The Missing Monument
Being part of a close knit organization that has its roots deep within the community for well over 100 years you’re bound, from time to time, to come across some history. When I joined the Fire Department 25 years ago, they were starting to design an extension on the current headquarters to house the new ladder truck. During this time, the department’s 100th anniversary was quickly approaching. As the days went on, historic relics of the Bayport Fire Department’s past emerged. Old radios and helmets, fire nozzles and antique extinguishers, and a vast collection of journals and photographs. As the extension neared its completion, one of the members delivered a beautiful stained glass window that was saved from the destruction of the old firehouse and it was installed in the new extension. The department also set out on a quest to find and restore its first hose cart from 1891. While they lost the trail, they were able to find and restore a duplicate.
Fast forward to today.
I walked in to the firehouse truck room and leaning against the wall was what looked like a tombstone that had to weigh almost 100 pounds. It read:
In memory of George A Rogerson, Ass’t Foreman Hose Co. No. 2 1912-16
and Sergeant Co. L, 310th Inf. A.E.F.
Wounded and gassed at St. Juvin, he returned later to his company but died from the effect of the gas.
July 29th 1931
Throughout his long trial, his high courage and kindliness never abated.
This stone is erected by the firemen of Bayport.
It took me a little while to process this, as it was difficult to read. Also, Bayport doesn’t have foremen or a Hose Company No. 2 anymore. Needless to say, it caught me off guard. However, I’m a huge history buff so I quickly turned to one of my fellow firefighters and asked, “What is this?”
“This is very interesting,” Mike said. “I thought it was a tombstone also, but apparently this was mounted on the old firehouse.” He then handed me a copy of the Bayport Blue Point Gazette where local historian Gene Horton had written about how all of this came to light.
The following is the article from the Bayport Gazette.
By Gene Horton
In Memory of GEORGE A. ROGERSON, ASS’T FOREMAN HOSE CO. NO. 2 1912-16 AND SARGEANT CO. L 310TH INF. A.E.F. WOUNDED AND GASSED AT ST. JUVIN, HE RETURNED LATER TO HIS COMPANY BUT DIED FROM THE EFFECTS OF THE GAS JULY 29, 1931 THROUGHOUT HIS LONG TRIAL, HIS HIGH COURAGE AND KINDLINESS NEVER ABATED. THIS STONE IS ERECTED BY THE FIREMEN OF BAYPORT.
This stone monument once adorned the front of the old Bayport Firehouse when it was located on Middle Road in ‘downtown’ Bayport. It’s a very heavy stone measuring three feet two inches in height and 2 feet in width. At first, I thought it was a grave stone. I was wrong. The Bayport Fire House moved up to its present-day HQ at Snedecor & Railroad Ave. in 1956. This stone honors George Andrew Rogerson, a Bayport Fireman who died as a result of his injuries in a gas attack in World War I. World War I broke out in 1914; one hundred years ago… “the war to end all wars…”
Another stone of equal size honoring Joseph C. Soucek, Bayport Firemen, who also died of his wounds in World War One, also once adorned the front of the original Bayport Fire House. Both stones were dedicated in a beautiful ceremony at the front of the old Bayport Fire House on Memorial Day in 1935. Somehow, probably in the 1950’s when the Bayport Fire House moved up to Railroad Ave., these two memorial stones apparently went astray. They disappeared. No one had seen them for years.
But, believe it or not, the Rogerson stone was just discovered this week in the basement of 37 Woodland St., Blue Point… The house was built in the mid-1950’s and owned by Donald and Ruth McLaughlin (now deceased). The house is currently on the market to be sold. In the process of cleaning out the basement, the Rogerson stone was found. Teresa McLaughlin, the current resident of the house, posted finding this stone on-line on FACEBOOK.
I immediately contacted her and the next day went to the house and with help removed this very heavy stone from the basement and placed it in the trunk of my car. Teresa has no idea how this stone came to be in her family’s basement.
Doing some research, I found George A. Rogerson’s obituary on-line in the July 31, 1931, edition of the Suffolk County News. He was only 41 when he died and was survived by his wife and new-born son. Then I contacted Connie Currie, historian of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Sayville who informed me that George Rogerson was indeed interred in St. Ann’s Cemetery. Driving through the cemetery, I located the Rogerson plot. There are three memorial stones in the plot but none for George A. Rogerson. I thought maybe this was his gravestone.
I then contacted Ray Reilly of the Bayport Fire Department and a local historian. I arranged to meet with him Sunday, Mar. 23, 2014 at the Bayport Fire House at 8:30 am. I went over to the Bayport Fire House and luckily bumped into Ed Kennelly. Ed joined the Bayport Fire Department seventy-one years ago in 1943. He knows a tremendous amount of local history. Anyway, I opened my car trunk and showed him the Rogerson stone. BINGO! He recognized it immediately. “That stone used to be mounted at the old Bayport Fire House when it was located on Middle Road.
There was another stone too honoring Bayporter Joseph Soucek, who also died of his wounds from World War I. I often wondered whatever happened to those two memorial stones,” Ed said. “Wow.” Ray Reilly got a group of Fire Department members to move the stone from the trunk of my car to a Fire Department grounds building temporarily. Now, hopefully, the Bayport Fire Department will in time re-install the Rogerson stone in a place of honor at the Bayport Fire House. Maybe, someday, the Soucek stone will also show up and be preserved in its rightful place at the Bayport Fire House. You never know where or when historical artifacts turn up.
Naturally, I too decided to look more into Sergeant Rogerson’s past. Before the war he, like so many others of that time, worked on the Great South Bay, probably as an oysterman or clammer. He was described as strong and rugged, which one would guess you have to be in that line of work. Unfortunately, it was his service to his country that would have a detrimental effect on the rest of his life. While serving with the AEF, (American Expeditionary Forces) in St. Juvin, France, the Germans attacked his battalion with gas, something that of course was outlawed after WWI.
He spent seven weeks in a hospital in France but eventually George returned to Bayport following the war and to the Bayport Fire Department but the effects of the gas got the best of him. He spent the next seven years in a sanitarium in Holtsville. Once the doctors felt he was well enough, George moved to Texas for a better climate and eventually moved to Baltimore where he had a child. Unfortunately, only a few months after his wife gave birth, George passed away.
He received full military and firematic honors from the US Army and Bayport Fire Department respectively. The following Memorial Day, the Bayport Fire Department installed the monument onto the Bayport Fire Department Headquarters on Middle Road.
In the 1950s the Bayport Fire Department Headquarters was relocated to Snedecor Avenue and Railroad Street. During this time the department did whatever it could to preserve all of its history and ensuring its survival at its new location. Unfortunately some things that were important did not make the trip for whatever reason.
Today the department owns property adjacent to the Fire District Headquarters where they have built a memorial for fallen Bayport Firefighters, to which I am sure Sergeant Rogerson’s stone will again be laid to rest. However, a new quest has been uncovered.
As you read, when the firehouse was torn down, the monument for Firefighter/Corporal Soucek was also misplaced. I was able to find that his inscription included:
Joseph was inducted into service Sept. 19, 1917. Served as Corporal with Co. M, 305th Infantry, 77th Division, Camp Upton. Died April 21, 1919 at Camp Upton. Age 25 years.
Bayport had 26 men enlisted in the first World War and Corporal Soucek was the first soldier from Bayport to die as a result of wounds from battle. He was the only son of Joseph Soucek who lived on Kensignton Avenue. He was wounded in France by shrapnel and at first refused treatment. He reluctantly returned to Camp Upton and spent the next four months in the base hospital and eventually died of septic poisoning.
One thing I did come across was throughout the 1930s there was mention of the ever growing and ever popular Memorial Day services held at the Bayport Fire Department following the Sayville parade, a tradition that continues today. Everyone of the newspaper reports said that each year the Bayport Fire Department Chief paid tribute to George Rogerson and Joseph Soucek.
Engine Co. No. 1