James Bethel Gresham

Historical marker #664 in McLean County commemorates the life and death of James Bethel Gresham, one of the first Americans killed in action during World War I.

Gresham was born in McLean County on August 23, 1893. The family lived there until 1901, when they moved to Evansville, Indiana. While in Indiana, Gresham attended Centennial School and worked at several furniture factories.

Gresham is remembered for his service during World War I. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on April 23, 1914. First, the military sent James to the Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, Missouri. In June 1914, his unit was sent to El Paso, Texas, to assist with the Mexican crisis involving Pancho Villa. In June 1917, Gresham was called for service in France. He was a member of Company F, 16th Infantry, and they were one of the first American units to reach European soil.

In the early morning hours of November 3, 1917, German aid raiders killed Corporal Gresham and two other Americans, Private Thomas F. Enright and Private Merle D. Hay. Along with their deaths, the Germans wounded three other American soldiers and captured eleven as prisoners. Gresham, Enright, and Hay became the first Americans to be killed in action during World War I.

Gresham and the two other soldiers were first buried where they fell on the battlefield. In 1921, Gresham’s body was moved to his final resting place in Locust Hill Cemetery in Evansville, Indiana. In addition, the French government erected a monument to these men, but it was destroyed by Germans in the 1940s. The current monument to these first Americans killed in action was erected after World War II near Bathelémont, France.