Lester W. Chase
Submitted by: T.J. Cullinane
Lester W. Chase served in World War 1 with the United States Army. The dates of service are: Known 1916 - 1918.
The First to Fall; a Dreaded Milestone
Private Lester W. Chase, a shoemaker turned soldier, was the first service member from Derry, New Hampshire, to die of wounds sustained in combat during the First World War. Even with the 100th anniversary of his death fast approaching, his name remains firmly rooted in the fabric of the town as his fellow veterans elected to designate their meeting place as the Lester W. Chase Post Nine of the American Legion. Three generations of Legion baseball players have taken to the field with his name emblazoned on their chest, just one example of the community activities conducted in his good name.
Chase was pre-deceased by two Derry soldiers who succumbed to pneumonia. Charles E. Bitgood died in France on February 3, 1918, while assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division’s 15th Artillery Regiment. Just 22 years old, he was buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, in Romagne, France. An excerpt from the Derry Enterprise published on February 12, 1918, contained the following sentiment, “Charles E. Bitgood's memory will ever be honored as being the first soldier boy enlisted from Derry to answer the last roll call on the soil of France, while engaged in the service of his country in that foreign land.”
In spite of this exhortation, it is the memory of Lester W. Chase that remains honored rather than that of Bitgood. Such is the “glamor” of death in combat. As we’ll soon see, the death of Lester Chase was anything but glamorous. Based on the information currently available, Frederick R. Huson, the other Derry soldier who died before Chase, appears to have passed away just two weeks after joining the Army. Huson died while undergoing basic training on April 9, 1918 at Camp Devens in neighboring Massachusetts. Bitgood and Huson, along with Chase, are memorialized on the tablet set aside for those who died in service on the town’s World War One monument.