From: YALE IN THE WORLD WAR, George Henry Nettleton, ed., New Haven: Yale University Press, 1925, vol I, "Memorial Sketches", pp 207-208.


Two facts added poignancy to the death of George Knight Houpt in a hospital at Leghorn, Italy, on July 18, 1918. His fatal illness was due to unwitting exposure to cerebrospinal meningitis, two years before, while he was in service at Verdun. A singer already recognized by Jean de Reszke as "one of the few great artists of the world" died at twenty-four.

In February, 1916, of Senior year, George Houpt had left college to enlist in the Harjes Ambulance Corps, a branch of the French Army. He sailed for France almost immediately. "American Ambulance Section No. 5" was made possible by a gift of fifty ambulances by Mr. Harjes to the French Government. These ambulances were driven by Harvard, Yale, and Princeton men. On February 21, 1916, the battle of Verdun began. The demand for ambulance service was so imperative that Section No. 5 was immediately rushed to the sector at Dead Man's Hill, arriving there on March 7 and remaining in continuous service for eleven days and nights. The drivers had little rest, snatching sleep only at odd moments, usually without leaving their ambulances. In the course of these eleven days this section, consisting of thirteen machines, carried 14,700 men to the hospitals in their rear. In one period of twenty-four hours George Houpt alone carried back to a hospital five miles distant a total of 130 wounded men. His ambulance, with a capacity of only four men at one time, made over thirty trips of ten miles each. Under the strain of this intensive service several of the drivers broke down. One of them became the victim of cerebrospinal meningitis in a form so violent that it required five men to hold and bind him to a stretcher. His death followed in three days, but in the meantime George Houpt had slept by his side under the same blankets and had contracted the disease from which he died over two years later.

In the following words the entire Section No. 5 was cited by General Pétain:

"During a period of eleven days' fighting, from March 8 to March 19, the Harjes formation with complete contempt for danger, continued to remove the wounded to the rear from a zone that was particularly swept by the enemy's artillery. Moreover, every member of the formation gave proof of remarkable devotion and endurance by remaining on duty for an average of nineteen hours a day, and thus securing the maximum efficiency of the unit."

After this severe experience George Houpt passed through the valley of the Marne and saw service at Soissons and Compiegne. He was then transferred to Alsace, finally returning again to Verdun, where he was honorably discharged in September, 1916.

He went at once to Paris and studied with Jean de Reszke until April of 1918. During this period he sang before soldiers' and sailors' clubs and at numerous entertainments for their benefit. At this time de Reszke assured him that he was fitted to make his debut and wished only that he could take a few lessons in mise-en-scene from Mario Ancona, the great Italian baritone, who was then in Florence. With extraordinary application George Houpt acquired a repertoire consisting of nine operas. Ancona arranged for his debut at La Scala theater of Milan immediately after the war, and declared he had "that certainty of success that only one who is soon to triumph in the lyric world possesses." Upon the news of his death Puccini remarked, "the world will never know its great loss."

George Houpt had lost his citizenship in the United States by entering the French Army, being obliged to take the oath of allegiance to France. Upon reaching Italy in April of 1918 he appeared before the United States Consul at Florence to repatriate himself, and sent his card of enlistment to Buffalo for disposition by the United States. He felt that his services were needed and stood ready to serve. His questionnaire was forwarded to him but did not reach him until after he had been committed to the hospital. It remained unopened.

When George Houpt was stricken with the disease which cost his life, he was removed to the hospital about four miles from Leghorn, which was situated on the foothills overlooking the Mediterranean coast and commanded a glorious view. Although it was found that he was paralyzed from his waist down, he was not delirious and suffered no pain. During this period of his final illness, which lasted for only a week, the American Vice Consul, who visited him daily, used to hear him singing the arias of the operas which he had prepared for his debut. A few hours before he died he sang, as his last song, "L'Heure Exquise."

No beauty, nor good, nor power
Whose voice has gone forth, but each survives for the melodist
When eternity affirms the conception of an hour,
The high that proved too high, the heroic for earth too hard,
The passion that left the ground to lose itself in the sky,
Are music sent up to God by the lover and the bard;
Enough that he heard it once.