Monday, November 10, 2014

A WWI Bravery Citation

In honor of Veteran's Day, I thought I would write about my great-grandmother's brother, Wilbur Flynn, who received a citation for bravery and devotion to duty. I wouldn't know anything about it except for a clipping from the Kalamazoo Gazette. The article said that risking his own life, Wilbur Flynn pulled Colonel Bertram Tracy Clayton from a wrecked building during a German air raid in World War I. [1] I was curious to learn more.

I began my search with Colonel Clayton. He served in the military for many years and when the United States entered World War I in 1917, Clayton was transferred to New York to be the second in command of the transport service. Dissatisfied, he requested to be sent to France to serve his country alongside the troops. [2] Clayton left for Europe in the fall of 1917 and served as the quartermaster of the U.S. First Division in France. [3]

American troops were sent to Europe in mid-1917, but no one was sure if the Doughboys could hold their own. It wasn't until the spring of 1918 that the Americans had a chance to really prove themselves. On May 27, 1918, the Germans began another offensive, thrusting through the Allied lines by about a dozen miles in the Somme region north of Paris. In the process the Germans demolished four French divisions. The following day, the Americans achieved a victory by retaking the town of Cantigny.

Now that the Americans were in front line trenches, it became problematic to keep them supplied. Colonel Clayton and three colleagues were in a brick villa just south of Cantigny discussing ways to transport drinking water to the troops when a German air raid began. [4] The bomb destroyed the portion of the villa where Clayton was meeting. [4] It was then that Flynn “displayed great coolness and good judgment in rescuing at the risk of his own life, Colonel Bertram Clayton. . . about May 28, 1918.” [1] I was grieved to learn that despite Flynn's efforts, Clayton died. According to the Arlington National Cemetery website, he was killed in action on May 30, 1918. [5]

In all of my searching I found nothing to tell me more about Wilbur Flynn in connection with Col. Clayton. Even though Flynn was unable to save Clayton's life, I'm proud that he tried. I'm also glad that I can publicize Flynn's effort, even though Clayton's family will probably never know.

  1. “Former Kazoo County Veteran Soldier Honored For Brave Act In France,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Gazette, 27 July 1921, page unknown. Clipping pasted into Clark, Mrs. O.H. An Honor Roll: Containing a Pictorial Record of the War Service of the Men and Women of Kalamazoo County, 1917-1918-1919. (Kalamazoo, Michigan, about 1920), p. 1031.
  2. “Col. B.T. Clayton Killed Tuesday In France By An Enemy Air Bomb,” The Montgomery [Montgomery, Alabama] Advertiser, 5 June 1918, Page 1, column 2, digital images, The University of Alabama Libraries ( accessed 10 Nov 2014).
  1. Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
  2. Fiftieth Annual Report of the Association of Graduates of the United States Military Academy. Seemann & Peters, Inc. Saginaw, Michigan, 1919, p. 51.