Willis Hugh Cork, 1896-1918

As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue, it is appropriate to pause and remember our fallen soldiers, not only those of the present, but also those of the past. A statue of a doughboy, representing U.S. troops killed during WW I, stands in Memorial Park in downtown Wheaton. Other memorials situated in public spaces around the city commemorate the ultimate sacrifice of our Armed Forces.

The first resident of the City of Wheaton to die during WW I was Norman James Tweedie, but the first Wheaton College students to perish were Russell R. Brooks and Willis Hugh Cork.

A memorial to Cork in the Wheaton College Record declares:

It is not task to bring a rich and sincere tribute to the memory of Willis Cork, who passed away the morning of Oct 2, for memory brings a richer and fuller tribute than mere words can ever express. The past year had been hard for Willis who since the first of last summer had been patiently and persistently trying to get into some branch of the service, so we man feel sure that the last two weeks held a deep happiness for him in the realization that he was at last an active part of that cause for which he was to make the ultimate sacrifice. As a student he was thorough, in business reliable, and with all he was one of those lovable people who win and hold the affection of all who come into contact with them. It seems hard to realize that the charm of his sunny smile and rare good will are gone from us, but for Willis Cork, athlete, student, soldier and Christian, the change is a glorious one and in his own words, “God’s will is best.”

Judge Frank Herrick, Wheaton’s official poet laureate, composed this verse honoring Cork:

We loved him for his sunny soul,
His clean life day by day,
His zeal that would not brook control
To join the worldwide fray!

The sunlight hidden in his heart
Shone in his genial face
Revealing an unconscious art
His wealth of inward grace.

We saw him don the khaki suit
That soon became his shroud
And wear it brave and resolute
With happy heart and proud!

Death has paled the shining star
And dimmed the eager glance
That with longing saw afar
The flaming fields of France!

Farewell, hero-heart that beat
Sweet music strong and brave.
Thine is the sacrifice complete
That Freedom’s flag may wave!

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