The last troops to die on the Gettysburg Battlefield in Pennsylvania did not fight in the infamous Civil War conflict, but in World War I.
Capt. George Hamilton and Gunnery Sgt. George Martin — both Marine Corps aviators — died in a plane crash on the battlefield during training maneuvers in June 1922.
As the 95th anniversary of the crash approaches, Gettysburg-area residents and the Gettysburg Battlefield Detachment of the Marine Corps League are working to establish a memorial to honor the fallen flyers.
“When those Marines got killed here, it made national news,” said Richard Fulton, a Gettysburg writer/historian who helped spearhead the memorial effort. “This is just another piece of history that’s gone by the wayside.”
Hamilton, a highly decorated survivor of the Battle of Belleau Wood near the Marne River in France during World War I, was flying a dive bomber over the Gettysburg battlefield with Martin during re-enactment maneuvers. The plane crashed while the pilots attempted to land at a farm in southern Pennsylvania.
In the week before the crash, the flyers and 5,500 other Marines marched from Quantico, Virginia, to Gettysburg to perform Civil War re-enactments — a public demonstration that doubled as a training exercise.
“They pulled out tanks and dive bombers and re-enacted Pickett’s Charge, World War I style,” Mr. Fulton said. “Really made quite a bit of noise, I’m sure. But that’s why the dive bombers were there.”
The demonstrations also helped save the Marine Corps from being disbanded after World War I, said Mr. Fulton, who co-wrote the book “The Last to Fall: 1922 March, Battles & Deaths of U.S. Marines at Gettysburg.”
“The Marine Corps was struggling to present its importance to the public in order to save itself,” he said.
The famous battlefield was used again during World War II, when it served as a camp for 800 German prisoners of war. While at the camp, prisoners were required to work for local farmers. The cheap labor helped save the area’s agricultural economy, Mr. Fulton said.
The memorial, which is slated for a dedication in June, is to honor the two flyers who have been “buried in the focus of the Civil War,” he said.
“This whole town has been kept in this little warp of three days in 1863 because of the battlefield being here,” he said. “So a lot of the other historical events that have happened here have been forgotten.”
The Gettysburg Battlefield Detachment of the Marine Corps League set up a GoFundMe web page to raise $7,500 for the memorial. The page had raised more than $2,750 as of Tuesday.
Mr. Fulton said the memorial will include historical facts about the pilots and the crash.
The Gettysburg Heritage Center, a gift shop and museum dedicated to Gettysburg history, donated a portion of its property near the crash site for the memorial. Center President Tammy Myers said the exhibit honoring Hamilton and Martin will help tell a lesser-known story of Gettysburg.
“Even though most of our emphasis in the past has been on the Civil War, it’s nice to paint a broader picture of what’s happened here,” she said.
Any extra money raised for the memorial will be donated to the Marine Corps League of Pennsylvania Foundation, Mr. Fulton said.