Arthur Bates Sawyer
October 1 1916
If you were to ask most patrons of American Legion Arthur Sawyer Post 28 who the Post is named for, it is likely their eyes will glaze over as they struggle to come up with an answer.
No explanation for the Sawyer moniker adorned the walls of the Stock Island meeting place, nor did any portrait peer out at customers as they sat at the bar.
It was a state of affairs that had existed for decades. It was fixed on Veterans Day 2013.
Arthur Sawyer Post 28 American Legion Commander John Dick
hangs an old portrait of Arthur Sawyer, the first Key West resident
to die in World War I. PHOTO BY MIKE HENTZ/The Citizen
Even with the photo hung, there was little known of the Post’s namesake. A request sent to the National Archives request early 2015 helped provide some details.
Born on the 4th of July 1897 in Key West, Arthur was an electrician before enlisting in the Marines in 1916 as a machine gunner. He was stationed in Key West for a year before shipping out to France, arriving in France February 25 1918. Arthur died June 8 1918 in Battle of Belleau Wood of machine gun fire. He was the first of twelve Key West native sons in the USMC to die during the Great War – a great toll for such a small island.
When Arthur was memorialized in 1918 in Key West, the Patriotic Order Sons of America held a service at the Harris School. According to the local paper, it was one of the most impressive services ever held in the city and the building was filled with friends of Arthur and his family.
Prayers, scripture readings and vocal and instrumental selections took more than an hour.
The main speaker provided this brief bio of Arther:
“In the year of our Lord 1897, on the 4th day of July was born to Mr. and Mrs. Charles W. Sawyer, Arthur Bates Sawyer, a boy, born on the anniversary of our ‘Independence Day’ and who was destined to become a great soldier, and to die the death of a hero.
“He attended the public schools of this county having reached the eighth grade. He was an apt pupil and was loved by his teachers and classmates.
“When about eighteen years of age he ventured out into the world, and his efforts were being crowned with success in his lines of endeavor, when our government called for volunteers for service on the Mexican border. Arthur responded, and being an American who wanted action and plenty of it, he enlisted with the ‘Fighting Marines,’ and was in the service from this time until the time of his heroic death on the battle fields of France.
“After the American troops had been withdrawn from the (Mexican) border he was moved to Portsmouth, N,H., where he was promoted to Corporal. Being a bright pupil and a well drilled soldier, he was taken from his company at Portsmouth together with five other members and transferred to Utica, New York, where he was taught the operation of the great Lewis Machine Gun. After a short period, and upon his examination as to his knowledge of this marvelous fighting weapon, he broke the record, having dismantled and put together again this gun in five minutes and twenty-seven seconds, while blind folded. The best record made up to this time being six minutes. At this time he was again promoted to First Gun Sergeant. He was then detailed to instruct in the use of the Lewis Gun and for seven months was busily engaged learning others to use it. During this period he instructed five companies.
“He was given a short furlough before being sent across, and was with his parents in Key West during the last holiday season. On Jan. 10th Sawyer sailed for France, and from then no official record has been received. A letter to his mother at one time from Arthur stated that he had been several battles.
“From official reports there were seven men killed from his company on the day of his death, and it is supposed that his entire gun crew of seven were wiped out at this time.
“Truly, a glorious record of Key West boy; truly a glorious death for a Key West boy to die, the death of a Fighting Marine.
“Arthur was a devoted son to his parents and was ever solicitous about his mother. A letter received by her a short time before his death said; ‘don’t worry about me; keep a good heart I am coming home someday and, tell you all about it.’ Another letter received by his mother requested that he be sent religious tracts for distribution among his men, and, from that time on his mother always sent him religious literature.
“A letter from the war department to his mother and father announcing Arthur’s death, said, ‘We grieve with you. We have lost a good gunner, a good sergeant, and a good instructor. Your boy’s name is on the roll of honor and will never die.’
“Thus ends the chapter of a ‘Fighting, Marine.’
Arthur was was buried June 10th in France (see below), exhumed six years later and brought back to Key West for re-burial in the USS Maine plot by his parents and American Legion Post 28 (see below).
Arthur B. Sawyer
8th M-G Co. (8th Machine Gun Company) - 5th (Regiment) – (U.S.) Marines
According to Arthur’s great nephew, Marlow, Arthur’s parents, Charles W. Sawyer and Lula (Mears) Sawyer, built the residences at 324 and 326 William Street in Key West around 1897-1901. They moved after Arthur's burial to live in Tampa Bay, where they built a several houses, before moving on to Ashville, NC. They are buried in the 1st Methodist Church cemetery.
From other sources it is known that the Sawyers were part of an old Conch family of seafaring ship captains/
Arthur’s service records contained correspondence that was painful for Marlow to read 90 years later. All the respect that the staff of the Commandant of the Marine Corps could muster could not assuage the death by a thousand cuts his mother Lula endured via endless forms, notifications and administrivia for six long years after her son’s death in seeking Arthur’s return to his home island.
So, for this Memorial Day, let us all remember Arthur and his steadfast mother Lula.
Copyright © 2016 From My Isle Seat