Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Sleeping Sentry of World War I

Location:   The Western Front
Year:   1918

During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln's concern for ordinary soldierrs became well-known when he pardoned a man who had fallen asleep on picket duty. "The Sleeping Sentry" was spared from a firing squad, and became an important symbol to the Union Army. 
A similar event occurred fifty years later. Oliver Richter (1891-1976) of St. Lawrence County, New York, was a doughboy in World War I. Richter was assigned to night guard duty. During the Middle Watch, his replacement failed to show up. Although Richter dutifully stood post until dawn, he finally fell asleep as the sun came up. When he was found sleeping, Richter's commanding officer drew up court martial papers against him.   When Richter was asked who he wished to have represent him, he stunned his commander when he said General John J. 'Black Jack' Pershing, commanding general of all U.S. forces in Europe. 

Richter was allowed to contact General Pershing, who was furious with Richter's commander. Instead of berating Richter for falling asleep at his post, Pershing gave Richter a commendation for staying at his post for an extra 10 hours, and gave a severe dressing-down to his commanding officers for not sending someone to relieve him when they first noticed that he was missing.
At that point in the war, Richter had already seen a great deal of combat. He had previously been gassed while at the front in September 1918. He was on the verge of death for ten days, and, although he was cleared for duty and sent back into action, his never fully recovered for the rest of his days.

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