William D. "Bill" Dowling

One of only two known photos of William “Bill” D. Dowling. Both known photos are on display at the Legion Hall at 123 Bordeaux Street.

The American Legion and Chadron’s Bill Dowling Post 12 celebrate their 95th year in 2014.

The post, along with the Legion Auxiliary, chartered here in January 1921, remains an active organization in the community today. The local Legion family sponsors scholarships, Boys and Girls State, Poppy Day posters and essays, Legion Baseball, youth shooting sports, and provides final respects to veterans through funeral service. The Legion Riders also provide motorcycle escorts and security at services for fallen troops and veterans.

To learn some of the history of this pillar of the community and its founding, The Record delved into the archives of its predecessor, The Chadron Journal.

Legion posts around the country began organizing after the St. Louis Caucus in May 1919. The Journal’s first mention of an American Legion post for Chadron came in the July 25, 1919, issue:

“Before long it is probable that the American Legion will be organized in Chadron. Soldiers, sailors and marines are eligible to membership. This is a national organization with sub-organizations in each state. Those interested may get further information from Sprague Smith or Moie Lowenthal.”

The post was organized by Smith Aug. 5, 1919, but after July 25 the Journal’s coverage is spotty. The post’s next mention isn’t until November, when officers were elected for 1920. However, in that story, the Journal refers to Chadron’s burgeoning post as The Fred Sturdevant post.

This was likely a transitional name as Capt. Fred F. Sturdevant was well known throughout the area from his previous post as Army 1st Lt. with Company I, 6th Nebraska, based in Gordon. The Rev. and Mrs. Fred M. Sturdevant, his parents, were also prominent Chadron residents.

Capt. Sturdevant succumbed to pneumonia in Belfast, Ireland, en route to France in October 1918. The Journal reported in November 1918, “Captain Sturdevant has visited his parents here many times and many Chadron people have had the pleasure of knowing him and his wife. It is with deep regret we hear of the passing of this noble soldier, and we join with hosts of friends in expressing our sympathy to the bereaved wife, parents, brothers and sisters.”

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While Capt. Sturdevant was a worthy soldier, it is likely Chadron’s post founders gave the name up to honor a local soldier. The Captain’s name lives on today, honored by Gordon’s Fred F. Sturdevant Post 34.

In December 1918, the Journal reported on the sad death of a young man in Sturdevant’s company:

“A cable was received last evening by Mr. Mike Dowling announcing the death of his son William Dowling, who was killed in a wreck in France, November 15. William Dowling enlisted with the 127th Field Artillery, the company over which the late Capt. Sturdevant had charge. They arrived over seas some time in October and the message gave no detail except that several boys had been killed in the same wreck. Mr. and Mrs. Dowling have surely suffered more than their share of grief as William is the third son they have lost in a railroad accident and they have the sympathy of every one in their grief.”

William D. ‘Bill’ Dowling was the son of a pioneer couple of Dawes County, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Dowling. Prior to World War I, Dowling enlisted with the 4th Nebraska Infantry and served at the U.S. border with Mexico before being transferred to the 127th. According to later reports, Dowling died at Clermont-Ferrand, in the Auvergne region of France.

Dowling’s death was the first reported of a soldier from Chadron proper, and thus by the time Chadron’s charter was granted in August 1920, his name was the one Post 12 would honor.

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Sports / Features Editor at The Chadron Record