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November 12, 2012

Of bravery and tragedy

WWI soldier's diary offers vivid details from front lines

(Continued)

But the worst was yet to come. He and many others were put into trucks and horse-drawn carts for transport across the shell-pocked terrain, heading to a hospital in the rear.

“A most terrible ride it turned out to be,” he wrote. “Torn by shell holes and almost absolutely impassable.”

The wounded shrieked in agony. One man in his truck went mad, then died in agony.

Sanborn finally arrived at the hospital. His recovery was long and painful.

But his bravery lingered in the minds of many. He was offered the Distinguished Service Cross for valor — the highest award that could be given. He refused it, saying he would only accept it if every man in his unit was given it too.

Three times he was offered promotions. He refused them all.

The lingering effects of life in the trenches would eventually cost him his life. Five years after the war, he died in a U.S. Naval hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y., from “valvular disease of the heart brought about by rheumatism contracted in the service of his country,” according to his obituary. As his life ended, his wife was in a nearby maternity ward. She had given birth to their first and only child, a daughter.

His ashes were buried in Rockport’s Beach Grove Cemetery.

After his death, praise poured in from his fellow servicemen. And he was awarded a posthumous Distinguished Service Cross.

Among the letters was one from a French farmer who lived in a village where he had been billeted.

“In this village, tears and prayers for Lt. Sanborn whom we who knew him loved as a fine soldier, a gentleman who won our love by his gentle kindness when he was here,” the farmer wrote. “Oh, why do such men die while others live?”

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