Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Remembering a Veteran: Lieutenant Elliott M. Braxton Jr., 80th Division

Lt. Elliott M. Braxton

Thoughts regarding his own state of mind and the safety of the soldiers he was to command prompted 22-year-old Lieutenant Elliott M. Braxton Jr., of Newport News, VA, to write to his Uncle Will expressing his concerns about leading his men in combat:

At some critical instant will I flinch or hesitate? It’s a horrible thought. I don’t think I fear death by sea or land, but I do fear at some point where seconds mean life or death to lose control of myself for a minute, to scream and turn, to slink in the bottom of a trench, to fail, to lack the nerve to lead my men over the parapet when the supreme need comes. These worry me more than any possible wound…it’s the impulse of the moment; the lack of control that scares me.   The notes on warfare say that a second lieutenant or any platoon commander has almost life and death power over about thirty men. I know they look to him for everything. But I can’t get the feel of it. Other men will do these things, but it is not personal to me. It is like being in a glass cage when it is raining. You know it is raining and wet, but you are dry, there is only a faint barrier between you and the water, yet the moisture doesn’t affect you. I can think of it, but I can’t feel it.

The actual life doesn’t touch me. What will it feel like to send a man to his    death? What will it be like to cause the death of several men? What will their mothers think? Will everybody point at me and say there’s a man who made John die? I can’t feel that such things are possible. It is not a question of just knowing. I have to have a physical sensation to understand and realize. The thing is too big for me.

This sounds wild and is poorly expressed, but it mirrors my ideas. All is hazy. My duties, responsibilities, problems and successes are dim, nebulous, intangible,  misty. One thing alone is clear. I want to play the game to the end without flinching. My first duty is to help mold two hundred and some odd, many very odd, men into a team, not a machine, for a machine is driven, but a team will follow me wherever I lead with absolute confidence.

Sunday Morning at Cunel by Harvey Dunn

Lt. Braxton was killed in action on 11 October 1918 near the Cunel front, then on 15 May 1919, “for meritorious services and extraordinary gallantry in action,” Brigadier General Lloyd Brett cited Braxton: “When the Company had been cut in two by having the artillery barrage pass thru, Lieut. Braxton collected the  scattered units left and took up the attack. As he led his command over the crest of the hill which led down into Cunel, his command came under annihilating machine gun fire. While attempting to lead his men forward under this he fell, mortally wounded, dying almost instantly. Lieut. Braxton by his coolness and courage stopped his panic-stricken men, leading them forward in the advance, and filling in the gap in the attacking lines.



  1. Braxton's ability to express his concerns is almost poetic. I hope he is resting in peace knowing he did not flinch.

  2. I believe that Lt. Braxton spoke for every person who has ever had to lead another person into danger, whether at fire-team, squad, platoon or army level. His thoughts were not wild, and most certainly they were not poorly expressed.