Title: Army Sergeant, World War I; police officer
Birthdate: November 30, 1878
Death Date: December 22, 1940
Plot Location: Section 129, Lot 44
William James Graham was born on November 30, 1878 in Philadelphia to William and Margaret (McAvoy) Graham. He was the youngest of six siblings. Sometime in 1881, while still a toddler, his mother died at age 32, and his father followed about a year later. William was raised with his sisters and brother by his Irish-born maternal grandmother McAvoy.
As with many in the working class of his generation, Graham’s formal education ended after the 8th grade. In the 1900 census, the 21-year-old William was listed as a laborer, living with his four sisters and grandmother. Shortly after that he became a policeman and married Rebecca Stephen. The first daughter of what would be seven children with Rebecca arrived in 1903. The last was a son in 1916. Being a police officer was his lifelong career, interrupted only by the Great War.
Perhaps being swept up with the general “war fever” of 1917 prompted William to enlist in the Pennsylvania National Guard on July 30. Whatever his motivation, it must have been extremely compelling to part with his home, large family, and job. At nearly 39 years of age upon enlistment, he was significantly more mature than the typical soldier, whose average age was in the mid-20s. In August the Guard was nationalized as part of the 28th Infantry Division.
They organized and trained at Camp Hancock, Georgia until April, 1918. Private Graham likely left for France with the 28th in May of 1918, arriving in early June. Due to loss of military records in the National Personnel Records Center in a disastrous fire in 1973, it is difficult to confirm specific details of William’s service record. However, unconfirmed statements from a genealogical website imply that he was honorably discharged from military service on September 15, 1919 with the rank of Sergeant.
[William also had a flair for writing, keeping a 900-page journal while he was on the ground in France. Those notes have been transcribed and edited by Bruce Jarvis (from whom this life sketch was derived) and Stephen Badgley, and published in book form as Over There With Private Graham in 2018.]
After the war, William resumed his career as a mounted patrolman with the Department of Public Safety, where he remained until his retirement in the late 1930s. The long separation in France during the war may have taken its toll, as his marriage to Rebecca ended in divorce in 1920. He remarried in 1922 and five additional children came from that union, four girls and one boy, with the last birth in 1933 when William was 54.
He died in Franklinville, New Jersey on December 22, 1940, 22 years after living through his great overseas adventure. According to the death certificate, cause of death was from complications stemming from a head injury. Family oral history has it that the injury was the result of being assaulted and robbed on his way home after winning a sizable amount of cash from gambling.
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