Digging into the past

Temple: Memorial tree, in honor of soldiers killed in WWII, to be dedicated

  • Temple Highway workers put in a new red oak tree to memorialize three Temple men who died fighting in World War II. The tree will be officially memorialized on June 1.

In front of the Temple Town Hall, there stands a tree. The amateur horticulturist driving by might note that the tree looks a little bit different than it has for the past 70 years. That’s because the tree, which has been a longtime memorial to Temple soldiers lost in World War II, has been replaced with a new red oak, to be officially memorialized this year during Temple’s Memorial Day observances.

The first memorial tree went up in 1944, when two men from Temple who had gone off to war didn’t come home. It was first planted in honor of two men, U.S. Marine Corp. 1st Sgt. David Quinn and U.S. Navy Gunner’s Mate Leon Blood. Both men were killed in the Pacific Theater during World War II. The following year, another Temple serviceman, U.S. Army 1st Lt. Murray Day, also lost his life fighting in early 1945, and his name was added to those fallen servicemen memorialized by the tree.

That original tree, a sugar maple taken from native Temple stock, lasted for 16 years, growing in front of the Temple church and Town Hall. But eventually, the town noticed that the tree’s health had begun to decline, and it was eventually cut down and removed. Another tree — once again a sugar maple — was planted in the same spot shortly after, but it suffered the same fate. A third sugar maple was planted, but also failed to thrive, and was finally removed on Tuesday.

According to Paul Quinn of Temple, a spokesperson for Temple’s Ex-Servicemen Organization, it has been speculated for a number of years that the sugar maples, a salt-sensitive variety of tree, might be suffering from salt runoff and road spray from Route 45. So this time, it was decided that instead of putting in a new sugar maple, a more salt-tolerant species would be selected. Quinn and the Village Green Committee selected a young red oak — longevity, stateliness and hardiness against the central new England elements all being factors in the decision. And, even better, it is one of a limited number of tree species that is salt-tolerant.

“Temple residents are keeping their fingers crossed and hoping that this fourth tree will survive and thrive, perhaps for centuries,” said Quinn.

Those lost

David Quinn

According to research done by Paul Quinn, David Quinn was the first man from Temple to fall in WWII. He was an infantryman who was trained in amphibious assault. Quinn used amphibious tractors — known as “alligators” by soldiers — which were often in the first wave of assaults in the Pacific.

That was the case during a battle on Tarawa, a coral-ringed reef in the Central Pacific. The battle, known historically as “Bloody Tarawa,” was the first real test of the amphibious tractors and the men who operated them. Tarawa was so strongly defended it was considered impregnable by the Japanese who controlled it. However, after 76 hours, U.S. Marines finally captured the tiny island. Quinn was mortally wounded by an exploding enemy shell during the first wave of the assault, and was temporarily buried on Tarawa. Original grave markers were removed by groundskeepers, and replaced by anonymous grave markers. After the war, many of those remains were recovered and sent to Hawaii, where forensics labs identified many, but not all of the remains. Hundreds of unidentified soldiers were interred in the Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii.

Leon Blood

Leon Blood was a U.S. Navy gunner’s mate specializing in anti-aircraft weaponry, according to Quinn’s research. He was assigned to the cruiser Santa Fe, which was part of a large fleet. The Santa Fe assisted with bombarding a number of Japanese-held islands — including Tarawa, where David Quinn sustained his mortal wound — prior to Marine forces moving in for assault. But it was not battle that killed Leon Blood. Having survived multiple engagements, Blood and a number of his shipmates died in an accidental drowning during a brief layover at a small mid-Pacific island in 1944. Blood is now buried in Temple.

Murray Day

Quinn’s research shows Murray Day was stationed in the Philippines, assigned to a battery of self-propelled artillery vehicles. Following Pearl Harbor, the Japanese were involved in an intense attempt to seize the Philippines. Eventually, American forces, out of both ammunition and food, were ordered to surrender to Japanese forces. Day, along with his fellow soldiers, was interred in a Japanese prison camp, where he spent the next few years as a prisoner of war. But when the tide began to turn, and the Allied forces once more gained ground in the Philippines, the Japanese put the American soldiers onto ships to be transported to Japan or Asian outposts.

Ships carrying prisoners of war, by international law, are required to be flagged, identifying them as POW transports, but the Japanese did not flag their ships. This led to many ships carrying American soldiers being bombed by American aircrafts. One such ship was the Oryoko Maru, which was hit and sunk by American aircraft. Among the 200 U.S. soldiers on the ship was Day, whose remains were lost at sea.

Temple’s Memorial Day

Temple’s Memorial Day observances will be held on June 1 this year. A church service will be held at the Congregational Church at 10 a.m. The American Post Legion will hold observances at the North Cemetery off North Road at 10:30 a.m. A parade will be held at noon, starting at the old brick school house and traveling to the center of Temple, where observances will be held in front of the Congregational Church at the Memorial tree. The parade will then reform and travel to the West Cemetery off of General Miller Highway for further observances of the holiday. A band concert will be held on the town common at 2 p.m.

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