LARGO, Fla. — Two soldiers from Largo who were killed in France 100 years ago while fighting during World War I will be honored locally and in a French village next month, according to the Largo Area Historical Society.
- Worth Johnson, Ralph Heisler to be honored
- "Largo's Doughboys" a nickname earned in Mexican-American War
- Johnson to also be honored in Linthal, France
“I’m so glad that we as a society can share this with our community about these two young boys,” said board member Marilyn Short. “It’s so encouraging to know that the French people are so appreciative of what our Americans did for them over there.”
The soldiers being remembered are Worth Johnson, 17, and Ralph Heisler, 21. Short said they’re referred to as “Largo’s Doughboys”, a nickname soldiers got after the Mexican-American War.
“The Americans were over there fighting, and somehow or another they got the description of being covered in dough,” she said. “Basically, from the sands there in Mexico.”
Short said Heisler’s family moved to Hillsborough County shortly after the Civil War and have lived in the area ever since. The family shared a telegram with the Historical Society that Heisler sent after joining the Army.
“It tells about how happy he was to serve in the United States Army and basically he said, ‘I know if I die fighting for my country, that I will die for a very good cause and I will die a man with a smile on my face,’” Short read. “’And everybody will know I died a brave man fighting for my country.’ That’s quite something for a 17-year-old to write home to his mother.”
Short said they couldn’t locate any of Johnson’s relatives still living in the area. Johnson was a young teen when he enlisted.
“Johnson was a bugler in the (Largo) High School band,” said Charlie Harper, Historical Society V.P. “He joined the army as a bugler and that’s probably how he got in at age 15.”
Johnson will also be honored in Linthal, France, the village he died defending. A monument with Johnson’s name and the 48 other American soldiers who were killed there will be unveiled on Sept. 29 during a centennial celebration commemorating the end of World War I.
“The French people, I think, are eternally grateful for what we as Americans did,” said Harper. “Of course, we have to be eternally grateful for what they did for us during the Revolutionary War.”
Heisler died at the battle of Chateau Thierry near Paris.
The Largo event to honor the doughboys will be held on September 1, at the Historical Feed Store in Largo’s Central Park from 11-3 p.m. A member of the Heisler family will be attending the event.