Following Up: Bethel’s First War Casualty

In my one of my first posts for this blog, I briefly shared the story of August L. Sundvall (A ’09), the Marine lieutenant who was killed on the Western Front on April 20, 1918 — making him the first former student from Bethel to die in our century of warfare.

In honor of today’s incredibly well-timed football game between Bethel and the University of Chicago — where Sundvall was studying before he joined up and where his name is on the school’s WWI roll of honor — I thought I’d fill in some of the details of Sundvall’s death, from a St. Paul Dispatch article published later in the spring of 1918 (which I found tucked into the papers of Bethel Academy principal A. J. Wingblade):

U. Chicago WWI Roll of Honor

The University of Chicago’s WWI roll of honor in Rockefeller Chapel — Sundvall is 8th from the bottom in the righthand column

With the American Army, Northwest of Toul, France, May 23 —

Word came to the American Marines holding a section of the front south of Verdun that seven Germans were lurking in a copse in No Man’s Land and a patrol was organized to capture them.

‘No Man’s Land’ at that spot was 550 yards wide and the cluster of trees was well up toward the enemy lines.

Lieut. A.L. Sundvall, Minneapolis, attached to the intelligence section reconnoitering the front lines that night begged Lieut. Fred R. Becker, Waterloo, Iowa, commanding the patrol, to be permitted to accompany it….

Starting out at midnight, the patrol divided into two parties, each commanded by a lieutenant. Possibly Sundvall did not read his compass correctly for suddenly he and his men were greeted with a muttered order in German.

They found themselves in the midst of forty Teutons within thirty feet of the enemy wire. They had only time to throw themselves on their faces when a volley whistled over their heads.

No order came to them to fire as Sundvall had been riddled by three bullets in the first volley….

Cpl. [Wolcott] Winchenbaugh made it back to his lines, but then went back: “‘There are two others left behind and I am going back,’ he whispered. A dozen men volunteered to accompany him, but an enemy barrage dropped just as he left.

Winchenbaugh succeeded in rescuing Lieut. Sundvall, who died from his wounds at daybreak.

A native of Hyde Park, Massachusetts, Winchenbaugh was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and Navy Cross for his attempt to rescue Sundvall.

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