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Carlisle teacher's research on POW featured on award-winning website

Diary entries on cigar box lids told the story of the thief in the night.

Kevin Wagner came across this primary source material stored in the archives of the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center in Middlesex Township.

A history teacher at Carlisle High School, he needed every bit of information to piece together the life and death of Lt. Col. Charles Benjamin Leinbach.

“He was trying to keep his men alive,” Wagner said of the career Army officer who risked his life to steal food from the Japanese to feed fellow prisoners suffering in Camp Cabanatuan.

The inmate who kept the diary mentioned Leinbach by name, writing that the Pottsville-area native only took the bare minimum of supplies to go unnoticed by the enemy.

Time and again, the ploy worked and lives were saved at least in the short-term as U.S. forces edged ever closer into the heart of the Empire of Japan.

Wagner spent the first half of 2017 researching Leinbach as part of the Understanding Sacrifice program. This Veterans Day, his eulogy for the fallen officer will be published on the award-winning website

The Understanding Sacrifice program is a partnership among National History Day, the American Battle Monuments Commission, the National Cemetery Administration and the Roy Rosezweig Center for History and New Media.

Wagner was one of 18 teachers selected from across the nation to participate in a yearlong professional development program that focuses on the fallen heroes of the Pacific Theater buried in cemeteries in San Francisco, Hawaii and Manila, Phillippines.

Using research gathered from the study of their World War II veteran, each teacher had to create a lesson plan designed to reinvigorate the study of the conflict in American classrooms.

“By telling individual stories, it gets to the heart of the emotion,” Wagner said. “It’s no longer a political, economic or military issue. It’s an issue of humanity.”

He said that in many ways, the Pacific Theater has been downplayed in school curriculum nationwide, with much of the World War II instruction focused instead on the defeat of Nazi Germany in Europe.

Part of this is because most Americans could identify more with the culture and ethnicity of an enemy in Europe than an enemy in Japan, Wagner said. But he learned through his research that the Pacific War was in many ways more horrific than what GIs faced in their march across France into the Third Reich.

The Japanese code of Bushido looked down on those who surrendered as cowards without honor. As a result, atrocities were committed against American and Allied prisoners-of-war.

In late 1944, as U.S. forces closed in, the Japanese loaded POWs onto freighters converted into prison vessels bound for Korea, Taiwan or the Japanese home islands. The luckless passengers were to become slave laborers for the empire’s war machine.

Conditions on these vessels were so horrible, they became known as Hell ships. On Jan. 6, 1945, Leinbach was on the Enoura Maru at anchor in Takeo, Taiwan, when the ship was bombed and disabled by U.S. carrier planes.

The Japanese tended to not mark prison ships with the Red Cross symbol. American pilots thought they were attacking enemy merchant vessels hauling supplies to hostile forces. As a result, many American POWs died at the hands of their own countrymen. Leinbach was among those killed on the Enoura Maru, Wagner said.

His remains were buried in a mass grave in Taiwan that was discovered by the Grave Registration Service in spring 1946. The body was shipped to Honolulu where Leinbach was identified through a combination of hair samples and dental records provided by his wife, Pearl, who worked in San Francisco as a part-time dental hygienist.

Long before he stepped onto a Hell ship, Leinbach climbed up the steeple of an old stone church in the town of Abucay on the Bataan peninsula. It was Jan. 16, 1942, and Japanese forces were overrunning the island of Luzon in the Philippines.

The church was serving as a battalion headquarters when enemy artillery honed in. An officer with experience as a forward observer, Leinbach knew he had to man a high point to direct counter-artillery fire onto the enemy battery. At great risk to his safety, he climbed the steeple to spot the Japanese artillery and kept the shells coming in until those guns were silenced.

This action earned Leinbach a Silver Star for bravery, which was awarded posthumously to his widow, Wagner said. “These were ordinary Americans who did extraordinary things when they were asked to.

“The question for us is would we possess that same capability if the same type of call comes to us today,” he said. “The same intangible patriotism, sense of duty and honor that we talk so highly about.”

There is a gap in the record between Jan. 16, when Leinbach climbed the steeple, and May 7, 1942, when the Red Cross notified Pearl that her husband was a prisoner of Japan. Wagner has no idea what happened to the lieutenant colonel during that 16-week period.

American and Filipino forces stationed on Bataan surrendered to the Japanese on April 9, 1942. While it is possible Leinbach was among the POWs who suffered through the Bataan Death March, there are documents proving he was involved.

There is evidence to suggest he was not only a prisoner of Camp Cabanatuan, but a high-ranking “vice commander” among the inmates. Leinbach was born in 1892 and would have been almost 50 at the time of the surrender.

Instead of a lesson plan, Wagner used his research on Leinbach to develop an entire unit to walk classroom teachers through the process of using official records and other archival material to learn how to research a fallen veteran.

The unit is broken down into five steps or lessons plans teachers can use to pass that information on to their students, Wagner said. The work included the development of classroom handouts and worksheets.

Wagner serves as the social studies department chair for the Carlisle Area School District. For more information, visit

Veterans day events in Cumberland County

Here is a listing of Veterans Day events that are scheduled throughout Cumberland County by veterans organizations and may not include all events. These include scheduled ceremonies, parades and services honoring the veterans in our community:

Saturday, Nov. 11

Boiling Springs — A veterans’ memorial will be dedicated on Sat., Nov. 11 at Spring Meadows Park, located at 640 W. First St. in Boiling Springs. The memorial site is next to the main park entrance at Rickert Way. A key feature is a 70-foot tall flag pole and illumination of the flag, which can be seen throughout the 91-acre park. The ceremony will include a commemoration and comments by Col. Thomas Faley (U.S. Army, retired), and Eagle Scout candidate Matthew Otto. Contact person for the event is Cory Adams, and his number is 717-258-5324 for more information.

Carlisle — The annual Veterans Day ceremony will be held in the second floor courtroom of the old Cumberland County Courthouse beginning at 10:30 a.m. The Cumberland County Honor Guard will provide the firing squad and bugler with guest speaker Maj. Gen. John S. Kem, commandant, U.S. Army War College. The Joint Veterans Council of Carlisle conducts the event. Contact person is Neal J. Delisanti, 717-240-6178.

Carlisle — Dickinson College Athletics will host a military appreciation event in partnership with the U.S. Army War College. The 1 p.m. Dickinson vs. Ursinus College football game on Biddle Field, 610 W. High St., is open and free to the public. There will be a recognition of military service and leadership, and a limited number of commemorative U.S. flag-Dickinson athletics flag pins will be available for fans.

Enola — A Veterans Day ceremony will be held on Shady Lane in front of the American Legion Post 751 beginning at 11 a.m. A meal from canteen menu will be provided to any veteran with proof of service. The event will be held inside the Legion if inclement weather occurs. Contact person is T.S. Balko, commander, 717-329-1522.

Mechanicsburg — A Veterans Day ceremony will be held at the Lower Allen VFW Post 7530 beginning at 11 a.m. The address for the Post is 4545 Westport Drive in Mechanicsburg. The program recognizes the sacrifices of veterans and pays tribute to all veterans. Guest speaker will be Col. Oren (Hank) McKnelly. Contact person is Scott Henry, 717-364-5871.

Mechanicsburg — The annual Mechanicsburg Area Veterans Council Veterans Day program will be held at Mechanicsburg Cemetery at the Grand Army of the Republic Monument at 11 a.m. The guest speaker for the event will be David Bennett, adjunct professor, U.S. Army War College, Carlisle. Bennet is a Vietnam veteran from 1967 to 1970, and had overseas diplomatic assignments and service as a pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1962 to 1973.

Newville — A Veterans Day service will be held honoring all veterans by placing flowers at the memorial at the fountain, including playing of taps. Hometown Heroes Banners will be given to family members in attendance. The service begins at 11 a.m. In case of adverse weather, the event will be held at the VFW, West Main Street in Newville. The service is conducted by the Newville Joint Veterans Council. Guest speaker will be Robert Gilbert, U.S. Marine Corps (Vietnam), member of American Legion Post 421 Newville and Marine Corps League. Contact person is Patricia Reed, 717-776-7825.

Silver Spring Township — A Veterans Day ceremony will be held at the Veterans Memorial at Willow Mill Park, 80 Willow Mill Park Road in Mechanicsburg, beginning at 11 a.m. Veterans will be honored by the dedication of new bricks and plaques at the veterans memorial. A blood drive will be held nearby after the ceremony in recognition of the service of veterans. Public tours will be given following the event. The ceremony is conducted by the Silver Spring Veteran Memorial Committee. Contact person is Ami Thompson, 717-766-0178.

Lemoyne — Veterans are invited to learn about the programs and supportive services offered by JFT Recovery & Veterans Services and enjoy free coffee and pastries as appreciation for their service. The open house will be held from noon to 7 p.m. at 300 Market St. Contact number is 717-880-8068.

Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 11-12

Carlisle — In honor of Veterans Day and the conclusion of the first World War, “the war to end all wars,” the U.S. Army Heritage Center will recognize both by honoring those who have served before and those who serve now in the armed forces. During a living history titled “Remembering Armistice Day” on Veterans Day weekend, re-enactors will bring to life the American doughboy in the trenches and the end of WWI. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11, and Sunday Nov. 12. The re-enactment takes place at the U.S. Army Heritage Center, 950 Soldiers Drive in Carlisle, and all are welcome to attend. Contact number is 717-245-4427 for more information (visit

Joshua Vaughn, Sentinel file  

Daniel Kopenhaver, specialist fourth class with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, watches and records the Veterans Day program at the Mechanicsburg Cemetery Nov. 11, 2016.

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Local native participated in secret diplomatic mission during World War I

The secret mission began with vague instructions and a late afternoon train ride from Harrisburg to New York City on Sunday, Oct. 28, 1917.

“I would be met at the Pennsylvania Railroad station by a tall man carrying a New York Evening Post,” Vance McCormick, a Silver Spring Township native, wrote in his diary.

“[I] met him in accordance with instructions at 1 a.m. [Monday] and was placed by my large friend in a private car standing in the station.”

The rendezvous set in motion a journey of diplomatic intrigue that would carry McCormick, a former Carlisle Indian School football coach, across the Atlantic Ocean to an England and France at war with the Central Powers.

The journey and McCormick’s firsthand accounts comprise a chapter in the book “Citizen Extraordinaire: The Diplomatic Diaries of Vance McCormick in London and Paris, 1917-1919.” The chapter was edited by Susan Mechan and Teresa Weisser.

On April 6, 1917, the U.S. declared war on Germany in part because of its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare against merchant ships sailing the Atlantic Ocean.

Six months later, on Oct. 5, President Woodrow Wilson signed an executive order creating the War Trade Board, an agency designed to wage economic warfare against the enemy, according to the book.

The chapter says McCormick was named to the board and ordered to travel to Europe as part of the U.S. delegation tasked with coordinating the American war effort with that of the Allies. Led by Col. Edward House, a close friend and adviser to Wilson, the House mission consisted of civilian and military officials.

Within hours of his encounter with the tall man, McCormick was on a secret train bound for Halifax, Nova Scotia, with an Army general, an international lawyer, a marine engineer, a statistician, a group of stenographers and the U.S. assistant secretary of the Treasury.

Troubled waters

“We were forbidden to leave the car for fear we might be recognized and the railroad officials were told the train was a theatrical special,” McCormick wrote. The train arrived at Halifax around 9 a.m. Oct. 30 and the delegation was divided among two Navy cruisers, the Huntingdon and the St. Louis. The warships left harbor around noon that day.

Throughout the journey, McCormick wrote, the cruisers were escorted by Navy destroyers constantly on the lookout for enemy U-boats. “They darted back and forth all around us, doing scout duty all day, at a speed of about 30 knots per hour,” he wrote on Tuesday, Nov. 6. The Huntingdon was on high alert.

“Last night and this night we all slept with our clothes on and with life preservers,” McCormick wrote. “The crew were not allowed to sleep in their hammocks, but slept on the decks. … The gun crews were on duty continuously standing by their guns. Large depth bombs [used against submarines] were placed on the quarterdeck, which we thought was very dangerous, as we slept directly under them and if a torpedo had struck that part of our ship nothing would have been left of us.”

The next morning, on Nov. 7, the main engines failed on the St. Louis, leaving the warship adrift without power for about 40 minutes before repairs were made. McCormick was convinced a German submarine would seize the opportunity and torpedo the cruiser. The Huntingdon along with the destroyers circled the St. Louis offering some protection.

Talks with neutrals

Both cruisers made it to Plymouth, England, landing the members of the House mission. “As a representative of the War Trade Board, McCormick worked closely with Allied officials involved in administering the blockade of Germany and with those grappling with the complicated problem of securing additional shipping capacity to replace the tonnage lost to German submarines,” the chapter reads.

“During the two weeks McCormick spent in London, he participated in negotiations regarding trade and financial relations with the neutral nations of Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Holland. He was also heavily involved in conferences regarding the lack of adequate shipping capacity and the consequent difficulties of transporting troops to the battlefields and supplies to the military and to the European home front.”

On Nov. 22, House mission members crossed the English Channel, landing at Calais where they were loaded on a train bound for Paris. The French capital was full of Americans in uniform. The mood was upbeat because two days before the British Army had won the Battle of Cambrai, the first time tanks were used in large numbers in combat.

Even though France was home to the Western Front and the horrors of trench warfare, Paris did not have the look and feel of a city near a warzone. Compared to London, there was more food to eat and no obvious sign of rationing. The streets were brightly lit and there was plenty of hot water in the hotel room.

While in Paris, McCormick represented the U.S. in talks regarding relations between the Allies and the neutral nations of Spain and Switzerland. On Nov. 29, delegates gathered for the Inter-Allied Conference, during which the negotiations were expanded and McCormick was assigned to the Blockade and Tonnage committees, according to “Citizen Extraordinaire.”

“As part of the Blockade Committee, he was involved in negotiating an agreement with the Swiss,” the chapter reads. “His principal contribution to the Tonnage Committee was a proposal for the creation of an Inter-Allied Shipping Board.”


The most vivid diary entry was written on Monday, Dec. 3, while McCormick was on assignment as an observer of the battlefield around Verdun and its fortified citadel, which served as a regional command post.

“Immediately after our early lunch we started for the batteries and trenches at the front,” McCormick wrote. “[We] passed over ground between the Citadel and Fort Souilly through the old city that had been fought over many times in hand to hand fights between the German and the French during the last February campaign. As far as the eye could see, the land that had once been covered with forests was as bare as a floor, and apparently [there was] not a foot of ground that had not been blown up by a shell fire, or broken up by shovel and pick for trenches.”

On arriving at the fort, McCormick saw batteries of Allied artillery send over a constant barrage while the German artillery tried to counter-battery from a great distance away on the plains.

“At the same time, the French flying machines [aircraft] were sailing over the German lines, and being followed by a continual bombarding of shrapnel, which seemed to completely surround the machines, but apparently none of them were touched.”

While all precautions were taken to protect the diplomats, there was at least one occasion where McCormick almost became a casualty as documented in the Dec. 2 diary entry:

“On account of the bombardment we were not able to get into the front line of trenches, which were about 2,400 feet ahead of us. Toward sunset we started down the hill, and soon after we got into the car, and were riding along a road [when] a shell exploded about 200 yards from the road, which was too close for comfort. There was not a whole house standing in any of the small villages about Verdun. The Germans have destroyed every house which might inhabit a man.”

End of a dynasty

The departure of the House mission from Paris was as mysterious as McCormick’s trip to New York, according to the chapter in “Citizen Extraordinaire.” “Members of the mission were driven separately to a Paris train station, all by different routes. Only after their train had left the station were they told that they would sail from the French port of Brest.”

The ship made the trans-Atlantic journey under tight security with a heavy escort landing in New York on Dec. 15. From there, McCormick returned to Harrisburg.

The book “Profiles from the Susquehanna Valley” by Paul Beers includes a chapter on Vance McCormick that describes him as “the last major figure in the Cameron-McCormick dynasty” and as “Harrisburg’s most distinguished citizen for 45 years.”

Following World War I, McCormick accompanied Wilson to Versailles where he served as an adviser to the president. At age 52, McCormick married Gertrude Howard Olmsted and together they had a country home at Olmsted’s Cedar Cliff Farms along the Yellow Breeches Creek. Vance McCormick died at Cedar Cliff on June 16, 1946.