BRADLEY — A plaque honoring one of the founders of American Legion Post 766 in Bradley was reported stolen on Tuesday.
Attached to a monument stone, the plaque was for Father Harris Anthony Darche (1889-1937). He was the most decorated chaplain of World War I and the national chaplain of the American Legion in 1931.
Post 766 Adjutant Larry Herndon said two men working in the Legion spotted it missing about 11 a.m. Tuesday. The massive stone sits near the entrance to the post, about 30 feet from the curb on West Broadway Street.
“This was a deliberate act,” Herndon said. “This was pried off.”
The plaque is 20 inches by 15 inches and was anchored with four posts about 3 inches deep into the stone.
“It isn’t like you can just knock it off,” Herndon said.
Response from the public has been strong since the Legion posted of the theft on its Facebook page, Herndon said.
“All we want is for whoever took the plaque to bring it back. You can leave it on the front steps,” Herndon said.
The plaque honors Darche as “a true soldier of Christ and his country with an extraordinary combination of ability and humility. He was noted for his courage, modesty and tolerance of all beliefs. A priest of God and the servant of man.”
The memorial first stood on the grounds of St. Viator College, a Catholic school that occupied the site covered today by Olivet Nazarene University. But St. Viator became a victim of the Great Depression and closed permanently in 1939. The memorial was moved to Bradley.
Born in Bourbonnais, Darche was a St. Viator’s graduate. Appointed a Navy chaplain in 1917, he went to the front with the 6th Marine Regiment, serving at Chateau Thierry, the Meuse Argonne and Belleau Wood.
He survived a mustard gas attack. Twice German shells killed all the men around him, but miraculously, he survived. He was reported dead to his sister. All the time, he went about the business of burying American dead, marking their graves and administering the last rites.
Awarded the Navy Cross, the Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honor, he returned home to help found the American Legion.
Appointed pastor at Bradley St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, he was a popular and successful Catholic Youth Organization baseball coach. Father Darche was not above praying the rosary for a Bradley base hit.
His death was caused by a hemorrhage attributed to the lingering effect of that 20-year-old gas attack.