In honor of Veterans Day and every day we remember all the lives that have been lost and affected by war. Nearly every family in the U.S. was affected by WWI. Many soldiers who died during WWI were memorialized by having buildings, parks, bridges, and other landmarks named for them.
Once such soldier in Iowa was Merle Hay, he was the first Iowan and one of the first Americans killed in World War I. He was part of Company F, 16th Infantry Regiment, and 1st Infantry Division. He fought in the trenches in Lorraine, France. On November 3, 1917, German troops raided the trench where Hay was, he and two other servicemen were killed in the battle.
A familiar street in Des Moines bears his name, along with a cemetery, a mall, and many other businesses today.
The American Legion in my hometown was named for my great-great uncle, the first soldier to perish from that town. Another great-great uncle in my family wrote letters to his family in Iowa while stationed in France. Those letters were published in the local newspaper which I stumbled upon while researching other family information. I was able to read the actual letters he wrote that I would have never known existed otherwise.
Newspapers are an excellent source of daily life information of family members. The war was well documented through newspapers; most every town had at least one. Newspapers listed soldiers that were drafted, where they were stationed for boot camp, and when they were deployed and discharged. Many cities held parades when soldiers returned, including pictures.
The next time you are driving though small town Iowa, look to see who the buildings are named for. It will remind you of all those who gave their lives for our country.
DMPL Books & Resources:
Haulsee, W.M. Soldiers of the Great War. Vols 1-3. Soldiers Record Publishing Association, 1920.
Newspapers on Microfilm: Des Moines Register & Des Moines Tribune Index
Iowa State Historical Society Library: Small Town Iowa Newspapers (various cities and years available)
Iowa Pathways – Information about Merle Hay