Harry Amos: FOUNDING DIRECTOR OF THE ARLINGTON-REIMS COMMITTEE
WHEN: 11 May 2013
WHERE: The home of Harry Amos, Goodwin House at Bailey’s Corners, Falls Church, Virginia
INTERVIEWER: Carl Lankowski
HOW: transcribed from recorder
TRANSCRIBER: Carl Lankowski
Q: Introduce yourself, Harry. How old are you? When and where were you born?
HA: I was born on March 30th, 1923. Therefore, I have just celebrated my 90th birthday.
HA: That was in Birmingham, Alabama. My maternal family were from north Alabama and my father’s people were from south Alabama. We lived in Birmingham with my brother, Albert, my only sibling, who was about a year younger than I. We moved to Mobile in 1932, because by then the Depression had made an impression on Birmingham due to the kind of industry there. When banks failed, my father, who was in business for himself, could not be paid. So he thought it would be better to move to Mobile in the southern part of the state, where the economy and business structure was a little different.
Q: How did that affect you?
HA: We were aware of the economy from a very early time. I had a job working on Saturdays delivering groceries from the store around the corner. They paid me two dollars a day.
Q: What schools did you attend in Mobile?
HA: My elementary school was named for Admiral Raphael Simms, the great naval officer of the Confederacy. Much of the Confederacy was still with us. When we said ‘before the war’ or ‘after the war’, we meant the Civil War or the War Between the States, or the War for Southern Independence, whichever designation you preferred.
In 1936 I entered Murphy High School in the Mobile school system, the first county to have a public education system in the State of Alabama. The system had 11 grades. I was at Murphy for four years and graduated in 1940. My brother was truly brilliant; it annoyed me that he could spell all the words in the English language and I could not, with the result that we both graduated from high school in 1940.
Q: What was his name?
HA: Albert Earl. And I was named Harry Oliver Amos, Jr., after my father.
Q: What business was your dad in?
HA: He was an insurance adjustor. He was a veteran of World War I. While working in the lumber business, he met a school teacher named Lela Eugene Corbin….They were married in 1921 in Mobile, Alabama; I came along in March 1923. When he returned to Alabama after the war he decided he definitely did not want to work for his stepfather. He worked very hard to learn to read and write. At that time that could be a problem if you lived out in the boondocks of Alabama. Because he could read and write, he had been assigned to the Quartermaster during his wartime military service. The Army and the trip to France were life-changing events for him. He said I am never going back to “the farm,” after the popular song of the time, “how are you going to keep them down on the farm after they have seen Paris?”
Q: What happened next?
HA: They moved to Birmingham and my father studied law at night and he was admitted to the Alabama Bar; though he did not practice law as such, it was necessary for insurance adjustors to have some legal training. That job involved investigating automobile accidents. He sent his bill only after completing his work on each case. When the Depression hit, many clients went bust, still owing my father money. For three or four years the situation was pretty difficult for us.
Q: What aftereffects of the war affected your father?
HA: He was an advocate of the veteran’s “bonus.” There was a widespread popular movement during the 1920s and 1930s for helping the veterans. There were many marches. I think some money came in as a result and most of it went to buy an automobile.
Q: Before we return to 1940, take us back as far as you can to characterize your family roots on both sides.
HA: I know more about my mother’s people than about my father’s. My mother was the eleventh of thirteen children of Mary Cantrell Corbin and John Corbin. The two of them were born in north Georgia. They remembered the Civil War. They were six and seven years old at the time. Their generation was the first to come to maturity following the Civil War. In the south there had been tremendous destruction and the war had produced 620,000 killed overall.
Q: The single highest casualty event in U.S. history.
HA: Have a look at Drew Faust’s This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, published in 2008. Drew Gilpin Faust, an Army brat, who grew up in Virginia, is a nationally known historian who spent her career at the University of Pennsylvania. She is now president of Harvard University.
I got to know my mother’s side of the family. We would drive from Birmingham to Double Springs, seat of Winston County in the northwest corner of Alabama. Eight of her siblings were still living when I used to visit. I know something about every one of them. Thanks to the recent research I have been doing on an artifact that had come to us, a Bible that had been presented to my grandfather. It was what we would call his Preaching Bible—not the Family Bible. The Family Bible is something that weighs about 30 pounds and sits in the middle of the big room and sits on a little square table with a white doily on top of it. It is not moved until there is a death, or a marriage, or a birth, and then it is written in there. When the State of Alabama first established its office of vital statistics, the word went out to bring in the family Bibles so that the information could be taken directly from them.
As for my maternal grandfather, at age 21 he was licensed to preach in the Methodist Church and it is his Preaching Bible to which I refer now. He met Mary, a beautiful blue-eyed girl who lived just across the river from his parents. The story we like to tell—in the tradition of southern story-telling, of course—is that John didn’t own a horse and there was no bridge within 20 miles. In order to court Mary, he went to the water’s edge, took off all his clothes, rolled them up in a bundle and swam on his back across the river, ran around to dry off on the other side, donned his clothes and went to court Mary. (laughter) After several such episodes, mother Cantrell said, “well, it looks like Mary is interested in John. I guess we should have him come for Sunday dinner.” That was when people were examined for their qualities. The whole clan showed up and fired questions at him. All he could do is watch Mary, who was whipping around the table, demonstrating that she was very, very good at women’s work—passing the biscuits, tending the stove and the like. So, they got married, moved to Alabama and there were 13 children, of which my mother was the eleventh.
I know something about the nine children who survived to maturity. The oldest, my Aunt Carey, was a very strong-willed person who invited me often for a month. She was sort of the head of everything. She married the probate judge, John Curtis, who had lost his first wife and was fairly well off. He lived in a nice house and Aunt Carey was a wonderful cook. I can still remember some meals. In the early days of that marriage, my Uncle John had become fascinated with a young lady. When Aunt Carey found out about it, she did not believe in suing people or going to the courts, she simply showed up to confront John when a certain rondez-vous was taking place. Armed with a pistol, she told John “come with me or I’ll shoot you.” So, her husband was marched home at pistol point back across the village.
Another sibling, Aunt Nettie Seymour, was not in good health. The consensus was that she was having too many children. Aunt Carey’s solution: “well, we’ll just have to keep her from sleeping with George,” her husband.
There was a lack of modern medicine in that generation and at least two of mother’s siblings died of Diphtheria.
The family in the generation after the Civil War developed a way of dealing with people, a sort of social triage. There are some who like to shoot people, get into knife fights and the like, and there are others who behave themselves. You just limit your contact—you don’t worry about them, they are beyond redemption. This is how they survived. They came out of this with their self-respect; only one had some problems. The self-respect was very useful to us during the Great Depression. I don’t recall feeling that I was some sort of refugee or that I was abused or anything like that, because my parents and grandparents had been dealing with difficulty since the end of the Civil War.
They were most interested in seeing that people got an education. My mother and the next oldest, my Aunt May, were the first in that whole clan to go to college. They attended the Florence Normal School in northwest Alabama, not far from the Mussel Shoals dam over the Tennessee River with its hydro-electric plant, inspiration for the New Deal’s Tennessee Valley Authority. Florence is now part of the University of Alabama system.
There was another preacher in the family, married to my Aunt III…DER. When I used that spelling my school teacher mother chastised me for not knowing how to spell Aunt Ida’s name…But Mother, that’s how everyone pronounces it. Her husband was often in what was known as a non-stipendiary situation. Other family members laughed about him, saying that he had misread the sign he received from heaven: GP. He thought it meant: GO PREACH! Actually, it meant: GO PLOUGH!!
Q: What about your father’s side?
My father figured out that it was important to learn how to read and write. He was a telegrapher for a while. Always interested in education. His main expression was “every tub must sit on its own bottom.” He was only 58 years old when he died of cancer in 1953. My mother was 72 when she died in 1970. In both instances, I was overseas with the US Army. I miss my parents very much, and have great respect for how they managed things during the depression.
Q: Let’s return to 1940, where we have you graduating from Murphy High School with your brother, Albert.
HA: We didn’t have any money, but we knew we wanted to go to college. In those days, there were few people who went to college. The nearest school was a Jesuit college called Spring Hill. It is still there. Spring Hill offered both me and my brother a half-tuition scholarship and then gave us our first government job—by this time project money was flowing from Washington through New Deal programs—which gave us the rest of the money we needed to matriculate. My job was working in the library under the watchful eyes of Madame Jobert. I did entry-level work, “reading the shelves”—keeping the accession numbers in order. Madame Jobert—she had eyes like a hawk—could spot any mistakes from afar. I then discovered the area in the library where books were repaired. I asked to learn that art and Madame Jobert was enough of a Human Resources person to know that it was better to let me do that than to order books on the shelves. Binding books is a skill I still practice. I thoroughly enjoyed the year I spent with the Jesuits, but I was out of money, so I couldn’t continue.
Q: What happened next?
HA: It was 1941. The State of Alabama had just started a civil service system. I took and passed the civil service exam and that led to a job I had for about a year running a billing machine with the Mobile County Water Works at $85.00 per month. I enjoyed the work.
At that time I also joined the local Methodist Church. There was no special preparation for joining. The church provided ongoing Christian education. You just indicated to the preacher that you were ready. My parents didn’t know my brother and I had become members until they got a letter from the pastor. I was a Methodist until 1950, when I married Peggy, who was an Episcopalian. I was aware of the close association between the two and so joined the Episcopal Church, though I will tell people that as an Episcopalian I am more of a Wesleyite than a Pusyite.
Q: How did you get to West Point?
HA: I always wanted to go. I didn’t have any political pull. I guess I had seen Dick Powell in Flirtation Walk, a movie about West Point. Flirtation Walk is an actual walk above the rocks along the Hudson River. Only First-Classmen are allowed to walk and escort young ladies there. Along the way is a place called Kissing Rock. The thing that most impressed me was the marching—how did the cadets stay in step like that? While I was running the billing machine I wrote to the members of Alabama’s Congressional delegation, as members of Congress control most of the appointments to the service academies. One of them wrote back with the message that he had nothing for West Point, but did have an appointment to the Naval Academy. In talking it over with my astounded father, I said “Dad, I would rather be a private in the Army than an ensign in the Navy. My father was incredulous…”What have I raised here?”
Q: When did you enter?
HA: Writing to my Congressman, Representative Boykin, he responded that though he didn’t have anything for 1943, he did have a special appointment and would be happy to take my application for that. So I sent a letter. Before long a packet of materials came from the War Department. I then discovered that the special appointment referred to increasing the size of the Academy up to the increased strength that Congress had authorized. So this appointment was not for 1943; it was for 1942—six weeks from the time I received word. In reaction, I made my first long-distance telephone call to my Congressman. The man I reached in his office knew the sense of my question exactly: how could I succeed as third alternate—fourth in line—for the appointment? What kind of odds are these? He counseled me to continue to compete for the appointment; the principal had just resigned the appointment, so now I was in third place, and the Congressman liked my letter. So, I stayed with the process, which required that I take the bus to Fort Benning for a physical exam, where I had my first blood test and almost passed out. Then, because it was so late in the process, there was no time for my transcript from Spring Hill College to arrive, I had to subject myself to two and a half days of the standard, old-fashioned entrance exam. A short time later, back in Mobile at the water works, I got a call from my mother, who wanted to know whether I was coming home for lunch. A telegram had come from the Adjutant General Ulio instructing me to report to West Point. After I settled in, I wrote to my Congressman, Frank W. “everything is made for love” Boykin to thank him for the appointment and ask him what happened to the other two guys. One was the son of the local commander of the US Army Corps of Engineers. He had flunked the mental or physical exam. The other flunked the other part. So, there was Amos still standing. And then I learned that once West Point finally received my Spring Hill transcript that showed I had college level English and Algebra, they did not bother with the exam; the practice was to issue a “dog ticket”—excusing you from taking the regular entrance exam. That’s how I got there.
Well, my mother had to show me off to the north Alabama clan, so I couldn’t report immediately to West Point. At length, my uncle put me on a bus that got me to Cincinnati. From there I had a travel voucher from the Army. I got on the overnight train to New York. The Weehawken Ferry brought me back to the west side of the river, where I picked up a milk train up the Hudson to West Point. I was probably the last of my class to make it. When I got off the train at river-level there was an MP. He said “Mister”—the way all cadets are addressed—and pointed up a ramp to the plane. As I walked up, my battered suit case on my shoulder, there was total silence. At the top I went through an arch and turned left onto the plane, where all hell broke loose. The upper classmen were exercising the new cadets. Some one grabbed me, and gave me a room assignment, installed me in the top bunk. At 5:30 the next morning, I was welcomed to active duty in the United States Army by the boom of the reveille gun and the beat of the drums and bugles of the “hell cats.” I would remain for 33 quick, fulfilling years. Now, thirty-five years later, I miss it still.
I didn’t work as hard as I could have at West Point because I was so enthralled just to be there. My dad was delighted that I was there. My mother was happy too, though she betrayed a certain reservation. It was based on family custom regarding certain practices. Rumors of alcohol was the problem. Consumption of any amount of it was considered beyond the pale. Looking very much the school-marme, she would say, “you know, they all drink in the Army.” My father was present for my graduation; sadly, my mother could not be there due to health problems.
Q: What year was that, Harry?
HA: I graduated in 1945. By the time I arrived, the program had been abbreviated to three years to meet the demands of war.
Q: Who else did you meet at West Point? Was not your ASCA board colleague, Karl Liewer, there at the time?
HA: Karl was a class-mate. We did not ever serve together. He was an artillery officer. He then went into the serious intelligence business, trained in Russian, then assigned to the embassy in Moscow. He was then PNG’ed (pronounced persona non grata) by the Soviet government. But I didn’t know Karl then.
One person I did know was Harry Shaw; we roomed together most of the time. He and his wife live in Maryland and we have kept up down through the years. There were about 850 graduates in the class of 1945. Nearly 350 of those went to the Army Air Corps and went on to careers in the US Air Force. As one of the remaining 500 that received Army commissions, I became an artillery officer, a choice I made, related to your standing in the class. Most were commissioned in the infantry, which seemed to be the least glamorous assignment, though most generals came with that background.
Q: Where did you get your languages?
HA: It started at birth with an unusual hearing acuity. At the end of the first grade the teacher sent home a report card that noted that Harry Jr. has an unusual vocabulary for a child his age. My father had been fascinated while in France during the war that through learning a language you can acquire new information through the second language. This is still an epiphany that language students have. My father taught me a few words of French and my mother taught me a little Latin. During my high school years starting in 1936 I studied Spanish. I liked it better than other subjects.
At Spring Hill I continued with languages. My father had always wondered why I hadn’t taken French in high school. So to humor him I took both French and Latin there, both taught by a very demanding Jesuit.
My first tour after graduating from West Point in 1945 was to Japan, where I participated in the military occupation of that country, based in the old capital of Nara. Early on in the occupation there was very little done to encourage us to mix with the Japanese people. Nevertheless, as time went on, I realized that Japanese is actually very easy to speak. The vowel sounds are quite like Spanish. What is complicated is the grammar and the writing system. That experience made me promise myself to begin studying the language as soon as I received an assignment.
One day I was told to take a squad of military police to the railroad station in Nara to keep order during an important event. When the expected train came in, I noticed that on the center car was the 18-pettle-Chrisanthium symbol of the Japanese royal family. The train stopped; the door above the symbol opened and there stood the emperor. This was part of MacArthur’s plan to let the Japanese people know that the emperor was just a human being. I had my camera with me and after handing my arms to one of our unit I made my way towards him. Taking a picture of the emperor when he was still a god would get your head cut off. As I approached, he turned and looked at me. I have a pretty good picture of him as a result.
In 1951 I was told I was being assigned to Austria to participate in the occupation of that country. So, I began studying German. Of course, as a native English speaker, your native language is actually German with a heavy overlay of French. During my service there I could attend night classes. We also had a maid and spoke German with her.
Q: Were you posted in Vienna?
HA: No, we were in Salzburg. At the end of our posting, on my way out of the country, I was standing on a railway platform waiting for a train and a local paid me the compliment of asking me whether I were Dutch.
Q: Where did you go next?
HA: From 1955-1958 I was at Harvard University as an ROTC instructor. So, as a member of the Harvard faculty, I attended faculty meetings of the college of arts and sciences. The dean was McGeorge Bundy, whose father was one of Roosevelt’s cabinet secretaries and who wrote a book about Secretary of State and War Stimson. Whenever a faculty member died, it was custom to appoint a committee of three to prepare a “minute” in appreciation for the life and work of the deceased. When finished, it was placed on the agenda of a future meeting of the College faculty, at which it would be read. They were always instructive and beautifully written. Following reading, Bundy would rule that the minute…be accepted with thanks, and “spread upon the record.” It was an expression I had never heard before and brought to my mind the spectacle of a nervous young school boy turning over his ink well and watching – in horror – as the contents spread upon his copy book.
Interestingly, just a few months ago I found use of the term in a tribute to my father from the Dexter Avenue Methodist Church in Montgomery Alabama after he passed away.
In 1958-1959 I attended the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. It was during that one-year course that I was told I was being assigned to the attaché service.
The place I was to go was Saigon. In preparation for this, I went to the Army Language School in Monterrey, California later in 1959 to study Vientnamese. Linguistically, there were two categories of Vietnamese people. The majority of them spoke Vietnamese all the time and no other language. Vietnamese is a tonal language as is Chinese. But all of the upper class Vietnamese studied and spoke French.
Q: So you learned Vietnamese in Monterrey.
HA: Yes, I studied Vietnamese for about eight months. Then in the Spring of 1961 I got this telephone call from my handler in Washington. “Hey Amos,” he said, “you know that Vietnamese you have been studying? You can forget it. You’re not going to Saigon; you’re going to Cambodia.” But the diplomatic language in Cambodia was French and I already had some French. Even before I was told I was not going to Saigon, I knew I wanted to speak French, even though it was politically incorrect. Throughout French Indo-China, all of the doctors, lawyers, teachers, architects studied in France and if truth be known, they preferred to speak French.
Q: Were you able to get more French in Monterrey?
HA: Well, I went over to talk to the head of the French department and told him that I wanted to be able to use French. He took me on, tutoring me during the lunch hour. When the change in orders came reassigning me to Cambodia, I was officially transferred to the French department, even as I completed training in Vietnamese. As a result, I have a nice picture of myself receiving two diplomas from the commandant of the Army Language School.
Q: Did you study more languages after that?
HA: While I was in Cambodia, I learned to speak some Cambodian. I was the assistant military attaché for two years there starting in 1961. My wife and two children accompanied me on that tour. It was all very pleasant. Politically, the North Vietnamese were pressuring the Cambodian government to use the border areas to transport people and materiel along the border.
Q: So, by the early 1960s, you have accumulated language proficiency in five, six or seven languages. Let’s change gears. Tell us how you got to Arlington.
HA: We got to Arlington because I was assigned to the Pentagon. After my first tour in Vietnam, in 1966, I worked for the Army General Staff for about two years. I had one of those officially sanctioned positions reserved for military officers, as opposed to civilians who were the norm.
Q: You bought a house in Arlington?
Q: The kids were in elementary school?
HA: We lost our first child to heart trouble. We have two sons and a daughter we adopted. She was the daughter of an Austrian girl and an American Sargent. The child came with us back to Washington in the non-quota visa category. It was when we were at Harvard that we put through the official adoption and she became an American citizen, though for some time she retained her Austrian citizenship, too. All three kids went to high school here in Arlington.
Q: Did they all become adept at languages?
HA: The daughter did, yes. You know the “guess who’s coming to dinner” moment? In her case it wasn’t an Afro-American; it was an Iranian. She is quite good, because she speaks excellent Farsi. She talks with her husband’s family in Teheran on the telephone all the time. They have two daughters and they speak Farsi, too. One of them moved to northwest Massachusetts and I advised her to register with the police and fire department, in case there is a Farsi speaker in need there.
Q: Did your sons learn languages, too?
HA: A little bit, but not really.
Q: Let’s now turn our attention to the Arlington Sister City Association (ASCA). How did you become aware of ASCA?
HA: This was after I had retired from the Army in 1975. We had been living here for nearly 20 years and I was self-employed as a financial advisor. I was aware of Sister Cities International. I also knew John McCrackin, who went to church with us for a while. I knew that John was involved with ASCA.
Q: This was in the 1990s.
HA: That’s right. ASCA started then and John McCrackin was at its center. A small group was then participating and they met at his house. So, though I knew of ASCA, I had no connection to it.
Meanwhile, I had for a long time been a member of a French conversation group. We are still involved in it. In 1997, when ASCA was about four or five years old, someone called me at home to ask whether ASCA had a relationship with any French-speaking country. I didn’t know and promised to find out, so I called John McCrackin, who told me that they wanted to have one. We batted some ideas around—Marseilles came to mind, but quickly dismissed out of hand as inappropriate for Arlington. John asked me if I were interested in working on establishing a relationship and I replied that, yes, I guess I was interested, if it were with a French-speaking country. He invited me to come to ASCA meetings to help plan for this eventuality.
Meantime, a member of the Aachen city partnership committee for Arlington had developed an interest that, like Aachen, Arlington, too, should have a connection to Reims. The proposal was to develop a triangular relationship. There was discussion about this during the ASCA meetings at John McCrackin’s house. Finally, I said: “would it hurt if someone of us just went over to Reims?” We already knew someone in Reims—Gabrielle Nguyen—who was interested in advancing the cause of sister cities there. So I went over in the spring of 1998 by myself and received excellent hospitality for the three days I was there, including an introduction to the mayor in his office. But nothing came of the idea of a relationship just then. The mayor had, in fact, already written to his Aachen counterparts with the message that Reims already had four sister cities and was not contemplating more. That said, “we are always happy to have additional contact.” So, that was the basis on which we went forward. In 2000, I organized an adult group visit to Reims.
Q: Was this Mayor Schneiter?
HA: No, this was his predecessor, Mayor Jean Falala, who was into his third term by then. We learned later that Gabrielle was Falala’s mistress. The next year, 1999, Peggy and I went over, because we had been invited as official guests to attend the opening of their music festival—Les Flanneries Musicales. The program started with a serious piece of music in the Reims basilica. We were again treated handsomely. This time we made contact with the French leader of the Reims-Aachen exchange. They were interested in general in developing something with us, but from a political point of view in France and Reims, no one took these overtures too seriously unless and until there were funds in the city budget. Mayor Falala’s health declined and he died, a gap that City Council member Schneiter filled in an interim capacity until his own election to the post. On the other hand, in 2001 we had the first student exchange.
Q: How did you pull the exchange together?
HA: You know Libby Schollaert?
Q: Yes. She is one of your successors as ASCA Reims Committee president and an ASCA board member now.
HA: Libby and I go to the same church and sometimes that helps, because you get to see people. Libby and I shared an interest in the exchange. Libby taught French at Yorktown High School, though she is retired now. She told me one day that she had an appointment with the cultural attaché at the French embassy and would I like to go with her. By this time I had some information. When we went to see him we told him that what we were interested in doing right then was establishing an exchange of high school level students. At that time, the Arlington Reims committee was not really formed. It was something we were working on. So in 2001 we had a first exchange of French students. They were exclusively drawn from Lycee Marc Chagall. For many years our French students came from that school. When we sent students to Reims, they were drawn from different schools in Arlington.
One of the great pictures I have is set in New York City. We were on a boat on our way to visit the Statue of Liberty. In this picture I had taken are the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. The attack on 9/11 through off plans for a return visit by Arlington students for a time.
Q: How many students came from Reims.
HA: There were 35. Plus three chaperones. One interesting sidelight: there is a hostel in New York City. I made arrangements for people to sleep there. There was plenty of barracks-like accommodation for the students, but things got mixed up. No real arrangements were made for the accompanying adults. There were two women from France and one man. And there was Amos. We were then shown to the room we were going to have. I felt, surely, the two women would not object to sleeping in the same bed together. But no, they grabbed the two bunk-beds. So I had to tell my wife that I had gone to New York and spent the night with a Frenchman named François. My sons have never let me forget that. (laughter) On top of that, with all our preoccupation with accommodation, we hadn’t made arrangements to eat, and the only practical solution was a MacDonald’s. “You have come 3,000 miles to eat fast food,” I said.
Q: This must have been in the spring of 2001.
HA: That’s right. And 9/11 intervened and Schneiter had not yet been elected or had just been elected, so that it was already 2004 by the time under Mayor Schneiter’s leadership we then came back to talking about a formal relationship. The discussion about that actually started at the Charlemagne Peace Prize (Karlpreis) festivities in Aachen. Attending these festivities was Schneiter on his first official trip outside of France. By this time, we were good friends with the chairman of the Riems-Aachen committee, the Frenchman, Stephane Dedieu. He was really pulling for us. According to the story, while Schneiter was in Aachen, and Dedieu was there as well and managed to get Schneiter and Aachen mayor Jürgen Linden into a conversation: well, what about a relationship with Arlington? From that point, the project began to form. Also by then, the Arlington Reims committee had taken shape and I was chairing it. We had begun meeting on our own and no longer at John McCrackin’s home. But John had worked hard on it, too.
Q: So you had formed the committee by 2002?
HA: On my visit to Reims in 2000, I said we would like to come over as a group. They welcomed us and most of the people on that visit were associated with the committee. By 2003, the committee had become formalized and about eight people were actively associated. What we had been waiting for was some signal from the French, from the people in Reims that they were interested in having a formal relationship with Arlington.
The process of getting to our memorandum of understanding reminded me of my work in the embassy. Through my fax machine I was dealing with the chief of protocol in Reims. The event that brought it all together were the ceremonies in Reims to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the city of Reims by American forces. So we went with a group of about eight or nine. First we attended the liberation ceremonies. Then we did the signing of our agreement. Barbara Favola was the chair of the Arlington County Council and represented Arlington at the government level, with Mayor Schneiter signing for Reims. Then, the next year, 2005, a delegation of about nineteen from Reims came to Arlington and we re-signed the document. The place chosen was the porch of Arlington House.
Q: The Custis house?
HA: Yes, and it later became the Lee mansion. In Arlington National Cemetery.
Q: Can you recall who some of the people were who took part in the 2004 signing in Reims?
HA: I know that Muriel Dominguez was with us. Mike Ely was there.
Q: And of course, Barbara Favola…
HA: We couldn’t call ourselves a sister city until the city governments agreed. Arlington County Council member Jay Fisette was particularly interested in seeing it come about. When the item came up on the County Board agenda, I attended the meeting. We knew it was going to pass, but when the meeting was over, Jay Fisette came to me and said, “well, you have been working on this for a long time; we are glad to see that it came to pass.”
Q: This was in the spring of 2004?
HA: It had entered an intense phase in late 2003. The ceremonies in Reims occurred in the autumn of 2004. So, I have been involved from 1997 when I received that inquiry about a sister city with a French-speaking country until now. I served four terms on the ASCA board of directors. I think I suggested that my status become emeritis. Peggy’s health has been a major concern lately, so I haven’t been able to be as active as previously, but I am still a member of ASCA.
Q: We do think of you in that way!
HA: I am comfortable with a voice and seat, but no vote, as they say in the Episcopal Church.
Q: So, you were associated with the ASCA board from about 2000?
HA: Yes, but what you need to understand is how amorphous the organization was at that time.
Q: Talk about that.
HA: When John McCrackin died, the leadership fell into the hands of Jim Rowland. At the same time, Sandy MacDonald had become the secretary of the association. There was an incident that caused an upheaval. Jim had many talents, but he lacked skill at running an organization like ASCA. And at that time ASCA required someone to bring some order to it. He would arrive without an agenda and all sorts of things. In this context, an anonymous letter came to Sandy MacDonald with allegations of inappropriate behavior by Jim Rowland—that he had consumed too much alcohol or something like that. Sandy had the understanding that she needed to something about it. Reacting to this situation, the board removed Jim Rowland from the chairmanship of ASCA and went on to expel him from the association. I went along with that and it’s the one thing in all those years that I regret. I was totally wrong to vote to expel Jim Rowland from ASCA on the basis of an anonymous letter. Someone that doesn’t have guts enough to sign a letter about a problem doesn’t deserve standing. But I agreed that he should not have been board chairman; it was simply not his nature.
My take on ASCA as an organization was informed by a 30 year career in a somewhat rigid organization. First of all, it should not have met in someone’s home. Records should be kept. Just the normal attributes of organizations. My thought was and remains that this thing will either become a true organization, or it will die away. ASCA must become an organization to succeed. And people need to understand what the place of committees is in it. ASCA is still working on that. ASCA is still not a truly mature organization. That said, they have come a long way in my opinion.
I was president of the ASCA-Reims committee for about seven years. Charles Daris succeeded me in 2008. He had problems with the new ASCA chairman, van Newkirk and with people in the county administration about communication regarding activities with Reims.
One of the issues leading to the trip to Reims in 2004 had been a protocol matter. Barbara Favola had never met the mayor of Reims. From a protocol point of view, I knew that before she sat down to sign a document with him, she should call on him, so they would know who this person was.
The leader of SisterBike, Bernie Chapnick, is a guy with talent. He also served for awhile as president of the Aachen committee. But he struck me as odd. I took umbrage at his criticism of the United States in our meetings. He attempted to take over the visit in 2004. During all the time we were attempting to come to agreement about the details of the trip, he was involving himself in it, writing messages to the deputy mayor along with his buddy associate with Aachen’s Reims committee. It never occurred to him that what was going on in the Reims committee was none of his business. By this time, I had established an organization for the Reims committee that he didn’t have for Aachen. One time he asked me at a meeting “where do you get all these people?” You organize; you invite people; you recruit people. That’s how you get them. He’s good at SisterBike. That’s his thing. And I wish I could go with him some time.
Q: It sounds like you are describing a trope, a broader pattern in ASCA—interested parties outside the committees desiring to direct the committees in one way or another.
HA: Yes, the broader reality was that ASCA was still evolving as an organization, and the functions of the committees were not clearly defined. This fundamental concept was foreign to some of the original members. This was evident in Rowland’s efforts to preside over ASCA as a whole. The problem came up again at the time of Daris’ departure as President of the Arlington-Reims Committee; there, in the absence of clear guidelines for the choice of a successor to Daris, there began a campaign by one member to politic with the Board of Directors to be appointed President of the committee. I stepped back to end that by getting agreement that I would stay long enough to bring order to the question of succession. As President once more of Arlington-Reims, I proposed an addition to ASCA by-laws making clear that succession was a question to be decided by the Committee concerned…not as the result of politicking with the Board. After review by the Board, the concept was accepted and the by-laws changed. I am pleased with the handling of this question in this way. It marked one more step in ASCA’s evolution to the status of an organization. There is still work to do.
We tried to convey to Bernie that regardless of conversations with the deputy mayor in Reims or his friend in Aachen, the invitation from Reims came to us—to Barbara Favola and to ASCA’s Reims committee. Against advice she was getting from the Aachen committee to spend most of her time in Aachen, I counseled Barbara to be in Reims at least a couple of days in advance of the signing in order to accomplish the important protocol task. Then there was the question of dress. For one of the ceremonies, everybody was dressed up; I was in my uniform. The SisterBike director showed up on his bike looking like a refugee.
Q: I am curious about the other programs you launched. You got an exchange between students from Lycee Marc Chagall and Arlington off the ground. What other notable programs would you like to mention?
HA: At the request of Reims, I was also able to bring about an exchange between the girls Catholic high schools in Reims and Arlington.
But the program that interests me the most is conceiving and organizing two separate events to mark the 85th and 90th anniversaries of the “ceremony of choice”, which took place in the City Hall of the city of Chalons, about 30 miles from Reims, on October 24, 1921, at which the body of the American Unknown Soldier of WWI—the body now buried in Arlington National Cemetery—was chosen. Thus, Chalons 85 was held in Arlington National Cemetery in October 2006, and Chalons 90 five years later
On one of my trips to Reims I became interested in the historians of Reims. Reims has a historians office. I discovered from them that they had insight into the story of the American unknown soldier while the body was still in France. We know all about it after it got to the United States, because it was buried in Arlington on Armistice Day, 1921. But what happened beforehand? How did the President of the United States and the Secretary of War decide to designate an unknown soldier? At the time, the chief of staff said “we have 1300 people we can’t identify. Why pick one?” But the French and the British had already established one. The French unknown is buried beneath the Arche de Triomphe; the British is buried in Westminster Abbey. The Americans finally decided to do the same. One of the last things that President Wilson did was to sign the directive calling on the Army to do this.
I became very interested in this story. Through the historians of Reims I met the historians of Chalons. The choice of the American unknown soldier from four identical caskets took place in the city hall of Chalons. The people of that city were delighted by my interest, but those in Reims less so, and the people back here not at all interested. My military background certainly played a role in my own interest. Though I knew there was an unknown soldier, that’s all I knew.
Q: How did you develop the project?
HA: I began to advocate for it. Not many were interested. The US Army was interested, but ASCA, even the Reims committee, would rather work on something else. When we realized there was support for it at Arlington National Cemetery and at Arlington’s historical society, I was able to organize Chalons-85. Five years later I organized Chalons-90. I told Major-General Lennington, commander of the Washington military district, that since in 2010 the chances were statistically good chances that I would live another year, I saw no reason not to organize Chalons-90. Both events were incredible successes. Success came from the fact that the story itself was previously as unknown as the identity of the unknown himself. In Chalons-90 I particularly had the support of the West Point class of 1980. A major, one of the first female graduates of West Point, had been operating the organization American War Memorials Overseas. She had worked for the Battle Monuments Commission, a federal agency. She organized American War Memorials Overseas (AWMO) as a 501(C)(3) entity and was busy cataloguing all the war memorials set up by various units, such as regiments. They are all over France. In my correspondence to her, I asked if she knew of any 1980 classmates in the Washington area that might be interested in attending this ceremony we were already planning. It was going to be very much like the one we had done five years earlier. She sent a list of eight people, three of whom were major-generals now helping to run the Army. One of them was the Army’s liaison to Congress, another was the Army Secretary’s PIO guy, and the third one, Lemington, commander of the military district of Washington. He owned all of the troops and facilities from Arlington National Cemetery. That made all the difference. I don’t know if you have seen the brochure I wrote for Chalons-90.
Q: I haven’t seen it.
HA: I will send you a copy. It has a picture of my father, justified because when you are talking about the unknown soldier you are really talking about World War One. There is also a picture of the sergeant who chose the unknown. In the city hall in Chalons he was given a bouquet of white roses and invited to walk around the four identical caskets and when he felt he had the right one, he was to place the bouquet on the casket he selected. The roses came from the garden of somebody living in Chalons. We don’t have that person’s identity. That bouquet became an icon. Every time the casket was moved, the bouquet was moved with it. The casket itself, as part of the ceremony, was taken to a separate place and was opened. There were six Americans present and one of their tasks was to determine whether this person died from a gunshot wound or from disease. We wanted only someone who died of a gunshot wound. When they were satisfied, the casket was sealed and placed in another casket and then into a third. It was then loaded onto an artillery caisson. It was about a mile from the city hall to the train. The senior American and the mayor of Chalons at that time walked with the casket as they processed from the city hall to the train station. The senior American general—his name was Allen—was carrying the bouquet. According to a newspaper report, when they got to the train station, he took one of the flowers from the bouquet for himself; he took a second one and gave it to the mayor of Chalons. Then he gave the entire bouquet to the mayor of Chalons and asked him to put the bouquet back on top of the casket, which was by this time was in the special train. When we were planning the Chalons 85 ceremony, we attempted to replicate that. We went out to talk to the superintendents of the Cemetery. As historians themselves, they were very happy to let us do whatever we wanted.
We said that we would like to lay the wreath on top of the tomb. The Superintendent said that that was good history, but there was a logistical problem: the tomb is 8 feet tall…hardly appropriate to carry a ladder and climb on top to lay the wreath. So we came up with a wonderful solution. The bouquet of white silk roses would be laid at the base of the tomb. In the fading light it movingly evokes all that comes to mind: the smallness, the loneliness, the silence, set against the beauty, the immensity, the simple honor, so often rendered as we the living attempt to do justice to the memory.
Q: When did Chalons-90 take place?
HA: Chalons 90 took place in Arlington National Cemetery on October 26, 2011, in two phases: at the tomb of the Unknown, and at the grave of Sgt. Younger, next to his wife, in Section 18. Sometime in 2010, I said to myself, “You know, Amos, there’s a good statistical chance that you will live another year—despite being already 87—to 2011, which will make five years since Chalons 85; so, why not organize Chalons 90?
So I told Karl van Newkirk, then Chair of ASCA, in late 2010, what I planned. Then in January 2011, I wrote to the mayor of Chalons, inviting him to be our guest of honor at Chalons 90 in October 2011. Since Deputy-Mayor Bourg Broc had been with us at Chalons 85, the first Chalons official to visit Arlington Cemetery and view the resting place of the unknown since it left Chalons in 1921, I was not certain that he would accept the invitation. However, about two months later, Bourg Broc’s acceptance arrived in the mail. It was very friendly, stating how happy he would be to join us again, remembering what an honor it had been to be present at Chalons 85. [In addition to being Mayor, Broc represents his region in the French national assembly, France’s “House of Representatives,” in Paris. This is indicated by the hyphen between Deputy and Mayor.] Having just been reelected to both positions, he occupied a rather high position on the national political scene.
after I had received Bourg Broc’s acceptance and had invited our Reims-Arlington counterpart Arnauld Desplanques and a delegation from Reims-Arlington, I was able to get a conference with Arlington’s Reims committee president and president-designate. When they realized the extent of my planning, they were not amused, to say the leastand made it clear that Arlington-Reims would have nothing to do with the event, and would not let me use the committee name in connection with the event. Of course I was out of order, but knew at that point that I had two choices: either call it off, and do the unthinkable of withdrawing the accepted invitation of a very high ranking French political figure, or continue. It being in my nature not to quit, I pressed on. Arlington-Reims committee member Michael Ely saw me at church and asked how planning for Chalons 90 was going, saying he had heard there was opposition. Using a military analogy, I said “yes we have run into light small arms fire, but the points are taking care of it…we are continuing to advance, and expect to seize the high ground before October.” And that is what happened—in spades!
At this point, the organization American War Memorials Oversears (AWMO), located in Paris, enters the story. In 2009 there was an article in ARMY Magazine about the activities of AWMO written by its founder, Major Lillian Pfluke, USA (Ret.) Soon after, I learned that Lillian was a graduate of the US Military Academy at West Point, Class of 1980, the first class to include women. Concerning AWMO, I was interested in the possibility of some joint project with Arlington-Reims. Later in 2009 I visited Reims and Chalons, the latter to consult the Chalons archives. Arnauld Desplanques drove me to Chalons, where to my surprise the Mayor had prepared a short, moving ceremony in my honor. After the playing of the national anthems, we laid a wreath at the foot of the wall in the great hall of the City Hall, just where the casket chosen by Sgt. Younger in 1921 had rested. As I looked up on the wall above the wreath, I saw two plaques, one in French, the other in English. They had been hung on July 4, 1939 to mark the spot where the casket of the Unknown had stood, this in a ceremony attended by the US ambassador to France. Following the honors, I returned to the Mayor the major portion of the bouquet of white silk roses he had laid at the Tomb at Chalons 85.
I was immediately interested in seeing copies of the plaques here in the US, which I began to refer to as “The Plaques of Chalons.” Then it occurred to me that bringing the plaques here could be a high-point of Chalons 90, so with the permission of the Mayor of Chalons, Lillian rode out to Chalons on her motor bike and photographed the plaques. These were transmitted to me electronically, and I had them enlarged and framed. They were on display at the reception and, as part of the program, the Mayor of Chalons was asked to present the plaques to the Commander of the US 3 Infantry Regiment, stationed at Ft. Myers, base of the sentries who guard the Tomb around the clock. The copies were then autographed on the back by members of the wreath party and now hang in the Tomb Guards’ ready room, under the amphitheater at the Tomb.
Chalons 90 was planned to be essentially the same as Chalons 85 had been five years previous. However, then very late in our planning for Chalons 90, I was told by my brilliant engineer, French-speaking West Point classmate that he could not participate by reading the letter Sgt Younger had written to say that health problems would prevent him from participating in the ceremony. Our reaction to this problem turned out to be a true example of making “virtue of necessity.” The Commander of 3 Infantry had asked that some enlisted member of the Tomb Guards participate. So, he proposed Sergeant First Class Chad Stackpole, of the Tomb Guard Platoon, and who had an excellent speaking voice, to stand at the foot of Sergeant Younger’s grave, and read his letter. This was then followed by a reading of the letter in French translation, by our friend Arnauld Desplanques, President of Reims-Arlington. Nothing could have been more appropriate.
In 2011. There are still things to be done. Some place needs to be designated to hold the story of the unknown soldier. The natural solution is the regiment. Regiments go on forever. The Third Infantry Regiment is one of the great regiments. They are the people to keep that story.
Q: And one other place to keep it is at the Arlington Sister City Association.
HA: Exactly! I hope that ASCA will have a place to keep its memorabilia. I think that ASCA will live on. Perhaps Marymount College is the right choice. That’s something for ASCA to think about. The idea of sister cities is a good idea. There are not many good ideas in the world. Of those that are good, not all are practical.