Veterans’ Day is a time for remembering those who gave so much for our country. Whether in time of war or peace, they stood up and served for all of us who enjoy the freedoms our country offers us today. But fame is fleeting and remembering those who fought long ago is something we must seek out. The story of Samuel Woodfill is an example of a hero all but forgotten.
Samuel Woodfill was born in 1883 in Indiana. He enlisted in the Army in 1901 and was sent to the Philippines where a guerilla war was being fought. From there, he was stationed in Alaska during a border dispute with Canada. Then, he went to protect Texas, New Mexico and Arizona from attacks by Mexican bandits. By 1918, he was promoted to Lieutenant as a temporary commission and became part of the American Expeditionary Force under General John “Black Jack” Pershing. This was World War I. Woodfill ‘s bravery under fire and fearless attacks on the enemy’s machine gun emplacements earned him the United States Medal of Honor, presented by Pershing himself. The French awarded him the Croix de Guerre with Palm and made him a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. The Italian government presented the Meriot di Guerra. The government of Montenegro gave him the Cross of Prince Danilo, First Class. He was then promoted to Captain.
Samuel Woodfill was one of three soldiers chosen to represent the Army at the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in 1921. The other two were Sergeant York and Colonel Whittlesey, the Commander of the Lost Brigade. Pershing called him “America’s greatest soldier”. He was awarded more medals than any other soldier in the Army and was responsible for the “most remarkable one-man exploit of World War I.”
But Woodfill’s service did not end there. In May of 1942, the year of his wife’s death, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Woodfill and Alvin York were commissioned Majors. He was 59. He became an Army instructor in Birmingham, Alabama. He finally retired in 1944.
Samuel Woodfill died on August 10, 1951. He was 68. He is buried in Arlington along with so many other heroes, some long forgotten, from wars dating back to the Civil War.
So, how did a handsome portrait of Samuel Woodfill come to be found in the attic of the Bridgewater Historical Society? While making an inventory of the contents of the Peck House, it was found. It was donated by Katherine Richmond, wife of. Philip D. Richmond, who, in 1934, lived on Hut Hill Road. We haven’t been able to show a family connection to Woodfill, but our research has found that portraits such as this were sent to elementary schools throughout the country to promote patriotism. This was probably one of those portraits. Today we remember Samuel Woodfill, veteran and patriot.