For many years, members of The National Society of Colonial Dames in the State of New York and their Van Cortlandt Committee would celebrate the start of a new "season" at Van Cortlandt House. These celebrations were held the Saturday in May which fell closest to the 25th which was the day, in 1897, that the Museum was first opened to the public. A short time after the 1968 Monday Holiday Act permanently established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May, these annual celebrations were ended.
While these celebrations were usual joyous occasions with Maypole Dances, costumed Colonial Dames, and a group of special dignitaries, the annual gathering of the Society on May 23, 1956 had a much more somber feel. It was on that day that Augustus Van Cortlandt, Jr. addressed the assembled Dames on the occasion of the donation of a portrait of the first Augustus Van Cortlandt in honor of his son who had been killed in Germany in December of 1945.
A portion of Augustus Van Cortlandt's address from May 23rd is featured below.
"The young man whose memory we are here to preserve is the last Augustus, the great-great-great-grandson of the first Augustus. He was born at Guard Hill in 1922, almost 200 years after the birth, and almost 100 years after the death of the first Augustus. He attended day school at Bedford, then Kent School where he rowed on the crew. He then entered Yale University, where he rowed on the freshman crew, and the next year on Junior Varsity. When war broke out, he entered the Yale R.O.T. C., received training in this country, was attached to the 10th Armored Division and went to France as a second lieutenant. There in the Third Army he went through a long and severe campaign. At a crossing of the Moselle River his command was cut off by the enemy and was under heavy fire for three days and nights. Although wounded he managed to extricate his command.
For this reason he received the Silver Star Medal and his first award of the Purple Heart. He spent Christmas in the heaviest possible fighting at Bastogne, a hospital was struck by a bomb and caught fire. Lt. Van Cortlandt and an enlisted man carried out the wounded, and for this he received the Bronx Star Medal. He was promoted to First Lieutenant, and his outfit was attached to the Seventh Army. With the Seventh Army in Germany, his detachment was attacked by S. S. troops. He was acting as forward observer and in returning to his battery with the direction and range of the opposing advance, he was shot through the stomach. The only words he uttered were to give the range he was trying to report, and his battery was able to destroy the attacking force and hold its position. He died before he could be moved to a hospital. For his conduct in this, his last engagement, he received the Oak leaf Cluster to the Silver Star Medal he had previously won, and a second award of the Purple Heart. Lt. Van Cortlandt fought a long and strenuous campaign which lasted for many months, and neither the cold of the winter, the discomforts of rain, the fatigue of campaigns, the pain of wounds, nor even approaching death itself were ever able to deter him from the proper performance of his duty. It would appear that even the most dispassionate and impartial observer would grant that the boy fought hard and well."
Laura Myers, Director
Laura has been the Director of Van Cortlandt House Museum since September of 1994. She is innately curious about many things and takes advantage of her Material Culture focus to explore more deeply the collections of Van Cortlandt House Museum.