Born in 1898 to Irish immigrants living in New Haven, Timothy Francis Ahearn was still a teenager when he enlisted in the 102d Infantry Division — famously known as the Yankee Division owing to the New England origins of most of its men — and was deployed overseas to fight the Germans during World War I. He received a promotion to corporal at the age of 19 for bravery at Seicheprey, France, where a fierce battle claimed the lives of dozens of men from the Yankee Division. Several months later, on October 27, 1918, Ahearn displayed incredible poise under pressure yet again. After an enemy attack near Verdun, France killed or incapacitated every last one of the sergeants and officers in his company, Ahearn assumed command and, with only seventeen men, successfully held his company’s position for the duration of the fight. His comrades reported that Corporal Ahearn also rushed “over the top” of the trenches amid heavy fire in order to rescue a wounded soldier.
For his courage and bravery on that fateful October day, Ahearn later received the Distinguished Service Cross, as well as the French Croix de Guerre and the Italian War Cross. His fighting days quickly came to an end, however, as he was exposed to mustard gas only three days after his gallant actions near Verdun. Ahearn returned to his family home in New Haven, but never fully recovered from the after-effects of the mustard gas attack, suffering from difficulty breathing and keeping himself mentally focused for the remainder of his life. After spending several years traveling the United States with fellow veterans and trying multiple times to make a living as an itinerant agricultural worker, Ahearn died in San Francisco at the age of 25.
Even though the brave young war hero had died far from home, his family and his hometown of New Haven never forgot him. Ahearn’s family had his body shipped back to New Haven and interred at a family plot at St. Lawrence Cemetery, and in 1937, the New Haven Chapter of the Yankee Division Veterans Association dedicated a larger-than-life bronze statue of Corporal Timothy Ahearn at West River Memorial Park, where it still stands today. For years, World War I veterans would gather at the Ahearn memorial every year to remember the bravery of the young corporal, who saved lives and held his position against all odds, on this day in Connecticut history.
Jane E. Dee, “A Short But Valiant Life: The Story Behind a New Haven WWI Statue,” Hartford Courant
Laura Macaluso, “Timothy Ahearn Memorial,” TheClio.com