Monthly Archives: December 2017

WWI Profile: William Frederick Brooks 1892-1918

William Frederick Brooks
Shallotte, Brunswick County, NC
US Army
Private

Served:
March 29, 1918 – June 13, 1918
Died of Disease: June 13, 1918

Photo courtesy of findagrave.

William Frederick Brooks was born and raised in Shallotte, NC, where most of his family remained throughout their lives. The 1900 Census lists his father Fred (1850-1922), with mother Mary E (1885-1927) having seven children, all living. Besides those listed: Charles J (b.Mar.1885), Carrie D (1887-1929), Hattie J (1889-1969), William F (1892-1918), and Mary E (1900-1972), the 1880 Census lists John (1871-1937) and Joseph B (b. 1873).

His father, mother, and sisters Hattie and Carrie are buried in Pleasant View Cemetery. His brother John’s death certificate also shows his burial at Pleasant View Cemetery, and his sister Mary’s death certificate shows her burial at Bellevue Cemetery in Columbus Co, NC, but neither are included in findagrave. His other brothers’ gravesites are unknown.

William’s WWI Draft Registration of June 1917 lists his occupation as farmer in Shallotte, NC, and unmarried.

William was ordered to report for military duty on March 29, 1918. (source:ancestry.com) He was one of a total of 25 African American men from Brunswick County ordered to report that day. The destination was Camp Grant, in Rockford, IL.

Very few African Americans were given the opportunity to serve in combat units during WWI. But the War Dept had created two divisions, the 92nd and 93rd, which were comprised of primarily African American combat units. Most of the officers (up to the rank of first lieutenant) in the units were African American.

Camp Grant, Rockford, Illinois
Source: National Archives.
At Camp Grant, only three of the draftees from Brunswick County out of the original 25 were chosen for the honor of a combat position in the 92nd Division. The three men were William Frederick Brooks, William James Gordon and Robert Bollie Stanley. These men began training with Company H, 365th Infantry, 92nd Division in preparation for combat in France.

Photo source: 92nd Division WWI History.

Photo courtesy of Warren County, NC, WWI Service Records.
There are no photos of Pvt Brooks, but presumably a photo like the one here would have been taken of all three soldiers. This photo is Richard E. Pennington of Macon, N.C, who served with Company E (rather than Company H), 365th Infantry, 92nd Division.

The 365th Infantry was scheduled to board the U.S.S. Agamemnon at Hoboken, NJ, on June 10, 1918, to travel overseas to France.

The second SS Kaiser Wilhelm II, named for the German Emperor, was a passenger ship built at Stettin, Germany, completed in the spring of 1903. The ship was seized by the U.S. Government when it declared war on Germany on 6 April 1917, and work soon began to repair her machinery, sabotaged earlier by a German caretaker crew, and otherwise prepare the ship for use as a transport. She then served as a transport ship under the name U.S.S. Agamemnon. There were rumors during the war that Kaiser Wilhelm had offered a reward of 5000 marks to the sub commander that hit it, but this goal remained elusive. The U.S.S. Agamemnon was victorious and returned troops home after the war.

Source: Ancestry.com. U.S., Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1939 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.

All three men’s names are listed on the US Army Transport Service passenger list. Private William Brooks’ name is crossed out.

Sadly, Pvt William Frederick Brooks died of meningitis three days later on June 13, 1918. A death certificate has not been found. He could have remained in Illinois while the soldiers boarded the trains to NJ, he could have become ill somewhere during the trip, or he could have passed away in NJ.

Pvt William Frederick Brooks was laid to rest in the same cemetery as some of his family. A military headstone was not requested, so no WWI honors are displayed, giving no indication that he gave his life while serving his country. He was only 26 years old.

If you would like to help us honor William Frederick Brooks 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: Susan Adkins Williams 1879-1938

Susan Adkins Williams
Southport, Brunswick County, NC
Navy Nurse

Served:
June 27, 1917 – March 8, 1919
Overseas:
September 12, 1917 – November 11, 1918

 U.S. Navy. Base Hospital No.1, Brest, France: Personnel- Nurses
Digital Collections at US National Library of Medicine

 

Susie Williams was born and raised in Southport, Brunswick County, NC. Her father, mother, step-mother, and three siblings are buried in Old Smithville Cemetery in Southport. Susie and her remaining four siblings eventually moved to New York and New Jersey, living together at times. Only two sisters out of eight siblings married and had children, none of which remained in Southport. Their gravesites are unknown.

Susie graduated with high honors from the Long Island College Hospital Training School for Nurses in May 1908. [Source: Southport Herald, 07 May 1908, p. 4.]

This poster may have inspired Nurse Williams to offer her services to the Navy on June 27, 1917. (The British and French governments requested that only graduate nurses be sent overseas.) Nurses served without rank or commission and were not trained as soldiers, which was modified after the war, perhaps due to these women’s extraordinary service and bravery.

September 1917, Nurse Williams boarded the U.S.S. Henderson to serve at the first base hospital the Red Cross organized for the Navy, Navy Base Hospital No. 1, in Brest, France. Chief nurse Francis Van Ingen was given the task of staffing. Her account can be found starting on page 734 of History of American Red Cross Nursing.  Some excerpts follow, describing Nurse Van Ingen’s efforts beginning September 11, 1917, accomplishing an amazing feat in six days.  (Susan Williams was one of the forty nurses described below, the first group of nurses sent overseas.)

At noon on September 11th, while I was stationed at the United States Navy Hospital, Brooklyn, the commanding officer told me to have forty nurses ready to sail for France in two days. It’s still hazy in my mind just what did happen during those two days. Kind people helped me ‘phone, others loaned their automobiles or ran errands themselves, the Red Cross stretched forth its mighty arm and the full equipment, including the uniforms, appeared. On September 14, 1917, the unit left Grand Central Station. It was early enough in the war for our uniforms to be new to the public. A regular officer of the Navy, Dr. L. S. Von Wedikind, with Dr. Vickery, took charge of the unit. Our destination was the Navy Yard at Philadelphia and we walked from the train to the U.S.S. Henderson. It was the first time officers and crew had ever had women traveling with them and the nurses found things as interesting as the crew found us.

The following Sunday evening, the Sixth Division of Marines came aboard, about 1500 men under Major Hughes. Comparatively few of this division lived to come back. Two thirds of the officers were killed. After the Armistice Colonel Hughes passed through our hospital on crutches on his way back to the United States, a mere shadow of his former vigorous self.

Monday morning [September 17, 1917] we slipped from our moorings out between the men-o’-war.

In our convoy was the Cruiser San Diego [later sunk by a German submarine], with its great observation balloon which was up most of the time; two destroyers; a tanker; and two transports, the Finland and the Antilles, which was sunk on her return trip.

Van Ingen gives a detailed story of the grueling experience at the base hospital with its inefficient heat, water supplies and cesspool; numerous mice, rats, maggots, and flies; and unsanitary operating conditions. The main building of the hospital was 4 stories, requiring multiple flights of carrying stretchers, food, water, coal, and excrement. She also writes of serving in field hospitals at the front lines and experiencing gas attacks.

Back in Southport, NC, on November 18, 1917, The Wilmington Dispatch published the following account of a meeting of the Southport Civic Club.

At the same meeting a Christmas box was packed to be sent to Miss Susie Williams, a Southport girl, who is a Red Cross nurse in France. She went with a Red Cross unit from New York. She writes that she wants to know of any Brunswick county boys who may be sent to France so she may look after them with particular interest and care.

Some entries of note in the account from Van Ingen, given that the majority of the casualties of the war were from disease, were her descriptions of the transport ships from America. In December 1917, Van Ingen writes:

Our most serious cases were the measles and meningitis, especially the measles cases coming from the transports. The transporting of them from the ships to the hospital proved fatal to many. They were carried from the ship to the lighter, from the lighter to the dock, from the dock to ambulance, from ambulance to hospital. It sometimes took from six to eight hours to accomplish this. At this time these lighters were uncovered boats, mere barges, so that these sick boys were exposed for hours to the cold and rain.

The following year, September 1918, was when the flu pandemic began, or as commonly called, “Spanish Flu.” (A subsequent post on the pandemic is planned, due to the many deaths of Brunswick County veterans.) Van Ingen writes:

In September we began to get the “flu” cases from the States. Men brought in off the battlefields shattered and bleeding were not as tragic to me as these that came from our own ships. Men with the pallor of death on their faces, laboring for air, yet begging for food, their lips and tongues so glued together they could hardly articulate, and before we could care for them they would be out of their agony, beyond the want of food and water. Many died on their way to hospital or as they were put on their beds. … I think we all aged with the awfulness of it, and have our nights haunted with the memories of those weeks.

The 1918 Issue of The Trained Nurse and Hospital Review reported this item from New York.

A service flag containing thirty-four stars, representing the number of members of the Long Island College Nurses’ Alumnae Association who are in the country’s service, was unfurled recently at the rooms of the association, 186 Amity Street, Brooklyn. There were a number of visitors present and the Rev. G. Ashton Oldham, pastor of St. Ann’s Presbyterian Church, made an address.

One of the nurses now in the service, Esmee Everard, has been to the front three times. The nurses represented by the stars in the flag are as follows:

Margaret Ainslee, Ruth Bentley, Caroline Ballantine, Agnes Brankin, Lulu Brady, Caroline Bradshaw, Manon Bryant, Ann Burgess, Lettie Bellinger, Mary Badger, Lelia Church, Margaret Caldwell, Margaret Enright, Esmee Everard, Lottie Grass, Florence Grand, Maude Hicks, Alice Hamilton, Isabel Holden, Helen V. Kenney, Lulu Kinsella, Elizabeth Mignon, Rose McMullen, Mildred Overton, Florentine Ryan, Helen Spaulding, Bertha Spearman, Anna Thompson, Margaret Vassie, Emma Waiss, Susan Williams, Alice Zeigler, Laura Brown, Blanche Swan, Pauline Rose.

Nurse Williams boarded the U.S.S. Leviathan on February 3, 1919, returning to America along with Chief nurse Van Ingen, who made the same trip with her to France at what must have seemed a lifetime ago. Like many other nurses, Susie returned to private nursing, perhaps assisting war veterans as many former Navy nurses did. And like many military nurses, she never married.

Susan Adkins Williams succumbed to pneumonia on February 23, 1938, and was laid to rest at Flushing Cemetery, Queens, NY.

The State Port Pilot published her obituary.

Former Resident Dies Saturday
Miss Susie A. Williams, Who Was Born And Reared Here, Died In New York City Of Pneumonia

Miss Susan A. Williams, who was born and reared in Southport, died Saturday in New York City following a short illness with pneumonia.

The deceased, who was 58-year-of-age, was the daughter of the late Captain and Mrs. J.A. Williams, of Southport. She was a registered nurse, and for the past few years has held a responsible position with the Metropolitian Life Insurance Company.

She was a member of the American Legion by virtue of her service in France during the World War, and last summer she paid another visit to French soil.

She has no immediate relatives in Southport, but is survived by one brother, Raymond S. Williams, of New York; three sisters, Miss Leila Williams, Mrs. Beatrice Potter, of New York, and Mrs. George Reid [Reeves], of New Jersey.

Her funeral services were conducted in New York, and interment was made there.

If you would like to help us honor Susan Adkins 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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WWI Profile: Dorman L. Mercer 1894-1996

Dorman L. Mercer
Bolivia, Brunswick County, NC
National Guard
Wagoner

Served:
July 24, 1917 – May 12, 1919
Overseas:
October 18, 1917 – April 24, 1919
Wounded: July 27, 1918
Gassed

Reprinted with permission from The Brunswick Beacon

On Veterans Day 1987, 93-year old Dorman L Mercer of Bolivia, NC, was interviewed by The Brunswick Beacon.

“I was a wagoner, and I drove trucks and mules in wagon trains. Our work was to haul ammunition to the front, and picks, shovels, and barbed wire for the engineers to use.”

Stationed about 10 miles from the heavy fighting, Mercer and his fellow wagoners were called on to deliver ammunition and supplies to the front lines at all hours of the day or night, and he had several “close calls.”

The roads he traveled were the most dangerous because “that’s what the Germans were shelling,” he said.

Once while retreating from the front, a German shell hit the roof of a nearby house and showered Mercer with shrapnel and debris.

Less than two weeks later, he was gassed in an engagement and required medical treatment, although he said his injuries “didn’t amount to much.”

He said some of his experiences in the war would be better off forgotten.

Read the entire article in the DigitalNC Newspaper Archives: The Brunswick Beacon; Nov 12, 1987; Section B

Dorman L. Mercer was laid to rest on December 6, 1996, at Forest Lawn Cemetery, Bolivia, NC. He was 102.


If you would like to help us honor Dorman L Mercer 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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Filed under Honor a Veteran, Veteran Profile