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James S. McDowell
Sergeant,United States Army
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 From a contemporary press report: Saturday, September 05, 1998

James S. McDowell will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, a fitting place for a man who loved his country so much that he lied about his age to fight in World War I.

He was only 15 in 1916 when he told Army enlisters he was 19. He fought in every major battle in France and was later awarded a Silver Star and Purple Heart.

"I just wanted to go and be a soldier," he told The Pittsburgh Press in 1986, when he was inducted into the Hall of Valor at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland.

Mr. McDowell, whose five sons also served in armed forces, died Monday in Wexford House. He was 97. A date has not been set for the funeral, which will be held at the landmark site in Arlington, Virginia. The cremated remains of his first wife, Helen, who died in 1962, will be interred with his.

"He was a pretty brilliant man for a fifth-grade education," said Norman McDowell of Westwood, the youngest of his eight children.

Indeed, Mr. McDowell was smart enough to fool military officials, and wise enough not to tell his parents what he had done until he arrived at Camp Wilson in San Antonio, Texas. He had enlisted secretly on October 10, 1916, leaving a job Downtown selling vegetable seeds for Pittsburgh Tree and Seed Co.

He was discharged in 1920 and honored for wartime bravery at Castigny, France, in 1918. During battles there with his fellow soldiers in the 7th Field Artillery of the 1st Division, he suffered a shrapnel injury to his right cheek. He was also injured in a mustard gas attack and suffered severe headaches for the next 30 years, Norman McDowell said.

Norman McDowell said his father was an affable, determined man, a strict disciplinarian who enjoyed a drink and played a good game of poker.

"He had a knack for remembering every card that was played," he said.

Just his presence at the head of the dinner table in a blue work shirt, the arms of his white thermal undershirt showing beneath, was enough to keep mealtime silence.

"Nobody talked except to say pass this or that," he said.

Mr. McDowell also loved horses. He told many sobering war stories, including one about a time when food rations were so thin that he shared a potato with his horse.

"He had horses collapse right underneath him from starvation," Norman McDowell said.

Following his stint in the war, Mr. McDowell added the jobs of bartender, bouncer, cab driver, tile setter, welding instructor and pile driver to his resume. At 6 feet, 3 inches tall and somewhere around 230 pounds, he was a natural for tossing rowdies, he son said.

"Daddy wasn't the kind of guy who wanted to start a fight or try you. He was an easy-going man, but don't mess with him," Norman McDowell said.

During World War II, in which two of his sons served, Mr. McDowell taught welding at Dravo Corp. After that, he went into business for a few years with one of his sons, setting tile. When the business closed, he got work as a pile driver, doing work for various construction companies.

"Every time we took him down to my sister's in Maryland we'd go across the Elizabeth Bridge, and every time he'd tell us, 'I worked on that bridge."'

Mr. McDowell retired as a pile driver in the early 1960s. He spent his leisure time, his son said, visiting his children in various cities, bowling and walking for exercise.

In addition to his son Norman, Mr. McDowell is survived by sons James of Inverness, Florida, Raymond of McKees Rocks, Thomas of Port Richie, Florida, and Robert of Brownwood, Texas; daughters Arlene Stiglic of Torrance, California, Edythe Goran of Coral Gables, Florida, and Diane Klotzbaugh of Accident, Maryland; 16 grandchildren; and 18 great-grandchildren.

His second and third wives, Lucinda and Essie, also preceded him in death.

Contributions in Mr. McDowell's memory can be made to Pittsburgh Vision Services, 300 S. Craig St., Pittsburgh 15213.


Posted: 3 August 2004
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