First American Casualty In WWI From Kansas, Honored

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BURLINGTON, Kan. (WIBW) -- You might not know it, but a Kansan has a major place in World War One history, and his hometown took time to honor him today.

Thanks to a dedication ceremony, this piece of history will always be remembered.

Lieutenant William T. Fitzsimons was the first American officer to die in World War One. The story had been lost over time, but through a little digging, it was finally uncovered.

Marketing director of Coffey County Health System Tracy Campbell said her son saw a picture posted on Facebook of the Lieutenant's name at the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City. From there, she looked into it and discovered he was, in fact, from the town in Kansas.

The FItzsimons Army Medical Center was renamed after him in 1920 by the U.S. Army. He also has a memorial and fountain in Kansas City, where his family moved during his late childhood.

The health system's Rehabilitation and Wellness Services facility was going through a renovation, and they decided the side of the building would be a perfect place for a mural of Fitzsimons.

"It was high time for Burlington to honor his memory," Campbell said.

Fitzsimons attended the University of Kansas School of Medicine and volunteered with the Army Medical Reserve Corps in Europe before the United States joined the Allies in the war. After the U.S. joined the war, he went back over to France.

He died in 1917 when a bomb struck his field hospital in France.

Now, 95 years later, Kansas can recognize his sacrifice, with a mural, painted by a Burlington artist.

"This was a man who lived in Burlington, who lived in St. Mary's, studied in Lawrence and in Kansas City," Campbell said. "All of Kansas should be very proud of Lieutenant Fitzsimons

The artist, Jim Stukey, whose work can be seen throughout Burlington, Kansas, Missouri and Iowa, said he was honored to do the project.

"I kind of get choked up when I think about it," Stukey said. "It was exciting. And I really like KU so to put the Jayhawk on there, that was really fantastic."

The Lieutenant's nephew Bishop Emeritus George Fitzsimons, from Ogden, is the only living member of the family, and expressed his gratitude.

He grew up hearing stories about his uncle, and although he didn't get to meet him, thinks he did the country a great service.

"He didn't live too long. He was only 28 when he died, so it was not a long history, but he did serve his country," George Fitzsimons said. "The family appreciates the honor extended to him, particularly since this is his hometown."