This has been a tough year for the historical community. A number of leading historians, many of them personal friends, have passed away, including Horace Mewborn, Ted Alexander, and James I. Robertson. Now, Ed Bearss has died and joins the immortal ranks.
Born in 1923, Ed joined the U.S. Marine Corps and served in the Pacific Theater during World War II. In January 1944, he suffered terrible wounds from Japanese machine gun fire during the Battle of Suicide Creek on the Island of New Britain.
After World War II, Ed joined the National Park Service. He went on to write several books, serve at many historical sites across the country, and eventually rose to become Chief Historian of the park service. After his retirement he was named Chief Historian Emeritus of the park service. Along the way, he helped discover the gunboat U.S.S. Cairo, led efforts to create new national battlefield parks at Pea Ridge and Wilson’s Creek, and served on the federal Civil War Sites Advisory Commission, among many other accomplishments in a long career.
Besides being a stellar historian and preservationist, Ed was a consummate tour guide. He possessed vast knowledge of seemingly every American historical event, and hearing him on a battlefield was a treat. With a swagger stick in hand but no notes to refer to, Ed would close his eyes and talk about what happened around him in a voice with a unique sing-song cadence. His unique sense of humor was icing on the cake.
In my conversations with Ed, I was always blown away by his ability to remember something about virtually any historical event or person, no matter how obscure. Shucks, he even knew my hometown. I grew up in a small town in northwest North Carolina, and sure enough, Ed had family connections that had taken him there at some point, so we chatted about people and places like old neighbors. Ed also had read my work and was complimentary of it, which humbled me to no end.
Rest In Peace and Semper Fi, Ed. Thank you.
Photo source: Hal Jesperson from Wikipedia.