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

the dead.

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