Otis B. Merrithew was born in Boston, MA on May 26, 1896. Otis was one of six children born to George and Nellie MCue Merrithew. His brother's name was George. His sisters consisted of Edna, Harriet, Olga, and Jane. Olga and Jane died at infancy. Unfortunately, his father did not stay with the family and Otis did not have any recollection of his father. His brother George, who also fought in World War I, was lost at sea on the Battleship Nebraska.
During his younger years, he needed to help his mother support the family. This forced him to drop out of school and assume a variety of "odd jobs" in the area. He worked on farms locally, ran errands, and did whatever he could to help his mother with the overwhelming responsibility of raising four (4) children on her own.
When World War I began, he and his mother would discuss the war. Nellie Merrithew did not want Otis to enlist. Otis on the other hand, wanted to enlist at a very early age. He wanted to be part of the movement at the time. It was during this period of conflict between him and his mother that he decided to "run away" and join the United States Army.
Otis enlisted on October 3, 1917. When enlisting, Otis used the alias "William B. Cutting". When asked about this choice years after the war, Otis replied "When I passed a store in North Adams, Ma. I noticed the name William B. Cutting Inc. I then decided I would use this name as an alias. I was worried that my mother would find out that I enlisted". The decision to take the name of William B. Cutting would only add to the fascinating story which was about to unfold over the next ten (10) years.
Otis married Mary Roseanna O'Hara on December 3, 1921. They had three (3) daughters, Anne, Jeanne and Lorraine. He decided to make Brookline Ma. his home for the next 60 years. He was employed at the Brookline Highway Department and worked as a crane operator at the Charlestown Navy Yard.
Unfortunately, due to his use of the alias Cutting, both his Commander, G.E. Buxton and his Sergeant, Bernard Early, were unable to locate Otis shortly after the war. It is noted in an affidavit that both Early and Buxton were trying to contact him to "discuss" the events that took place. Both Buxton and Early knew that Corporal Cutting and others acted courageously and believed that some sort of recognition should be given to these unsung heroes.
Shortly after the war, his mother persuaded Otis to correct his enlistment papers. He agreed and visited the Veterans Administration Building in Boston and changed his name from William B. Cutting to Otis B. Merrithew. After reading various headlines in the newspapers regarding Sergeant York and his "single-handed" capture of 132 German soldiers, Otis decided that he would try to publicize the true story of the events of October 8, 1918. After a few years of corresponding to various individuals involved in this event, he finally realized that there were others in his Platoon that agreed that the accurate story needed to be told.
On September 25, 1929 he received a letter from Colonel Leon B. Kromer, (Army War College) , indicating that he was being invited to the Army War College in Washington DC for a re-enactment of the battle that occurred on October 8, 1918. The War Department decided to dispatch a US Government plane to fly each surviving member to Washington DC for the event. This "reunion" for the soldiers was planned due to the fact that the War Department realized that different reports were surfacing on the accuracy of the events that occurred on October 8, 1918. Upon his arrival at the reunion in Washington DC, the other men involved were amazed to see "Cutting" alive. They each thought that he was killed in action. Otis then informed them of his real name.
When he returned home, he was upset that things did not go well with the group. He stated that there was much resentment for York and that a fight almost erupted between York and the others. Otis met his Commanding Officer, Colonel G E Buxton during this trip. He was told that Congress had enacted a law that stated that soldiers would not be allowed to receive awards if not recommended by their superiors prior to 1929. This law would prove to be a major roadblock for all the soldiers involved. This "red tape" would ultimately lead to the 47 year delay for awards due to Otis and the other soldiers.
He started his campaign after the War College reunion by writing numerous letters to his Commander, G.E. Buxton. Otis was able to obtain signed affidavits from the following four (4) soldiers; Sergeant Bernard Early, Pvt. Percy Beardsley, Pvt. Patrick Donahue and Pvt. Feodor Sok.
Otis was unable to obtain any help or documents from Sergeant York. Why this occurred is still unknown. After obtaining the documents that Colonel G E Buxton requested, all Otis could do was wait until a decision was prepared. It should be noted that Otis obtained signed affidavits from four (4) of the seven (7) individuals that Colonel Buxton had requested. The last known communication with Colonel Buxton was May 16, 1935.
In 1940, Otis received many letters from Warner Bros Studios indicating that a movie was being planned entitled "Sergeant York". He was visited by William L. Guthrie of Warner Bros. Studio. Mr. Guthrie informed Otis that York was not coming to do the "technical" work on the picture. He then told Otis that he would recommend him to Mr. Jesse Lasky to do the "technical" work on the movie. Otis made his intentions known that he wanted the true story told. He wanted the story to involve all and wanted the events told from a first hand observer.
This was not received well in Hollywood. At the time, they needed the movie to portray York as a "super hero" and were not interested in any facts that would get in the way. Otis was then told he would not be going to Hollywood and that he would be getting $250.00 for using his name in the story. He reluctantly accepted and viewed this unfavorably. The movie was made and the rest is history. York, on the other hand was paid $500,000 for the rights to the story.
After the premiere of the "Sergeant York" movie, he knew that he needed to try and tell the true story of the events of October 8, 1918. Keeping in mind that the movie was being shown across the United States and worldwide, he knew that he needed to do something locally to help honor all the men involved. He then decided to try and attend as many local theaters as possible and talk with the manager of the theatre. Otis, with the manager's approval, would then speak shortly with the audience prior to the film being shown. He would convey that the events as told in the movie were not true. He would say that he and others helped in the capture of these German officers and soldiers. As small of a gesture this may have been based on the worldwide distribution and the popularity of the movie, it was the only way Otis could voice his views and concerns. His three (3) daughters would tell this childhood memory at many of the family functions that were held at the Merrithew home.
Years passed and Otis continued to raise his family. His daughters married and soon, Otis and his wife Mary became proud Grandparents. It was not until 1963, that one of his grandchildren, Joanne Fay took an interest in the story of her gandfather. She decided to write a letter to then President John F. Kennedy to ask him for help in recognizing her grandfather. In her letter, she mentioned that there were two (2) famous people from the Town of Brookline – her grandfather and President John F. Kennedy. Shortly after this letter, Otis started to get calls and letters of support from many local and national political leaders.
On September 27, 1965 he was awarded the Silver Star. This award ceremony was attended by politicians, Army Dignitaries, friends and most importantly, his family. After the ceremony, Otis turned to his son-in-law, Charlie Gaffney and said "You know, Chuck, I feel sorry for York. His Grandchildren did not see him receive any of his medals, but my three (3) daughters and 11 grandchildren did." Otis was also an avid coin collector and loved to have sing-alongs around the piano with his family during the many holiday events he and his wife held in their Brookline home. Every October 8th and November 11th he would sing one (1) of his all-time favorite songs – "Over There". He enjoyed telling stories, writing poetry and dearly loved his wife and three (3) daughters. His 14 grandchildren gave him and his wife many joys throughout the years. He has many great grandchildren who are now old enough to understand what a great and unassuming man he was. He was a devoted son, father, grandfather and soldier.
His three (3) daughters, Anne, Jeanne, Lorraine and his neighbors were instrumental in having a memorial placed in the Town of Brookline. On October 13, 1977 the Town of Brookline erected a sign at the corner of Whitney St. and Meadowbrook Rd. (the street he lived on for 42 years). The "Otis B. Merrithew Square" was dedicated on October 13, 1977. This Square is dedicated each Memorial day.