The Marine and the Chaplain

The paths of two men crossed on a late spring morning in France. One man had shown great courage on the battlefield, the other would show great compassion in his care.

Narrow Escapes

Private Emery Augustus Bartlett wasted no time in enlisting in the Marines. The 21 year old Rickreall salesman volunteered in Portland less than three days after the U.S. declared war on April 6, 1917. After training in California and Virginia, Bartlett shipped off for duty in France. His first assignment, lasting over six months, was police duty in several French cities. But by May 1918 his regiment moved to the front for the battle of Belleau Wood at Chateau Thierry. Seeing continuous fighting from May 30 to June 7, he survived many "narrow escapes" while serving on a bombing squad.

"So Badly Wounded"

During the fighting on Friday, June 7, Bartlett suffered a bullet wound to his head. Medics initially treated him in the field and the next day sent him by ambulance to Base Hospital Number 2 behind the front lines. His clothes, pack, and personal belongings apparently were lost in the chaos of the battle and his subsequent evacuation. Bartlett's litter was placed on the floor by the hospital operating room door, where it remained until Sunday morning. He was unconscious the entire time.
Private Emery Bartlett in police uniform
Bartlett saw police duty in France before advancing to the front at Belleau Wood. (OSA)
That morning the Reverend John Sheridan Zelie, who had just become the Red Cross chaplain for Base Hospital Number 2, walked through corridors crowded with men wounded at the front. He comforted those men who were awake and could respond. Doctor Blake, the chief surgeon, talked to Zelie about the man with the serious head wound, Private Bartlett. The doctor gently tried to arouse Bartlett but there was no response. He confided to the chaplain that there was nothing he could do for the marine.

Zelie removed the two tags from the string around the marine's neck and walked over to the light to read them: "Emery A. Bartlett, 20th Co. 5th Regt. U.S.M.C." The chaplain did his best to find Bartlett's home town and father's name but the record office didn't have the information and his other efforts to find it failed as well. He returned again and again to the marine's side that day, hoping to hear something of use, but to no avail.

The next morning he arrived at the hospital to good news. Bartlett had partially regained consciousness and, while he could barely be heard, he had responded to a question. The chaplain quickly returned to his side and asked for the name of his home town. Apparently drifting back to his boyhood days before he moved to Oregon, Bartlett responded by spelling out: G-R-I-N-N-E-L-L, Iowa and his father's first name. The chaplain "had never wanted so much to get any information in my life...." He regarded it as a miracle that the marine had regained consciousness to the extent he had. Zelie asked some questions but it was very difficult for Bartlett to speak:
The chaplain had an 18 year old son and knew he would want every bit of information about his son's condition if he were hurt in a far off land. With the information about the Bartlett's home town, Zelie sat down to compose a letter to the father of the mortally wounded marine.

Shortly after writing the letter to Bartlett's father, Zelie added the following note with the compassionate intention of making a physical connection between father and son:

Bartlett's condition remained the same for the next two days. Nurses went to him at intervals and touched him to let him know someone was there. The chaplain hoped the severe injuries had paralyzed the marine, thus lessening his suffering. Bartlett died late Wednesday night in his sleep. His funeral followed the next day at a little chapel in the hospital, with Chaplain Zelie in attendance. The American Army and the French government both sent honor guards. That night Zelie received orders to go to the front where more American soldiers were fighting and dying. View hospital photographs

Bartlett was later laid to rest in a military cemetery near Paris. The above letter eventually reached Grinnell, Iowa but the father, Arthur Bartlett, was not there. Instead it was delivered to a relative who immediately sent a telegram to the father in Oregon. A grieving friend later wrote a memorial in Bartlett's honor. He hailed the fallen marine as "a hero of Belleau Wood." In many ways, Chaplain Zelie was a hero too.


(Oregon State Defense Council Records, Personal Military Service Records, World War I, Box 6, Polk County, School District No. 26)