William Heber McLaughlin (1882–1931)
William Heber McLaughlin was a Lonoke County farmer and politician who became one of the first American army officers to be wounded in action in France, participating in the first military engagement involving U.S. Army troops in World War I.
William Heber McLaughlin, who was called Heber, was born on January 26, 1882, at Atoka, Tennessee, north of Memphis, to businessman William R. McLaughlin and Annie Gillespie McLaughlin. The family moved to Lonoke (Lonoke County) soon after his birth. Around 1907, his father purchased the Knapp Plantation, east of Scott (Lonoke and Pulaski counties) near Toltec, advocating that the mounds on the site be made into a public park to ensure their preservation. They eventually were acquired by the State of Arkansas and survive today as part of Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park.
Heber McLaughlin attended the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) during the 1901–1902 school year, joining the Kappa Sigma fraternity and serving as a corporal in Company A of the university’s “military department.” In 1903, he returned to Toltec and worked on his father’s plantation, also becoming the postmaster at Toltec.
When the United States entered World War I in 1917, he volunteered as an army officer candidate. McLaughlin trained for three months at Fort Roots in North Little Rock (Pulaski County) and, on August 15, received his commission as first lieutenant in the First Provisional Regiment. He shipped out for France in September 1917 and, after receiving additional training by British soldiers, was assigned to Company F of the Sixteenth Infantry Regiment, First American Division.
McLaughlin’s company was stationed with French troops near Bathelémont-les-Bauzemont on the Marne-Rhine Canal in Lorraine. During the night of November 2–3, 1917, German soldiers raided the salient occupied by the fresh American troops after first cutting them off from their comrades with an artillery barrage. Around 200 Germans attacked the Americans, engaging in fierce hand-to-hand combat. McLaughlin, the ranking officer, was heading to the main lines for instructions when he was knocked down three times by the barrage, receiving a serious head injury.
Three American soldiers died in this first World War I action involving U.S. soldiers, while five—including McLaughlin—were wounded and twelve were captured by the Germans. The young lieutenant resisted efforts to send him home as an invalid and returned to the lines, but by December the effects of his wounds proved too severe for continued service. McLaughlin received the French Croix de Guerre and was promoted to captain, then returned to the United States, where he spent the remainder of the war training American troops. He was discharged as fifty-percent disabled on December 20, 1918.
McLaughlin entered politics on his return to Arkansas, serving as a Lonoke County representative in the Arkansas General Assembly for two terms beginning in 1923, while helping to manage the family plantation. He married Jessie Walker in 1928, and they had one daughter, Patricia.
Heber McLaughlin died on May 28, 1931, and is interred in the mausoleum in Little Rock’s Mount Holly Cemetery.
For additional information:
Baker, Russell. “Lieutenant William Heber McLaughlin: Forgotten Hero.” Pulaski County Historical Review 52 (Fall 2004): 74–78.
“Heber M’Laughlin Called By Death.” Arkansas Gazette, May 29, 1931, p. 6.
Mark K. Christ
Arkansas WWI Centennial Commemoration Committee
Last Updated: 02/19/2020