Visiting the grave of Merle Hay, the first Iowan (and one of the first Americans) to die in WWI

April 2, 2019

When most Iowans hear the name "Merle Hay", they probably think of either the shopping mall or the major north/south road that runs from Des Moines through Johnston and even has its own exit off of I-80/35. However, before there was ever a road or a mall, there was the man, himself.

 

Merle Hay of Glidden was a private in the U.S. Army. He was the oldest of three children belonging to Harvey and Carrie Hay and was a farm implement mechanic prior to heading off to fight in World War I. On November 3, 1917, when Hay was just 21 years old, he and two other men (one from Indiana and one from Pennsylvania) were killed in battle in France. Thus, these three men became the first three Americans killed in War War I. That also means Merle was the first Iowan. Originally, he was buried in France but was subsequently re-interred in West Lawn Cemetery in Glidden in 1921.  

 

There are a couple of beautiful monuments to Hay in the West Lawn Cemetery. Located about 10 minutes east of Carroll on Highway 30, the cemetery (which is also known as Merle Hay Cemetery) is on the east side of town. There are a couple of brown signs on the side of the highway alerting you to this historical marker.

With it's rolling hills and mature trees, this cemetery is quite peaceful and picturesque.

 

 

 

 

Hay's grave is located near the highway.

 

There are some nice inscriptions on the stone, including of J. Ding Darling's cartoon that ran in the Des Moines Register after his passing.

 

 

 

There is also a couple of added military decorations added to his grave.

 

I found two other monuments to area veterans inside the cemetery. This particular installation is dedicated to Merle and his WWI fellow patriots from Glidden.

 

 

 

However, there is also a newer monument to area veterans from all wars and conflicts.

 

 

 

In November of 2017, they commemorated the 100 year anniversary of his passing. Next time you are passing through Carroll County, make sure to stop on by. You might not spend more than five or ten minutes, but this is a significant piece of Iowa and military history. 

 

As always, I welcome your suggestions of places to visit and profile whether in Carroll County or any of the other 98 counties in Iowa. If you have a good idea or would like to host the Iowa Adventurer, please drop me a note through this website.

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