By Julie Piron, USAG Benelux Public AffairsAugust 31, 2018
CHIÈVRES, Belgium -- A hundred years have gone by since the first American Soldiers arrived, fought, and sometimes died during the numerous battles in Belgium. But time has not altered the importance of those who gave their life and their sacrifice will not be forgotten. In Heuvelland, the authorities dedicated several events throughout the year to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the end of World War I.
A week after the American Day in Kemmel, children from the local schools, local authorities and U.S. Soldiers attended a ceremony of remembrance of the first battle of American Soldiers during WWI in presence of the Deputy Chief of Mission to the U.S. Embassy, Matthew Lussenhop.
During the Aug. 29 ceremony, a U.S. and a Belgian flag flew side-by-side in a field of Kemmel, 20 kilometers away from Ypres, Belgium. At its feet, the USAG Benelux Color Guard stood to pay tribute to the first American Soldier killed during WWI, Corporal William Leonard.
Corporal William Leonard was a 28-year-old journalist from New York. An idealist and patriot, he enlisted with the 7th Infantry Regiment and started writing for the 7th Regiment Gazette.
Leonard joined a British battalion in Belgium to be able to write accurately about what battles really were. On July 14, 1918, he volunteered to go repair some barbed wire up to the Scherpenberg hill, beyond which lay no-man's-land and Mount Kemmel.
Shortly after they started their mission, the British opened up with a fierce artillery bombardment of the German positions, to which the Germans responded. A shell exploded in their midst, killing a British soldier and wounding Corporal Leonard.
The British troops dragged him back to their own lines, but when they arrived they found that he was already dead. His remains are at the Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery. He is unfortunately known as the first American battle casualty to die on Belgian soil.