About James E. Coffey
James Edward Coffey, the first soldier from Nashua to die in battle in World War I, was born on April 22, 1896, to Daniel J. and Catherine (Dillon) Coffey.
He attended Nashua schools and St. Patrick Church, and on June 5, 1917, became one of the first Nashua men to enlist in the Army at the outbreak of the war. He was assigned to Company D, 103rd Infantry Regiment, 26th Division, and trained in Concord and Westfield, Mass.
Coffey and his unit, part of the famd 26th Yankee Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Clarence R. Edwards, deployed overseas in September 1917.
In the early morning of May 10, 1918, Coffey at St. Agnaut in the Toul sector during the Apremont battle
He was injured during heavy enemy shelling that included lethal mustard gas. He was serving in the front lines when the Germans put down a heavy barrage, which included poison gas shells.
Coffey was a victim of the poison gas attack that began about one o'clock on the morning of May 10, 1918 and died later that same day.
The telegram bringing news of his death was sent to his parents at 51 Broad St., home, as was a subsequent, March 1921 letter from the War Department. That residence is no longer there, but it probably sat between Sullivan Street and the railroad tracks.
He was awarded the Croix de Guerre. He also received the Purple Heart and citations from General John J. Pershing, President Woodrow Wilson, and the President of France.
Coffey was buried in the St. Mihiel American Cemetery and Memorial in Thiaucourt, France. The pastoral, handsomely appointed cemetery is 40 acres and contains the graves of 4,153 American casualties.
Coffey was one of an estimated two dozen New Hampshire soldiers buried at St. Mihiel. According to one World War I casualty record, two other Nashua soldiers – Eli Bouley and Wilkie I. Elliott – are also buried there.
About the Post
Following the Memorial Day Parade in 1919 in Nashua, a group of local World War I veterans met at the National Guard Armory and formed a veteran’s group call "the American Legion".
In 1920, a special committee in the American Legion was named to ascertain who was the first Nashua boy killed in World War I. After considerable correspondence, and much research, the committee reported that Coffey was the first to die, although several other Nashua boys died later the same day.
The American Legion then named the local veterans organization, The James E. Coffey Post No. 3, The American Legion of Nashua, New Hampshire.