It took 90 years, but the grave of local World War I veteran William Dewey Oxley finally has a headstone.
Oxley, who grew up at 3350 Unruh Ave., was killed in the war in 1918 and buried in France.
In 1921, he was reburied in his final resting place, Magnolia Cemetery, at Levick and Cottage streets in Tacony.
There is a large war monument at the cemetery, and many people believed Oxley was buried there.
However, it wasn’t until the most recent annual Memorial Day service at the cemetery that word began spreading that Oxley was indeed buried at Magnolia, but in an unmarked grave.
Interested parties — the American Legion William D. Oxley Post 133, Sons of the American Legion Post 133 and the female American Legion William D. Oxley Unit 133 — began working with Magnolia Cemetery to locate the grave.
Once the grave site was identified, leaders of Post 133, based at Torresdale Avenue and Decatur Street in Holmesburg, began planning a ceremony to honor the war hero.
That ceremony took place on Sept. 5, Labor Day, and the new stone reads, “Here lies an American hero. PFC William D. Oxley. Feb. 9, 1896 – Aug. 2, 1918. First WWI soldier from Tacony who paid the ultimate sacrifice for his country.”
Three American flags were place around the stone.
“William, thank you for your service and God bless you,” said Wes Schlueter, commander of the Sons of the American Legion Post 133.
Though ceremony organizers could not locate any Oxley family members, a large crowd turned out for the dedication and a reception back at the post at 4637 Decatur St.
“Why didn’t he ever receive a headstone over the last ninety years, we will never know,” Schlueter said.
The late-morning ceremony featured the playing of The Star-Spangled Banner and the Trace Adkins song Arlington. Michelle Teesdale and Dan Armstrong teamed for a version of God Bless the USA.
In attendance were a military honor guard and Warriors’ Watch Riders, a group that supports American military troops.
Among those who worked on the effort to honor Oxley were Schlueter and Mike Kennedy, sergeant at arms for the Sons of the American Legion Post 133, along with longtime American Legion William D. Oxley Unit 133 members Betty Gephart and Marge Mociak.
Andy Desmond, commander of Post 133, served as master of ceremonies and explained how Oxley was born in Providence, R.I., before his family settled in 1904 in what is now Mayfair.
Young William attended Disston School, played baseball and soccer and later worked as an apprentice machinist. He enlisted in the military in 1917 at age 21.
According to the U.S. Army transcripts that were read at the ceremony, Oxley was killed by a series of three bombs in an overnight German air raid while he and fellow American troops slept in the woods. In all, six were killed and 25 injured.
“William was one of my best men, a brave scrapper and always ready to give everything he had, no matter what was required of him,” E.J. Stackpole Jr., captain of the 110th Infantry, wrote in an Oct. 30, 1918 letter to Oxley’s father, Joseph.
Stackpole explained in the letter that, on July 30, 1918, the Americans “cleaned the Germans out” of a certain wooded area. Oxley and the captain were in the leading wave during the engagement, and a German machine gunner was about to shoot Stackpole at close range. Oxley picked him off with his rifle.
“Consequently, I owe my life to your boy and I’ll never forget that,” the captain wrote, as he recovered from gunshot wounds to his legs at an American Red Cross hospital in Paris. “You may well be proud of your son’s record and the sacrifice he and you have made for our country.” ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Take action …
Military veterans who want to join American Legion William D. Oxley Post 133 can call 215-DE2-2457.
Direct descendants of veterans who want to join the Sons of the American Legion Post 133 can contact Wes Schlueter at 215-612-9194 or email@example.com
Females of all ages interested in joining American Legion William D. Oxley Unit 133 can call Betty Gephart at 215-338-4044.