Title: Marine Corps Private
Birthdate: December 6, 1886
Death Date: June 17, 1908
Plot Location: Naval Plot, Row 6, Grave 4

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Only on a very rare occasion will the neat rows of white marble in the cemetery’s Naval Plot be interrupted by a different type of marker. The massive stone on the left side of this photograph marks the accidental end of a young Marine’s life. His buddies knew him as Peter Hage, but his legal name, which he brought with him from the Netherlands, was Pieter Gosses Haga.

His parents left their homeland in April, 1889 with their daughter and three sons. They settled in a Grand Rapids, Michigan neighborhood where the census reveals all of their neighbors had the same Dutch heritage. At that time Michigan attracted more Dutch settlers than any other state and a third of them chose Grand Rapids.

Peter’s mother died that October, but the family leaned on their new neighbors and friends for support. His father, Gosse, who had changed his name to George, met a widow with three of her own children and they became a blended family in 1891. 

George and his sons found work at the Grand Rapids Chair Company. He was a furniture polisher, one son worked with a band saw, and another assembled chairs. When Peter joined them in 1901 he learned the job of finishing. They weren’t alone; more than a third of the city’s workers were employed by the city’s 47 furniture factories.

Just after he turned 21 in December 1907 he joined the Marines using his anglicized name. Peter’s basic training was at the Marine barracks on League Island adjoining the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. A note was made in the April, 1908 Muster Roll that he was written up for breaking orders after being warned. The following month he was assigned to the USS Mississippi. She had just been commissioned in January and was still being outfitted while at the navy yard. 

The Marines were no doubt doing most of the work like moving furniture, installing fixtures, painting, plumbing, or other mechanical work, but in their off-hours they created their own forms of recreation, like boxing. Peter boxed a six-round draw in May against a professional boxer from the city, so a rematch was set for June 17. This time it ended abruptly in Peter’s death.

His opponent, Bill Sharkey, was known professionally as Johnny Hogan. He denied hitting Peter’s jaw and didn’t remember a blow over the heart. One newspaper account said it was a clean fight, both men were in good health, and there were no hard feelings between them, but a Naval inquiry said Peter had an underlying heart condition. Bill was distraught and turned himself in to the police, hoping an investigation would exonerate him. They had no jurisdiction since the event was held on board the ship. 

The newspaper quoted a rear admiral at the Navy Yard who defended the role of sports and defended the report that it was an accident, and that it would have no effect on plans made for sports in the future. “It often happens that one or more persons are killed in sports that do not require as much physical endurance as boxing.”

Peter’s father, brother and sister were notified, but by the time they arrived the funeral had already taken place. The stone’s inscription reads: “Erected to the memory of Private Peter G. Hage, U.S.M.C. Died on board of the U.S.S. Mississippi, June 17, 1908. Erected by the ship’s company of the U.S.S. Mississippi.”

Japanese maple tree in front of a monument at Mount Moriah Cemetery

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