A historical marker was erected March 27 to honor a young Corporal at the original site of American Legion Post 173, now located on the Trinity Valley Community College campus in Athens. Chartered in 1919, the occasion also marked its 101st anniversary.
Liz Bearden Smith, great niece of Cpl. David Brady Shelton, spoke on his behalf at the post named in his honor.
“We grew up thinking Uncle Brady was the first soldier to die in the war, but he was actually the first killed in action.”
On Sept. 12, 1918, a young Cpl. Shelton advanced with G Company in the St. Michael Sector. He was shot by enemy forces and his remains were finally laid to rest on American soil three years later.
He was the first Athens soldier to be killed in action during World War I. Approximately 1,119 men and three women from Henderson County were shipped overseas, and 27 men and women did not return home alive.
He wrote his last letter to Smith’s grandmother, his sister Elizabeth, Sept. 1, 1918, which she carried wrapped in green tissue paper in her apron pocket on occasion to keep it safe.
He was originally buried in France, but was returned home to rest in a family plot next to his infant brother.
“A squad from the local post of the American Legion, with members of the family, met the remains at the train,” Smith said. “Even though it had been two years and 11 months since his death, our local American Legion was finally able to see the remains of their namesake safely resting in peace on American soil.”
On Decoration Day, or Memorial Day as some refer to it, legionnaires took it upon themselves to place flags on war veteran graves annually after the war ended.
Dianne Ottaberry spoke on this tradition. Her father, a legionnaire honored the tradition for years until his passing. She picked up the mantle and now continues to serve the fallen heroes each year with this legacy.
County Judge Wade McKinney also read the names of the 27 soldiers from Henderson County killed in WWI. For years the records reflected 26, but later discovered the final soldier, Aubrey Patterson.
“Thus the ‘26 plus 1’ reference we are using today is to keep future historians from thinking we just made a typo when we said 27 and when you see ‘27’ on this historical marker," McKinney said.
Dr. Jerry King, President of TVCC, officiated the ceremony on campus, which was attended by around 20 people, eight of whom were Shelton’s descendants.
The original building was leased to the legion for $1 a year for a term of 99 years, but by 1975 they were unable to afford the building expenses any longer and released the property to Henderson County Community College, now TVCC where it served as an art building at one point.
By 2014, 95 years after the origination date, the National American Legion canceled post 173.
This marker is a way to guarantee those who served and paid the ultimate sacrifice including Shelton will be remembered and honored.
Smithgrew emotional as she spoke of their sacrifice. Although it is rumored her uncle was engaged, he died unmarried.
“I worry about those who died unmarried and without children, I worry about them being forgotten,” she said.
Prior to unveiling the marker, Smith thanked all of the men and women for their service.
“The soldiers who fought, died or returned as veterans from any war or police action can never be remembered enough or paid enough in money to adequately honor, reconcile or compensate them for the service they rendered. We dedicate this Official Texas State Historical Marker to them. And thank them from the bottom of our hearts. They are not forgotten. He will not be forgotten.”
The process of placing a historical marker takes about one year. From the initial submission, which involves writing a narrative, acquiring valid sources including newspaper clippings and validated documents, and approval through various committees and an application fee, the approved narratives are sent to the foundry where the marker is created and then shipped for the reveal and dedication.
Each year the Texas Historical Commission approves around 100 markers and applicants gain special points for various topics of focus selected annually.
There are currently more than 16,000 historical markers across the state of Texas.