James Bethel Gresham of Evansville, Vand. Co., IN was the first overseas casualty of the World War.
From City of the Four Freedoms: A History of Evansville, Indiana
by Robert P. Patry c.1996. p.140.
"During the early morning of 3 November 1917, a German
battalion attacked a group of Americans who were in
trenches on a muddy battlefield in France. Three men
were killed, one of them Corporal James Bethel Gresham
of Evansville. They were the first Americans killed
in the World War. Of the three, Gresham was said to
have died first, making him the first American soldier
killed in the World War. Gresham was first buried
in France at Bathelemont-les-Bauzemont, but in July 1921
his body was returned to Evansville and buried in
Locust Hill Cemetery."
[NOTE: The former webmaster, John G. West, was Superintendent of this cemetery in 1986 & 1987. The various Veterans' organizations always perform special ceremonies near the Gresham Marker. And the home of James Bethel Gresham is being maintained by the Parks Dept. of the City of Evansville next to Garvin's Park. - JGW]
The first American to give his life on the battlefield of France after the armed forces of the United States began military operations against Germany was a Hoosier lad, James Bethel Gresham, of Evansville, Indiana. The impressive ceremonies held at the time of his funeral, and that of the two comrades who fell during the same raid that caused Corporal Gresham's death, are particularly appropriate to Indiana's Gold Star Volume. General Bordeaux, the French commander of the sector in which the raid occurred, near Bathelemont, accompanied by his full staff, infantry, artillery and engineer chiefs, and a representative of the French Corps commander, had charge of the ceremonies. As the bodies of these first heroes were lowered in the grave, a company of United States fired three volleys, and the trumpeter sounded taps. General Bordeaux delivered the following address:
"In the name of the Eighteenth Division, in the name of the French Army, and in the name of France, I bid farewell to Corporal Gresham, Private Enright, and Private Hay, of the Sixteenth Infantry, American Army."
"Of their own free will they had left their happy and prosperous country to come over here. They knew that the war continues in Europe; they knew that the forces fighting for honor, love, justice, civilization, were still checked by the long-prepared forces which are serving the powers of brutal domination, oppression, barbarity. They knew that an effort was still necessary."
"They ignored nothing of the circumstances. Nothing had been concealed from them - neither the length nor hardships of this war, nor the violence of the battle, nor the dreadfulness of the new weapons, nor the perfidy of the foe. Nothing stopped them. They had accepted to lead a hard and strenuous life; they had crossed the ocean despite great peril; they had taken their place on the front by our side; they have fallen facing the foe in a hard and desperate hand-to-hand fight. Honor to them! Their families, their friends, and their fellow-citizens will be proud when they learn of their death."
"Men: These graves, the first to be dug in our national soil, at but a short distance from the enemy, are as a mark of the mighty hand of our allies, firmly clinging to the common task, confirming the will of the people and Army of the United States to fight with us to a finish; ready to sacrifice as long as it will be necessary, until final victory for the noblest of causes - that of liberty of nations, the weak as well as the mighty."
"Thus the death of this humble corporal and of these two private soldiers appears to us with extraordinary grandeur. We will therefore ask that the mortal remains of these young men be left here - be left to us forever. We will inscribe on their tombs: 'Here lie the first soldiers of the United State Republic to fall on the soil of France for Justice and Liberty.' The passer-by will stop and uncover his head. The travelers of France, of the allied countries, of America, the men of heart who will come to visit our battlefield of Lorraine, will go out of their way to come here, - to bring to these graves the tribute of their respect and of their gratefulness."
"Corporal Gresham, Private Enright, Private Hay: In the name of France, I thank you. God receive your souls. Farewell!"