Hoosier Hero: James Bethel Gresham honored at Locust Hill

A lot of things at Locust Hill cemetery are showing their age. There’s the rusted fence and weathered markers. Leaves on the old trees, towering over countless tombstones, are losing their grip.

But the roots of American pride only grow stronger.

Friday, a commemoration and celebration of the life and service of Evansville’s own James Bethel Gresham brought out members of the city, state, and the country of France. Many say Gresham is the first American to die in World War I a century ago.

It was on November 3, 1917 that America was baptized in the war to end all wars, and on this day Gresham gave his life during a German trench raid in France.

Gresham is one of more than 8.5 million people who died in the Great War.

“Without you, I would not be here today,” Guillaume Lacroix, General Consul of France says. “Without you, I would not live in a free and independent country.”

George Patton Waters, grandson of the great General Patton, says Gresham served with his grandad before WWI on a mission to Mexico. “This young man was a hero long before he arrived in your beautiful country of France,” he told Lacroix.

In that war, so many soldiers and sailors served without hesitation so that we might live.

“He is a hero,” Lacroix says, “who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country, but also for my country.”

Lacroix announced France is building a new monument on the battlefield in the northern part of the country where Gresham died, honoring his sacrifice, along with the soldiers who died beside him.

It is that sacrifice of Gresham and some 100,000 Americans that is forever remembered in Locust Hill, where the roots of the red, white, and blue run deep.

“There could be no greater honor than for us to look at his stone and realize he gave his life, he gave it all,” Waters says, “he is a great American.”


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(This story was originally published November 3, 2017)

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