In 1921, the road that leads from Des Moines to Camp Dodge was named Merle Hay Road in honor of his sacrifice.
On November 3, 1917, James Bethel Gresham of Evansville, Indiana, Thomas F. Enright of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Merle D. Hay of Glidden, Iowa were killed in trenches atop a bald hill three kilometers northeast of the village Bathelemont. In this pre-dawn German raid, Gresham became the first enlisted American soldier to die in World War I.
The First Infantry Division, called the Big Red One because of the red numeral "1" on the uniform shoulder patch, was the first regular army division organized in June 1917 to fight in France with the Allied armies. Four regiments of infantry, each numbering about 4,200 men, and three regiments of artillery, of about 1,500 men each, plus a large number of smaller, supporting units, such as machine gun battalions, made up the very large American combat division of more than 28,000 men. Soldiers with very familiar names, like George C. Marshall, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. and Lesley J. McNair, served with the First Division in World War I. Corporal James B. Gresham and Privates Thomas F. Enright and Merle D. Hay of the 16th Infantry Regiment were the first soldiers of the Division killed in combat on 3 November 1917 during a German trench raid.