GIBSON CITY — Residents of Ford County know the name Lee Lowery well. Gibson City's American Legion is named in his honor, a designation that came exactly 100 years ago Monday, on Nov. 11, 1919.
Lowery was a machine-gunner on the front line as part of the 358th Infantry of the 90th Division, but on Sept. 26, 1918, he was killed in a battle in France and buried nearby. He was believed to be the first soldier from the Gibson City area to die in action.
Two months ago, Wisconsin residents David Wilken and his granddaughter Katherine Perreth, a freelance reporter, retraced the steps of Wilken's father. Richard Wilken was in the 339th Machine Gun Battalion of the 88th Division of the U.S. Army.
Prior to leaving for the war, Richard had to sell the family farm near Gibson City and move his mother to a parsonage in the 400 block of North Woods Street, where several members of the Wilken family lived for several years.
After the war, Richard, his brother William and cousin Henry Wilken were founding members of the American Legion Post, named in Lowery's memory.
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Preparing for the trip, Perreth found letters from Lowery, as well as photos and other World War I memorabilia. She read archived issues of the Gibson City Courier for more research. Then, she and Wilken, now 85, set off for France.
“It was an honor to take that trip,” Perreth said.
During the visit, they found Lowery's grave at St. Mihiel American Cemetery in Thiaucourt, France, about 180 miles east of Paris. They placed flowers on the grave, and said a few words on behalf of Gibson City.
“Neither Katherine or I knew Lee or his family, but laying flowers on his grave was very emotional,” Wilken said.
Post 568 offers American Legion memberships to Americans who are active or were formerly in a branch and would like to be a member. Post 568 also has a Sons of American Legion squadron and a Legion Auxiliary chapter.