WWI Profile: John Daniel Eriksen 1888-1961

Photos courtesy of Trudy Young, his great niece.
John Daniel Eriksen
Southport, Brunswick County, NC
US Army
Wagoner

Served:
September 18, 1917 – March 27, 1919
Overseas:
March 4, 1918 – March 11, 1919

John (Johan) Daniel Eriksen was born in Norway and immigrated to America in 1906, according to his Naturalization Declaration of Intention on June 30, 1916 found in Ancestry. There is a family tree in FamilySearch.

The 1891 Norway Census record for Arendal, Norway [Source: Ancestry] shows his parents were Lars Eriksen (b.1851) and Thalette Bergitte Thorgrimsen Eriksen (b.1862), married July 20, 1886. Besides Johan Daniel (b.Feb.1889), there was Einar Johan (b.1887) – should be Einar Andreas. Eventually, there were eleven children, according to Trudy Young, John’s great niece who still lives in Southport.

Trudy shared the following.

“John was one of 11 children and left home at 14 to be a cabin boy on a ship. His parents told him 2 years, and he had to come back to go to engineering school. He went back 30 years later to visit his mother.”

John signed his Declaration of Intention in 1916 as mentioned above. He was living in Southport at that time. He then married Esther Dosher on December 2, 1916 in Southport (John stated on the marriage certificate that his father was dead and mother was living).

He registered for the WWI Draft as required, on June 5, 1917. He stated he was employed as an Engineer in Southport for C.E. Gause, Esther’s brother-in-law, Charles Eyden Gause. He also stated he was a citizen of Norway but had declared his intention for citizenship.

On September 18, 1917, he was ordered to report for duty [Source: Ancestry]. Like many of the Brunswick County draftees, he was sent to Camp Jackson and trained with the 81st “Wildcat” Division. He was assigned to the Headquarters Company of the 322nd Infantry.

In January 1918, he was transferred out of the 81st Division and within a month, became a member of the 56th Engineers (Searchlight), where he remained throughout the war.

Previous to the great war, searchlights had been developed in the United States Army for coast defense and for battle illumination. Their principal use had been fixed installations in harbor defense, although experiments had been made in the development of mobile units for battlefield illumination.

After experimentation on the French and British fronts followed by investigation work in Washington Barracks, D.C., it was apparent that personnel must be assembled and trained for searchlight service.

The 56th Engineers (Searchlight) was authorized in January 1918. Personnel was formed with transfers from other units, such as Pvt Ericksen, drafts, and voluntary enlistment.

The 56th Engineers had diverse duties from experimental work and development of their own equipment to front line service with the British, French, and American armies in anti-aircraft defense against the night bomber.

Because each platoon was developed as an operating unit by itself, the unit was often isolated and many never saw their other comrades.

Insignia at right is an actual hand-sewn insignia on a uniform pictured online.

Trudy Young provided not only the photo shown at top, but letters written to his wife Esther during the war. In his letters, he often mentions that Esther should not worry because he was not serving in the trenches.

Of special interest to the Friends of Fort Caswell Rifle Range are his experiences at the rifle range during his training at Washington Barracks. These trips were not pleasant for him. On one trip, his pants and raincoat were stolen and he was required to pay $3.57 to replace them, although it seems he believed that insurance would reimburse his money. In another letter, he mentions he will be leaving for the rifle range again tomorrow, Tuesday, February 5, 1918. He expected to remain there until Saturday, February 16. He shared this about his stay.

“The mud here is something terrible. It is from 6 to 10 inches deep and just as soft as jelly. My feet been wet since I been here. I change socks twice a day but they stay cold. I am so dirty I feel right bad. I haven’t had a good face wash since I been here. We can’t get enough water.”

After returning from the 11 days on the range, he writes, “It was just plain H-L down on the Range. We even had to work at night. I made Marksman down there and I guess I would have made more if I hadn’t had a toothache […] and had it bad while I was shooting. I never had my shirt or pants off while I was down at the Range and believe me, I took a bath last night even though it was cold.”

Pvt Eriksen served in Company A, organized March 2, 1918, and traveled to Hoboken, NJ, on March 3 with 153 men and 2 officers. They left for France on March 6 on Tenadores, arriving in Bordeaux on March 21.

Pvt Eriksen was promoted to Private First Class in August and transferred to Company E, which is the roster which includes his name in the unit history, seen at left. From his letters, he appears to have stayed at Champigny during the months at war. As his letters could not include information about his activities, we look to the unit history, which states, “the action on enemy planes was most successful, as no enemy planes succeeded in penetrating the area covered by the lights.”

Pfc Eriksen mentions “Willis” in his letters home, which could be Pfc Willis from the roster shown. Other men are mentioned in his letters. At least one, Early Howell, appears in another roster in the unit history. His letters also mention his mother and siblings.

In November, three platoons including his were transferred to Company G. From his letters, he was not pleased at the transfer because his previous Company E returned home soon after. But the Searchlights again justified their presence as several bombing raids occurred and caused no damage because the planes were forced to fly higher altitudes to avoid the searchlights.

In December, Pfc Eriksen became a Wagoner and waited to return home. His letters mention tending the horses and no mention of travel or hauling equipment. Read Jackson Berry Potter’s WWI Profile for more information about the responsibilities of Wagoners.

On February 26, 1919, he embarked at St. Nazaire on the USS Nansemond, arriving at Newport News on March 11, 1919. His letters mention that because of a gale, the trip took longer than expected so supplies were low. They were only allowed two meals each day, so he was always hungry.

Upon arrival, the engineers were demobilized at Camp Morrison, VA.

After the war, John captained menhaden boats for the Brunswick Navigation Company. He signed a Petition of Naturalization on May 11, 1920 to become a citizen, as he had completed more than the five years of residency required [Source: Ancestry]. A Certificate appears to have been issued to him that day.

On November 20, 1920, his brother Hakon Ericksen, passed away in Southport. He was laid to rest in Old Smithville Cemetery (note that the year of death is incorrect and does not match his death certificate). Hakon’s death certificate indicates he had lived in Southport since June of that year.

John Eriksen served as mayor of Southport from 1935 to 1949.

Source: The State Port Pilot, Sept. 23, 1936, front page

Southport’s Sea-Going Mayor Extends Welcome to Visitors

Mayor John Eriksen is Captain of Menhaden Fish Boat Anderson And Is Experienced Seaman

Mayor John Eriksen typifies the hospitality of Southport citizens when he extends a hearty welcome to sportsmen of this state to visit here during the next few weeks and enjoy hunting and fishing that is unequaled in North Carolina.

Captain John didn’t think much of having his picture taken for the paper, but he agreed to stand still long enough for one shot to be made. He is shown above in his sea going clothes.

Southport’s mayor is captain of the menhaden fishboat Anderson. He is recognized as one of the best fisherman on the coast and is one of the most popular men in Southport.

He was born in Norway, but came to the United States before the World War. He married a Southport girl and made his home here.

Last year he was elected mayor of Southport and he has filled that office with marked efficiency. He is also senior warden of the St. Phillips Episcopal church.

John Daniel Eriksen passed away on January 17, 1961, at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Fayetteville. He was laid to rest in Old Smithville Cemetery in Southport. A military flat marker is displayed.

John and Esther had no children. He was Trudy Young’s great-uncle, and was like another father to her. She remains in the house in Southport where he lived most of his life.

Sources:
Trudy Young shared letters her great uncle wrote during the war, which can be found here.

Macomber and Brunet (1920) The 56th Engineers in the World War. Albany, The Brandon Printing Co. [Includes Rosters]

If you would like to help us honor John Daniel Eriksen or another Brunswick County WWI veteran, please use the following links:

Click here for the announcement: Announcement: Honor a Brunswick County World War I Veteran
Click here for directions to donate and honor a veteran: How to Honor a Brunswick County World War I Veteran

Click the category: Veteran Profile here or at the bottom of any veteran profile post to see all of the veteran profiles published. Follow or subscribe to the blog to stay updated on all new profiles.

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Themed baskets are available this year at Derby, Dinner, & Dance

Themed baskets are back!
They were a popular item last year.

Baskets shown below are from the 2018 fundraiser.
Like last year, local artist Helen Radcliffe is leading the effort with assistance from Jayne Rankin.

Many items were donated by local businesses.

All donations from local businesses will be compiled and published soon.

Baskets are divided into categories or themes, such as:

Italian Night
Let’s Hit Some Golf Balls!
Spa Day
Lighthouse Magic
Flamingo Beach
Mermaids and More
Books and Notes

Click here for more information about the Dinner, Derby, & Dance Fundraiser to support the 1918 Fort Caswell Rifle Range.

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WWI Profile: Frederick Arnold Willetts 1895-1972

To view this or an earlier profile at any time, click on the veteran’s name on the WWI Brunswick County Veteran list, which is also accessible by the blue button on the top right of the webpage.

Photo contributed by Mary Willetts Earp, niece.
Frederick Arnold Willetts
Winnabow, Brunswick County, NC
US Army
Private
Served:
August 25, 1918 – October 29, 1918

Frederick Arnold Willetts was born and raised in Winnabow, Brunswick County. Two of his brothers also served, George Finnis Willetts and William Edgar Willetts.

Because Frederick was not yet 21 when the 1917 draft registration was held, he registered for the draft in 1918. His Draft Registration shows he was living in Winnabow and working on the family farm. His physical description was tall, slender, with dark blue eyes and light hair.

Frederick was the third Willetts brother to receive the order to report for duty. He reported for duty on August 26, 1918, and was sent to Camp Jackson, SC [Source: Ancestry]. He was assigned to 156th Depot Brigade for training.

Source: Library of Congress

The construction of Camp Jackson began on June 11, 1917. The first soldiers arrived on June 22. Construction was completed on December 22, 1917.

Recall from Richard Herbert Gray’s WWI profile, the 81st Division was responsible for much of the construction and organization at Camp Jackson until they moved to Camp Sevier in May 1918.

The Depot Brigade was to receive recruits, train them, then send them where needed. In some cases, recruits required physical training for the rehabilitation of injuries or health related issues. Camp Jackson’s Depot Brigade was the 156th.

Pvt Willetts was honorably discharged two months later on October 29, 1918, with a Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability and a 12 1/2 percent disability, indicating that the disability was a result of his military service. The General Pension Act of 1862 also included compensation for diseases incurred while in service, such as tuberculosis.

One clue into his disability is the date he was honorably discharged: October 29, 1918. The country was suffering from the influenza pandemic and southern camps in particular were hit hard with common childhood diseases such as the measles, as mentioned earlier in Carl Jefferson Danford’s WWI Profile.

It seems likely that Pvt Willetts contracted one of the illnesses which caused the camps to be quarantined, such as measles. A chronic condition that contributed to his death has been linked to measles. He could have suffered from influenza and pneumonia, causing damage to his lungs. Or it could have been a completely unrelated injury. But this is all guesswork based on records of other injuries sustained by soldiers during training.

After his discharge, Fred settled in Wilmington, working as a carpenter. He married and raised a family.

Frederick Arnold Willetts passed away on June 9, 1972, after several months in the VA Hospital in Fayetteville. His brother, William Edgar Willetts died just three days later.

On June 10, 1972, the following obituary was published in The Wilmington Morning Star.

Fred Willetts

Fred Willetts of Rt. 5  died in the Veterans Administration Hospital in Fayetteville Friday morning following a lengthy illness.

Mr. Willetts was a retired carpenter and was the son of the late W.H. and Annie Arnold Willetts.

Survivors include his wife, Mrs. Virgie Russ Willetts of the home; a son, Robert Arnold Willetts of Carolina Beach; four brothers, William A. Willetts of Wilmington; F.S. Willetts of Ingold; J.C. (Grimes) Willetts of Winnabow; S.D. Willetts of Supply, two sisters, Mrs. Eliza Singletary of Supply, Mrs. Eula Bolling of Leland; two grandsons.

Funeral services will be held Sunday at 2 pm at the Chapel of Andrews Mortuary, with the Rev. John D. Stitt officiating. Burial will be in Greenlawn Memorial Park.

The family will receive visitors from 7:30 to 8:30 pm Saturday at Andrews Mortuary.

He was laid to rest in Greenlawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Wilmington. A military flat marker is shown.

Read more about the Willetts brothers here: Willetts brothers honored with a family donation

Source:
US Army Basic Training Combat Museum (2016) The Birth of Camp Jackson. Fort Jackson, S.C., The R. L. Bryan co.

If you would like to help us honor Frederick Arnold Willetts or another Brunswick County WWI veteran, please use the following links:

Click here for the announcement: Announcement: Honor a Brunswick County World War I Veteran
Click here for directions to donate and honor a veteran: How to Honor a Brunswick County World War I Veteran

Click the category: Veteran Profile here or at the bottom of any veteran profile post to see all of the veteran profiles published. Follow or subscribe to the blog to stay updated on all new profiles.

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Dinner, Derby, & Dance set for May 4, 2019


PDFs:

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New sign installed at rifle range

The funds for the new sign were contributed by
First Bank.

The sign reflects the words from the official national designation awarded by the US WWI Centennial Commission and the Pritzker Military Museum and Library.

Thanks to
Senior Vice-President David Kesterson of First Bank
for supporting the Fort Caswell Rifle Range for another year!

Read the 2017 stories:
Brunswick Beacon: First Bank supports historical preservation of World War I structure
State Port Pilot: Effort aimed at saving rifle pit

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2019 April 6th WWI Commemoration and Roll Call

Approximately 75 people attended the Commemoration of the US entry into WWI on a breezy Saturday morning on April 6, 2019. The program began at 11:00am.

Click here to view program: 2019 April 6 Program

Thank you to those who attended and the marvelous supporters and donors!

The Roll Calls

The Roll Calls were assembled using the names of Brunswick County WWI veterans. Roll Calls will continue during future ceremonies. All veterans honored with a donation have been called.

As a reminder, here are the 439 names that have been called to date:

Please consider honoring those veterans that have not yet been honored.

Photos courtesy of Christine Urick and Phyllis Wilson. Thank you!

More photos coming soon!

A special thanks to these local high school students:

Eagle Scout Ethan Pannkuk,
South Brunswick High School JROTC members:

  • Megan Carmichael
  • Riley Cheek – Roll Call
  • Joshua Creech
  • Brannon Guertin
  • Brady Udlinek
  • Christian Wells
  • Tyress Hall – Bugler

and Daniel Corbett, Sergeant First Class, US Army (Retired), who contacted The Friends of Fort Caswell Rifle Range to offer the participation of the South Brunswick High School JROTC.

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WWI Profile: William Edgar Willetts 1890-1972

To view this or an earlier profile at any time, click on the veteran’s name on the WWI Brunswick County Veteran list, which is also accessible by the blue button on the top right of the webpage.

Photo contributed by Mary Willetts Earp, daughter.
William Edgar Willetts
Winnabow, Brunswick County, NC
US Army
Private
Served:
July 30, 1918 – February 20, 1919

William Edgar Willetts was born and raised in Winnabow, Brunswick County. He was the oldest child of William Henry Sherman  and Annie Eliza Arnold Willetts. Two of his brothers also served, George Finnis Willetts and Fredrick Arnold Willetts.

His Draft Registration shows he was single, living in Winnabow, and farming. He stated he was supporting his father, two brothers, and two sisters. His physical description was medium height and weight, with grey eyes and dark brown hair.

William was the second Willetts brother to receive orders to report for duty. He reported for duty on July 31, 1918, and was sent to Camp Hancock, GA [Source: Ancestry]. He was assigned to 53rd Depot Brigade where his NC WWI Service Card indicated he remained throughout the war. The Depot Brigade was to receive recruits, train them, then send them where needed.

Source: Library of Congress

The construction of Camp Hancock began on July 18, 1917. Construction was completed in November 1917. The camp was abandoned in March 1919.

The NC WWI Service Cards have inconsistencies for some veterans and appear to have more if the veteran did not serve overseas. For example, Joseph S. Smith reported for duty with Pvt Willetts on July 31, 1918. Pvt Smith’s NC WWI Service Card shows he served in the Machine Gun Training Center at Camp Hancock. Yet his application for military headstone (Source: Ancestry) and his military flat marker in Brunswick County show he served in the 13th Provisional Company at Camp Johnson. Walker O. Smith shows the same.

Offline research into Pvt Willetts records would be needed to determine exactly where he served during the war. The Headstone Applications for Military Veterans in Ancestry are only available from 1925-1963.

Pvt Willetts was honorably discharged on February 20, 1919, with a 16 2/3 disability, indicating that the disability was a result of his military service.

According to the Library of Congress blog, injured veterans helped push forward the disability rights movement.  The US Department of Veterans Affairs was eventually created for the treatment of veterans’ disabilities. In addition, the important recognition of psychological injuries began around this time. These three important advances were a result of the physical disabilities of veterans such as the one which resulted from Pvt Willetts’ service.

During the war, 224,000 soldiers suffered injuries that sidelined them from the front. Roughly 4,400 returned home missing part or all of a limb. Of course, disability was not limited to missing limbs; a soldier could come home with all limbs and digits intact yet struggle with mental wounds. Nearly 100,000 soldiers were removed from fighting for psychological injuries; 40,000 of them were discharged. By 1921, approximately 9,000 veterans had undergone treatment for psychological disability in veterans’ hospitals. As the decade progressed, greater numbers of veterans received treatment for “war neurosis.” Ultimately, whether mental or physical, 200,000 veterans would return home with a permanent disability.

“[A] man could not go through that conflict and come back and take his place as a normal human being,” veteran and former infantry officer Robert S. Marx noted in late 1919. Marx played a critical role in establishing the organization Disabled Veterans of the World War (DAV) in 1920. He knew well the sting of disability: Just hours before the war’s ceasefire, he suffered a severe injury after being wounded by a German artillery shell.

With the larger American Legion, founded in 1919, the DAV worked to raise public awareness about disabled veterans, while pressuring the government to adopt programs to address their rehabilitation and reintegration into American society.

Together, the two organizations placed veterans’ disability at the forefront of the push for veterans’ rights and benefits, including for “shell shock” or what today would be classified as PTSD. Due to the organizations’ efforts, in 1921 the U.S. government established the United States Veterans Bureau, a precursor to today’s U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

WWI Service Cards don’t include the injury, but additional records have provided details of injuries such as those sustained by POW/wounded Robert Bollie Stanley and wounded Lindsey Pigott.

A clue to Pvt Willetts’ injury may be found in Cpl John Burt Exum’s letters home, used in George Finnis Willetts’ WWI Profile. Cpl Exum wrote the following on June 11, 1918, less than a month after he began training:

“Russell Peacock and Turl Flowers are in the tent with me. One on one side and the other on the other.”

Charles Russell Peacock and Jarvis Lester Flowers (assumed to be “Turl”) were ordered to report to duty with John Burt Exum on May 26, 1918 [Source: Ancestry].

On June 14, 1918, Cpl Exum wrote:

“I think Turl will get a discharge on account of a broken foot.”

Jarvis Lester Flowers was honorably discharged on August 5, 1918, with a Surgeons Certificate of Discharge and a 16 2/3 percent disability, which matches the disability percentage of Pvt Willetts.

It’s possible that Pvt Willetts’ disability was related to his foot, as percentages are determined based on appendage, etc. There are no records to confirm.

After his honorable discharge, Pvt Willetts returned home to work on the family farm. A few years later he married and began raising a family, continuing to farm throughout his life.

William Edgar Willetts passed away on June 12, 1972, just three days after his younger brother, Frederick Arnold Willetts. On June 14, 1972, the following obituary was published in The Wilmington Morning Star.

William E. Willetts

William Edgar Willetts of Rt. 3 Box 200A, Leland, died in the Cape Fear Memorial Hospital at midnight Monday, following an extended illness.

He was born in Winnabow, the son of the late Williams and Annie Arnold Willetts. He was a retired farmer.

The funeral will be held Thursday at 2 pm in the Chapel of the Andrews Mortuary by the Rev C.B. Hicks. Burial will be in Mill Creek Church Cemetery.

The family will receive visitors Wednesday from 8 pm to 9 pm at Andrews Mortuary.

Survivors include two daughters, Mrs. Wilbur E. Earp of Winnabow, Mrs. Wayne Lewis of Leland, one step-daughter, Mrs. Fred Hansen of Wilmington; two step-sons, W.A. Smith and H.R. Smith, both of Leland; three brothers, F.S. Willetts of Garland, Sidney Willetts of Supply, J.C. Willetts of Winnabow, two sisters, Mrs. Eula Bolling of Leland, Mrs. Eliza Singletary of Supply; six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

William Edgar Willetts was laid to rest in Willetts Cemetery in Mill Creek. A military headstone is shown.

Read more about the Willetts brothers here: Willetts brothers honored with a family donation

If you would like to help us honor William Edgar Willetts or another Brunswick County WWI veteran, please use the following links:

Click here for the announcement: Announcement: Honor a Brunswick County World War I Veteran
Click here for directions to donate and honor a veteran: How to Honor a Brunswick County World War I Veteran

Click the category: Veteran Profile here or at the bottom of any veteran profile post to see all of the veteran profiles published. Follow or subscribe to the blog to stay updated on all new profiles.

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Commemoration and Roll Call to be held on April 6, 2019

On Saturday, April 6th at 11:00 am at the National WWI Centennial Memorial, the 1918 Fort Caswell Rifle Range, the Friends of Fort Caswell Rifle Range & the Brunswick Town Chapter NSDAR will sponsor another event to continue Roll Calling Brunswick County men who served in WWI.

  • The South Brunswick High School Color Guard will be present.
  • Jim McKee, Brunswick Town/Ft Anderson site manager will speak.
  • Carl Mauney, WWI Re-enactor in full uniform will discuss the Life of a WWI Soldier.
  • Cindy Sellers will present a medley of WWI songs.
  • Descendants of veterans; Ethan Pannkuk, Eagle Scout; & community members will continue the Roll Call of Brunswick County WWI military.
  • “Thor” the cannon will be fired by the Southport Historical Society Firing Crew.
  • Taps will be played.
  • Lite lunch w/coffee, tea or cocoa will be served by supporters.

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WWI Profile: George Finnis Willetts 1894-1956

To view this or an earlier profile at any time, click on the veteran’s name on the WWI Brunswick County Veteran list, which is also accessible by the blue button on the top right of the webpage.

Photo contributed by Mary Willetts Earp, niece.
George Finnis Willetts
Winnabow, Brunswick County, NC
US Army
Private
Served:
April 25, 1918 – June 21, 1919
Overseas:
August 8, 1918 – June 9, 1919

George Finnis Willetts was born and raised in Winnabow, Brunswick County, NC. Two of his brothers also served, William Edgar Willetts and Fredrick Arnold Willetts.

His Draft Registration shows he was single, living in Winnabow, and farming. He stated he was supporting his father, mother, and three children. His physical description was tall, medium weight, with brown eyes and dark hair.

George was the first Willetts brother ordered to report for duty. He reported on April 25, 1918, and was sent to Camp Jackson, SC [Source: Ancestry]. He was eventually assigned to Company E, 306th Ammunition Train, 81st “Wildcat” Division.

The 81st Division included 3,150 soldiers in the trains. There were engineer trains, supply trains, sanitary trains (ambulances), and ammunition trains. Previous profiled soldiers from Brunswick County included those in the Engineer Train. The Ammunition Train was similar; the soldiers transported artillery and infantry ammunition from the refilling point to the engagement zones.

Corporal John Burt Exum (left) served with Pvt Willetts in the 306th Ammunition Train. His letters to his mother are located online in the NC Archives and provide a wonderful view into the experience shared by Pvt Willetts.

Some of Cpl Exum’s letters and excerpts have been included below to add personal experiences to the events of the 306th Ammunition Train, from their arrival at Camp Jackson, to their duties in France, to their return home. Pvt Willetts likely had similar experiences and thoughts.

John Exum held the ranks of Private, Corporal, and Wagoner as needed. His letters reflect his changing rank.

(Grammatical and spelling errors were not corrected.)

The Brunswick County soldiers who served with Pvt Willetts are listed below.

81st Division, 306th Ammunition Train

Name Company
Sgt Horace C Garrason Ord
Cpl Rothschild Holden G
Pfc Matthew Owens D
Pvt George Finnis Willetts E

This list and other rosters can be found on the World War I Army/Marine Rosters webpage.

Camp Jackson, 1918
Source: Library of Congress

Pvt Exum arrived in Camp Jackson on May 28, 1918, a month later than Pvt Willetts. He wrote:

17th Co., 156 Depot Brg.
Camp Jackson,
Columbia, S.C.
May 28, 1918

Dear Mother,
We had dinner yesterday at Wilmington, supper at Columbia and breakfast at Camp Jackson. We we drilled untill four o’clock this A.M. and got here at twelve. I thought we would never get through with the exams and find our lodging place. We were up at six thirty this morning and have been on some kind of duty all day. It was answering roll call and drilling. Went on a hike this evening. I am getting along all right and don’t need anything but sleep.

I will write more when I have time. I think that will be tomorrow evening if I am not detailed for guard duty. Tell everybody I am allright so far.
Your Son,

John

 

June 11, 1918:

17th Co., 156 Depot Br.
Camp Jackson,
Columbia, S.C.

Dear Mother,
I am getting along fine. Am near lots of good fellows that I know and can see them and be with them any time except when I am on duty.

I sleep in a tent on a one man cot with good springs and a straw matress. A good cotton comfort on that a two yarn blankets to cover with if I should need them.

I have no use for the blanket I brought from home. It is just in my way so I think I will ship it back as room is an object here.

Russell Peacock and Turl Flowers are in the tent with me. One on one side and the other on the other. Several Goldsboro boys that I know are in the next tent to us.

I was shot with typhoid antitoxine and also vacinated for small-pox day before yesterday. The antitoxine most killed me all day yesterday but is much better today so now my vacination is taking. The boys say it is taking fine but I say it is taking hard.

I am just across the street from one of the Y.M.C.A’s. It furnishes rest rooms, ice water, literature and stationery for any body and every-body. It is very convenient for me to be so near.

Your loving son,
John

His letter of June 14 letter includes the following:

We are being issued our uniforms today. Turl and I have had one for a week but we had to buy it. We got tired of looking like a “rookie”. That is a soldier with civilian clothes on.

A later letter written in June shares the news of his assignment.

Co. D.,
306 Am. Tr.,
Camp Jackson, S.C.,
Saturday evening

Dear Mother:-
I have been transferred to another part of the camp. I am now with a bunch of old boys that have seen much hard service and are almost ready to go over. I have taken ten thousand dollars of insurance for your benefit. My army service number or army serial number is 1,891,436.

I am in the motor truck division of the amunition train. Company D, to which I belong, will have about thirty three trucks. They will weigh about nine thousand pounds empty. They are two ton capacity with four wheel drive.

I have to work much harder now than when I was in the Depot Br. We drill all the morning and part of the evening. The balance of the evening is spent in hearing the officers lecture on our duties the rest of our time here and what we will have to do in France. We also have practice in truck driving and signaling back from one truck to another when the trucks are in line of train.

I was transfered over here Tuesday morning. I stood my physical examination for our sea duty Thursday evening and passed. From what I can find out this company expects to sail for France about July 15th.

I certainly was glad to see the folks from home that came to see me and especially May. She said she was going to see you when she got back and tell you how I was getting along and how I looked in a uniform. She has sent me two boxes since I have been down here. I only saw her once down here and that was Monday night. They took me over to town. I was transfered the next morning and transfered into a quaranteened company. I can’t go any where now nor do anything but work. Yesterday we had to work harder than usual for special inspection this morning. I tarted at 5-45 A.M. and stoped at 9-45 P.M.

We are having a half holiday this evening. The only time we get out of a week. I have to write some more and do some washing so good bye.

Your son,
John

Note: John Exum’s mother was a widow. John married a woman named May a few months after being discharged.

John traveled to New Jersey to attend the Ordnance Motor Instruction School. After returning, his letter in July described preparations to leave for France.

Co. D. 306 Amm. Tr.,
Camp Jackson, S.C.,
July 15, 1918.

Dear Mother:-
I was sorry you and May could not come up to N.J. to see me. I know you would have enjoyed the trip. As it is I guess I can’t come home and you had better not come down for we are now being issued the over sea stuff that we didn’t have. We are packing up part of our stuff and don’t expect to unpack it any more untill we get over. Of course we don’t know the exact time that we are to go.

Write to me here and if I am gone I guess it will be forwarded to me.

Write me if Sarah is married. I heard she was.

How is Sister and the kids?

Bye-bye for this time.

Hurriedly,
Cpl. J.B. Exum

Cpl Exum and Pvt Willetts traveled to NY to embark for France. While in NY, they had an opportunity for sightseeing. They left the country on August 8, 1918 on SS Cretic.

To read about the experiences of the 81st Division in France, begin with the WWI Profile of William Ralph Smith and read through Craven Ledrew Sellers. All of these can be found on the Published WWI Profiles webpage.

The 81st Infantry had just arrived in Verdun, when Wagoner John Exum wrote this letter. They would soon learn it was time to go over the top. Some companies of the 306th Ammunition Train served as reinforcements. It is not known if Pvt Willetts’ company was one of those. Read the WWI Profile post of Willie Hasper Hewett for details of the offensive operation.

Wagoner Exum’s letter from November.

From Wag. John B. Exum
Co. F. 306 Am. Tr.
Nov. 7, 1918

Dear Mother :-
I am still keeping fairly well. I had a sore throat and was pretty hoarse last week but am better now. I had a slight case of Influenza or French La grippe in September when I was near Paris but it only lasted about five days.

I am now living in a small dug-out back of the front. I can hear the big guns all night and at intervals the sky is lit up so you can see how to walk around without stumbling over rucks.

The weather here is rather damp. It rains every day and every night. At other times we have mist, dew, frost and fogs.

I saw Larry Hooks one day this week. I certainly was glad to see him but he is looking pretty bad.

Nedham Barnes has been living in my dug-out with me but had to leave to-day.

Write me real often. I don’t have time and conveniences to write in transit but will write every time I am stationed.

Your loving son
John

As described in Craven Ledrew Sellers’ WWI Profile, the 81st Division then hiked a brutal 175 km. Wagoner John Exum wrote about it in his letter home.

Dec. 12, 1918

Dear Mother :-
I will explain why I have not written in some time. We have a fifteen days hike. After that was over I was sick for a week. I had a deep cold, a chill, two days fever some aches and came near having the grip. I am well again now and am very glad.

I have received your letter telling about the celebrations. It certainly seemed good. I later received a letter of the 3rd written more than a week before.

The hike was pretty hard. Most of it was through the rain and mud. We lost about fifty men out of one hundred fifty on the trip. The way we came it must have been about one hundred fifty miles.

I don’t know when we will start for home but I hope it will be pretty soon. I have a sufficiency of “Rainy France” and this mud.

Your devoted Son
Pvt. John B. Exum
Co. D. 306 Am. Tr.
U.S.A. P.O. 791 France

Another letter in December describes his responsibilities, which may match what Pvt Willetts was doing at this time.

I get up now about five thirty get breakfast at six report at the place the trucks are parked at six thirty. See that the trucks are filled with gass, oil and water. Then I am off for a while in the middle of the day. For the evening I receive them when they come in. I have to park them, drain the radiators and gass and oil them again.

A later letter described Christmas in France.

Chammeson, France
Dec. 26, -18

Dear Mother :-
I received the first Fremont Messenger on the 23rd. On the same date I received the Thanksgiving letter you wrote from La Grange and the one you wrote from Fremont after you returned. I certainly enjoyed them. I read every add. in the Messenger.

I will write now about our Army Christmas.

After breakfast we were issued a bar of chocolate candy, a package of gum, a package of cigaretts, a cigar, a can of Prince Albert and some stationery.

Then we had company formation and marched over to the next town and saw a foot ball game between our batallion and the horse batallion. It was a pretty good game. The score was nothing to nothing.

We then came back and had a big Christmas dinner. We had turkey, fruit salid, cake and apple pie. I enjoyed it very much, We didn’t have anything to do in the evening.

This morning the ground was covered with snow and the scenery was beautiful.

Bye-bye for this time.

Your devoted Son,
Pvt. John Exum
Co. D. 307 Am. Tr.
A.P.P 791 A.E.F. France

In January Pvt Exum wrote of being homesick. He did not yet know he would remain in France until June. He closed with this:

I have to put on rubber boots that come up to my waist and wade out in the Seine and wash trucks.

His homesickness was surely shared by his fellow soldiers, including Pvt Willetts. Notice the sad last sentence before his signature.

More information about the 306th Ammunition Train was shared among increasingly homesick comments in his letters:

My company was engaged in a convoy. We left here Sunday morning of last week and returned Thursday night. We took fourty automobiles and trucks from one part of France to another. It looks like now that the 306 Am. Tr. will have a lot of this kind of work to do. On the trip I drove a big Riker truck made by the Locomobile Co. I carried the gass and cylinder oil for the trip. We started with five hundred gallons of gass and a fifty gallons steel drum of cylinder oil. We didn’t have an accident of any consequence on the whole trip.

He also wrote that they haul anything that needs moved from one place to another: wood, clothing, food, etc. He was informed that the 81st Division would probably remain in France for six more months.

In March the 306th Ammunition Train acted as Guard of Honor during a visit by the King and Queen of Belgium and General Pershing. Their duty was crowd control. Pvt Exum enjoyed the experience.

This 81st Division card was included in his correspondence.

On May 27, 1919, Pvt Willetts boarded USS Missouri for Camp Stuart. Pvt Willetts was honorably discharged on June 21, 1919. A few years later he married and began raising a family in Brunswick County, continuing to farm throughout his life.

George Finnis Willetts passed away on February 17, 1956. He was laid to rest in Sharon United Methodist Church Cemetery in Holden Beach. A military headstone was ordered but is not shown. No explanation is available.

Read more about the Willetts brothers here: Willetts brothers honored with a family donation

Source:
81st Division Summary of Operations in the World War, US Govt, 1944

If you would like to help us honor George Finnis Willetts or another Brunswick County WWI veteran, please use the following links:

Click here for the announcement: Announcement: Honor a Brunswick County World War I Veteran
Click here for directions to donate and honor a veteran: How to Honor a Brunswick County World War I Veteran

Click the category: Veteran Profile here or at the bottom of any veteran profile post to see all of the veteran profiles published. Follow or subscribe to the blog to stay updated on all new profiles.

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WWI Profile: David Elton Lewis 1891-1965

David Elton Lewis
Brunswick County, NC
US Navy
Lieutenant (junior grade)

Served:
May 1, 1917 -unknown

David Elton Lewis was born in Brunswick County, NC, in 1891. A partial family tree is located in FamilySearch.

Two of David’s brothers also served in WWI. Grover Ransom Lewis enlisted in the Navy in NY in March 1918 [Source: Ancestry.com] John Quincy Lewis, served in the US Army. Grover was not originally included in the Brunswick County WWI Veteran List as his NY WWI Service Record shows he was born in Wilmington, NC. However, we now know he lived in Brunswick County which will allow us to add his name to the Brunswick County WWI Veteran List.

The 1900 Census shows his family living in Shallotte. David is 9 years old, one of eight children.

When David was about 12 years old, his father and uncle were lost at sea.

On the night of December 9, 1903, his father, Captain James Harker Lewis, and his uncle, Captain William Edward Lewis, along with all three crew members were lost at sea at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. Captains James and William Lewis were captains and foremen of fishing crews but were passengers on the small schooner Clarence H. which was delivering goods from Shallotte to Wilmington, NC. The story was printed in newspapers across the nation.

According to the Dec. 11, 1903 edition of The Morning Post (Raleigh, NC), the boat was discovered lying bottom up on Oak Island beach that morning. That afternoon, his uncle’s body washed ashore. The Dec. 13 edition of The Morning Star reported that there was no evidence that Captain William Lewis had water in his lungs, indicating that his cause of death was likely the blow to his forehead, possibly from the mast. His body was sent to Shallotte for interment. His gravesite is unknown.

His father’s body washed ashore near the same location on January 9, 1904 and was identified by the papers in his clothing, according to the Jan. 15, 1904 edition of the Wilmington Messenger. He was laid to rest in the Old Smithville Cemetery in what is now Southport. By March, all five bodies had been recovered.

David’s grandson Dave Lewis of Brunswick County Historical Society shares this story about his grandfather.

My great-grandmother moved to Wilmington with all her children after my great-grandfather was lost in a shipwreck off Southport in 1903. She put my granddad to work in a cotton mill which he stayed for about one week. That was not for him, so he went down to the waterfront looking for work. After shoveling coal on a freighter from NY to China he taught himself to read and write and obtained his Engineer License allowing him to sail as Chief Engineer on any size ship. That was why he was in NY before enlisting in the Navy.

Family lore tells me that my great grandmother was told by family members, “they would be back before the peach trees bloom”, but they never returned to Brunswick Co. except for visits.

The 1910 Census shows him living with his mother and some siblings, working on a tug boat. As mentioned above, he is able to read and write now. His name appears in several years of city directories for Wilmington.

On May 1, 1917, David Elton Lewis enlisted in the US Navy Reserve as a Lieutenant (junior grade) [Source: Ancestry].

David’s WWI Draft Registration was completed on February 27, 1918, later than the required registration of June 5, 1917. Written on his registration by the Registrar and signed by David was the statement, “Was on the high seas on June 5.”

David’s passport application or Application for Seaman’s Certificate of American Citizenship of March 15, 1918 [Source: Ancestry] states that he has been a Seaman for 4 years, with his recent position as an Assistant Engineer on the Medina. The photograph attached to the application is shown at left.

Family documents confirm that he served on Medina for about five years.

In the September 1914 issue of International Marine Engineering she was referred to as “One of the most modern and largest freight steamships operating on the Atlantic coast.” When World War I broke out, she became a supply ship for the US Army, but was placed under the operational control of the US Navy. In August of 1918, the SS MEDINA was the Commodore’s Flagship in a convoy of about twenty ships enroute to Europe. During that arduous voyage, two ships in her convoy were torpedoed, but the MEDINA escaped without harm. Following cessation of hostilities, MEDINA was returned to her original owners. [Source: SS Medina]

It is not known whether Lt(jg) Lewis was serving at the time, but it is very likely. The following is a more detailed account of the convoy being torpedoed.

Note: The Medina served as the Commodore’s Flagship. Traditionally, “commodore” is the title for any officer assigned to command more than one ship at a time. A commodore’s ship is typically designated by the flying of a broad pennant, as opposed to an admiral’s flag. [Source: wikipedia]

Source of newspaper clipping: Chronicling America
The U.S.S. West Bridge, commanded by Lieutenant Commander Mortimer Hawkins, U.S. Naval Reserve Force, left New York, August 1st, 1918 in convoy with about twenty other vessels. The S.S. Medina acted as the Commodore Ship.

At about 1740 on August 15, the Captain of the West Bridge was notified by the Chief Engineer that the main engine turbine rotor was stripped and that the ship could not proceed or make any repairs. The Medina was notified of the engine trouble and the inability of the West Bridge to maintain position or hold speed.

At about 1800 the U.S.S. Montana, which was in the convoy and about four miles ahead of the West Bridge, was torpedoed. At 2358 one torpedo struck the West Bridge on her starboard side amidships abreast of the engine room. A second torpedo struck immediately afterwards at about twenty feet forward of the first. The vessel listed to starboard immediately and the captain ordered “Abandon Ship”. She settled quickly so that there was about two feet of water on her well decks, but as she sank she came back to an even keel while the survivors stood by the stricken vessel in lifeboats.

The West Bridge began settling and all hope of saving her was abandoned. The lives of four West Bridge crewmen were lost. [Source: Torpedoing of USS West Bridge]

David returned to Wilmington, presumably as he continued to serve; the 1919 City Directory lists him as US Navy. In 1920 (Census) he continued working aboard the SS Medina.

His grandson, Dave Lewis referenced above, added the following touching information.

I have the old painting of the ship [Medina] that hung in my grandparents’ dining room while they were living at Carolina Beach. The picture hung there as long as I can remember.

In 1922, David married Gertie Lancaster in Southport. The 1930 Census shows him living in Wilmington, working as a Marine Engineer. By the 1940 Census, he was in Texas. He and his wife raised two sons.

David Elton Lewis was living in Wilmington when he passed away on January 5, 1965. He was laid to rest in Greenlawn Memorial Park Cemetery, Wilmington. No military honors are displayed.

If you would like to help us honor David Elton Lewis or another Brunswick County WWI veteran, please use the following links:

Click here for the announcement: Announcement: Honor a Brunswick County World War I Veteran
Click here for directions to donate and honor a veteran: How to Honor a Brunswick County World War I Veteran

Click the category: Veteran Profile here or at the bottom of any veteran profile post to see all of the veteran profiles published. Follow or subscribe to the blog to stay updated on all new profiles.

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Filed under Honor a Veteran, Veteran Profile