Casualty of World War I Joins the Honored Dead 88 Years After His Sacrifice
Pvt. Francis Lupo was buried again yesterday. This time he'll get a headstone of white marble. Soldiers of the Army's Old Guard carried his coffin up a gentle slope and set it down on polished rails above his grave. A chaplain commended his soul to God. Three rifle volleys sounded, and taps floated on the Indian summer breeze.
Then it was over, and the young soldiers of the burial detail marched off. The few dozen people who had come to pay their respects at Arlington National Cemetery milled by the coffin and chatted in reverent whispers. And after a while they drifted away. So long. Rest in peace.
He has been dead for a good lifetime, 88 years. Killed at 23 on a French battlefield in World War I, hastily buried in a shell crater, he was lost. And as years went by and he stayed lost, probably everyone he knew passed away. Another world war, far more cataclysmic, marred the century, and in time the war Lupo fought dimmed in the national consciousness.
The face of a missing doughboy, serial No. 1941919, faded, too.
"Just to be able to bring one of our own home, finally, and give him the honors he deserves is a great thing," said Sgt. Maj. John Fourham, the top noncommissioned officer in the Army's 1st Infantry Division, in which Lupo served.
An accident of archaeology retrieved him from obscurity. His bones turned up during a routine survey for ancient artifacts before a construction project in the farm fields near Soissons, 55 miles northeast of Paris. The Defense Department lab that analyzed his partial skeleton -- and the remains of another, still nameless doughboy -- said Lupo is probably the longest-missing U.S. soldier ever recovered and identified.
Fourham said he spoke briefly with Rachel Kleisinger, 73, a niece of Lupo's who received the tri-folded American flag that draped his coffin. "I just wanted to thank her for the service of Private Lupo," he said.
Lupo was a little fellow, physically and figuratively. He was 5 feet tall (if that), an immigrant laborer's son, barely educated, an $8-a-week newspaper deliveryman when the world went up in flames. It wasn't his fault. He was in Cincinnati at the time.
But he wound up caught in the inferno, anyway.
It's doubtful he understood the forces of politics and human nature that doomed him -- the tangle of European alliances, the militarism and ethnic animosities, the greed, grudges and vanities that led the continent to war in 1914. What did any of that have to do with Francis Lupo?
In just over four months in 1916, along the Somme River, more than 300,000 men were killed. But that was in France; it wasn't Lupo's fight. And President Woodrow Wilson vowed to keep the United States out of it.
German provocations changed the nation's mind, though. In April 1917, Congress declared war and told Lupo's generation to wage it -- to train, sail to France and end the murderous stalemate in the trenches east of Paris.
"It is so amazing to know that this soldier was so young," said Sgt. Maj. Frederic Plautin of the French army, standing by Lupo's coffin yesterday. "Many French died in battle with him the same way, but they were in France. This American soldier was not in his country. So we really wish to share the grief and express our thanks for what he has done."
Building an American army big enough to tip the balance in France would take until well into 1918. The Kaiser's generals, meanwhile, had a victory plan of their own. In the East, Germany's war with czarist Russia ended with the Bolshevik Revolution, freeing many thousands of German soldiers to join the fight on the Western Front.
But the great wave of 1917 doughboy draftees won the race, pouring into France by the hundreds of thousands in the spring of 1918. Private Lupo arrived in March, in time for the Army's first large-scale offensive operation of the war, a French-led attack that eventually became known as the Second Battle of the Marne.
He was killed July 20, likely his first day in heavy fighting.
"He was there at the pivotal moment, I believe," said Andrew E. Wood, a research historian at the 1st Division Museum in Illinois. He flew in for yesterday's service and stood in the shade by the coffin after the soldiers had gone, as the people drifted away.
"From that point on, for the rest of the war, the Allies only gained ground, and the Germans only retreated," Wood said. The armistice was signed in November.
The Old Guard buried him with all its solemn pomp. But he was just a newsboy from Ohio who went where he was told to go.
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