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First to lead American troops into battle on the European Battlefields
June 1917 | Verdun, France
"Capt. Edward I. Tinkham (aged 22), winner of the War cross for service in the American ambulence corps at Verdun, headed an American corps, consisting mainly of young me immediately after the president's declaration of war, and led them into action on the Aisne front..."
Discussion of Tinkham
Dear Uncle Ezra,
I have recently learned a little about a Cornell alumnus who displayed great patriotism, determination, and heroism in World War I, and brought honor to our country and our school. His name is Edward Isley Tinkham, Class of 1916, and I would like to learn more about him. I was hoping you could direct me to plaques, memorials, monuments, and any sources of information about Edward Tinkham.
I forwarded your question to University Archivist Elaine Engst (ee11@Cornell.edu), who replies: "Edward Isley Tinkham was born on August 3, 1893 in Montclair, New Jersey. At Cornell he was a member of Seal and Serpent and Helios. He was also on varsity track and cross country teams. A member of the Class of 1916, he left college a year early and drove an ambulance in France. For his extraordinary heroism at Verdun, he was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French government. He returned to Cornell in 1917 to finish his degree in forestry, and organized a Cornell unit in the American Ambulance Field Service. When the unit got to France on April 14, 1917, it was learned that there was greater need for drivers of munitions transport; the men transferred to the American Motor Transport Unit, and Tinkham was given the rank of captain and placed in command. Supposedly this was the first American fighting unit to carry the American flag to the front.
"According to a booklet relating to the War Memorial at Cornell: 'A dispatch from Grand Headquarters of the French Army in France, dated May 24, 1917, authentically corroborates this statement. "The first American combatant corps went to the front today under Captain E.I. Tinkham of Cornell University. It was a proud moment when the first detachment of the American Field Service, consisting mainly of Cornell undergraduates, departed for the Aisne battle-field. They were armed with carbines, attired in khaki unifroms, and drove American five-ton motor cars. As they left, the Star and Stripes, floating over the cantonment in a historic French forest, spread out in the breeze, and other contingents cheered them on their way."'
"In October Tinkham enlisted in the Navel Air Service and began training in France. He was then sent to a school in Italy, where he was commissioned as a flight ensign. He died in Ravenna, Italy on March 30, 1919 of spinal meningitis and pneumonia."
Thanks, Elaine! Records relating to the American Field Service are held by AFS International/Intercultural Programs, Archives, 313 East 43rd Street, New York, NY 10017.Uncle Ezra