LIMA — He was barely 21 when he left to become a soldier of the Great War and barely 22 when he was killed more than 4,000 miles from the place where he had grown to manhood.
A hundred summers have come and gone since that day in July 1918 when, as The Lima News wrote at the time, word of William Paul Gallagher’s death in France “spread like wildfire over the city …” Gallagher, one of the first Lima boys to volunteer for service in World War I, had become the first solder from Allen County to die, “the astounding news bringing home vividly the horrors of war,” the News wrote.
“I know he died a hero for his country’s sake,” his mother, Rosa McCue, who lived at 537 N. Elizabeth St., told the News. Mrs. McCue said “she heard from him frequently and the last letter received a couple of weeks ago, told her he was feeling fine. ‘I feel full of pep, Mother,’ he wrote her.”
Although Gallagher was interred in Aisne Marne American Cemetery in France and those who mourned him that long-ago summer have gone to their own graves, his name lives on in his hometown.
Gallagher was born in 1896, grew up on the north side of Lima, was graduated from St. Rose High School, where he was captain of the basketball team his senior year. He was, according to the Lima Daily News, “one of the most popular young men in the parish.” After graduation in 1914, he went to work for Wentworth and Dean Electrical and worked there for three years.
Three days after his 21st birthday on April 3, 1917, the United States entered World War I. “He was the first lad from St. Rose parish to enlist after war was declared and the first star placed on the service flag which hangs in the sanctuary opposite the American flag …,” the News wrote in July 1918. Fifty-five service stars graced the St. Rose flag by the end of the war, three of them turned from blue to gold to denote the deaths of Gallagher, Edward J. Veasey and Henry Mullen.
In September 1917, Gallagher “was among the first American troops” to go overseas. “It was his express desire from the time he entered the army that he be permitted to ‘go across’ early, and because of his wide knowledge of electrical engineering he was given the opportunity,” the News noted.
On June 24, 1918, while stringing wire near Chateau Thierry, Gallagher, who had attained the rank of corporal, was killed by a bursting artillery shell. In a letter to his Gallagher’s mother, which was reprinted in the News on Sept. 29, 1918, a lieutenant in his engineering company wrote of Gallagher’s death. “He was cool even though mortally wounded and called directions to members of the company to enable them to find him as accidents had occurred in dense undergrowth,” the officer wrote, adding that Gallagher “was universally liked by every member of the company, both officers and men.”
Less than five months after Gallagher’s death, at 11 a.m. Nov. 11, 1918, an armistice ended World War I. In the spring of 1919 war-weary American soldiers in Paris waiting to return home, formed a veterans mutual aid organization and named it the American Legion. On March 15, 2019, the American Legion celebrated the 100th anniversary of its first caucus in Paris.
American Legion posts sprang up across the country in the years after the war. On Sept. 25, 1919, Lima’s Time-Democrat reported that “the names of 200 new applicants were considered at a meeting of the members of the American Legion held last night at Memorial Hall. The Legion, which was recently named the William Paul Gallagher Post, has an approximate membership of 275 at the present time, and is growing daily.”
American Legion Post 96, the William Paul Gallagher Post, is located at 711 South Shore Drive.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.