It has been more than a century since the city of Palouse received word that it had lost one of its sons to the world’s first truly global war.
Lester Dean Hayton moved to Palouse with his family in 1913, when he was 21. Six years later, Hayton’s family would receive word that he had gone missing in action following the Battle of Chateau-Thierry during World War I, and was presumed dead.
On the 100-year anniversary of the notice, Palouse resident Brad Pearce led a memorial Sunday for the man at the city’s Hayton-Greene Park beneath an iron archway that bears Hayton’s name and that of another of the small town’s fallen — Cpl. William Greene.
Pearce said he is not related to either man, but felt a responsibility to commemorate their sacrifice.
“I got really interested once I found out that the park was actually called the Hayton-Greene Park because everyone just calls it the Palouse Park,” Pearce said. “I wanted to do something to raise awareness and to teach people about why the park is called this and to know who this person was.”
Pearce said he was able to glean some insight into Hayton’s life through records of the town’s newspaper and by all accounts, his was “the classic WWI story.”
“He was a strapping young farmer, he was a devout Christian who was involved in the church and in Sunday school, and when it came time, he was in the first round of people that were drafted to go to France,” Pearce said. “He didn’t ask for an exemption and he was part of a small group of people that were in the original wave of people from our county to go fight overseas.”
Eventually, Hayton would come under the command of General John “Black Jack” Pershing’s American Expeditionary Forces which was sent to aid British and French forces on the war’s western front. Hayden was reportedly wounded July 1, 1918, at the Battle of Chateau-Thierry during the German spring offensive but was back in action just 17 days later when the counter-offensive began. Pearce said this was likely when Hayton lost his life.
“This was a very important counter offensive — Chateau-Thierry is remembered to this day as the turning point in WWI,” Pearce said. “It was when the German spring offensive was turned back, and when the allies started making gains that would lead to the Hundred Days Offensive, which would lead to the armistice that ended the war.”
While none of Hayton’s relatives live in Palouse today, Pearce said commemorating his and Greene’s contributions and sacrifice for the war effort resonates deeply with the Palouse community.
Pearce said when he first proposed to hold a memorial, he was met with immediate support from both the local VFW and the Palouse Community Center. More likely than not, Pearce said, he will lead another Palouse memorial for Hayton in 25 years.
“I am the one that did all of the organization but everyone in town was very helpful and supportive — I couldn’t have done it like this and done it as well on my own,” Pearce said. “It was a really terrible war that had horrible impacts on civilization that we’re still seeing to this day, so I think it’s something that’s important to remember.”
Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.