It is fascinating that so many stories of courage, honor and humanity grow out of horrifying, bloody conflicts.
In 1918 a Cunard cruise ship converted into a troop transporter called the S.S. Tuscania left Hobokan, New Jersey on January 24. This was one of the first waves of American doughboys destined for Le Havre, France after a future stop at Liverpool. About 2200 Americans were on board as well as over 200 crew members, mostly from Scotland. The troops aboard were recruited mostly from the Great Lakes region and the Pacific Northwest, serving in the D, E and F Companies of the 6th Battalion of the 20th Engineers; members of the 32nd Division; and the 100th, the 158th and 213th Aero Squadrons.
The Tuscania had made many voyages prior to this time. This time it joined a convoy of American troop ships, and had the protection of UK destroyers. Nonetheless on February 7th, close to the island of Islay, Scotland, it was struck "squarely mid-ship on the starboard side by a 2,000-pound torpedo launched by the German submarine UB-77. The explosion engulfed the boiler room and echoed throughout the Tuscania. Flames shot up some 200 feet in the air according to one account, and literally shifted the entire ship along the surface of the water according to another. With a massive hole torn through its hull, the ship began to list" (Smithsonian). The men calmly followed evacuation procedures, but more than 200 died. More would have died if it were not for the UK destroyers Mosquito, Grasshopper and Pigeon that scooped survivors from the frigid waters that slapped upon stark cliffs. Locals waded out into the waves to rescue 137 who miraculously survived to make it to the shore of Islay.
This was the first major loss of life of Americans in The Great War.
The wonderful people of Islay reverently cleansed and prepared the American bodies for burial, meticulously recording information about each soldier's appearance down to tattoos. They communicated with the American families. Interestingly all bodies buried by the people of Islay were later exhumed for home burial but one.
They were so respectful that they felt the men should be buried under an American flag. So five sewers studied an encyclopedia to get the design right and stitched all night to create a two-sided American flag rectangular Stars and Stripes 67 inches long by 37 inches wide to be carried along with the Union Jack of the UK during the funeral procession. The flag eventually took up residence at the Smithsonian and this year traveled back to the UK for the centennial of the tragedy and humanitarian remembrance of the entire incident. More can be read in the original Smithsonian article below.
Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/hundred-year-old-handmade-american-flag-flies-home-scotland-180968008/#ulOEpAWv1kXMz9Yq.99
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