Save Cornwells Heights
Memorial Day, May 29, 2006
The Missing Man: Alvin P. Carey and the Angel of Resurrection
It’s Memorial Day, May 29th, 2006. In keeping with this website’s tradition of sometimes writing not of trains, but of things above and besides and beyond the trains – as days of special gravitas warrant the thinking – the Save Cornwells Heights update today is devoted to a story of bravery and loss – to a man of the Pennsylvania Railroad (Amtrak’s granddad), a missing man twice over, gone these past 62 years now. The train stories, for those inquiring, are available in the archives.
At the Station, There’s a Statue…
New York may have its Penn Station, named for the Pennsylvania Railroad, which invaded Manhattan with tunnels and trains in 1910, but the above-ground station building, a magnificent structure looking much like a Greek temple, was sold off and torn down to build Madison Square Garden back in the ‘60s – a sale of “air rights.” Today, what is left of New York’s Penn Station occupies a big hole in the ground under MSG. Fortunately, America has another grand temple-station at the heart and home of the old Pennsylvania Railroad – 30th Street Station in Philadelphia – said to be the second busiest rail station in the nation, after the one sitting in the New York hole.
Awed at first upon entrance to America’s last great temple-station, Amtrak-borne visitors soon may notice that the cavernous interior is watched over by a slender 39-foot statue, with flags to guard and wings to fly, the Pennsylvania Railroad War Memorial, better known as the Angel of Resurrection, bearing a slain soldier to heaven.
At the top of the statue’s pedestal, just beneath the bronzed, symbolic flames of war, the inscription reads:
IN MEMORY OF
THE MEN AND WOMEN
WHO LAID DOWN
FOR OUR COUNTRY
The statue, dedicated in 1952, was sculpted by the artist Walker Hancock. Until his death in 1998, it was still the pride and joy of his career.
1,309 Names Adorn the Pedestal
At the very base of the pedestal, symbols represent the army, navy (including marines), and air force on three sides. The Pennsylvania Railroad had seen 54,000 of its workers go off to war in Europe and the Pacific. The rest of the pedestal, on all four sides, is filled with the1,309 names of the men and women of the Pennsylvania Railroad who did not return from the Second World War. And I’m sure it’s not an exhaustive list, at that. Yesterday, I found another.
The Congressional Medal of Honor
In preparation for writing this article, it crossed my mind that with well over a thousand honored dead listed on the statue, there was a good chance that at least one of them had won the Congressional Medal of Honor. Records might show up on the Internet. And indeed, they did. I found not one, but four Medal of Honor winners who once worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad – in three different wars. It’s likely there were more I could not find.
First chronologically in the list, a man named Frank Furness was an architect who designed, among other things, stations for the Pennsylvania Railroad, including Wilmington’s. He won his Medal in the Civil War for selfless valor at the Battle of Trevilian Station in Virginia.
Then came America’s top World War I flying ace, Eddie Rickenbacker. Though a native of Ohio, he worked there for the Pennsylvania Railroad for a short time before he went to war. He got his Medal for doing what flying aces do best – 26 times, no less.
A third Medal of Honor recipient, Robert E. Laws, had the honor of unveiling the Angel of Resurrection statue at its 1952 dedication. His Medal was awarded for a grenade assault he made on a Japanese pillbox in the Philippines, despite being badly wounded in the attack.
The fourth man of the Pennsylvania Railroad whom I found to have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, also received it for a grenade attack on a pillbox – but in Europe; Brittany, France – and he did not survive. His name was Alvin P. Carey. He was 28. He came from the little town of Lycippus, PA, about an hour southeast of Pittsburgh. A high school in Ligonier is named for him now, to which his widow and sister gave his medals on Veterans’ Day, 1998.
He met the memorial statue’s criteria, and he got the Medal of Honor. I set out yesterday to 30th Street Station to photograph the statue so I could post this story and show his name here again for Memorial Day, inscribed in bronze.
The Missing Man
What I found when I got to the statue surprised me. The names were there, all in alphabetical order by last name, and then by first. But Alvin P. Carey wasn’t there. The names just skipped straight from Leo H. Carew to Richard F Carey.
Concerned, I hunted the other pedestal faces. All were alphabetical, with one exception. At the bottom of the rear face, just below the names of Waldo E. Reffner, Joseph S. Regiec, and Stephen J. Rehm, there were two names which were obviously added after completion of the sculpture: James G. Alexander and Jack W. Ragland. Four of the letters had fallen off their two names, but could be made out in ghostly silhouette.
Alvin P. Carey, the CMH honoree from Lycippus, a man of the Pennsylvania Railroad, is not there on the statue. He’s twice missing.
Looking Forward, Looking Back
On this Memorial Day weekend, thoughts turn to the war-weary and the war dead of past generations, as well as to the present. Most of my ancestors survived their wars, though a cousin of my grandmother’s went into the mud and thunders of Passchendaele (also known as the Third Battle of Ypres) on the Western Front in 1917, and was left a British unknown in Flanders’ fields. And my son has a great-great-grandfather who also never returned and never was found, conscripted for Austria-Hungary. We have a picture of him – in uniform. His grandson, in turn, fought in the cold and the trenches of Korea, and barely survived the “Nevada Triangle” campaign on the eve of his 19th birthday. The same night that George Vagasky, a young Marine with Fox/2/5 company, “won” his last Purple Heart, a medic on the hill “won” a posthumous CMH, too. I will probably never know if he played a part in the reason that George came home, but I honor his memory, regardless.
I’m not sure how other families may do it, but in my family, genealogy is mostly a list of names and places until we hit one who served in time of war. And then the history books come out, and the stories get told. So maybe – just maybe – days like Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day and the cool jet fly-overs that happen then and make it hard not to get your face wet… really work. The statue at 30th Street Station does it for me, too.
I’ve got a new project now for the year to come. I took a lot of high-quality photos of the statue yesterday, including readable versions of all four sides of the pedestal. I plan to post them here in the coming weeks, so that relatives of the fallen can see the bronzes without the travel. And if anyone else finds another name missing, please do let me know. I’ll keep a list, and display here the names of any other missing men and women of the Pennsylvania Railroad who may become a little less missing, with permission.
Next year at this time, I hope to post an essay to say that Alvin P. Carey’s name is on the Pennsylvania Railroad War Memorial at 30th Street Station – at the easiest-to-find traveler meet-up place in the whole building, the Angel of Resurrection.
And so it’s back to the trains tomorrow, with a fresh new campaign to get some publicity and attention for the commuter cause. But for today, I’ll sign off with the words from the official citation for the Congressional Medal of Honor of Alvin P. Carey, the Pennsylvania Railroad’s man twice missing. Always remember.
– Rick Booth, firstname.lastname@example.org