Cleaning up the hurricane damage

The dedication of the Brunswick County WWI Memorial is planned for Veterans Day, Sunday, November 11, at 11am.

Clean up work has started. About one foot of water remains inside. Updates will continue to be posted when available.

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WWI Profile: James Coy Edwards 1885-1917

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.

James Coy Edwards
Exum, Brunswick County, NC
US Navy
Seaman

Served:
June 4, 1918 – December 24, 1917
Died of Disease: December 24, 1917

James Coy Edwards was born and raised in Exum, Brunswick County, NC, of the Waccamaw Township. A family tree is available in FamilySearch.

The 1900 Census shows he was 15 years old, living at home and attending school. No 1910 Census record for him could be found.

The first WWI Draft registration occurred on June 5, 1917. James Coy Edwards enlisted in the US Navy the day before, on June 4, 1917, in Wilmington. He served at the Naval Hospital in Norfolk, VA.

On December 2, 1917, The Wilmington Dispatch reported that these Red Cross packages were sent to local men serving in the Navy. (N.N.V. stands for “National Naval Volunteers”)

Knitting directions for The Red Cross packages were published in magazines and books such as The Delineator, July 1917, p.37.

The creation of the modern Navy

President Woodrow Wilson signed the order creating Naval Station Norfolk on June 28, 1917. The US Navy expanded from 70,000 to a half-million officers and men during World War I.

No Navy in the world had ever created a larger force or as quickly. New training methods had to be devised in a very short time.

Source of photos: Naval Station Norfolk

Many rural recruits could barely read and knew little or nothing about radio and electricity. Most had never seen the ocean.

New recruits had to be isolated to reduce the spread of disease.

The training center opened on October 12, 1917, and by the end of the year, held 34,000.

Read the full article here: http://www.dailypress.com/features/history/dp-nws-naval-station-norfolk-20170627-story.html

Some interesting statistics for the Navy from the year 1917

  • Total number of applications for enlistment: 281,957
  • Applicants rejected for physical disability: 127,512
  • Top reason for physical disability: underweight (31,531) followed by eyesight (29,945) and teeth (13,884)
  • Total enlistments: 92,413
  • Total enlistment applications in Wilmington, NC: 103
    • 46 rejected for physical defects
    • 22 enlisted
  • Total men in service on June 30, 1917: 128,666 (an increase of 74,432 from June 30, 1916)
  • Total deaths in 1917: 511
  • Leading cause of death: pneumonia (200)
  • Number admitted to hospital for pneumonia: 1,696

Sources:
United States of America Navy Department (1918) Annual Reports of the Navy Department: For the Fiscal Year 1917. Washington DC: Government Printing Office.

United States of America Navy Department (1918) Annual Report of the Surgeon General, U.S. Navy: For the Fiscal Year 1918. Washington DC: Government Printing Office.

On Christmas Eve, 1917, Seaman James Coy Edwards passed away from broncho pnemonia.


Source: United States of America Navy Department (1920) Officers and Enlisted Men of the United States Navy Who Lost Their Lives During the World War, from April 6, 1917 to November 11, 1918. Washington DC: Government Printing Office [Online Source: Ancestry.com. U.S., Navy Casualties Books, 1776-1941 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA]

James Coy Edwards was laid to rest at New Life Baptist Church Cemetery in Ash, NC, where most of his family is buried. No military information nor honors are shown.

Seaman James Coy Edwards is the only known Brunswick County casualty from the Navy or Coast Guard.

If you would like to help us honor James Coy Edwards 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

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A first look at the damage from Hurricane Florence

Many devastating images of the flooding and damage from Hurricane Florence have been published. The loss of life is currently at 39 in North Carolina, with more in South Carolina and Virginia. Our hearts go out to those who lost loved ones.

Property loss is staggering as well.

Supporters have been wondering about the status of the rifle range. There is approximately three feet of water inside and a large alligator has been spotted. More updates will be posted when available.

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WWI Profile: David Williams 1894-1919

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.

Polk County news and the Tryon bee, 1919 Apr 25, p.3
David Williams
Bolivia, Brunswick County, NC
US Army
Private
Served:
August 6, 1918 – March 18, 1919
Overseas:
September 23, 1918 – March 18, 1919
Died of Disease: March 18, 1919

David Williams was born in Clarksville, Virginia, in Mecklenburg County. The 1900 Census shows David and his siblings Jessie and Hettie living with their parents Jessie and Cylvia in Clarksville.

David’s WWI Draft Registration of 1917 shows he was still living in Clarksville, single, and doing mill work in Bolivia, NC, for South Hill Manufacturing Company, presumably based in South Hill, VA.

On April 14, 1918, David married Florence Marie Williams, daughter of Hardy and Julia Rebecca Williams of Brunswick County, NC [Marriage certificate images available in Ancestry].

David was ordered to report for military duty and was inducted on August 6, 1918, in Boydton, VA, in Mecklenburg County. His residence was Bolivia, NC, but because he registered in VA, his draft record reflects his draft registration location.

On August 29, 1918, he was assigned to Company D, 545th Engineer Service Battalion.

545th Engineer Service Battalion
The 545th Engineers were authorized on July 29, 1918, to include up to 1,008 enlisted African American men. They were mobilized at Camp A. A. Humphreys, in VA, sailed overseas September 23, 1918, then returned to the United States on June 27, 1919, demobilizing on July 5, 1919.

On September 23, 1918, Pvt Williams boarded USS Rijndam in New Jersey with the 545th Engineers, a service battalion of 4 companies.

His son, David Jesse Williams, was born on October 9, 1918 in Southport, NC, formerly Smithville. [Source of birth record: Ancestry] Pvt Williams would never see his son.

Special engineer services for the US Army encompassed many duties including water supply, electrical-mechanical, camouflage, searchlight services, bridging, map making and reproduction, sound and flash ranging, light railways, road and quarry (D.L.R. and R.), engineer research, geologic investigations, and many more.

The 545th Engineers provided the services for road and quarry, otherwise known as Division Light Railways and Roads (D.L.R. and R.). The 545th along with other engineers, such as the 23rd Engineers shown at left, and pioneer infantries formed a total of 16,346 men for D.L.R. and R. work.

Their responsibilities were extensive and varied with troop movements. For example, in October, the First Army occupied an area west of Verdun, which required new road construction such as Froides Hospital road, Varennes railhead roads, Souilly Evacuation Hospital roads, Aubreville railhead and Neuvilly Artillery Park. 107 kilometers of roads were maintained during the month of October in the area. In November, several new roads were constructed, existing roads were widened, and 438 kilometers of roads were patched and maintained, all requiring over 21,000 cubic meters of stone and gravel.

Stone and gravel were not just obtained from quarries. Demolished buildings were recycled by the engineers and pioneer infantry in their D.L.R. and R. services.

Engineer operations after the Armistice were reorganized to include many engineer regiments from the combat divisions in the Army of Occupation, such as the 81st Division. The resulting engineering troops were much larger, although no number was found. Their responsibilities now included removal of mines and traps, salvage, and the reconstruction of roads and railroads over which the troops of occupation and their supplies were to pass.

On April 19, 1919, the First Army was dissolved. However, Pvt Williams had passed away a month earlier.

On March 18, 1919, Pvt David Williams died of “pulmonary oedema, secondary to pleurisy.” It was likely due to influenza and pneumonia.

His name was published on national casualty lists. (One online clipping shown at top.)

Private David Williams’ remains were returned to the United States from Belgium on November 26, 1921. (See WWI Profile for William Cross Hewett for more information about the returning of WWI remains.) His final resting site has not yet been determined. (Plans for locating his grave have not yet been made due to the recent flooding.) It is hopeful that he was buried in the cemetery where his wife lies, described below.

His widow, Florence Marie Williams, became a school teacher, and raised their son David in Bolivia, NC. In 1947, she was listed as a teacher at Brunswick County Training School in Southport, the only African American high school in the county. [Source: The State Port Pilot, 1947 Sept 3, p.6] Florence passed away on December 23, 1973. Her death certificate lists Greer Cemetery in Bolivia, NC, as her final resting place, although no headstone photo is available.

Pvt William’s son enlisted in the US Army on October 31, 1942, serving overseas during WWII. He was honorably discharged as Corporal David Jesse Williams on November 1, 1945. He passed away on May 18, 1996. His wife, Vivian Bizzell Williams, passed away in 2003. Her obituary was published in The Free Press, Kinston, NC, 2003 Oct 28, p.B2. From this, we know that David Williams had descendants and the name “David Williams” was carried on through both his son and grandson.

Vivian Williams
LA GRANGE – Vivian Williams, 81, of 310N. Charles St., died Friday, Oct. 24, 2003, at Lenoir Memorial Hospital. Services will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday at Liberty Grove MB Church in La Grange with the Rev. Harold Warren officiating. Burial will be held at Pinelawn Park. Survivors include one daughter, Wanda Williams; son, David Williams, and sister, Margaret Ann Bizzell. Visitation will be held from 2 to 8 p.,. Wednesday at La Grange Mortuary.

Private David Williams served honorably overseas through World War I, becoming one of five Brunswick County men who survived combat conditions only to die of disease in Europe after the war ended. Besides Pvt Williams, these include Pvt Elijah Milliken, Cook David L Dosher, (WWI Profiles coming soon) Pfc John W Carlisle, and Pvt Claudie Hall McCall.

Sources:
United States of America War Office (1919) Historical Report of the Chief Engineer: Including All Operations of the Engineer Department, American Expeditionary Forces 1917-1919. . Washington DC: Government Printing Office

United States of America War Office (1919) Report of the Chief of Engineers: US Army, Part I. . Washington DC: Government Printing Office

If you would like to help us honor David Williams 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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100 years ago today: The breaking of the Hindenburg Line

September 29, 1918: North Carolina’s deadliest day of the war.

Old Hickory

The 30th Division “Old Hickory,” was organized in October 1917 with men primarily from North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. The Division was the first to breach the infamous Hindenburg Line on September 29, 1918. September 29, 1918 was not only North Carolina’s deadliest day of the war, but was also Brunswick County’s deadliest.

The Hindenburg Line was a defensive position in France built by the Germans in 1916. 90 miles long with up to six defensive lines, containing fields of heavy barbed wire woven so thick as to resemble a mass of vines and briars up to 100 yards deep, it seemed impenetrable. A large subterranean system of tunnels with hidden exits and entrances formed a safe method for communication and reinforcement for the Germans.

Over the entire area were machine guns without number, not only the probable approaches, but every inch of front was covered by one or more guns.

The Germans believed the position could not be taken, and even when lost, prisoners would not believe it to be possible, and laughed at those who would tell them.

It was the turning point of the war.

At 5:50am on September 29, 1918, the men from the 30th Division assaulted this terrible line on a front of 3,000 yards, captured the whole Hindenburg system, then advanced still further and took the tunnel system with all the German troops hidden in it and next captured the towns of Bellicourt, Nouroy, Riqueval, Carriere, Etricourt, the Guillaine Ferme (farm) and Ferme de Riqueval.

“The Canal Tunnel sector of the German line north of St. Quentin was tremendously fortified, with passageways running out from the main tunnel to hidden machine gun nests. Into these nests the German gunners returned after the American assaulting waves had passed, and poured a destructive fire into their rear. But through everything the men of the “Old Hickory” division forced their way until the fortified zone was conquered in one of the most desperate single conflicts of the war.”

Reported casualties on September 29, 1918, from Brunswick County in the 30th Division
Each name links to their WWI Profile

KIA: Private Harvey T. Chadwick (Shallotte)
KIA: Private Harry Langdon Pigott (Shallotte)
Died of Wounds: Private Benjamin Bante Smith (Ash)
Pvt Smith died on October 17 of wounds sustained on September 29.
He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and British Military Medal.

Wounded
Corporal Lawson Ballard (Suburb)
Corporal Calmer Thomas Clemmons (Supply)
Corporal Elder Eugene Heath (Bolivia)
Corporal George Harker Hewett (Supply)
Private Thedford S. Lewis (Supply)
Corporal Lindsey Pigott (Supply)
Corporal Rufus Earl Sellers (Supply)

Military Services Day at the North Carolina Museum of History marks the 100th Anniversary of “Breaking the Hindenburg Line” by honoring the service and sacrifice of North Carolinians during World War I. Read more at https://www.ncmuseumofhistory.org/military-services-day

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WWI Profile: Manning Hall 1887-1918

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.

Manning Hall
Navassa, Brunswick County, NC
US Army
Private
Served:
April 27, 1918 – July 11, 1918
Died of Disease: July 11, 1918

Manning Hall was born and raised in Brunswick County. The 1900 Census shows him living with his family in Northwest. In 1910, he was living with his sister’s family, Katherine Davis, next door to his parents and siblings. Many of them worked at the Navassa Guano Factory.

His 1917 Draft Registration show he was single, living in Leland, and working at the Virginia Carolina Chemical Company in Navassa, the company which bought the Guano Factory. The area has been declared a Superfund Site due to the level of contamination from these and similar industries.

On January 3, 1918, Manning married Lillie Myers.

Manning was ordered to report to duty on April 26, 1918 [Source: Ancestry]. He was sent to Camp Grant in Illinois for training. He was placed in the 161 Depot Brigade, one of the many training and receiving formations for new draftees.

Less than three months later, on July 11, 1918, Manning died of tuberculosis peritonitis.

One might wonder why a man with tuberculosis would be admitted into the Army. Another Brunswick County WWI veteran, Cecil Smith Pierce also died of tuberculosis while serving in WWI. His profile will be posted soon.

When the US entered the Great War and began amassing a large army, medical screening boards across the country discovered that American men were not as strong and healthy as they had assumed. 30% were found to be physically unfit, with many of them having tuberculosis.

The Army Medical Department’s investigations into tuberculosis was based on four incorrect assumptions: 1) A “little tuberculosis” was a good thing as it provided some immunity, 2) tuberculosis wasn’t very contagious, 3) military life would not increase the incidence of tuberculosis but actually help those infected because of the healthy lifestyle the men would follow, and 4) false positives were more harmful to the Army than admitting infected men.

The challenge was not to exclude so many men as to impair the nation’s ability to amass an army. If we should say that all signs of tuberculosis should lead to rejection we would have no army at all. [Source: Good Tuberculosis Men, listed below]

Source: National Archives


Manning likely spent much of his time in the hospital at Camp Gramt. The camp general instructed everyone at Camp Grant to treat all soldiers alike irrespective of color. The hospital was not segregated, nor was the dining hall or exchange. No instances of racial friction were reported as having occurred between patients in the hospital.

In the spring of 1918, general instructions were received from the Surgeon General to classify the patients in hospitals in accordance with their race and to place them in separate wards. The orders were not obeyed at Camp Grant. [Source: Military Hospitals in the US, Base Hospital, Camp Grant, Illinois.]

Six patients died in July 1918 at the base hospital, the month of Pvt Hall’s death. The largest number of deaths in one month (1,024) was in October 1918, during the influenza pandemic.

A notice of his death was published in The Wilmington Morning Star, July 13, 1918, p.6.

Manning Hall’s remains were returned from Camp Grant and he was laid to rest in Mt. Calvary Cemetery in Navassa (Leland address). Some Friends of Fort Caswell Rifle Range members visited the cemetery recently to find Manning Hall’s headstone, in hopes that he was laid to rest with other members of his family. The headstone was located (pictured above) and they paid their respects. The inscription on the headstone shows:

MANNING HALL
Of Company 161 Depot Brigade
Born at Navassa, NC
Dec. 3, 1889 Died July 11, 1918
Erected by his wife Lillie Hall

His wife Lillie remarried but at age 25 died of what was likely a tuberculosis related illness. According to her death certificate [Source: Ancestry], she was laid to rest in the same cemetery. No headstone has been found.

Source:
Byerly, Carol R. (2013) “Good Tuberculosis Men”: The Army Medical Department’s Struggle with Tuberculosis. Fort Sam Huston, TX: Office of The Surgeon General Borden Institute

If you would like to help us honor Manning Hall 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: Craven Ledrew Sellers 1889-1960

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 Gwen Causey, granddaughter of Henry Lindon Clemmons
Craven Ledrew Sellers
Supply, Brunswick County, NC
US Army
Mechanic

Served:
May 27, 1918 – June 1, 1919
Overseas:
August 5, 1918 – May 29, 1919

Craven Ledrew Sellers was born and raised in Brunswick County, NC. His brother, Herbert Teller Sellers, also served in WWI.

His Draft Registration shows he was single, living in Supply, and working as a logging foreman for Waccamaw Shingle Company in Bolivia, NC.

Craven was ordered to report for duty on May 27, 1918 [Source: Ancestry]. He was sent to Camp Jackson, SC, for training and then to Camp Sevier in June when he was assigned to Co I, 324th Infantry, 81st “Wildcat” Division.

Previous posts describe the experiences of the 81st Division through the signing of the Armistice. They then prepared for a grueling 15 day hike with full packs. (The following excerpts taken from The history of the 321st infantry.)

The 175 kilometer hike from the front to this training area in the vicinity of Chatillon-Sur-Seine will always stand out as one of the greatest feats of our overseas experience.

It was a test of physical endurance and morale. Their handicaps included the weakened condition of the men due to exposure and hardships on the front, epidemics of dysentery and bad colds of which 75% fell victim, and the bad conditions in which the men marched and slept.

Photo contributed by Gwen Causey, granddaughter of Henry Lindon Clemmons
Location and date unknown

That Thanksgiving will be remembered mostly for what we didn’t have and didn’t do in contrast to what we had had and had done on previous Thanksgivings.

At the end of the fifteen days of hard marching, they passed in review at attention with full packs and complete equipment.

Aching backs and blistered feet made it hell for us.

Those of us who finished this hike together felt more closely bound together than ever after by those ties of comradeship that had been established on those days at the front. We also felt that we had something in common with the soldiers of past wars who had made long marches under trying conditions.

They spent 5 1/2 months in the French villages near Chatillon-Sur-Seine. There was little incentive for training. After Christmas, a more lenient schedule was set with occasional short hikes.

Most of the French peasants opened their homes and their hearts to us, and showed us a hospitality as genuine and unselfish as our own American homes could have shown the soldiers of any army. The French were keenly appreciative and profoundly thankful for the valuable services of the American soldiers. Many of them sacrificed and toiled day and night for American soldiers in grateful recognition of America’s timely aid in the World War.

But the hospitality of the French could not satisfy that longing for home and friends left behind.

We were obsessed with the sole thought of going home.

The introduction of athletics and other activities helped keep them busy and distracted from their homesickness. Football, baseball, basketball, wrestling, theater, and shooting contests were enthusiastically attended by all.

They were proud of their Division’s champions. Besides the wrestler shown here, their baseball team was the best in the Army, having never lost a game either in the States or overseas.

Their play, “O.U. Wildcats” was said to be the most popular in the AEF. It depicted the life of a Doughboy in France. The most popular song was called “The Bloody War.” Some of the verses are copied below.

The Bloody War
I was a simple country boy,
I lived out on the farm;
I never even killed a flea
Or done nobody harm.

One day the sheriff caught me,
He says, “Come with me, my son;
Your Uncle Sammy needs you,
To help him “tote” a gun.”

They tried to teach me how to drill,
I did the best I could;
But my captain told me to my face,
My head was made of wood.

They sent me out on the range,
To hear the bullets sing;
I shot and shot for one whole day,
And never hit a thing.

My captain said to “Shoot at will,”
I says, “Which one is he?”
That made my captain angry,
And he fired his gun at me.

Now when I struck that foreign shore,
I looked around with glee;
But rain and kilometers,
Were all that I could see.

I ran all over Europe,
Fighting for my life;
Before I’ll go to war again,
I’ll send my darling wife.

On March 18, 1919, Private Sellers was promoted to Mechanic.

The orders they were waiting for finally arrived: Prepare to move to the Le Mans area on May 12.

They were surprised at their feelings when preparing to leave the French villages they had grown fond of.

Some of them [French villagers], when we told them good-bye, wept as if they were bidding farewell to their sons.

At St. Nazaire, France, where they would embark to return home, they spent four days delousing, bathing, undergoing medical inspections, and fitted with new clothes. They would have more delousing and inspections when arriving in the US.

When being discharged from service, they once again underwent strong emotions.

They realized that they would probably never see each other again. Strong friendships had been formed – the one thing that had saved many a soldier from despair, and perhaps suicide.

Mechanic Craven Sellers didn’t return with his unit. He boarded USS Antigone at St. Aignane a month earlier on May 17, 1919, along with other ill soldiers [Source: Ancestry]. The assumption is he fell ill during the six months after the Armistice was signed, as his name does not appear on wounded lists during combat which were published at the time.

He was honorably discharged on June 1, 1919 with no reported disability.

After the war, he lived in Southport for many years, raising his family and working first as the manager of a sawmill and then a merchant. During the Depression, he was able to get a job at the Civilian Conservation Corps, supervising a forestry group.

At his death in 1960, Craven Sellers was laid to rest in the Northwood Cemetery in Southport. A military flat marker is shown.

In 2007, his daughter, Susie Carson, along with Larry Maisel, wrote a book about her mother Lelia Jane, published by the Southport Historical Society (ISBN: 978-1-892444-15-8).

This concludes the Brunswick County WWI veterans who were wounded or killed while serving in the 81st “Wildcat” Division.

A memorial to the 81st Division was erected on the southwest corner of the North Carolina state capitol grounds in Raleigh and dedicated on October 5, 1941, by the Wildcat Veterans’ Association. The marker was dedicated as “an inspiration from the past and a warning to the future.”

In all, the “Wildcat” division suffered 1,104 casualties–248 killed or dead from wounds and 856 wounded–for the short time it was in combat.

Sources:
Johnson, Clarence Walton (1919) The history of the 321st infantry, with a brief historical sketch of the 80th division, being a vivid and authentic account of the life and experiences of American soldiers in France, while they trained, worked, and fought to help win the world war. . Columbia, S.C., The R. L. Bryan co.

Thomas P. Shinn’s Wartime Diary

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

If you would like to help us honor Craven Ledrew Sellers 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

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Storm update

Hurricane Florence is currently moving toward the coast of North Carolina.

The rifle range is 100 years old. It has remained standing through many hurricanes. We hope both the rifle range and the beautiful coastline will remain intact.

First priorities are homes, communities, and loved ones. When time permits and news of the rifle range is available, we will pass on any damage reports.

Those at the coast and along the path of the hurricane will be in our thoughts. Stay safe.

Hurricane Florence image by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center from Greenbelt, MD, USA

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Podcast interview: WWI Centennial News

Last week, Theo Mayer interviewed the Eckards for the weekly podcast “WW1 Centennial News for September 07, 2018 – Episode #88.” These podcasts are held to educate the nation about World War I during the two years leading up to the Centennial Commemoration.

The 100 Cities/100 Memorials segment includes interviews with those behind the rescue of WWI memorials which have been awarded the official designation of National World War I Centennial Memorial, which the rifle range was awarded in May.

 

Listen to the podcast here: WW1 Centennial News for September 07, 2018 – Episode #88

Click here to view the transcript of the interview: Transcript of 100C_100M podcast episode 88

The WWI Centennial Commission was established by the World War One Centennial Commission Act, passed by the 112th Congress and signed by the President on January 16, 2013. The WWI Centennial Commission Act gave the Commission, among other things, the authority to designate memorials to the service of members of the United States Armed Forces in World War I.

Read the announcement posted on the website in May: WWI CENTENNIAL MEMORIAL: 1918 Fort Caswell Rifle Range.

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WWI Profile: Robert Eugene Robbins 1895-1960

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 Joyce Crabtree, granddaughter
Robert Eugene Robbins
Rich Square, Northampton County, NC
US Army
Private

Served:
April 26, 1918 – June 24, 1919
Overseas:
August 5, 1918 – June 18, 1919

Robert Eugene Robbins was born in Brunswick County, NC. A partial family tree is in FamilySearch. Robert’s mother died in 1910, when he was 15, and his father died in 1914, when he was 19. Sometime between 1910 and 1917, when he registered for the draft, he moved to Rich Square, NC, for work.

His Draft Registration shows he was living in Rich Square, NC, single, supporting a sister, and working as a railroader.

Robert Robbins was ordered to report for military duty on April 20, 1918 [Source: ancestry.com]. He was inducted on April 26, 1918, and began training at Camp Jackson, SC. He was initially assigned to the 534th Engineers, but on June 24, 1918, he was transferred to Company G, 324th Infantry, 81st “Wildcat” Division, which was training at Camp Sevier, SC.

The 324th Infantry left the US on August 5, 1918, several days after the 321st and 322nd.

Previous posts describe the events in France including the orders to go “over the top” during the final days of the war. Pvt Robbins’ 2nd Battalion (Companies E-H) took the position on the far right the morning of November 9.

The Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918. However, as mentioned in the previous post, because the 81st Division did not receive confirmation of the signing, another attack was planned the night of November 10th and executed on November 11.

At 5am, on the morning of November 11, orders were received to begin advancing at 6am. 1st Sgt Thomas Shinn described how the 321st Infantry responded to orders in his diary.

The men rubbed their eyes and tightened their belts for there was no water to wash their faces or food to fill their stomachs. The men only took it good naturally and prepared to go over the top in a few minutes. We formed our lines and got in position to advance.

The high explosive shells were falling just as tho’ it was raining them from above but we would fall flat on the ground and up again and advance a little further.

About 8:30, we struck a solid line of machine guns and they fired on us. It was a whole woods full. We fought them there for about an hour.

As the battle raged on, the men of the 321st Infantry became “lost in a fog and wading water waist deep.” They were caught in a trap and were fired on from all sides. The Captain sent orders to the soldiers in front to hold their position as they attempted to fight their way out.

We fought there for some time in the marsh up to our waist and the coldest water I ever felt.”

They were surrounded by machine guns and barbed wire, making it impossible to advance. The Germans put up a fierce barrage. The barbed wire was 3 feet high and 30 feet thick and they were unable to cut it as it was too strong. Men were killed instantly all around 1st Sgt Shinn of the 321st.

I was wet to my neck and my clothes had frozen stiff on me.

I hadn’t seen any fire or shelter for 48 hours and two days without food, water, or sleep was getting on my nerves.

We had to lay low for a half hour or more and while I lay in the shell hole one of my friends came up to me and asked me to send a man to the rear with him. He had his left arm tore off between the elbow and shoulder and he was bleeding very fast. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done to tell him that I couldn’t send a man back with him.

The Armistice was signed at 11am, but the battle was still raging 15 minutes before.

About 10:45am, the [Germans] seemed to shoot every gun they had at the same time for they kept our heads so near the ground that we got our ears full of mud.

At seven minutes to eleven, a runner came up to the Captain out of breath and handed him our orders.

Orders were given to cease fire at 11:00.

At 11am, we ceased firing and the Germans jumped up, threw their rifles down, and came running to meet us. They wanted to shake hands and talk with us but we made them go back.

The rest of the day would be spent gathering the dead and wounded. Loads of bodies were buried in a hole dug like a long ditch.

Source: NC Archives

Tuesday, Nov. 12th, 1918
We spent the day burying our dead and hunting something to eat.

In those three days fighting, there were 178 killed, nearly 800 wounded, 57 captured, and 6 missing. Of those, the 324th infantry: Killed, 2 officers and 34 men; wounded, 5 officers and 145 men; missing, 18 men. [Source: “Lest We Forget” The Record of North Carolina’s Own]

Pvt Robbins returned with his unit in June 1919. He married in August, returning to Rich Square, NC, where he raised a family and farmed the land.

Robert Eugene Robbins passed away on March 15, 1960, at age 65. He was laid to rest in Cedar Lawn Cemetery in Rich Square, NC. A military flat marker is shown.

Sources:
Johnson, Clarence Walton (1919) The history of the 321st infantry, with a brief historical sketch of the 80th division, being a vivid and authentic account of the life and experiences of American soldiers in France, while they trained, worked, and fought to help win the world war. . Columbia, S.C., The R. L. Bryan co.

Thomas P. Shinn’s Wartime Diary

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

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