Sunday, November 11, 2018

Leo Ross Porter (1889-1918)

I wrote some time ago that I knew of only one Hoosier cartoonist who died while on active duty in the U.S. military. He was Asa Henderson King (1880-1919) of Boone and Clinton counties, who died at Camp Galliard in the Panama Canal Zone on June 6, 1919. This summer, though, I discovered another, one who not only died while on active duty but was actually killed in action, one hundred years ago as the Great War was in its final months. On this anniversary of the ending of that war, the war that was to have ended all wars, I would like to remember and honor him as we remember all who fought and died, in the mud and trenches, among the shell craters, on the wire, in the bombed-out cities, above the battlefields, and in the maritime approaches to a continent at war.

Leo Ross Porter was born on February 26, 1889, in Metz, a small town in Steuben County, Indiana, not far from the Ohio state line. When he was five years old, his parents, John Wesley Porter (1855-1933) and Josephine Porter (1856-1933), moved their family to Pleasant Lake, a town a little south of Angola, Indiana. "Leo was always a lover of art and nature," wrote the Steuben Republican. "He always liked birds and animals and they seemed to know him as a friend. He made a special study of birds, and when a boy, used to watch them by the hour, studying their habits, and he could answer almost any question concerning them." (1)

When he was about twenty, Porter went west, working and traveling for about a year and a half. He also studied art for a short time in Kansas City. Upon his return to the Midwest, Porter worked at a wholesale firm in Detroit before leaving to take up his art studies again. He attended the Lockwood Art Institute in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and graduated in 1914. From 1914 to April 1917, he worked as a designer and cartoonist for the Lansing State Journal. Then war came.

Porter enlisted in the U.S. Army at Lansing in April 1917. He trained with his unit, the 119th Field Artillery, at Camp Grayling, Michigan, then, beginning in July 1917, at Camp McArthur, Texas. At Camp McArthur, he was assigned to the reconnaissance section of his headquarters unit as a drawer of maps and sketches. The 119th shipped out for France on February 26, 1918, and went right into the firing line and what for Porter would be five months of continuous action. He was at the Second Battle of the Marne, his unit helping to capture the city of Fismes. On August 12, Porter was wounded at Ch√Ęteau-Thierry. While he was being carried away by his comrades, a shell burst nearly tore off his left leg. Despite the grievous wounds he had received, Porter joked, "Well, I guess I'll have to get a peg leg." (2) Instead he died two days later, on August 14, 1918. Leo Ross Porter was the first Steuben County resident to die in action.

Three years passed before his body was returned stateside for burial. His father received the body in Indiana in July 1921. On July 31, 1921, a funeral for Leo Ross Porter took place at the Methodist Church in Angola. He was buried at Circle Hill Cemetery in that city. Porter was survived by his parents; three brothers, Jay, Otis, who served with the 338th Infantry in France, and Lester; and a sister, Audrey. The local newspaper, the Steuben Republican, remembered the fallen soldier as "of a quiet disposition, never talking much, and his remarks were always to the point." (3)

In the year following Porter's funeral and interment, local veterans formed the Ross Porter Chapter of Disabled Veterans of the World War. On May 31, 1922, the men marched in the Decoration Day parade in Angola. Afterwards they went to Porter's grave for a memorial service. You can still visit his grave today. His headstone is engraved: "Leo R. Porter/Killed in France/1889-1918."

(1) "Leo Ross Porter." Obituary. Steuben Republican, October 2, 1918, page 1.
(2) "Steuben County Hero Will Be Buried Today." Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, July 31, 1921, page 27.
(3) "Leo Ross Porter." Obituary. Steuben Republican, October 2, 1918, page 1.

For years journalist Earle R. Pitt amused readers of the Lansing State Journal with his humorous columns published under the heading "The City Hall Grouch." For part of that time, Pitt's columns were illustrated by a young Hoosier cartoonist, Leo Ross Porter. Here's an example from April 5, 1916, exactly a year and a day before Congress declared war on Germany. 

And here is the cartoonist, Leo Ross Porter, who was killed in the war.

Original text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

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