NORTH ANDOVER — Albert Thomson embraced the idea of serving his country in uniform, even though the law said he was too young. After the United States had entered World War I, Thomson, who lived at 50 Waverly Road, just down the street from the school that is now named after him, inflated his age so he could join the Army.

At 16, he was assigned to the 101st Infantry Regiment of the 26th Division, popularly known as the Yankee Division.

On July 21, 1918, Private Thomson was killed while fighting in the Battle of Chateau-Thierry. He was a few months shy of his 17th birthday.

Thomson was the first North Andover resident to die in World War I. When the town built an elementary school in 1924, it was named for this brave young man.

Assistant Superintendent Gregg Gilligan, who was principal of Thomson School before being promoted to his current position, went to France during April vacation and located Thomson’s grave.

Thomson is among 2,289 American soldiers buried in Belleau, about an hour’s drive from Paris.

Thomson was the youngest of those soldiers, according to the cemetery superintendent, Gilligan said. Gilligan displayed the photos he took of Thomson’s simple grave and the rows of white crosses in the cemetery at an assembly at Thomson School on Friday morning.

Today, not too much is known about Thomson, but the cemetery superintendent showed Gilligan the information that’s kept there, including a mention of the school in North Andover that’s named for him.

During an assembly at the school last Thursday, Gilligan pointed out to the students sitting in the gymnasium that Thomson, who “grew up down the street,” was only a few years older than the fifth-graders in the audience, most of whom are 11 or very close to it.

“The freedom we have today we owe to veterans,” Gilligan said.

“What’s the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day?” he asked the students. They got it right, noting that Veterans Day honors all men and women who have served or are serving in the military, while Memorial Day is the occasion for remembering those who died while serving.

Thomson was born in 1901 and died in 1918.

“How old would he be today?” Gilligan asked. Several students took valiant stabs at calculating the right answer, but it was fifth-grader Wally King who belted out “113!” After the assembly, Wally was asked if he’s good at math.

“I guess so,” he said.

“He’s very humble,” said Gilligan, who still knows just about every Thomson student by name.

D’Ardre King, a fourth-grader, read what is probably the most famous poem from World War I, “In Flanders Fields,” written by Lt. Col. John McCrae, a Canadian Army physician. McCrae was also a casualty of the war, having died of pneumonia while commanding a military hospital.

King read the lines flawlessly. He later told The Eagle-Tribune he aspires to be a “national sports player.” Football is his favorite sport and his position is running back.

Under the direction of music teacher Donna Sue Dragosits, the assembly boasted a wide assortment of songs. Thomson School, by the way, has its own song, with the refrain “At Thomson School we are lifetime learners.”

They sang that at the beginning of the assembly. The Fifth-Grade Song Leaders then gave a peppy rendition of George M. Cohan’s hit song “You’re a Grand Old Flag.” After Gilligan’s presentation, they led all students in singing “The Army Song” – “Over hill, over dale, we will hit the dusty trail” – in honor of Private Albert Thomson.

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