BRADLEY — A plaque located on a huge rock just outside the door of the Bradley American Legion commemorates the post’s most famous member.
Harris Anthony Darche (1889-1937) was one of the founders of the post and the most decorated chaplain of World War I. The Rev. Darche was the national chaplain of the American Legion in 1931.
The plaque honors the Catholic priest 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 was dedicated on a rainy Sunday, May 29, 1938, the day before that year’s Memorial Day. Present were the state commander of the American Legion and the national commander of the “40 and 8,” an elite group within the American Legion, consisting of veterans of World War I.
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, a victim of the Depression, closed permanently in 1939. The memorial 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. Until the Marines took Iwo Jima a quarter century later, Belleau Wood, with 1,062 dead, was the bloodiest Marine battle of all time.
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 by the Kaiser’s army.