How a Colorado man's box of forgotten relics shed light on grandfather's role in ending World War I
By MARK K. MATTHEWS | The Denver Post | Published: April 12, 2018
(Tribune News Service) — A treasure hunt that stretched from the Jersey shore to the Rocky Mountains came to fruition Wednesday with the unveiling in Colorado of a cache of long-forgotten World War I-era antiquities.
The search began six years ago, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, when New Jersey native Shane Morris Sparks was sifting through old boxes and stumbled across song lyrics written decades ago by a globe-trotting envoy of the U.S. government.
Intrigued, Sparks tucked away the work of Amos Peaslee but pretty much forgot about it until last Thanksgiving, when Sparks recalled that a cousin of hers had grown up with some of Peaslee’s descendants.
The connection ultimately led Sparks to Colorado Springs resident Robin Peaslee Dougall, a Peaslee grandson who then went through his own long-forgotten boxes of family possessions.
What emerged was a wellspring of history — papers, photos and other artifacts recounting the end of World War I, the signing of the Treaty of Versailles and the birth of an international messenger service the U.S. government still uses today.
“It was an eye-opener to me that he had created the courier service, which is the same courier service that’s still around,” said Dougall, 68, of his grandfather. “And then it was an eye-opener to me that he had been involved in the negotiations (for) the Treaty of Versailles.”
The items were ceremonially donated to the federal government. In the process, the world got to know a little more about Amos Peaslee and his role in world history.
Peaslee served as a major in the U.S. Army during the war and was in charge of a courier service nicknamed the “Silver Greyhounds,” for the greyhound patch on their uniforms.
After hostilities ended, the group was assigned to the State Department to ferry messages across war-torn Europe in the months between the war’s conclusion and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.
That service would become the Diplomatic Courier Service, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.
Peaslee played such an integral role in the Treaty of Versailles that he received an engraved copy.
Sparks, for her part, said she was intrigued by the items that related to the Diplomatic Courier Service, as that’s where she now works as a jet-setting messenger for the State Department.
“As a courier, one of my favorite things is his original passport from his time as a diplomatic courier,” Sparks said. “The old passports folded open almost like a newspaper, and (it has) all his stamps inside.”
She said there’s also a “hand-drawn map of all the routes that the couriers traveled throughout Europe and it shows which ones were by air and by ship and it has hand-drawn lines.”
“What I find so fascinating about that is how we do almost all of those routes exactly the same way today,” said Sparks, 35, who joined the courier service more than a decade ago after working as an English teacher in Thailand.
As one of about 100 couriers employed by the State Department, Sparks said she has traveled to dozens of countries to transport sensitive and classified material to agency hubs worldwide.
“If you count the countries I’ve been to and stayed, it’s just 99,” she said. “But if I count all the places that I’ve technically set my feet in, I believe it’s 150. I’ll have to check my list.”
The job occupies a strange place in both international relations and global intrigue; couriers used to travel on occasion with briefcases handcuffed to their wrists. And through the use of diplomatic pouches, couriers can move items around the world with relative impunity.
“All diplomatic pouches are exempt from inspection,” said Eddie Salazar, the director of the Diplomatic Courier Service. About “95 percent of countries respect that,” he added — although he declined to name which ones don’t follow that agreement.
He described the work as “probably the best job in the federal government.”
Which is why he said competition for open positions is always fierce.
“We get thousands of applicants,” said Salazar, who added that couriers come from all walks of life, from attorneys to travel-industry workers. “Every type of background imaginable we have.”
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