Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Congressional Medal of Honor and Lowell Connections

With yesterday's announcement of Sgt. Ryan Pitts of Nashua, NH being selected as the latest recipient of the MEDAL OF HONOR I thought a rundown of past recipients with local connections was warranted. Sgt. Ryan Pitts was born in Lowell and served in Afghanistan in the U.S. Army 2nd Platoon, Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion Airborne, 503 Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne. The Congressional Medal of Honor is the highest award for combat valor

In the Hall of Flags at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium there is a plaque that was dedicated in 1952 to all the Lowell men who have are recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor. The plaque was updated with the addition of David H. McNerney, after the Vietnam War.

Here is the list of the Medal of Honor Recipients with Lowell connections:


Albert Ames - US Army at Bull Run, VA. Buried in Lowell at Hildreth Family Cemetery. Married General Benjamin Butler's daughter.

Eugene W. Ferris - US Army at Berryville, VA. Entered service from Lowell.

John C. McFarland - US Navy. Lowell resident. Has headstones in St. Patrick's, Edson and Lowell Cemetery. Wife and son are buried in St. Patrick's Cemetery.

Daniel J. Murphy - US Army at Harcher's Run, VA. Entered service from Lowell, MA.

Dennis J.F. Murphy - US Army at Corinth, Mississippi. Entered service from Lowell, MA.

Joseph Aton Sladen - US Army at Resaca, GA May 14, 1864. Entered service from Lowell, MA.

Joseph Swell Gerrish Sweat - US Army 6th Massachusetts Co. C at Carsville, VA. Entered service from Lowell, MA.

Joseph Taylor - US Army at Wendon, VA.. Lived in Lowell after Civil War. Buried in Edson Cemetery. I have a separate blog post about him.

Edwin Truell - US Army near Atlanta, GA. Entered service in Lowell. Buried in Arlington National Cemetery.


James F. Sullivan - US Navy. Peacetime. Saved sailor from drowning.

George Charette - US Navy. Born in Lowell 1867. Spanish American War in connection with the sinking of Merrimac in Santiago Harbor Cuba. Buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Square in Lowell in his honor.

Joseph R. Oullette - US Army Killed in Action in Korea. Born in Lowell. Buried at St. Joseph's Cemetery, East Chelmsford. Aiken Street Bridge is named in his honor.

David H. McNerney - US Army, Vietnam at Polei Doc. - born in Lowell.

Thank you Sgt. Ryan Pitts and all those Lowell men that came before you.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Rear Admiral Joseph Giles Eaton

In the Oakland Cemetery in Dracut lies the body of Rear Admiral Joseph Giles Eaton, his first wife, Mary Ann Varnum Eaton and his nine year old daughter Isabella Varnum Eaton. He was a war hero from the Spanish American War as the Commander of the USS Resolute during the battle in Santiago harbor. Yet he was buried here in haste with no military honors and only three so called mourners. One of them probably being the person that killed him.

Joseph Giles Eaton was born in Greenville, Alabama on June 29, 1847 to William Pierce Eaton and Sarah Brazier. He attended school in Lockport, NY, Union Academy in Worcester, MA and graduated sixth in his class from the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1867. He married Mary Ann (known as Annie) Varnum from Dracut in 1871. They had one child who tragically died from cerebral meningitis at age nine in 1883. The family lived in Washington, DC during most of his 39 years of Naval service. He retired in 1905.
 Isabella's grave at Oakland Cemetery in Dracut, MA

In 1906, Annie, the Admiral's first wife was very sick. They hired a private nurse, Jennie May (Harrison) Ainsworth to attend to her. She was a descendent of President William Henry Harrison and a cousin of President Benjamin Harrison. She was living apart from her estranged husband Daniel Henry Ainsworth a known drunkard. After Annie's death, the Admiral married  her nurse Jennie Ainsworth. If she was divorced from Ainsworth or not is of some question. The Admiral however gave her the money to complete the divorce.

For a time the couple along with his two step daughters lived a good life in Brookline, MA. He was a member of the Algonquin Club of Boston. He had a Navy pension of $15 a day which back then was very good. Rumor had it that the Admiral's wife was giving her ex-husband money without the Admiral's knowledge.

The family moved to Norwell with a summer home in Scituate. The old Admiral, 20 plus years older than his wife, adopted an infant after both pretending his wife was pregnant. Within a month the baby was dead. She accused him of poisoning the infant. An autopsy was done and no foul play was detected. Soon everyone knew the baby was not their biological son. The baby is buried at Union Cemetery in Scituate. The home in Norwell is now a real estate office but looks very similar to the farm house.

Assinippi Farm Norwell, MA - Courtesy Google Street View
The Admiral left the family for some time but they reunited. Their life was not the happiest. The Admiral may have taken to drinking. His wife was mentally unstable. His oldest step daughter got pregnant, had the baby and got married. Not to the baby's father. She was later divorced and committed to Taunton State Hospital living alongside Jane Toppan.

The Admiral turned up dead in his bed in March 13, 1913. He was sixty six years old. His second wife was suspect almost immediately. The funeral was stopped by the police. An autopsy was ordered from Harvard Medical School. She arranged his burial in the Oakland Cemetery in Dracut. He died of arsenic poisoning.
The Admiral's wife, step daughter Dorothy and newpapermen came on the train with the body to Lowell. The funeral director took them to Dracut's Oakland Cemetery. He was buried with his first wife and young daughter. No military honors - no flag on the casket - no Naval escort. The next day the police were convinced the wife poisoned her husband. She was arrested and spent seven months in a Plymouth jail until the trail.

Admiral Joseph Giles Eaton Headstone - Oakland Cemetery - Dracut, MA

After a sensational trial Mrs. Jennie Eaton was acquitted. She testified in her own defense. Most people thought she was guilty. Newspapers across the world carried news of the trial. On June 13, 1914 the Admiral's wife remarried her first husband Daniel Henry Ainsworth. She had inherited all the Admiral's assets. Her husband manages to get arrested seven times in the next year for drunkenness. Next Mrs. Jennie Ainsworth and her daughter Dorothy McMahon get arrested for leaving the second baby out of wedlock by her daughter Margie Ainsworth. They take the baby (which is not developing normally) and leave it on the steps of a doctor's office in Brookline, MA. The baby dies days later. They both served suspended sentences.

The entire Ainsworth and McMahon families move to Washington, DC and open a bread and breakfast near the Capitol and manage to stay out of the news for the rest of their lives.

Rear Admiral Eaton is noted in many newspapers and books as being a Medal of Honor Recipient but I can not find proof that he is. He has truly been forgotten by the unfortunate circumstances of his death. Please remember the Admiral and his naval service to our country.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

70th Anniversary of D Day - The Normandy Invasion - Jun 6-8, 1944

In Lowell on the morning of June 6th, 1944 the city's air raid sirens blared at 5:00 AM signaling the dawn of D-day. Thousands attended church services to pray. The largest sea based invasion in history was underway on the beaches of France. 

First Lt. John J. Shaughnessy was one of the first 11 boys to enlist in the Army from Lowell on November 9, 1940. During his service he was awarded the Purple Heart in the battle for Tunisia. He was killed in action June 6th during the Normandy invasion. He was the son of Mr. & Mrs. Edward (Anna O'Donnell) Shaughnessy of 1091 Gorham Street. A graduate of Sacred Heart and Lowell High School he was 26 years old. His body was returned to Lowell for funeral services on December 9, 1947. He is buried in St. Patrick's Cemetery.

Ironically, he was named after his uncle, John J. O'Donnell who was killed during World War One. The O'Donnell playground is named for him. John J. Shaugnessy Elementary school, also on Gorham street is named for the World War II hero.

One year after his death a poem written by his aunt, Sister Marcella of the Sisters of Mary, Binghampton, NY and published in the Lowell Sun:


Somewhere in France he is sleeping
Under sacred Normandy's moon
Our hero whose flower of manhood
Was shipped off for heaven last June.

There in the green of the hillside
They laid him beside his men;
Nothing shall shatter his slumber
No one shall hurt him again.

Winds sigh the chant of his requiem
Moonlight illumines his cross;
Soft helpless rain like our teardrops
Echoes the pain of his loss.

Yet his is the truest triumph,
Death brings the perfect peace.
The living will always be militant
Till life and its struggles cease.

We thank this family for their sacrifice and we remember.