Monday, June 8, 2015

Archival Friday: From Washington College to West Point Military Academy

James Harold Pitman

So our goal for today was to look at the World War II Memorial in William Smith Hall.

Our group decided to look at the monument and pick one of the names of our fallen students whose names are immortalized on the plaque. So I originally picked Francis Zebrowski and Vincent Kohlerman, these are two men that I had letters from, which I discovered in a previous archives session. (So yes, I was cheating a little bit because I already had a lot of information on both soldiers.) However, as I was pulling out my letters, I found another name from the monument – James Pittman. His brother, Donald, sent the college a detailed history of Jim's military career, and with further exploration of what happened to Jim, as the names on the memorial plaque, are all men who gave their lives defending their country.

James Pitman was actually a student at Washington College for only 1 year before he accepted an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. While at Washington College, James was the freshman class President for the year he was here for the 1935-1936 school year.

After he graduated in West Point, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Cavalry in June 1940. From West Point he was moved to the Cavalry school in Fort Riley, Kansas, after intense training there he was sent to the famous 7th Cavalry Regiment in Fort Bliss, Texas. During this time he married Miss Theodora Burr of Bloomington Illinois. He then went with the 7th Cavalry when they went to Louisiana  with the 3rd army, but left to teach history at the newly formed West Point Preparatory School. Jim rose through the ranks, by the end of his teaching assignment he was promoted to First Lieutenant, and went to Fort Riley to join the 15th Cavalry Regiment and assigned as a S-3 (Operations Officer). Promoted again to Major in January 1943, he was transferred to South Carolina to help activate the 2nd Cavalry Group. Then in June of 1943, Jim became a father to his son James Hudson Pitman, who was born in Columbia, South Carolina. He joined the 42nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, was sent overseas in April 1944, and became a part of the Third Army.

Jim became a member of the British-American staff and observed the D-Day assaults, even though the Third Army did not participate. At the end of July, the 42nd Cavalry was part of the breakthrough of "St. Lo" and became the "point for Patton's Third Army dash across France." When Lt. Col. Hill, the leader of the 42nd, was hospitalized, Jim took control. By September, the 42nd had advanced miles ahead of the main force of the Third Army, and Jim was ordered to guard the road junctions of Luneville, France, and essentially protect the left flank. Jim was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for gallant service. Attacked at 7:30 in the morning on September 18th, "skillfully and courageously directed the defense of his positions until about 1:00 that afternoon when the 4th Armored Division arrived as back up. Pittman was able to deflect the heavy tank and machine gun fire with his lighter armaments, and successfully kept the enemy away from the road, while being calm and skillful under heavy fire, he was inspiration to his men. Jim Pittman lost his life after being shot by enemy tank gun fire while reporting the situation to his group commander.


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