In this week’s Northwoods Moment in History, Gary Entz tells the story of a Northwoods soldier who declined recognition or honors for his selfless act, but is recognized today.
Many individuals from the Northwoods have served their country in times of need. Most do so with honor and ask for no special praise for their service. Sometimes, however, an individual soldier undertakes an act of selfless valor that merits recognition, even if it does come one hundred years after the fact. Alexander J. Lytle was one such soldier.
Alexander Lytle, known as A.J., was born in Oshkosh in 1873. In 1882, at the age of nine, he moved with his uncle to the brand-new town of Rhinelander. While Lytle’s uncle worked in the town’s first sawmill, A.J. attended the Curran school at the junction of the Pelican and Wisconsin Rivers. Lytle’s formal education did not last long, and by the age of fifteen he was working alongside his uncle in the sawmill.
Lytle worked numerous jobs over the years and became a skilled craftsman. However, when Congress declared war against Spain in 1898, Lytle stepped forward and enlisted as a private in Company H of the Wisconsin National Guard. Company H served in Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War and never engaged in any significant battles.
After the war, Lytle resumed working in a variety of different jobs, some of which took him north to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but he always came back to Rhinelander.
Then came World War I. When Congress declared war on April 6, 1917, Lytle stepped forward and was the first man in Rhinelander to volunteer to serve. He was appointed a first lieutenant and received an assignment as an Aide de Camp to General Charles R. Boardman. Boardman served in France as brigadier general of the Wisconsin National Guard in command of the 64th Infantry Brigade. Lytle was promoted to captain in June 1918 and later attained the rank of major. It was in July 1918, however, that Lytle made his mark on history.
When war was declared in 1917, nineteen-year-old Quentin Roosevelt, the son of former President Theodore Roosevelt, joined the 1st Reserve Aero Squadron, which was the first Air Reserve Unit in the nation. Roosevelt became a pilot in the 95th Aero Squadron. He began aerial combat in July 1918 and had one confirmed kill before his Nieuport 28 was shot down behind enemy lines at the Second Battle of the Marne.
The German soldiers knew exactly who the pilot was. They took photographs of Roosevelt’s corpse lying next to his plane and published the photos to demoralize the Allied forces. Nevertheless, out of respect they buried Roosevelt with full military honors where he fell. This is where Lytle enters the picture. Gen. Boardman assigned Lytle to lead a detachment of soldiers to the front in order to locate the grave and recover Roosevelt’s body. Lytle did so with solemn dignity, and after completing his task he declined to accept any recognition or honors for what he had done.
Lytle returned to Rhinelander after the war and resumed his life, working a variety of different jobs until he passed away in 1948.
Image: Lt. Quentin Roosevelt