News: Military legacies aptly shared at local school’s ‘artifact museum’
By Jim Dresbach
Pentagram Staff Writer
CHEVY CHASE, Md. - From one end of North Chevy Chase Elementary School’s multipurpose room to the other, cherished family keepsakes and vintage pictures of generations past were displayed earlier this fall during the school’s annual artifact museum assembly.
The living museum, with fifth graders serving as curators, offered the opportunity for children to remember grandfathers, aunts, uncles and descendants of eras that have yellowed in history books.
For NCC students Stella Biles, Sequoyah Noonan and Reed Harper, the artifact museum gave the trio a pre-Veterans Day chance to earn high marks explaining the honor and sacrifice their military ancestors made in several theaters of war during World Wars I and II.
During the morning event, Harper left passersby spellbound of the intriguing tale of his grandfather, Army infantryman Raymond J. Reed, Sr., who witnessed the opening fighting of the Battle of the Bulge only to be captured by the German Wehrmacht.
Behind Harper, Noonan told kids and adults about his maternal great-grandfather, William Polglase, a trailblazing Great War reconnaissance pilot of French Salmson 2A2 aircraft.
A table away, Biles introduced visitors, fellow students, teachers and visitors to her great grandfather, Army Col. George Walter Frank Biles, a World War II finance officer stationed in Australia.
All the stories served as fitting remembrances of Soldiers belonging to the Greatest Generation. Reed’s mother, Chris Reed-Harper, expanded on her son’s presentation by recalling her father’s final days as a civilian in Jersey City, N.J., and how, through humanitarian devotion to a war buddy, he came to earn one of the Bronze Stars Reed displayed at the artifact museum.
“He was living in Jersey City [in 1941], and he was actually playing semi-pro football,” Chris explained. “During halftime [on Dec. 7, 1941], [the news of Pearl Harbor’s attack] came over the loudspeaker. The way dad put it was that after that football game, they went out and had a big party because they knew they were all going to be enlisting and shipping out.”
The elder Reed became a foot Soldier in the “Golden Lions,” — 423rd combat infantry regiment, 106th infantry division — and was in the Allied lines December 1944 when the Germans re-blitzed the Ardennes section of Belgium and Luxembourg. He was captured during the first day of the Battle of the Bulge, and for four and a half months, he was placed in Stalags XXIIA and IIIA, a pair of German prisoner of war camps.
During those final four and a half months of the European war, Reed was grouped with a war buddy whose true identity was never revealed to or discovered by the Germans.
“His name was Alan Lowith, and he was a Jewish gentleman,” Chris revealed. “My dad knew that if they [the Germans] found out that he was Jewish, they’d send him to the concentration camp. So my dad tried to shield the fact from the Germans that he was Jewish- that was something he was able to do the entire time they were in the POW camps.”
For that act, Reed received the Bronze Star. At the artifact museum, the Soldier’s grandson also displayed the Purple Heart awarded to the World War II vet after he was inflicted with severe frostbite during the European winter of 1944-1945.
Sequoyah’s pride of his great-grandfather centers around the fact that his ancestor is not far removed from the Wright brothers on the aerial history tree. A Brooklyn native and a future Fordham law graduate, William Polglase entered the Army in 1917, and adventure awaited him in France above the fabled Western Front as a first lieutenant in the 12th Reconnaissance Aero Squadron.
“He would fly observation flights. We had a couple planes in this country, but we had no way of getting them to France, so he did all his flying in French planes with French instructors. He had to learn [to speak] French,” Polglase’s daughter, Carol said from her home in Rockville. “They lived in tents, and they only would fly when the weather was appropriate. They spent an awful lot of time playing cards, and he started smoking.”
By serving 18 months in France and Germany, Sequoyah’s ancestor laid the career carpet for the current grade school student to follow.
“My great-grandmother was Navy, my grandfather was in the Army, but I picked my great-grandfather because I want to be a pilot when I grow up,” the NCC fifth grader said. “I want to serve for four years and then become a co-pilot for flying jumbo jets.”
One of the family’s prized heirlooms is the wings Polglase earned when he became a first lieutenant. Those wings were part of Sequoyah’s museum presentation.
Polglase is buried in Section 8 of Arlington National Cemetery fittingly in visual sight of the nearby Air Force Memorial.
Stella Biles’ artifact museum exhibit displayed possibly what could have been if fortunes of war were reversed. When her great-grandfather returned to the United States, his war trophies included Japanese-printed scrip intended to be circulated throughout a conquered America and other vanquished Allied countries.
“The Japanese intended to win the war, so the Japanese printed money to be issued in the countries they conquered,” explained Spencer Biles, Stella’s father and George Walter Frank Biles’ grandson. “Some of the [dollar and pound and peso] scrip was never unpacked. I don’t think they’re valuable, but they are rare. These were printed in anticipation of a full Japanese victory.”
Col. Biles, born in England and who immigrated to America through Canada in 1920, was called to active duty in 1942. According to his grandson, the finance officer’s struggle to get to his assignment was monumental.
“He was responsible for all the cash and paying troops on pay day. Back then, they got paid once a month,” Spencer said. “The Queen Mary was converted into a warship during wartime. The Queen Mary was also the number one target for German U-boats. To get him to Australia, the Queen Mary went in the opposite direction to Africa and they kind of zigzagged the world to get to Australia. The result was it took a lot of time on the ship to get from point A to point B.”
While all the kids made the North Chevy Chase Elementary School community aware of the legacies of their descendants, Reed Harper is a living legacy to his grandfather, Capt. Raymond J. Reed, Sr.
“I’m named after him,” the NCC fifth grader said. “I’m pretty proud of that.”