One Hundred Years On, Wellesley Observes Veterans Day

Alden R. Ludlow, contract Archivist
November 11, 2018

November 11, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, observing the end of fighting during World War I. In the United States, Veterans Day is a day set aside for remembrance of those who died fighting for our country, as well as living veterans who have served in the armed forces. The occasion was first commemorated by President Woodrow Wilson on November 11, 1919.

The war had an impact on Wellesley and its residents, and the town was quick to establish organizations to support returning veterans, including American Legion Post 72. The American Legion was formed at the close of World War I as a service organization for veterans. The post was established by one of Wellesley’s more extraordinary residents, who had an impact on the town despite his short life, John Joseph “Jack” Early (1896-1921). The building allocated for the post was originally located at 492 Washington Street, where the Tolles Parsons Center is now located. The land and building had been purchased on behalf of the new Legion post by Isaac Sprague in 1922.

By all accounts, Jack Early was an extraordinary leader. He attended Wellesley public schools, then went into business as a stock messenger boy. He had an interest in the military and was an early volunteer for the U.S. Army in May 1917, as the war raged in Europe. He attended the Officer’s Training Camp in Plattsburgh, New York, where he was commissioned Second Lieutenant; he was among the youngest officers in the U.S. Army at that time.

In May 1917 he traveled to Camp Mills, where he joined the newly formed Rainbow Division, but then was assigned to the 166th Infantry Division and became Captain of Company L of the 3rd Division. He served with the 166th in Lorraine, France, and saw much action there; by all accounts he performed heroically and was awarded the Legion of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross.

In May 1918 he was promoted to Second Lieutenant, and later, in August 1918, he was assigned Adjutant of the 1st Battalion. In this capacity he served as a Summary Court Officer, as well as Officer in Charge of Civil Affairs and Inferior Provost Court for Rolandseck, Rolandswerth, and Unkelbach in Germany.

When the Armistice was signed in November 1918, Early was still at the front; he served with the Army of Occupation until May 1919. During this time, he attended a gathering of veterans which advocated for establishing a veterans’ organization; the American Legion was born from this meeting. Upon his return to the United States, he would establish Wellesley Post 72 of the American Legion and served as its first Commander. In addition to his Legion involvement, Early also got involved in town politics; in 1920 he was elected as a Wellesley Selectman, and was reelected in 1921 for a three-year term.

However, he would never finish his term. Early died in Ohio of a heart attack following a Rainbow Division reunion. It is likely this heart attack was brought on by complications from injuries and ailments he suffered relating to his war experience.

In preparing the American Legion Wellesley Post 72 Collection for research use, one of the highlights discovered was the original photograph album documenting the founding and early days of the Post. It contains many photographs of the original building, as well as photographs of the funerals of several notable Wellesley veterans who died during, or just after, the war. All photographs are annotated, and images include photographs of the early preparation and renovation of the original Legion Hall at 492 Washington Street, the Legion Womens’ Auxiliary Lawn Party in 1921, the Memorial Day parades of 1921 and 1922, and the funeral processions of Raymond Moore (1921), Jack Early (1921), and Joseph Ramponi (1922).

As we observe this solemn occasion, we can reflect on the central role veterans have taken in our community since the end of the war 100 years ago. We thank veterans, past and present, for their service, not only in the military, but also, like Jack Early, for their service to their communities and veterans’ organizations.

The American Legion Post 72 Collection was processed with generous grant support from the Wellesley Community Preservation Commission (CPC) and the Massachusetts’s State Historical Records Advisory Board (SHRAB). In addition to the Post 72 Collection, the Wellesley Historical Society also holds the Early Family Papers, which includes the wartime correspondence of Jack Early, as well as other documents relating to his life.