'Common soldier' deserves honor, military historian tells students

November 12, 1996|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,SUN STAFF

Revolutionary War soldiers fought with muzzle-loading flintlock muskets and lived off scant rations and what they could scrounge on the march.

Two centuries later, Gulf War GIs -- including women -- carried high-powered automatic rifles, rode in Humvees and ate sophisticated prepackaged rations called "meals, ready to eat."

Despite improvements in weapons, equipment and food, however, the "common soldier" has been the same person throughout history and should be honored for service to country, a history instructor at Boys' Latin School told students yesterday, Veterans Day.

"War is about people, and that's why I like the kids to see pictures of someone," said Frederick C. "Butch" Maisel III, the teacher, who brought in photographs of soldiers, along with military artifacts. "It's not just a mess kit, it belonged to someone who fought for this country in a war."

A military historian and collector, Maisel set up a display in the Upper School library of uniforms, weapons and equipment used by U.S. soldiers through the years and then explained it as living history to students at the private school.

Veterans Day has become very personal to him from his late father's stories of fighting from the D-Day beaches of Normandy until he was wounded near an inland French village.

Among the displays are the Purple Heart decoration and the Stars and Stripes that covered the coffin of his half-brother, Mack Church, who was killed in Korea in 1950.

However, Maisel emphasized such mundane items as canteens, mess kits, utensils, toothbrushes and playing cards to show the common link of U.S. fighting forces from Yankee Doodle to GI Joe.

Boys' Latin has sent alumni to all of the country's wars since its founding in 1844, and Maisel has found photographs and articles about some of them.

They include Pvt. Lee Carroll, of the 9th Infantry Regiment in the Spanish-American War; John Poe, who served in the U.S. Army and died in action with the British Army; and Marine Lance Cpl. Matt Trump, one of Maisel's students in 1988, who fought in the Gulf War.

Yesterday's classroom visitors included a third-grade class of 8- and 9-year-old boys from the lower school. They crowded as close to the displays as possible as Maisel told them about the objects.

"We have talked about Armistice Day and Veterans Day in class," said teacher Martha Gardner, whose three sons are Eagle Scouts and one of whom is a Marine. "It was originally a celebration of peace, of the end of 'The War To End All Wars,' but sadly, they were wrong and we have needed to continue in other wars."

Will Murphy, 8, of Baltimore said Veterans Day "was honoring people who died in the war," and that he had learned about World War II, in which relatives had fought, in his Cub Scout pack.

Ryan Mollett, 18, of Taneytown was in the senior class that followed the young students.

"It's important to recognize the people who gave their lives for what we have now. People don't think about that every day and it's important that we do it on Veterans Day," he said.

Maisel was among the historians who appeared last night on Maryland Public Television's documentary "Maryland In The Great War," which accompanied the PBS series on World War I.

Pub Date: 11/12/96

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