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Matt Lanighan


Date and Place of Birth: Lockport, NY
Date and Place of Death:    October 16, 1918 St. Juvin, France
Baseball Experience: Semi-Pro
Position: Catcher
Rank: Sergeant
Military Unit: Company I, 309th Infantry Regiment, 78th Division US Army
Area Served: France

Matt Lanighan and Leo Dolan were semi-pro batterymates and good friends. Together they left the sandlots of America to serve their country in France during World War I. Both men were killed in action within minutes of each other.

Described as “one of the ablest, cleanest, most popular men that ever participated in local sports,” Matthew S. “Matt” Lanighan was a catcher with the Lockport Fibres – the Fibre Corporation’s entry in the semi-pro Lockport Industrial League. Playing for the Fibres for five years, during which time they clinched five league titles, he batted .318 in 1917.

A gifted athlete, Lanighan also played football as a fullback with the Manhattans of East Lockport, had previously played baseball for the North Ends of Lockport and played for the North Mains team in the Washington League of the Municipal Baseball Association in Buffalo.

Employed at the Fibre Corporation’s plant, Matt Lanighan and pitcher Leo Dolan - who'd had a trial witht he Pittsburgh Pirates and pitched minor league ball in Columbus, Georgia - boarded a train at Lockport bound for military service on September 26, 1917. Bob Wood, manager of the Fibres and George O’Brien, field captain, as well as other members of the Fibre team and employees of the Fibre Corporation, were at the station to bid farewell to the best battery to ever play semi-pro ball in Lockport. Little did they realize that neither would return home.

Days earlier, Lanighan had played his last game for the Fibres, catching his good friend Dolan in a win over the Niagalks, Industrial League champions of Niagara Falls. The two men were honored at the second meeting of the Fibres and Niagalks. “A testimonial will be tendered these boys by the Fibres, who will wear small flags on the left sleeve of their uniforms,” announced the Union-Sun & Journal on September 29. “It will be "Dolan and Lanighan Day" and the Fibres' share of the gate receipts will be turned over to them. Although absent, Leo and Matt will be honored, feted and applauded by Lockport's fandom in real style."

Lanighan and Dolan trained at Camp Dix in Wrightstown, New Jersey, where they found a little time for more baseball, both playing on the same team in the regimental league at the camp. The following year Sergeant Lanighan and Corporal Dolan were in France with Company I, 309th Infantry Regiment of the 78th Division.

During Company I’s attack against German positions in the Argonne on October 16, 1918, Sergeant Lanighan led his platoon in the face of a rain of enemy machine gun fire. As men all around him were mowed down Sergeant Lanighan slowly forged ahead and captured 86 German troops. With two thirds of his men killed or wounded he was recalled by his commanding officer 1/Lt. John H. Field, Jr., and was planning the next move when an enemy artillery shell exploded in their midst and Lanighan was killed instantly.

A half hour before that a short distance away Corporal Leo Dolan saw a comrade fall after being struck by machine gun fire. With complete disregard for his own safety he went to the aid of his comrade. Struck in the stomach by machine gun fire, Cpl. Dolan died 30 minutes later; within minutes of Lanighan being killed.

Of the 250 men of Company I that went into the attack that day, only nine returned.

In January 1919, Matt Lanighan's father, Edward, received a letter from 1/Lt. Field.

"Mr. Edward Lanighan,
Lockport, N.Y.

"My dear sir:
I want to try to express to you my feelings and to assure you that "Matt" died happily. I know that you will miss him terribly - as no father ever gave a better son for his country - but he will be waiting for you in Heaven.

"He had just lead his platoon in atttack and had captured a German position - for which he was highly commended, when the shell came that took him from us. He lived but a few seconds and did not suffer.

"It is not neceesary to tell you that he was always a thorough gentleman, a hard worker, a true soldier, and a fine example for all of us; forever cool and absolutely fearless. He was known to everyone and sadly missed and will be more than any of God's chosen ones from '309,'

"I have often wished that I might have exchanged places with him, and ow I hope that some day I may meet the father of one of the finest boys I've ever known.

"Sincerely yours,
1st. Lt. 109th Inf."

Sergeant Lanighan was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. He is buried at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Romagne, France, at Plot E, Row 41, Grave 17. Leo Dolan, who also posthumously received the DSC, is buried at the same cemetery at Plot A, Row 45, Grave 31.

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, Sept 26, 1917
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, Nov 14, 1918
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, Dec 11, 1918

Date Added July 7, 2012


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