Sons of Men - Evansville's War Record
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Cpl. James Bethel Gresham
Co. F, 16th Infantry, 1st Division
August 23, 1893 - November 3, 1917


   He was an ordinary American, with no distinction of high birth,
scholarship, or social prestige. He did not claim descent from
Mayflower stock; he held no college degree; and he was not enrolled
among our mercantile aristocracy and captains of industry. Only an
average American; yet, his name will be transmitted to posterity as
the first American soldier who made the supreme sacrifice on the
battlefield.

   As a typical American he did not bully or bluster but only went
to defend and vindicate a cause which is national in its inherency and
universal in its application.  The humanitarian ideals of Freedom
and Democracy are the goal of aspirations for individuals and
nations throughout the world; but in a peculiar way, they are the warp
and woof which make up the fabric of the American nation. As Theodore
Roosevelt, in many respects the ideal American, said "We, here in
America, hold in our hands the hope of the world, the fate of the
coming years; and shame and disgrace will be ours if in our eyes the
light of high resolve is dimmed, if we trail in the dust the golden
hopes of men."

   James Bethel Gresham was born in McLean County, Ky., August
23, 1893. In September, 1901, the family moved to Evansville, where he
attended the Centennial School. Later he worked in the Cotton Mill
and different furniture factories.

   On April 23, 1914 he enlisted in the army. He was sent to Jefferson
Barracks, St. Louis, Mo. In June he went with General Pershing
to El Paso, Tex., during the Mexican crisis.  In June, 1917, he was
sent from Ft Bliss for service in France, with the first American soldiers
of the A. E. F. "I have heard," his proud mother said, "that he was
the first American to step on foreign soil."  He was a member of
Co. F, 16th Infantry. Before daylight on November 3, 1917, Gresham
was killed by the Germans in a raid near Artois, France.

   Prof. John B. McMaster in his work, "The United States In The
World War," gives the following account of the battle:
   "The first trench fighting occurred just before dawn on the morning
of November 3, when a small detachment of Americans in a front line
instruction salient were attacked by a superior force of Germans,
and the salient cut off from the rest of the men by a heavy barrage.
The fighting then became hand to hand.  In the course of it three
Americans were killed, five wounded and eleven taken prisoners. The
dead were buried on the slope of a hill overlooking a little village
Somewhere in France, and the site a few months later was marked by a
stone monument bearing the name and regiment of each of the dead,
and the inscription: 'Here lie the first soldiers of the great
Republic of the United States who died on the soil of France for justice
and liberty, November 3, 1917."

   It is the pride of this community that the first of these three
Americans was Corporal James Bethel Gresham. The other two Americans
were Private Thomas F. Enright, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and
Private Merle D. Hay, Glidden, Iowa. His body was laid to rest at
Bathlemon, France, in the American Cemetery, Plot three, Section one.
_____

Sons of Men: Evansville's War Record,
Compiled by Heiman Blatt,
Published by Abe P. Madison,
Evansville, Ind., 1920
pp75-76.

cdmyers@wowway.com
November 16, 2007