Ninety-Two Years Is No Barrier to Loyalty and Friendship in the Famed Yankee Division

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Growing up, I often heard stories about my late uncle, John Doyle, the oldest and kindest of my mother's six brothers. He died of tuberculosis in 1933, losing the chance to fulfill the promise of his great mind and heart.

Uncle John had been a boy-soldier, only 19, in the Massachusetts National Guard, with the Yankee Division, in September 1919 when the Guard was called up during the Boston police strike. The criminal element was having a field day.

The governor at the time, Calvin Coolidge, needed every available soldier not only to protect the lives and property of Bostonians but also to send a strong message that the government had the situation in hand. Nine people died over the brief course of the strike, but it could have been much worse.

"There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, anytime," Coolidge declared, words that resounded across the nation and put Coolidge on the road to the White House.

One of the details from my mother's stories about Uncle John has always stayed with me:

During the strike, my grandfather was concerned that his son was not properly outfitted for sleeping on the sidewalks, as the soldiers had to do, so he took his only overcoat and walked from his home in Revere to Boston and began searching for John's unit, Company D of the 15th Infantry Regiment. It took hours but my grandfather found Uncle John and handed him the long old coat that would provide additional insulation from the cold pavement. Then he walked straight home.

Today, it so happens that the Yankee Division is on active duty in Afghanistan, and that a young and distinguished member of the Doyle family, a career soldier in the regular Army, has formed a special bond with these Massachusetts reservists on account of his ancestral tie to the division.

With Memorial Day upon us, it is worth pondering, and celebrating, such quintessentially American ties, for they have the strength to span generations and continents.

Lieutenant Colonel Brian J. Doyle of the 3rd Battalion of the Fourth Infantry Division is the grand-nephew of my Uncle John and the son of my first cousin, Kevin Doyle, a Marine combat veteran of the Viet Nam War.

Brian, like his father before him, is once again risking his life for his country, this time in Afghanistan, where he is currently working with a company from the Yankee Division in Kabul. Because he had read a book on the Doyle family written by my aunt, Arlene Browne of Charlestown, Brian knew of Uncle John's membership in the Yankee Division.

In due course, Brian mentioned this to his Yankee Division colleagues; and in a recent e-mail to Arlene, Brian described their reaction:

"They were very excited to learn about the connection and even presented me with one of their patches...It is funny. In my 17 years in the Army I have never served with anyone else from Massachusetts, and now they are everywhere. Kind of feels like home."

Where I hope they'll all be soon.

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