|By G. Michael Dobbs
Members of Father William Davitt’s family, including Col. Robin Davitt and grand-niece Marie Davitt (center) participated in the ribbon-cutting of the newly reconstructed Davitt Bridge on Veterans Day.
Reminder Publications photo by G. Michael Dobbs
CHICOPEE – A local hero was remembered once again for his sacrifices to his country during Chicopee Veteran’s Day observations.
About 100 people gathered for the re-dedication of William F. Davitt Bridge, first dedicated in 1931 and re-built this year.
Members of the Davitt family came to Chicopee for the event. Marie Davitt, the widow of William Davitt’s nephew, traveled for El Paso Texas. She said of the rededication, “it means a whole lot. My husband would be out of his mind for joy.”
Col. Robin Davitt, recently retired from the United States Air Force, also attended the event with other family members who had come from Brooklyn, N.Y.
William Davitt was born in Holyoke in 1886 and graduated from Chicopee High School in 1903. A Catholic priest, Davitt became a chaplain during World War One.
Local historian Stephen Jendrysik explained that at the time the American military resisted adding full time chaplains and had stipulated that any clergy who wanted to serve in the capacity must go through boot camp. Davitt was in good shape having been a star athlete in high school and Holy Cross College, Jendrysik explained, and passed boot camp with little difficulty.
Davitt was commissioned a first lieutenant and assigned to the 125th Infantry, 32nd Division of the Army. According to the Holy Cross College Service Record: War of 1917, “During the advance of his Division along the Vesle River he learned that a party of Americans was cut off in a ravine, Calling for volunteers, Chaplain Davitt led them through a hail of machine gun bullets and rescued those cut off without the loss of a man. The French Army citation signed by Marshall Petain, awarding Davitt the Criox de Guerre with palm, states, ‘in advance from the Ourcq to the Vesle from July 31 to Aug. 6, 1918, he performed his duties constantly under violent fire and regardless of danger. By word and example he encouraged the men of his regiment in continuing the attack.’”
He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for this action.
Davitt was killed about an hour and half before the peace agreement that ended World War I was signed. According to the information collected by his college, “He had been transferred to 3rd Corps, but on Nov. 10, 1918 he was sent back to his own Division. About an hour and half before the armistice became effective on Nov. 11, 1918, Chaplain Davitt carried a large American flag to present to the commanding officer and had just stepped from the latter’s room when a piece of shell bursting in the roof of a barn near by struck and killed him.”
Davitt is believed to have been the last American officer killed in the war.
Father Christopher Waitekus who delivered the invocation and benediction also noted Davitt’s life in Western Massachusetts. He is the pastor of St. Ann Church in Lenox, the church at which Davitt served before his military service.
Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2412 named after Davitt also attended the ceremony.
Mayor Michael Bissonnette read a proclamation naming the day in honor of Davitt and said, “The city of Chicopee never forgets its veterans.”
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