As Tracyites wildly celebrated the Armistice that ended World War I on Nov. 11, 1918, little did they know that the only doughboy from the Tracy area killed in action had died six weeks earlier on a battlefield in France.
Army Pvt. James McDermott, 25, was struck by a German sniper’s bullet on Sept. 27, 1918, while accompanying a colonel from the 91st Infantry Division on a scout mission in the Argonne Forest. McDermott was in charge of carrier pigeons that carried messages back to regimental and division headquarters. He had gone briefly into the open to release a pigeon when he was hit. His body lay on the battlefield for 10 days before it was recovered.
News of his death reached Tracy two weeks after Armistice Day. The body of McDermott, who grew up on his family’s ranch in the Altamont Hills near Corral Hollow Canyon, was first buried in an American military cemetery in France and then returned to Tracy in September 1921.
After his body lay in state in front of City Hall, a funeral Mass was held at St. Bernard’s Catholic Church on Sept. 29, 1921. Burial with full military honors was in Tracy Cemetery.
Although McDermott was the only Tracy-area soldier to die from enemy fire in France, four others — Richard Coupe, Thomas De Haven, Lewis Griffith and Roy Frerichs — died from other causes in combat areas, including the influenza epidemic that decimated many American military units in France in 1918 and also spread throughout the U.S.
Tracy’s American Legion post was named for James McDermott when it was founded in 1919.