Merle Hay

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Merle Hay memorial boulder in Des Moines, Iowa

Merle David Hay (1896 – November 3, 1917) was the first Iowa serviceman and perhaps the first American serviceman to die in World War I, along with Corporal James Bethel Gresham of Evansville, Indiana and Thomas Enright of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

All three men were a part of Company F, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division (aka "The Big Red One") and in the trenches near Bathelémont-lès-Bauzemont in Lorraine (east of Nancy, France).

On the night of November 2–3, Germans trench raided their trench where all three were killed (possibly with Hay & Gresham initially and Enright when he resisted capture).

The outnumbered Americans were caught by surprise as they emerged from their wood and earth shelters to engage the enemy in hand-to-hand combat amid darkness and confusion. After 15 minutes the Germans withdrew and the barrage ended. Reinforcements reached the beleaguered Americans soon after to discover five wounded, twelve captured, and three killed.

Private Hoyt Decker saw Merle Hay battling two German soldiers with a bayonet in the dim, twinkling light of flares during the battle. Private Merle Hay was found face down in the mud after the attack with a .45 caliber pistol in his hand. The cause of death was a single 9 millimeter bullet wound beneath his right eye. His throat was also deeply cut. The watch his mother had given him had stopped at 2:40 a.m.

Hay, Gresham, and Enright were buried on the spot with a monument built which was later destroyed by Germans in 1920. Hay was then re-interred in July 1921 in West Lawn Cemetery in his home town of Glidden, Iowa. [1] The West Lawn Cemetery was later renamed the Merle Hay Memorial Cemetery. An 8-foot monument commissioned by the Iowa Legislature marks his gravesite.

Shortly after Hay's death, the highway running from the west edge of Des Moines to Camp Dodge was renamed Merle Hay Road. A memorial boulder was placed along Merle Hay Road in 1923 and remains up today amidst the commercial development along the road.[2] Merle Hay Mall in Des Moines was also named for Hay; the local Kiwanis club placed a memorial plaque near the entrance to the mall's Sears store in 1979.

The first American military casualty in World War II was also an Iowa native. Andrew, Iowa, native Robert M. Losey, a military attache, was killed on April 21, 1940 during a German bombardment of Dombås, Norway. Captain Losey had been attempting to complete the evacuation of the American diplomatic delegation from Norway to Sweden in the wake of the German invasion.[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Find A Grave". Merle David Hay. Retrieved 2010-12-21. 
  2. ^ Strong, Jared (2006-03-24). "Veterans cast light on memorial". The Des Moines Register. p. 3B. 
  3. ^ J. Michael Cleverley, "'The First American Official Killed In This War,'" Foreign Service Journal, December 2003 at 66, available at http://www.afsa.org/fsj/dec03/cleverley.pdf.

Longden, Tom. “Famous Iowans: Merle Hay, War Hero 1896-1917” The Des Moines Register

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