Bangor Park Rededicated in Honor of World War I Hero
By Jonathan Bratten, Maine World War I Centennial Commemoration
Pfc. James W. Williams (Courtesy American Legion Post 12)
On the night of July 17, 1918, U.S. Doughboys struggled through the dark eaves of Belleau Wood in a driving rainstorm. Thousands of troops were moving into position to attack at dawn the next morning, in what would begin the Aisne-Marne Offensive. One of these men was James W. Williams of Company G, 103rd Infantry Regiment.
Born and raised in Bangor, Maine, he had enlisted in the Maine National Guard's Company G, 2nd Infantry in June of 1916. He accompanied the regiment to the Mexican Border that year for a four month tour of guard duty. Now he was in France with the 2nd Infantry, except it had now been renamed the 103rd U.S. Infantry Regiment. Williams had already served on two fronts in the Great War: the Chemin des Dames and the Toul Sector. Now he was getting ready to go on his first attack.
As the Americans moved forward, the Germans caught sight of troops moving in the night and pounded Belleau Wood with artillery. Heavy shells shredded the trees into splinters and tossed great showers of earth into the air in ear-splitting explosions. It was probably during this barrage that Private First Class James W. Williams was killed in action. He was the first man in Company G from Bangor to be killed in action - but he would by no means be the last. He was buried on the battlefield and later moved to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, not far from where he died.
Williams' sacrifice did not go unnoticed by his home town. The first American Legion Post in Bangor was named for him and the city dedicated a playground in his honor in 1939. But since that time, James W. Williams' memory has faded into history as Americans began to forget about the First World War.
Faded, that is, until the current members of the James W. Williams American Legion Post 12 stepped in. Conducting research, they slowly pieced together the life of their post's namesake. In the process, they found that the park that bore his name did not have any kind of marker commemorating the soldier. James W. Williams playground (Courtesy of American Legion Post 12)
Working quickly, the members of the Post commissioned a new marker for the park that would remind all who frequented it of the sacrifice of the young man nearly a century prior.
The marker reads, "James W. Williams Playground, Dedicated July 5, 1939; In Memory of a Brave Soldier. Private First Class James Walter Williams, Co. G, 103rd Infantry, 26th Div. (Yankee Division), KIA 7/17/18. 2d Battle of Marne. Buried Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, Grave 77, Plot A, Row 1, Belleau, France. James grew up as a foster child on Hancock Street and played on this field while attending a Catholic School operated here by the Sisters of Mercy."
Because of the hard work and diligence of the veterans from the American Legion, current generations can now learn about the brave young man who gave his life in France to "make the world safe for democracy."