The First To Fall In Battle
: Winning A Cause World War Stories
During the trench warfare, it was customary to raid the enemy trenches
at unexpected hours, sometimes during the night, often during the
sleepiest hour, just before the dawn. In such a raid made by the
Germans in the early dawn of November 3, 1917, fell the first American
soldiers to die in the World War.
The Germans began by shelling the barbed-wire barrier in front of the
trenches where the Americans w
re stationed for a few days, taking
their first lessons in trench warfare. A heavy artillery fire was then
directed so as to cover the trenches and the country immediately back
of them. This prevented reinforcements coming into the trenches.
Following the barrage a large number of Huns broke through the barbed
wire and jumped into the trenches.
The Americans did not fully understand the situation, for it was their
first experience with a trench raid. A wounded private said, I was
standing in a communicating trench waiting for orders. I heard a noise
back of me and looked around in time to see a German fire in my
direction. I felt a bullet hit my arm.
Three Americans were killed. They were the first fighting under the
American flag to fall in battle on the soil of Europe. They were--
Corporal James B. Gresham, Evansville, Indiana.
Private Merle D. Hay, Glidden, Iowa.
Private Thomas F. Enright, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.
On November 6, three graves were dug. On one side of them stood a line
of poilus in their uniforms of horizon blue and red, and on the other a
line of American soldiers in khaki. The flag-covered caskets were
lowered, as the bugler sounded taps, and the batteries fired minute
Then the French officer in command of the division, amid the broken
roar of the minute guns and the whistle of shells, paid a tribute to
In the name of this division, in the name of the French army, and in
the name of France, I bid farewell to Corporal Gresham, Private Hay,
and Private Enright of the American army.
Of their own free will they left a happy, prosperous country to come
over here. They knew war was here. They knew that the forces battling
for honor, for justice, and for civilization were still being checked
by the forces serving the powers of frightfulness, brute force, and
barbarity. They knew that fighting was still necessary. Not
forgetting historical memories, they wished to give us their brave
They knew all the conditions, nothing had been hidden from them, not
the length and hardship of the war, not the violence of battle, not the
terrible destruction of the new weapons, not the falseness of the
enemy. Nothing stopped them. They accepted the hard life, they
crossed the ocean at great peril, they took their places at the front
beside us; and now they have fallen in a desperate hand-to-hand fight.
All honor to them.
Men! These American graves, the first to be dug in the soil of
France, and but a short distance from the enemy, are a symbol of the
mighty land that has come to aid the Allies, ready to sacrifice as long
as may be necessary until the final victory for the most noble of
causes, the liberty of peoples and of nations, of the weak as well as
the strong. For this reason the deaths of these humble soldiers take
on an extraordinary grandeur.
We shall ask that the mortal remains of these young men be left here,
left with us forever. We will inscribe on the tombs, 'Here lie the
first soldiers of the Republic of the United States to fall on the soil
of France for liberty and justice.' The passer-by will stop and
uncover his head. Travelers and men of feeling will go out of their
way to come here to pay tribute.
Corporal Gresham, Private Hay, Private Enright, in the name of France,
I thank you. God receive your souls. Farewell.
As the French officer wished, there they remain. Soon a worthy
monument will be erected upon the ground where they fought and now lie
asleep in death. Americans of this generation and of generations to
come will stand in future days with bared heads before that monument
and pay tribute.
[Illustration: The religious and military tribute paid to the first
Americans to fall in battle, at Bathelmont, November 4, 1917. General
Bordeaux, in the name of the French army, bade farewell to all that
was mortal of the three heroes. At this point in the funeral, notice
that the American soldiers in the background are standing at parade