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His Death Was America's First in World War I. His Memorial Shaped Part of Indy's Downtown.

Indy, Evansville honor James Gresham on 100th anniversary of his death in France

(INDIANAPOLIS) - 100 years ago Friday, America suffered its first combat death of World War I. 

He was a Hoosier.

Corporal James Bethel Gresham of Evansville was one of three American doughboys killed in hand-to-hand combat with German troops after an artillery assault in the French province of Lorraine. Four years later, with the war over, his body was exhumed from a grave in France and flown home for a second funeral in the statehouse rotunda.

Gresham is buried in Evansville, but the sunken garden which forms the northern half of the American Legion Mall in Indianapolis was created to honor him as well. The mall is anchored by a symbolic granite sarcophagus, surrounded by four golden eagle-topped columns. General John Pershing, the commander of American forces in the war, laid the cornerstone for the memorial in 1927.

Indianapolis and Evansville each held wreath-laying ceremonies Friday to mark the centennial of Gresham's death. Lois Huntington with the Daughters of the American Revolution says Gresham was the first of 3,300 Hoosiers who died in the war, "willing to give all for a cause not fully understood."

A veteran lays a red rose on the American Legion Mall sarcophagus honoring James Gresham. (Photo: Eric Berman/WIBC)

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