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New London soldier died just before the armistice, but his name lives on

November 11, 2018

The celebration of the armistice on Nov. 11, 1918, might have meant the end of World War I but not the end of sorrow for New London families.

In the days and weeks that followed, word continued to come from France of local men who had been killed in the war’s intense final days.

As today is not only the centennial of the armistice but also Veterans Day, it’s worth remembering a New London soldier whose name is familiar to local veterans.

Maj. John Coleman Prince, the son of a New London dentist, was in the thick of the fight in those last days. A soldier since 1911, he had served in the Philippines and at the Mexican border during the hunt for Pancho Villa.

While in command of a cavalry troop in Arizona, he applied for duty overseas and arrived in France in March 1918. In September, when his parents last heard from him, he wrote that he was worried because he hadn’t heard from them in weeks. They cabled him that they were fine.

At the time, Prince, 29, had just completed training at an Army school and was awaiting orders. He soon was assigned to the 365th Infantry Regiment in the 92nd Division. Known as the “Buffalo Soldiers Division,” it was a segregated unit of black troops and mostly white officers. Prince commanded a battalion.

On Nov. 1, he led a raiding party behind German lines and did not return.

A month after the armistice, his parents received a telegram at their home on Vauxhall Street that said their son was missing in action. His mother appealed for help to the Red Cross in the hope that he might turn up at a German hospital or prison.

But another telegram ended her hopes a week after Christmas. It confirmed that Prince had been killed Nov. 1.

It was determined that he had been shot during the raid, was taken prisoner, and died two hours later. In a note of condolence, Prince’s commanding officer wrote that “his life though short in years was complete in things accomplished.”

He was buried in France, but his name would soon gain local immortality.

A few months after the armistice, local men organized a post of a new veterans group called the American Legion. They named it for the highest-ranking New Londoner killed in the war: Maj. John Coleman Prince.

j.ruddy@theday.com

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