The entrance hall of the Pavilion. While the décor changed over time, the flags and portraits were always the first things visitors saw when they entered the building.
The entrance hall of the Pavilion. While the décor changed over time, the flags and portraits were always the first things visitors saw when they entered the building.
Rehousing the American flag of SSU 5/646
Rehousing the American flag of SSU 5/646

Honoring military service is an enduring legacy at Fort Ticonderoga, extending beyond the conflicts that directly involve our corner of Lake Champlain. Visitors to the museum at various points in the 20th century may have noticed a small flag, called a fanion, from World War I, and objects from the various USS Ticonderogas that have served the US Navy since World War II. Military service was just as much a part of the atmosphere at the Pavilion as it was at the fort itself.

Visitors were greeted by a portrait of museum co-founder Stephen Pell in uniform, and a pair of flags as soon as they walked through the front door of the stately summer home.

These flags, one French, the other American, belonged to a Norton-Harjes ambulance unit Section Sanitaire Unite (SSU) 5, later US Army Ambulance Service 646. Stephen Pell himself purchased the flags for the section and they were presented to the unit in a dedication ceremony on July 4th, 1918. These flags, together with the fanion, were carried throughout the rest of the war and embroidered to record battle honors the unit received from 1916 to 1918. Stephen Pell became their custodian, chosen to preserve and display the flags after the unit was disbanded at the conclusion of World War I.

Stephen Pell’s French and American flags given to SSU 5/646 being dedicated in France on July 4th, 1918
Stephen Pell’s French and American flags given to SSU 5/646 being dedicated in France on July 4th, 1918

SSU 5/646 was recorded as the most highly decorated American unit of the Great War, receiving six Croix de Guerre, two fourrageres, and the Medaille militaire. Today (November 15, 2019) is the 100th anniversary of the presentation of the Medaille militaire to the unit, and the attachment of the final fourragere to the section fanion in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the only French military honors awarded outside of France.

Stay tuned here and on Fort Ticonderoga’s Facebook page for updates on the restoration of the Pavilion, new discoveries, and more from Fort Ticonderoga every week.