Sons of Men - Evansville's War Record
Gold Star Biographies
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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.
November 16, 2007