Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Heroism of William Noble Wallace (1895-1918)

This bit of Wallace family history is in honor of Veterans Day. Lew and Susan Wallace had one son, Henry. Henry and his wife, Margaret Noble Wallace, had two sons. Their eldest was named Lew Jr. and their second son was named William Noble. Both grandsons would have made their grandfather proud with their service during World War I. If Lew Wallace was a hero in the Civil War, his grandson William should also be remembered for his valiant service.

Nicknamed “Tee,” William Noble was born in 1895 and attended Indianapolis Public Schools. A handsome and dynamic young man, he had a stronger scholastic aptitude than his famous grandfather as he ultimately graduated from The Hill School, an exclusive preparatory school in Pennsylvania. He then enrolled in and graduated from Yale where he was a member Hill School Club at Yale; the University Club, the university wrestling team; the Sword & Gun Club, Delta Kappa Epsilon and the Elihu Club.

A young man with spirit and drive he left Yale without graduating in 1916 to enlist in the American Field Ambulance Service with the French Army. He did this even though the United States had not yet entered the war. Serving as an ambulance driver for six months his unit received 3 citations, including the French Croix-de-Guerre with palm and the Fourragere for Souville-Tavanne. In December of 1916, he returned to Yale and finished his senior year, graduating in June of 1917. In July, he reenlisted and was commissioned as a 2nd

lieutenant in the Marine Corps. He completed his training and in February of 1918 he sailed to France. In two different training classes, he graduated at the top of his class, again demonstrating a classroom aptitude foreign to his grandfather.

In June 1918, his command moved to Chateau Thierry and in the attack at Belleau Woods he led his platoon over the top of a hill in fighting as fierce as any Lew witnessed in the Civil War. Just a few weeks later in July, Tee took his platoon forward and was hit by piece of high explosive about noon while leading his men in the attack on Vierzy - the preliminary advance on Soissons. His regiment was cited by the French for this action and his company was awarded Croix-de-Guerre with Palm. Tee was evacuated to Base Hospital No. 43 where he recovered.

By September, he had been promoted to 1st Lieutenant but, communications at the front being what they were, he never knew it! In Memorial Sketches in Yale in the World War, it says he actually received this rank July 1 and the next day had been made a provisional Captain. In October, he rejoined his command for the Meuse-Argonne offensive and was appointed Battalion Scout Officer. His company was withdrawn for replacement, but he was retained because of his sketching ability (perhaps an artistic trait inherited from Lew) he volunteered to map enemy positions on the front line with one other comrade. His mission was accomplished with great skill and daring, and as he was returning across open country to HQ on Blanc Mont ridge in the early dawn, he was struck by a shell and instantly killed. His partner survived. That night, with the aid of the regimental chaplain, he was buried by his men and a brother officer at the side of the road between Somme-Py and St.-Etienne. World War I ended just weeks later.

For his service, Tee was posthumously given the American Field Service Medal with letter from the French Ministry of War; a trophy was awarded in his memory by his friends at a track meet held by the Second Division Post, American Legion, in New York City; he received the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism; and he was given the Navy Cross. After the War, Henry travelled to France and reclaimed his son’s body. William Noble Wallace is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery with the rest of his family.

A fellow officer said: In his last battle his company had lost 132 men in twenty minutes and was ordered to retire for replacement. But Lt. Wallace, “owing to his indifference to high explosive shell fire and skill in sketching, was ordered to remain and sketch the ground in advance. He had accomplished this special mission and was returning to deliver his map when struck by a shell. No nobler life has been laid on the altar of Liberty.”

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