Gage McKinney: Nevada City’s William Hegarty chose to see action
November 9, 2018
Volunteers were plentiful in 1917 and Nevada County officials had to draft but a few to make their quota.
More than 500 local men served in every branch of the military.
After the Armistice alumni of Nevada City High School compiled records of where their classmates had served. Most served in the U.S. Army Infantry and at least a dozen in the Air Corps, including Allen Chapman who made the military his career. About 15 percent joined the U.S. Navy. Several followed Clarence Thomas into convoy duty, including Merritt Nickerson, who completed seven round-trip voyages to France across the dangerous North Atlantic.
In the spring of 1918 the Germans launched a series of offenses, hoping to knock out the British and French before fresh American troops could arrive at the front. In the summer, America was shipping 10,000 men a day to France. Americans soon proved their mettle at Cantigny and Belleau Wood, at the Marne and Meuse rivers and in the Argonne Forest.
The best remembered from Nevada County were the men who didn't come back.
One was Lester Bishop of French Corral, who enlisted at 18, fought with America's Rainbow Division and died in a French hospital.
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Another loss to Nevada County was William C. Hegarty, the son of a mining engineer and popular young member of the Native Sons, Order of Red Men and Nevada City Fire Department. A Nevada County native, he enlisted in the California National Guard in April 1917. In training camp, he was promoted to corporal, but resigned his rank when he learned he would ship out for France sooner as a private.
He arrived in England in April 1918 and was fighting near the Marne River in France by the following month.
He was killed in action on August 18, 1918 at age 20.
When the news broke in The Union, flags were lowered to half-mast in Nevada City for William Hegarty. The newspaper wrote: "It is young men of his stamp who are now protecting our stand for liberty."
After the war, Nevada City men who knew Hegarty's courage named their American Legion Post for him.
Gage McKinney, who lives in Grass Valley, is the author of "The 1930s: No Depression Here," "MacBoyle's Gold" and other books. Visit http://www.gagemckinney.com for information.