First Lieutenant (Dr.) William T. Fitzsimons was an Army surgeon and the first American Army officer killed in the Great War. He died in a German air raid near Pas-de-Calais on 4 September 1917.

In March 2015 I wrote a piece about Theodore Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway both beginning their careers with the Kansas City Star in October 1917. Colonel Roosevelt’s contract with the Star began on 1 October but he pounded out a few editorials, the first of nearly 120 weekly contributions until his death in January 1919, prior to his official start date. The first Roosevelt article was about Dr. William T. Fitzsimons, a first lieutenant in the Army Medical Reserve Corps killed in France on 4 September 1917. Dr. Fitzsimons was the first United States Army officer killed in the Great War.

I have been writing during the centennial about the career of Dr. Robert D. Schrock, a surgeon with Base Hospital No. 9. Lieutenant Fitzsimons was part of this same desire that many physicians had to tend the wounded. Like Schrock, Fitzsimons was from the Midwest, graduated from medical school just prior to the war, trained as a young doctor in New York City in the early 1910s (in Fitzsimon’s case at Roosevelt Hospital), and sought his way to contribute to the effort. Fitzsimons sailed to Europe on a Red Cross transport ship from Brooklyn’s Bush Terminal in early September 1914 and began working in a hospital in England on 1 October as a civilian volunteer. Dr. Fitzsimons returned to the United States after his stint, taught medicine at the University of Kansas for a time, and joined the military on 27 March 1917, about ten days prior to Congress’s declaration of war. He was sent to France right away.

First Lieutenant William T. Fitzsimons (seated far left) in England, circa 1915. On 4 September 1917, the same day that Fitzsimons happened to be killed, the Kansas City Star announced that Theodore Roosevelt was joining its editorial staff. Roosevelt’s first piece was about Fitzsimons and published on 17 September, two weeks before his contract officially began.

Lieutenant Fitzsimons was on staff at Base Hospital No. 5 in near Calais by late August. On the evening of 4 September 1917 he was killed in a German air raid. Roosevelt’s tribute, his first article for the Kansas City Star, appeared on 17 September. Roosevelt hammered away at the two themes that would consume him in the coming months: German brutality and American unpreparedness. Fitzsimons was the first American Army officer to be killed in the First World War. Roosevelt’s tribute one of the first but not the last. Army Hospital 21 in Denver became Fitzsimons Army Hospital in 1920. Ten years after that the young doctor’s mother, Catherine Fitzsimons, traveled from Kansas City to the military cemetery at the Somme to see her son’s resting place. In 1955 First Lady Mamie Eisenhower dedicated an oil painting of Fitzsimons at the Colorado hospital named for him twenty-five years previously. Five years after that author A. A. Hochling published The Fierce Lambs, a history/biography of Lieutenant William T. Fitzsimons, Corporal James Bethel Cresham, Private Thomas F. Enright and Private Merle Hay. The latter three of whom were killed later that fall, the first Americans killed in actual combat. Today some of the personal effects found on Dr. Fitzsimons when he was killed are on display at the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City.

(image/top, Department of Defense; bottom, unknown)