Do You Have Any Information About These Ecorse Soldiers?

             by Kathy Warnes

I’ll have to step a bit out of my professional/objective voice for this post because I’m asking for your help and I have a deep personal interest in this topic.

You probably know by now that the Ecorse Presbyterian Church was torn down a few years ago.  When I was growing up in Ecorse I remember looking at this memorial plaque that was posted in the old brick Presbyterian Church and wondering about the soldiers whose names are on the plaque.  I am especially interested in World War II because my dad and my two uncles fought in the Coast Guard and the Army and my grandmother had a set of World War II in picture books in the book case in her living room that I sat and read by the hour.

When the 1970s era Ecorse Presbyterian Church was built, the plaque was installed in the shelter of the side door. When I lived in Ecorse in 2004-2006 – I was writing my dissertation about Ecorse – I passed the plaque on Sundays on the way into church and the names still intrigued me. Finally, I am trying to find out more about the soldiers listed on the plaque, but it’s a long, time consuming haul.

I’m publishing what information I have alongside their names. If you are related to them or know someone that is, of if you have any information about them at all, would you please email me?  My email is or

I am planning to do as comprehensive of an article about them as I can with what information I receive.  These soldiers are an important part of Ecorse history and I think it would be a travesty if their names and their memories faded into obscurity.

Robert Whitefield, Jr.

Robert Whitefield Jr. was a private first class in the Marine Corps.

According to the World War II Casualty records on,  Robert was killed in action and his mother Louise was listed as his next of kin.

The 1930 Census shows a Louise Whitefield, born about 1904. In 1930, 26 year old Louise was still living in Donora, Pennsylvania with her 30 year old husband, Robert, and their two children, Robert Jr., 7, and John,  3 ½.  Robert Sr. lists his occupation as a steelworker.

I still have to prove this – this is just speculation at this point – but I am thinking that since he was a steel worker, he may have been part of the migration of steelworkers who came to work at Great Lakes Steel Company in Ecorse in the years before World War II.  The Downriver Pennsylvania Club was founded by expatriate Pennsylvanians who came to Michigan to work in the mills.

Harry Morse, Jr.

Harry Morse, Jr. was a private in the Army. The Rosters of Michigan’s World War II Dead record on says that he was killed on November 8, 1944 in the Mediterranean.

His American Battle Monuments Record:  Private U.S. Army

   Harry W.     Morse
Entered the Service from: Michigan
Died: 16-Feb-44
Buried at: Plot I Row 7 Grave 69
Sicily-Rome American Cemetery
Nettuno, Italy
Awards: Purple Heart

If anyone has any information about his family     that would be very helpful in searching the census records.

Lambert A. Pfeiffer, Jr.

Lambert Pfeiffer, Jr. was a corporal in the United States Air Force. He was killed on June 16, 1944. He is buried in Ft. McPherson National Cemetery in Maxwell, Nebraska.

The 1930 Census shows that Lambert A. Pfeiffer, Sr. was bon about 1899 in Kentucky and in 1930 he lived in Allen Park, Michigan with his wife Meta H. Pfeiffer and his children Lambert A. Pfeiffer, Jr. 6, and Robert D. Pfeiffer, 3.

Joseph Hargreaves

Joseph Hargreaves was an Ensign in the United States Navy from Ecorse, according to the Michigan Casualties, World War II, record on  He was killed on August 29, 1944. N,9-4-44 U.S. according to that record.

Sometime  serendipity happens!  I thought Hargreaves sounded and spelled English, but I had no way of knowing for sure. Then when I was doing preliminary research about Joseph Hargreaves I found this posting on a World War II website.

The posting was from England Phil and it said that he “was trying to trace any details of an American Airman killed in 1944 in what looks to have been a training accident.”

He said that Joseph Hargreaves was 20 years old and was the son of James Henry and Josephine Hargreaves who had emigrated to Michigan from Widnes in 1920.

England Phil said that at the time of his death Joseph Hargreave’s address was given as “31 East Josephine Street, Michigan, U.S.A. although I suspect that address is incorrect.”

The details that I do have is that his aircraft was involved in a mid air collision. I have a photo of him in a Naval uniform which is why I suspect that he was a Naval flyer.


Other members of the World War II site discovered that James Henry Hargreaves arrived in New York on June 9, 1920, aboard the S.S. Baltic which depart from Liverpool. The immigration record stated that his wife was still living at 7 Travers St. Widnes, Lancs at the time he arrived and that he was going to Ford City, (Wyandotte later annexed Ford City) Michigan. He listed his occupation as Motor Attendant. His wife and two daughters joined him in Michigan in August 1920. Joseph Hargreaves was born in 1924.

Since I was not a registered member of the site, I couldn’t communicate directly with England Phil, but I I hastily sent an email to the webmaster asking England Phil to email me. I hope I hear from him so we can compare puzzle pieces about Joseph Hargreaves whose name is on the World War II plaque.

Fergus McMurdo

Fergus McMurdo or officially William S. McMurdo, was a Pfc in the Army who was killed on February 12, 1945 in France.

The 1930 Census shows that George McMurdo who was born about 1880 in Scotland now lived in Ecorse, Michigan, with his wife Elizabeth McMurdo and their children. Their children were James 24, Anna, 22, Charles, 20, Fergus, 18, George, 16, Peter, 12 and Robert, 8.


In July 1949, Reverend Leonard Duckett, pastor of the Ecorse Presbyterian Church, officiated at the reburial in Michigan Memorial Cemetery of Pfc. William McMurdo, the son of Mr. and Mrs. George McMurdo of Ecore. “Fergus,” as his friends and family called him, was killed in action on November 15, 1944 at Graylotte, France, after just fourteen months of service.

He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star. According to the citation issued by the War Department, McMurdo voluntarily made three trips through barbed wire entanglements to get grenades for his comrades who were trapped in advance trenches outside fortifications in the face of enemy fire. Later that day he was killed by enemy fire as he attempted to set up a machine gun.

I am hoping that you will send me enough information to do a very complete memorial article about these brave Ecorse soldiers.


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Have a Historical Holly Holiday!

by Kathy Warnes

Romans fashioned holly into bright wreaths,

Honored Saturnia with its green leaves,

Christians decorated both hearth and home

With holly to avoid the wrath of Rome.

As Christian numbers began to increase,

They removed holly from the Roman feast,

Using it to decorate instead,

The stable and the Christ Child’s manger bed.

Druids wove holly in their hair to go

In the woods with priests cutting mistletoe.

British farmers draped holly on beehives,

And the bees hummed the Christ Child lullabies.

Germans used holly from church as a charm

To keep lightning strikes from doing harm.

They believed that holly on the bedpost,

Would entice sweet dreams to satisfy most.

Germans brewed a strong holly elixir,

To sooth a sore throat and a cough to cure.

These customs – both fortunate and folly,

Explain “deck the halls with boughs of holly.”

Today, holly signifies joy and peace,

I wish you holly that will never cease!

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A Pitt Street in Ecorse Christmas

by Kathy Covert Warnes

The fishpond in beside the Fire Department which was located in the old Ecorse City Hall.

Of the Covert tribe of eleven kids, nine of us  were born in Michigan, lived on Pitt Street in Ecorse and like our mother before us, we went to School One. I’m sure I’m not the only former pupil who remembers the School One teachers. Mrs. Pudvan  was my first grade at School One. Mrs. Trickey was my second grade teacher at School One, Miss Ouelette my third grade teacher, Miss Heater my fourth, Miss Christine McKenzie my fifth and Mr. Magnus Meier my sixth grade teacher.

 I remember walking to School One every day from the house at 4276 Pitt Street, down High Street across from the Trunk Factory, and across Cicotte Street. Then there were a long two blocks to cover past the old brick Ecorse City Hall and a stop at the fishpond by the fire station. Whenever I had a penny to spare, I threw it in to join the other pennies sparkling on the bottom of the pond and made a wish. After the fish pond, a quick dash across the single railroad track ( it’s still there) and a complete stop at the corner of Labadie and High where the Sixth grade safety patrol boys helped us get across High Street safely and into the school yard.

 My brother Joe is the center of one School One memory that we still laugh about. The day that Joe started kindergarten at School One, I was safely upstairs in Sixth grade. It wasn’t difficult to ignore the fact that yet another Covert brother was invading my school space until Joe decided to break my anonymity. He was a Mama’s boy and he definitely didn’t want to be separated from her during the day. He was crying when he arrived and he didn’t stop crying after our mother left.  Up in the sixth grade room, we could hear him crying all of the way from the downstairs kindergarten room.  “I want my Mommy,” he bellowed. “Mommy! Mommy!”

 I managed to concentrate on my history book – Mr. Meier taught us ancient history in the sixth grade, which was a blessing to me although a curse to many of my classmates. The volume of Joe’s crying continued to rise until the entire school could no longer ignore him. A frazzled teacher came up and knocked on the door of the sixth grade room. To my great embarrassment, Mr. Meier summoned me up to his desk and asked me to go downstairs and see if I could calm Joe down. Reluctantly, I went.  Instead of  a kind, soothing message, I told Joe that he was embarrassing me to death and he’d better shut up.

He didn’t.  Finally, the kindergarten teacher gave up and called my mom.  I knew it wasn’t a convincing position, but for weeks afterward I pretended not to know him.

 Another good School One memory is the class Christmas parties.  Mom baked Christmas cookies for us to take to school and helped me and my brothers pick out 25 cent gifts at Ben Franklin for our class gift exchange. But the most exciting event except for Christmas Eve was the Christmas party at the city garage. Our house onPitt Streetwas just across Benson from the city garage. I didn’t pay too much attention to it the rest of the year, but at Christmas it turned magic. You see, Santa Claus made an early stop at the garage on a Saturday early in December with a bag of gifts for the neighborhood kids. The day of his scheduled stop, I scouted out the place early. I was determined not to miss Santa and I was just as determined to ask him for a baseball. I knew that if I had a new baseball I could get my fellow six grader Bill to notice me during our baseball games in the vacant lot by his house. Maybe he would even walk me home from School One.

 This Saturday before Christmas, I did get to the garage early. In fact, one of the men running back and forth unloading a truck load of boxes asked me what I was doing there so early. “I need to talk to Santa,” I told him.

 “He’s not here yet. Come back in an hour or so.”

 I went home and hung around the kitchen with Ma for an hour or so. Then I went back. “Is Santa here yet?” I asked one of the men who was still unloading boxes.

 The man pointed to a door in the back of the building. “He’s combing his beard,” the man said. “Just get in line and you’ll be able to talk to him.”

 I didn’t get in line. Instead I ran to the door that the man had pointed out and threw it open. Santa Claus stood in front of the mirror combing his white beard. “I need a brand new baseball,” I said.

 “Ho ho ho, Merry Christmas,” he said, reaching inside of his bag. He not only gave me a baseball, he gave me a bat to go with it.  “Wait a minute, don’t you want me to wrap them up?” he asked.

 “I want them just like this,” I called over my shoulder as I hightailed it out of the garage. “Thank you for the best Christmas ever, Santa.”

 It was a good Christmas. We had pancakes for supper that Christmas Eve, because Mom said that she and Dad gave a lot of their money to Santa Claus for Christmas presents.  I ate my pancakes without a blink. I liked pancakes and I was so happy with my baseball and bat I would have eaten pancakes the rest of the year without complaining.

 That spring Bill and me and the rest of the neighborhood kids played baseball into the warm twilight evenings and he even told me that I was a good player. We went steady for a while that next fall and I was certain that the baseball and bat from the Ecorse municipal garage Santa helped our romance.

Alas, by the next Christmas, we had broken up.  Our romance proved to be as short lived as the gaily wrapped packages that Santa gave away at those Ecorse municipal garage parties. But the memories will last as long as  Christmas.

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Captain Owen McCauley and His Daughter Clementine

by Kathy Warnes

Clementine McCauley and her father, Captain Owen J. McCauley, were both born within the sound of Lake Michigan waves, and both retired toLake Michigan.

Clementine McCauley, principal of the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Elementary School in Ecorse, Michigan, retired in June 1964 at the end of the school year, two years before she reached the maximum retirement age.

She taught continuously in the Ecorse Public Schools for forty years, beginning in September 1924 through June 1964 and spent twenty two of those years as a kindergarten teacher at School Two, fifteen years as principal of School Two, and three years as principal of the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Elementary School.

Miss McCauley earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1937 and a Master of Arts degree in 1947, both fromWayneStateUniversity. Later she did graduate work atColumbiaUniversityinNew YorkandBostonUniversity.

Beginning her teaching career in Jonesville in 1920, in 1921 Miss McCauley taught inRapid River,Michigan. From 1922 to 1924 she taught inOwosso,Michigan, and came to Ecorse in September of 1924. While teaching in Ecorse, Miss McCauley continued her education and qualified herself as a clinical psychologist. During her principal ship she gave part of her time as a clinical psychologist and also administered a portion of the testing program throughout the system.

Upon learning of Miss McCauley’s decision, Ralph Brant, superintendent of schools, asked her to reconsider her decision to retire and to serve the two remaining years to the maximum retirement date. She declined and said that she wanted to retire now after serving 44 years in the educational field. She felt she deserved a real rest and she wished to turn her duties over to a younger person. Superintendent Brant accepted her resignation regretfully and expressed his deepest regrets that the children of Ecorse would have to lose such a devoted friend.

“I have never been more proud of an elementary principal than I have been of Miss McCauley during the three years she has served as the first principal of the newJohnFitzgeraldKennedySchool,” Superintendent Brant said. “She took the position in September of 1961 at my insistence because her experience and ability were needed at that school. I have been pleased and proud of the attitude that I have seen exemplified by the boys and girls in the school, which indicates the fine climate that she and her staff have been able to instill in the student body,” he continued.

Besides her duties as principal, Miss McCauley had to give up many other duties. She was a member of the Board of Directors of the Rouge-Ecorse United Centers, and she served the Downriver Child Guidance Clinic for several years.After she retired, Miss McCauley moved to her family home inSt. Joseph,Michigan.

Miss McCauley’s hometown paper, the Beaver Beacon, which was published onBeaverIsland, commented on her retirement in July 1964. It noted that “former Islander Clementine McCauley, Principal of Kennedy Elementary School, Ecorse, was honored for having served there for 40 years.” One of the people attending the ceremony was Edward O’Donnell, president of Lincoln Products inLincoln Park. He had been her classmate onBeaverIsland and procured the Zoltan Sepsehy mural that hangs in theMarineMuseum there.

A story in the Lighthouse Digest in 1977 revealed more of the secret past of Ecorse principal Miss Clementine McCauley.In 1900, her father Captain Owen J. McCauley was a 31 year old assistant keeper in the United States Lighthouse Service. In December of 1900 her father was one of five people who spent 23 frigid hours on an overturned sailboat inLake Michigan.

Miss McCauley remembered that her pregnant mother, Mary, had stayed at home on BeaverIslandbecause she was waiting for her baby—Clementine herself– to be born. “If my mother had gone on that trip, I wouldn’t be here today,” she said.

On December 14, 1900, William H. Shields, keeper of the Squaw Island Lighthouse, northwest of BeaverIsland, decided it was time to shut down for the winter. The weather outside was so cold that it produced a dense, fifteen foot cloud of vapor over the lake. Keeper Shields turned off the light in the lighthouse and he and the other four members of his party climbed into the Mackinac sailboat that served the lighthouse for the nine mile trip toBigBeaverIsland.  Shields, his wife, her niece, Lucy Davis ofRichmond,Indiana, first assistant keeper Captain McCauley and second assistant, Lucien Morden of Montague, had no reason to think that the trip would be anything but routine.

They certainly weren’t worried about the Mackinac sailboat they were using. The open twenty two footer was standard equipment for the light keepers and was a two mastered gaffrigger with a jib, foresail and mainsail. Most of the people who used the Mackinac boat thought of her as an easily handled, centerboard boat, pointed at both bow and stern.

The wind blew moderately from the northeast and the fog lifted as they set sail. Keeper Shields estimated that the trip toBigBeaverIslandwould take two hours.Things went well for about ten minutes, but then the wind suddenly shifted into alternately steady breezes, then total calm. The calm suddenly turned into storm. The boat stood still in the water and the icy mists had evaporated when Assistant keeper McCauley saw a “puff of wind” from the north bearing down on them.

Captain McCauley yelled a warning to Shields at the helm, but the squall smashed into them before he could slacken the sails or turn into the wind. Unbalanced to one side, the Mackinac boat heeled over until the sails lay flat on the water.

Shields and his wife, Lucian Morden and Mrs. Davis landed in the lake, while Captain McCauley managed to scramble over the gunwale as the boat tipped. The men hauled the gasping and helpless women up to the centerboard trunk and then to a prone position on the side of the hull.  For the time being they were chilled to the bone, but safe.

The five stranded people didn’t have the strength to right the tipped Mackinac boat and it stayed on its side. Captain McCauley threw all of their belongings out of the cockpit to make the boat as buoyant as possible. The men used lines from the rigging to securely tie the women, but their feet and lower legs remained in the water.

Shivering violently with cold, the group huddled together and searched the horizon for a ship or point of land. The squall passed, leaving the air clear and the lake calm. The stranded group saw several fishing tugs throughout the day, but the distance was too great for the fishing tug crews to see them in the water. The Mackinac boat continued to drift south.

As darkness coveredLake Michigan, the stranded five saw the lights of the returning fishing tugs, but the tug crews didn’t hear their shouts. After about eight hours adrift in the lake, the two women froze to death and Lucian Morden, numb from the cold, lost his hold on the boat and slipped under the waves. Light keeper Shields and Captain McCauley clung to the side of the hull through the bitterly cold night. Shields suffered not only his own physical torment, but from the anguish of seeing the dead body of his wife dangling on a rope in the water below.

As dawn broke, the two survivors saw that they were no closer to land and not a ship was in sight. They were freezing and very hungry, and now a brisk southeast wind flung occasional gusts of snow at them. By late morning they had drifted far out into the ship channel and swung to the north. Captain McCauley saw smoke on the horizon, but then a snow squall blotted it out. He urged Shields to keep up his courage because he was certain that a steamer lay just to the north. Finally, a large ship, the steamerManhattan, a Gilchrist line steamer which was bound forManitowocwith a cargo of coal, moved broadside to the wrecked boat, blew four short blasts, hove to and lowered a boat.

Captain McCauley thought he might be hallucinating as he watched four oarsmen bring the life boat alongside. Captain McCauley boarded the life boat himself, but Shields had to be lifted, because he couldn’t walk in his half-frozen state. The crew removed the ice covered bodies of the women and rowed the lifeboat back to theManhattan. Both of the survivors were badly frozen, especially keeper Shields, and the next morning when the Manhattan arrived in Manitowoc, they were taken to the Hospital of the Holy Family

Keeper Shields had badly frozen hands and feet, and remained in the hospital for six months. The doctors had to remove one of his legs at the knee. After he left the hospital, the United States Lighthouse service appointed Shields keeper at the newly built lighthouse at Charlevoix and he served there until he retired in April 1924. He died in September 1925.McCauley was in better condition.  He was discharged from the hospital and arrived home at BeaverIslandDecember 26th.  Because of poor communications between Beaver Island and the mainland, Mary McCauley didn’t learn that her husband was alive until weeks after the Captain had been rescued and hospitalized.

Despite the fact that both Captain McCauley and Keeper Shields continued to keep lights for the Lighthouse Service, the United States government did not pay for their expenses while they were hospitalized at the Hospital of the Holy Family in Manitowoc. According to a Detroit Free Press story dated November 15, 1901, the United States comptroller said that under existing laws the government had no authority to pay the hospital expenses for Keeper Shields and first assistant McCauley. He added that the government had no legal obligation to provide for the care of sick or disabled officers or employees.

A native of BeaverIsland, Captain McCauley joined the Lighthouse Service in 1898 and after the near fatal accident in the Mackinaw Boat and his recovery, the government promoted him to principal keeper of Squaw Island Light. He kept the Squaw Island Light until it closed in 1928 and then the Lighthouse Service transferred him to the St. Joseph Light.  He kept the St. Joseph Light until he retired in 1936.

Captain McCauley and his daughter Clementine were staunch examples of the maritime tradition of BeaverIsland.

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