who bestowed the Medal of Honor to Calvin P. Titus. Imagine being the one cadet in the Corps of Cadets wearing a Medal of Honor.”
Many more stories were shared throughout the tour, which began at LeRay Mansion – where attendees roamed the interior of this historic homestead, with Dr. Laurie Rush, Fort Drum Cultural Resources manager, and Carrie Nyce, guide, providing insight into its origins.
The tour ended at Memorial Park, home of the Military Mountaineers Monument, the Fallen Warrior Monument, Heroes Walk and other unit memorials. Scanlin said that this was an appropriate bookend to the tour. Attendees had previously seen how individual units honor their history and their fallen comrades, but Memorial Park was created as a testament to all division heroes.
Jack Gormley has attended several history tours before, and he also volunteered during the Beautify LeRay Day project at the mansion last year. That’s when he met the previous commanding general and his wife, while planting flowers with the group and assisting the general officer post a bird feeder into the ground.
This time, Gormley happened to chat with Kelli Mennes, wife of Maj. Gen. Brian J. Mennes, 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum commander, who was sitting next to him.
“I was so impressed,” he said. “I’m getting along in years, but just in the past year I’ve met two generals’ wives and one general.”
With LeRay Mansion being a staple of the history tours, Gormley said that he is always interested in returning there.
“There’s always something different to see,” he said. “I like to see what improvements they’ve made.”
Mary Sherman, from Carthage, is also a frequent visitor on the tours. She already knows a lot about Fort Drum history, having grown up in the area and had a summer job on Camp Drum. She’s also a retired U.S. Army Nurse Corps lieutenant colonel who helped establish the Warrior Transition Unit on post.
But in all that time she spent here, Sherman was not able to see everything, and she said that is what makes these tours interesting for her.
“I didn’t know some of the hidden treasures here on post like the polar bear and the history behind that. I had a really good time,” she said.
Inside Hays Hall, she saw the display of the Army Football uniform that the team wore in the 2017 Army-Navy Game.
Inspired from 10th Mountain Division history, the uniform bears several design features that highlight the unit’s mountaineer origins. Ironically, the all-white uniform served the team well that snowy day. The Army team blended into the environment so well it appeared at times the Navy players were the only ones on the field.
“I always watch the Army-Navy Game every year; that’s a tradition,” Sherman said. “I used to go to the games with a group of friends for many, many years, until we ended up on four corners of the country.”
She also echoed what many past visitors have requested for future tours – more.
“I liked it, but I hope they could add a little bit longer time length to it, because I think there are other things on post that people need to see,” Sherman said.
Scanlin agreed there were some sites he had considered that attendees would find interesting, and that he would like to see some of those included in future tours.
“There are tons of other statues and memorials on post that don’t get visited regularly,” he said. “The Barracks Fire Memorial is a good one, and the series of monuments on Division Hill would definitely be worth a stop.”
Scanlin said that he got some valuable feedback from talking with some of the guests. One person suggested he should create a handout to explain unit organizations so they could understand the difference between brigade, battalion and company elements, and how they function within the division.
“I thought that was a really good idea,” he said. “Of course, as with other tours, some people thought it was too short or too long, but I think everyone liked what they saw and they also learned something. And that’s always one of my goals, and something we aim for with the tours.”