Offices & Resources

St. Markers in Military Service: A Long and Proud Tradition


John Warren
Chapel Talk
January 3, 2018


Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms.

--The First Epistle of Peter, Part 4, Verse 10



Every day every one of us walks the hallways of the Main Building, and at least twice a week we spend time in this space, Belmont Chapel. If you are anything like me, you have at least a passing familiarity with what is displayed on the walls of these spaces, however you do not engage regularly in a close study of what you see there. The walls really do tell a story, a story about St. Mark's and a story about leadership and service.

One of the stories these walls tell is about the military service of generations of our graduates and other members of the School community. The opening sentence of our mission statement, "St. Mark's School educates young people for lives of leadership and service," has been true for many years, and the more than 1,500 St. Markers who have been involved in the military is an example of this service.

Conversations with students and adults about the photographs and plaques that commemorate the military service of St. Mark's alumni and other members of the School community, piqued my desire to know more about the stories the commemorations tell. This Chapel talk is the result of this desire, and I hope that you, knowing a bit more, will be prompted to pause in front of the photographs and plaques to reflect on the lives and sacrifices of these men and women. Mr. Noble has provided information next to many of the commemorations which are a great resource. For those of you who want to know even more, you should take a look at Mr. Noble's history of St. Mark's, The Echo of Their Voices.

The first plaque commemorating military service that many of us notice is probably what we see outside the entrance to the Dining Hall which honors St. Markers who served in the Spanish-American War. The plaque contains the names of the 36 graduates who served in that war, with the names of the two St. Markers who died in the war appearing at the top.

So, what are we to make of this substantial number of St. Mark's alums who served in the Spanish-American War? The impression I get, which I would argue also holds true for World War I, World War II, and the Korean War, is that during this time period signing up for wartime service is just what you considered your duty if you graduated from a school like St. Mark's. People needed help, whether Cubans and Filipinos being liberated from Spanish colonialism in the case of the Spanish-American war, or British, French and Italians during World War I, and so forth, and the personal expectation from so many St. Markers was that they had a responsibility to provide that help, recognizing that death was a possible outcome. That attitude shifted with the Vietnam War. While St. Markers have continued to serve in the military since the 1960s, the numbers are smaller than before, and certainly smaller, as a percentage of the graduating classes, than before the 1960s.

In the Spanish-American War, Theodore Roosevelt, later to become United States President, answered that call at age 40, commanding a volunteer regiment known as the Rough Riders which included many friends and acquaintances. Eight St. Markers were part of that regiment. The Rough Riders received much publicity, in part because Roosevelt, already a well-known and charismatic public figure, brought along reporters, and because the regiment participated in a dramatic charge up a hill being held by the Spanish. Paintings and photographs and accounts by participants, including Roosevelt himself, have given the Rough Riders a lasting patriotic aura.

One of the eight St. Mark's Rough Riders was 20-year old George McMurtry of the Class of 1896. Twenty years later, engaged in a successful banking career, McMurtry once again answered the call to military service and enlisted in World War I. McMurtry's exploits earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest military award an American can receive. In October, 1918, McMurtry skillfully and courageously led his battalion of soldiers for six days while cut off from any other Allies and pinned down under heavy German fire. McMurtry and the other members of the so-called Lost Battalion refused the German demand for surrender. When reinforcements finally arrived, McMurtry helped lead 190 wounded and 194 able bodied soldiers to safety. 170 of the original 554 soldiers had died during those six days. You can learn more about this story in a February 2016 Leo article written by 2016 St. Mark's graduate Jack Wood.

Many remembrances of St. Markers' contributions to World War I exist on the walls around the School. In the foyer outside the Hinkle Room, you can find photographs of the 20 graduates who lost their lives in the two years the United States was involved in that war, 1917 and 1918. You can also find the names ofthose St. Markers on plaques to the left and to the right of the altar in Belmont Chapel, and you can find the names of the almost 500 St. Markers who served in World War I etched into stone on the walls of what was originally Belmont Chapel's "Visitor's Aisle." Those of you sitting by the wall closest to the Front Circle can see those inscriptions in front of you and behind you.

As we learn from words etched into the stone above Belmont Chapel's front entrance, funds raised to honor the World War I service of this large number of St. Markers made possible the expansion of the original Chapel in the years immediately following the First World War. This expansion was necessary because of the increasing size of the student body. The expansion was achieved by cutting through the wall and foundations near the Chapel's Northern end (the end where I am standing), putting the northern end onto railroad tracks and moving that end toward Marlboro Road. The newly created space was filled in by walls and foundation and seating for the Choir. As part of the renovation, the altar was moved to its present location, here, from the Chapel's Northern end that is now the front door. So, in effect, the orientation of the Chapel turned 180 degrees.

The service of the more than 800 St. Markers who participated in World War II, 1941 to 1945, is acknowledged in a roster on the way to the servery that you might never have ever focused on. Created in the midst of the war, and added to as the war continued, the roster contains names of St. Markers from the Class of 1893 right up to the Class of 1946. Financial contributions in honor of those who served in World War II made possible the creation of new science facilities, which supported outstanding learning until further upgrades were made in the early 1980s.

Thirty-three graduates, and one faculty member, lost their lives in World War II. You can find plaques with their names to the left and the right of the altar here in Belmont Chapel. You can also find a photograph of each of the 34 in the Hinkle Room. I look at these photographs frequently and am inevitably moved by the fact that each of these graduates sat in these same pews, ate their meals in the same dining hall, and competed on the same athletic fields as you. I am also struck by how some of these graduates were not much older than you VI Formers when they died. Each of these St. Markers has a story, some of them absolutely heroic, which I invite you to explore in Mr. Noble's book.

Over 50 St. Markers participated in the Korean War, 1950 to 1953, and four of them died in that service. Those four are honored with a photograph in the foyer outside the Hinkle Room, and honored with a plaque in Belmont Chapel.

Over 50 St. Markers were also among the military who participated in the eight years of American combat action in Vietnam, 1965 to 1973, and one of those graduates died. That alum, who made the ultimate sacrifice, is memorialized too with a photograph in the foyer outside the Hinkle Room and with a plaque in Belmont Chapel.

You can also find, in the foyer outside the Hinkle Room, a small statue that commemorates the service of the 50 St. Markers who served in Vietnam. This statue is a replica of a statue erected in Washington D.C. in 1984, complementing a memorial wall that opened in 1982 which contains the names of each of the more than 58,000 Americans who lost their lives in that war or who are still missing.

The commemorations around the School to honor the military contribution of St. Mark's women is less substantial, due to historical circumstances, than the commemoration of the contribution of St. Mark's men. As a boys' school for much of its history the number of men who could serve is larger than the number of women. The possibilities for military service for women has also been less extensive until recent decades. Military service by St. Mark's women includes nursing, and more recently active duty in the Air Force and Navy.

The World War I service of Nurse Elizabeth Choate, a granddaughter of St. Mark's founder Joseph Burnett and therefore an honorary St. Marker, is commemorated in a plaque and photograph just to the right of the door to the Small Dining Hall. Elizabeth Choate volunteered to join a team of medical personnelwho went to Halifax, Nova Scotia, in December 1917, to attend to injuries caused by the collision of a French warship carrying 2,500 tons of TNT and a Norwegian freighter. "The resulting blast," according to the Washington Post, "was the biggest man-made explosion of the pre-atomicage...it devastatedthe busy port city, leveling more than a square mile of waterfront, killing more than 2,000 people and injuring 5,000 more, almost 12 percent of Halifax's population." Choate stayed in Halifax for several months after the explosion helping, primarily, victims blinded by flying glass. In later life, Elizabeth Choate, then Elizabeth Choate Spykman, wrote four widely read novels. She is buried in the Burnett Family Cemetery, across from Barton Field, the varsity baseball field.

The military career of Colonel Marjorie Slutz Davis, Southborough School Class of 1975, is honored in the Cloister of Distinguished Alumni, located on the first floor of the STEM Center. Davis served in the Air Force for 26 years, from 1984 to 2010. She developed a particular expertise in military logistics for soldiers in the field and in combatting cyber-attacks. This expertise led to a senior position supporting the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and service as a policy advisor to the Secretary of Defense.


Honoring individual St. Markers, over the generations, who lost their life while in military service has taken many forms. As one example, family and friends of Warren Winslow, Class of 1936, who died in a ship explosion in 1944, raised money in his name for Brantwood Camp. Since Winslow had a deep passion for Brantwood, serving as a counselor in 1935 and 1936, and then as the youngest Brantwood Camp Director ever, in 1937 and 1938, this memorial is so appropriate. The gifts funded the construction of a number of Brantwood's buildings, including the boys' gymnasium, and funded an endowment which, 70 years later, is worth over $5 million and funds 27 percent of the Brantwood Camp operating budget.

Another way friends and family have honored individual St. Markers who died during military service has been to create Prize Day awards. The Carleton Burr Rand Prize for Excellence in Journalism, is named in honor of a member of the Class of 1946, the Great Uncle of Summer, Paula and Frances Hornbostle, who lost his life in an airplane crash in 1951 just before finishing basic training and being deployed to Korea. A scholarship prize was created in honor of Henry Nichols Ervin, Class of 1936, awarded by vote of the faculty to the student who best exemplifies Ervin's qualities of extraordinary kindness. A fighter pilot, Ervin was lost over the Pacific in January 1943 in combat with the Japanese. The Douglas H.T. BradleeScholarship, is awarded by vote of the faculty to that student who best exemplifies particular qualities, described by his headmaster, William Brewster. Especially admirable, according to Brewster, "was not so much Douglas Bradlee's keen mind or frankness or his...physical courage or even his firm forthright moral courage; (rather) it was his spiritual strength." Bradlee, a member of the Class of 1946, died while leading a Marine assault in Korea in 1951.

To honor the service of Naval Officer Tristram Farmer, Class of 1984, whose plane crashed in the Atlantic in 1992, Farmer's family gave the School the flag that was flown over the Pentagon on February 21, 2014, to commemorate Farmer's ultimate sacrifice. Farmer's photograph, and the flag are on display in the Hinkle Room.

The impressive tradition of St. Mark's graduates serving in the military continues, for both males and females. Recent graduates, including David and Amy Vachris's daughter, and Gunnar and Taylor Vachris's sister, Maddie, have attended the Naval Academy, and also West Point, the Air Force Academy and the Coast Guard Academy. In addition, recent graduates are in active service, like Boyd Hall's brother Kyler, and in military training programs, like Gordon Walsh's sister Ginny, either as part of their college experience, or in lieu of college. For our South Korean and Singaporean graduates, since these countries typically require two years of military service for young males, a number are serving—or have served—in the Korean and Singapore military.

We are honored, as a school, by the number of St. Markers whose contributions to the military live out the first sentence of our mission statement. Although the statement itself, "St. Mark's educates young people for lives of leadership and service," only dates to 2008 when the Trustees adopted the current wording, the statement reflects a value the School has held since its founding.

Time has only allowed me to touch on some of the examples of St. Marker military leadership and service. There is so much more. For example, the plaques in the Cloister of Distinguished Alumni tell the stories of General William Knowlton, Class of 1938, and American Field Services leader Stephen Galatti, Class of 1905. Additionally, a plaque outside the Dean of Students' office provides an example of service on the home front by Violet Otis Thayer in support of soldiers in the field. Home front support by St. Markers, what people simply did during a war, could provide the subject for an entire Chapel Talk.

And participating in the military is only one of a myriad of ways that a St. Marker can lead a life of leadership and service. Pictures and plaques onthe walls around the School provide examples of many other ways graduates have embodied this value, for example, in the fields of medicine, environmental activism, education, the law, the arts, journalism, technology, and entrepreneurship.

I encourage you to pause at the many commemorations of St. Markers' military service because what you see is inspiring. I also encourage you to pause at the many commemorations of other kinds of leadership and service undertaken by members of our community because these are inspiring as well. And who knows, perhaps one of the commemorations will provide a model that you would like to follow.

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John Warren '74