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ONLY PA: Remembering forgotten WWI servicemen killed in the line of duty at Gettysburg

GETTYSBURG, ADAMS COUNTY, Pa. -- Gettysburg Battlefield is known worldwide for its role in the Civil War.

Every July the battlefield is filled with scenes and stories from re-enactors.

There is another Gettysburg story few have heard.

Thousands of soldiers died at Gettysburg Battlefield during the war between the states in 1863, but those weren't the last servicemen to lose their lives there in the line of duty.

It begs the question that if the Civil War didn't claim the last lives on the battlefield, what war was it?

Gettysburg Heritage Center president Tammy Myers said "I think people will find it absolutely fascinating and surprising."

Historian and author Rick Fulton said "the last two line of duty deaths, by U.S. soldiers on the battlefield occurred in 1922, not during the Battle of Gettysburg."

Gettysburg resident Ron Frenette said "we're coming up on the 100th anniversary of World War I, and these people are kind of forgotten."

That was until Fulton remembered and paid tribute to Marine Captain George Hamilton and Gunnery Sergeant George Martin in his book he co-authored, titled 'The Last to Fall.'

"They were here to help save the Marine Corps. There have been 11 attempts throughout history to try to dissolve the Marine Corps, all the way up beyond World War II. This was the first major effort," Fulton said.

It was that attempt to save the U.S. Marine Corps which indirectly cost Captain Hamilton his life.

"The heads of the Marine Corps, tried to come up with something to gain more public exposure, to help save the Marine Corps from being dissolved.  So, they came up with these summer maneuvers where they would train the soldiers, but they would also reenact public battles, to see the marines in action," Fulton said.

As Hamilton led a squadron of planes at the head of a marine column, his bomber crashed onto part of the battlefield.

"They don't know to this day what happened, but the pilots that were with him in the other planes, said his engine cut out, and then he began to spiral," Fulton said.

It's a story that's close to home for Frenette. The site of the crash is across the street from where his house now stands. That inspired him to coordinate an effort to pay tribute to Hamilton and Martin.

"A carnival that was right along Emmittsburg Road and Steinwehr, and the pictures that we have show the crash site in the background of that, so that would put it right about here. The wayside's going to go right here, closest to the crash site that we can figure out," Frenette said.

First, Frenette needs to raise the money for the memorial wayside, which will be located behind the Gettysburg Heritage Center.

"So far, we've raised $3,600. We're partnering with the local Marine Corps League, and they've done a great job raising money as well. The borough's been helpful with all the permitting, they've been great. Tammy's donating the land," Frenette said.

"We want to tell a broader story, more than just the Civil War component of Gettysburg, which most people know and recognize, to know that there is more history that expands beyond that. I think is a fabulous addition," Myers said.

It also gives Myers another reason to encourage Pennsylvanians to explore what's in their own backyard.

"I think it's a cool story because it defies what everybody probably believes, is that the last soldier killed here on the battlefield was from the Civil War," Myers said.

"We get this here, we get people to see it, get some more information out there what happened to these two guys, and about the other history in the 1900s here," Frenette said.

"There is more to this town than there was the three days in 1863," Fulton said.

Fulton and Frenette hope the tribute to Hamilton and Martin will inspire people to get out and explore Gettysburg's history beyond the battlefield.