Category Archives: Veteran Profile

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.

Comments Off on WWI Profile: John Daniel Eriksen 1888-1961

Filed under Honor a Veteran, Veteran Profile

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.

Comments Off on WWI Profile: Frederick Arnold Willetts 1895-1972

Filed under Honor a Veteran, Veteran Profile

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.

Comments Off on WWI Profile: William Edgar Willetts 1890-1972

Filed under Honor a Veteran, Veteran Profile

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.

Comments Off on WWI Profile: George Finnis Willetts 1894-1956

Filed under Honor a Veteran, Veteran Profile

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.

Comments Off on WWI Profile: David Elton Lewis 1891-1965

Filed under Honor a Veteran, Veteran Profile

WWI Profile: John William Vereen 1896-1973

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.

Meuse-Argonne First Division Monument
John William “Johnie” Vereen
Brunswick County, NC
US Army
Corporal

Served:
July 15, 1916 – November 10, 1919
Overseas:
July 28, 1917 – September 3, 1919

Johnie Vereen was born and raised in Brunswick County, NC. A partial family tree is located in FamilySearch. Two brothers also served in WWI. Sgt Pearl Vereen enlisted May 1917 and served overseas with the 17th Railway Engineers. Seaman Jack Vereen enlisted in the Navy in July 1917 and served aboard the USS Peter Struven and USS Lakeside.

Johnie enlisted in the US Army at Fort Slocum, NY, on July 15, 1916.

When the United States entered WWI, the 1st Division was created, as described in the WWI Profile for William Thompson White. Pvt Vereen was assigned to the 6th Field Artillery.

In the beginning of the US involvement in the war, there were few transports available, which required that the division travel piecemeal. The infantry left first, on June 14. Pvt Vereen was promoted to Private, First Class on July 7. When the small fleet of transports returned after discharging the infantry in France, it was the artillery’s turn to board. Pfc Vereen and the 6th Field Artillery had left Douglas, Arizona, on July 23, and embarked at Hoboken, NJ, on July 28, 1917, on USS Henry R. Mallory, shown above [Source: Ancestry].

On the night of July 31st the convoy of three transports, with the cruiser “North Carolina” and five destroyers as escort, and an oil ship carrying fuel, started on another perilous trip across the Atlantic. St. Nazaire was reached August 13th without incident and all disembarked on August 14th.

The 6th Field Artillery, along with the 7th, were light infantry and were equipped with the French 77-mm guns (shown at left). The training continued for seven weeks and included road marching to condition the horses and drivers.

The 6th Field Artillery was credited with firing the first American shot in WWI, at 6:05am on October 23, 1917.

After the success at St. Mihiel, the first All American operation (described in detail in Herbert Burnell Ward’s WWI Profile), the next operation was planned.

Experience had shown that unless a final blow could be struck the lines would stabilize and there would be another winter in the trenches during which the enemy might recover the advantage that he had lost.

The Meuse River – Argonne Forest was targeted.

Nature had contrived to include within the zone the most difficult obstacles, from a military point of view, that could be encountered. The terrain was naturally so rugged and deeply cut by ravines that it was fit only for wild vegetation. Over this surface spread the great Argonne Forest, with an undergrowth that in places resembled a tropical jungle. The Meuse River was a formidable barrier to military operations. Between the forest and the river the country was cut by deep ravines, extensive woods and a succession of hills and ridges whose wooded crests afforded cover for machine guns to sweep their barren slopes. The Aire River flowed along the north and east of the Argonne Forest in a valley that was open throughout its length.

For the first time, the First Division was not waiting in the front line trenches. An eastward operation was planned instead. As the battle began on September 26th, the First Division waited. The Germans were resisting with desperate and relentless fighting and losses were mounting. All thoughts of the eastward operation were forgotten. The First Division awaited their orders to join the raging battle.

September 27, the First Division began to march.

This long night march proved to be another test of endurance and fortitude. For twelve hours the infantry plodded along the muddy and war-worn roads, the larger part of the time in a downpour of rain. The feet of many men were sore and inflamed from living in the mud and from ill-fitting shoes.

The pain that they suffered could be seen in their set faces, but only those whose condition was pitiable would succumb. It was touching to witness the devotion of these officers and men and to realize the sense of consecration that animated them. When the weary march ended, they found themselves in woods rendered boggy by old bivouacs or horse-lines and often tangled by the wire of the rear defenses.

The artillery and the trains were compelled to follow even more difficult roads than the infantry. Nothing short of the most patient and skillful handling could have preserved the strength of the horses. The strain upon these men was, if possible, more trying than that upon the infantry, for not only were they compelled to make their way on foot, but, at the end of the march, their remaining strength was required to care for the horses and keep their guns in readiness for the missions that lay before them.


The First Division relieved the 35th Division on the night of September 30th. The map above shows the location on the left side, as the sections marked “35” changes to “1.” See also the 77th Division on the left flank, as described in the WWI Profile of Forney Mintz, resulting in the Lost Battalion.

Wherever the eye rested, there were low crosses that marked the last resting places of the men who died for their country on either side. Many, alas, were new and crudely bore the names of American soldiers who a few days before went forward as the ranks of the First Division were now doing. Here and there were masses of swollen carcasses of horses torn beyond description by shell — dumb servants whose sacrifice was little less than human — and ceaselessly came the sullen roar of guns, growing ever louder and louder as the columns drew nearer the fate that awaited them.

These devoted men knew what battle meant, and all realized that some supreme test lay ahead. Their faces took on the grim resolution that had now become familiar, and their bearing told of a calm courage that takes little count of danger and death with those who follow the way of Duty, Honor and Country. Veterans of Lorraine [law-ren] and Picardy [pik-er-dee], of Soissons [swa-sawn] and St. Mihiel [san-mee-yel], proud in their record of achievement, strong in their faith of accomplishment and inspired by the memory of their sacrifices and their dead—these were the First Division.

When a passer-by warned of the grim task that awaited them, the reply was flung back from the ranks, “We are the boys who can do it.”

The clips below from the National Archives show the 6th Field Artillery on October 5, 1918. According to the 1st Division History they were in the area of Hill 272, so it is assumed to be recorded there.

“Batteries of the 6th Field Artillery holding a position under heavy shell fire near Exermont, Ardennes, France, October 5, 1918.”

The video clip above also contains the following segments from the Field Artillery of the First Division.

(16:36) “On July 5, 1918, the 7th Field Artillery fired 4000 shells of mustard gas, compelling the Germans to wear their gas masks for three days.”

(34:16) “The Artillery of the First Division opens a barrage near Beaumont, France, on September 9, 1918.”

General Pershing chose the 1st Division for the vital position, or post of honor, in most of his engagements. This, along with the long service time of the division, resulted in a large casualty count of almost 24,000: 4,964 killed in action, 17,201 wounded in action, and 1,056 missing or died of wounds. None of the men from Brunswick County became casualties.

On August 1, 1919, Johnie was promoted to Corporal. He boarded USS Mobile on August 24, 1919, to return to the United States. He likely marched in the parades shown in William Thompson White’s WWI Profile. He was then honorably discharged on November 10 and immediately re-enlisted. His re-enlistment evidently resulted in his rank reverting to private again, as the higher rank was likely only during war-time.

According to the 1920 Census he was stationed at Camp Meade, Maryland. Now known as Fort Meade, at the time it housed the nation’s tank school and experimental grounds. The census shows Pvt Vereen was serving with the Overseas Replacement Depot, Company 49, which processed soldiers sent to Germany for occupation duty.

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

The Passenger List shown above lists Pvt Johnie Vereen sailing USAT Antigone on August 23, 1920 for Antwerp, Belgium. His name is crossed out and stamped with “Did Not Sail.” No explanation is found.

Johnie left the US Army on May 5, 1924 [Source: Department of Veterans Affairs Death File, Ancestry]. Around 1927, he married Lillian Hazel Gray. The 1930 Census shows he and his wife living in Waccamaw Township with their first child, little Johnie Jr, age 19 months. Johnie Sr was working at a lumber mill.

The 1940 Census shows him working as a foreman at the Reigel Paper Company. According to his family, his entire career was spent as a forester with Reigel Paper Company, planting and tending the forests around Lake Waccamaw.

Johnie William Vereen passed away on June 11, 1973. He was laid to rest in Lake Waccamaw Hillcrest Cemetery. No military honors are shown.

In 1991, his wife, Lillian Hazel Gray, passed away. The Brunswick Beacon published the obituary on April 25, 1991, p.6-B.

Lillian Hazel Gray Vereen

Lillian Hazel Gray Vereen, of Long Beach, died April 18 in Cornelia Nixon Davis Health Care Center, Wilmington. She was 80.

The funeral was April 20 in McKenzie Mortuary Chapel, with the Rev. Frank Elliott officiating. Burial was in Lake Waccamaw Cemetery, Columbus County.

Mrs. Vereen was born in Brunswick County and was the widow of Johnny W. Vereen Sr. She was a member of Ocean View United Methodist Church, Yaupon Beach.

Survivors include a daughter, Joyce V. Formyduval of Long Beach; two sons, Wayland Vereen of Yaupon Beach and Johnny W. Vereen Jr. of Long Beach; a half-brother, John B. Gray of Garner; a half-sister, Erma Holden of Supply; a stepmother, Maude Gray of Makatoka; three grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to a local rescue unit.

Johnie Vereen, Jr, his son, is living in Brunswick County today. Johnie Vereen III served as mayor of Oak Island for four terms and passed away in 2015.

Sources:
The Society of the First Division (1922) History of the First Division During the World War, 1917-1919. Philadelphia, The John C. Winston Company.

Meuse-Argonne Map: The Society of the Fifth Division (1919) The Official History of the Fifth Division USA, During the Period of its Organization and its Operations in the European World War, 1917-1919. New York, Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Company.

If you would like to help us honor John William “Johnie” Vereen 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

Comments Off on WWI Profile: John William Vereen 1896-1973

Filed under Honor a Veteran, Veteran Profile

WWI Profile: William Thompson White 1892-1969

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.

Source: Brunswick County News, Nov. 15, 1917; Courtesy of Gwen Causey and Wilson T. Arnold
William Thompson White
Shallotte, Brunswick County, NC
US Army
Corporal

Served:
April 15, 1917 – September 2, 1919
Overseas:
June 14, 1917 – August 23, 1919

William Thompson White was born and raised in Shallotte, NC. A partial family tree is located in FamilySearch.

On April 6, 1917, the US declared war on Germany. Nine days later, on April 15, 1917, Willie enlisted in the US Army at Fort Thomas, Kentucky.

Pvt White became one of many recruits added to the existing 16th Infantry to bring it to war strength, which was quickly chosen by General Pershing to form the 1st Division, America’s first division.

The 1st Division, or the “Big Red One,” was the first American Army division to arrive in France (June 26, 1917), the first to enter battle (October 23, 1917), the first to report American casualties (October 25, 1917), and the first to lead an American victory (May 28, 1918).

On June 3, Pvt White presumably joined the division’s journey to Hoboken, NJ, to embark for France. As the first troops, they had confidence their participation would be swift and successful, and they would soon return.

On June 14, 1917, they departed in a convoy of twelve ships. (A passenger list for the 16th Infantry was not found in order to confirm that Pvt White sailed with the convoy, but his NC WWI Service Card does confirm these dates.)

The 16th Infantry landed at St. Nazaire, France on June 26, 1917.

Samuel Leob Mintz also traveled with the convoy, serving with Machine Gun Company, 26th Infantry of the 1st Division. Pvt Mintz had been serving for almost a year, having enlisted on August 15, 1916. He would make the military his career.

The photo of Pvt White shown at top was printed in the November 15, 1917, edition of Brunswick County News, with the following.

Willie T. White
(Somewhere in France)

The above picture of Willie Thompson White, son of Mr. and Mrs. F.M. White of Shallotte, who enlisted in the Army early in the Spring was made in France. He is a member of the 16th Infantry, and was one of the two first boys from Brunswick County to be sent to France; the other is Leob Mintz, son of Mr. S.K. Mintz of Mill Branch.

“Son” makes a good looking soldier in uniform, but says it is not a good picture – being taken by a Frenchman.

The second battalion of the 16th Infantry (which did not include Pvt White’s Company B) represented America in a parade in Paris on July 4, 1917. The march ended at Lafayette’s Tomb, where General Pershing reported for duty by declaring, “Layfayette, we are here” in honor of the “friendship and support that France had given to the American colonies in their hour of need when they fought for their liberty.”

Two soldiers from Brunswick County, Pfc Johnie Vereen, a member of the Regular Army, and Sfc Edward Johnson, a 46-year old man from Southport (originally from Norway), joined the division in July when the 5th and 6th Field Artillery of the 1st Division arrived in France. Sgt Johnson was a bandleader. The bands were fiercely protected from injury, as statements from historical documents like the following show.

“The Band was not permitted to go forward, musicians are too hard to replace, and of too great value in maintaining the morale of the men.” ~ Source: Official History of the 120th Infantry

On April 19, 1918, Pvt White was assigned to Company B, 1st Supply Train, in which he remained throughout his service.

General Pershing chose the 1st Division for the vital position, or post of honor, in most of his engagements. This, along with the long service time of the division, resulted in a large casualty count of almost 24,000: 4,964 killed in action, 17,201 wounded in action, and 1,056 missing or died of wounds. None of the men from Brunswick County became casualties.

The division insignia was adopted and first worn after the Armistice. Around this time, November 14, 1918, Pfc White was promoted to Corporal. The Division then began their work in the Army of Occupation, marching to Germany. Cpl White would have likely been given three day passes to explore the countryside during the occupation, as described in the division history.

Pfc Leob Mintz transferred to another division after the Armistice. Bandleader Sfc Edward Johnson returned home in February 1919, retiring soon after. Cpl Bryant Mintz, a Brunswick County soldier with a NC WWI Service Card showing service in the 1st Division, had no record of overseas travel to/from France and apparently served stateside.

In the middle of June 1919, the Allied negotiations with Germany became unsatisfactory and there were doubts that Germany would sign the Treaty of Versailles. The First Division was put on alert and began preparations to resume hostilities. On June 23, word was received that they would sign; the threat had thankfully passed.

As the division began preparing to return home, several units including Cpl White’s were ordered to remain in Germany. Those willing to stay were quickly transferred in, while those wishing to return home were permitted. Cpl White did not remain. On August 12, 1919, he began the journey home from France on USS Nansemond, arriving in Hoboken, NJ, on August 23 (Source: Ancestry). He then received his honorable discharge on September 2.

The 17 Aug. 1919 edition of the Wilmington Morning Star, p.8 included this item.

Mr. and Mrs. F.M. White are in receipt of the welcome news that their son, Willie White, is at last sailing for home. Willie was in the first contingent of American troops to go overseas, and apparently with [sic] the last to come back. He is a member of the First Division.

The division marched in NYC on September 10, followed by Washington DC on September 17. William White did not participate. He likely was in poor health as the passenger list referenced above was labeled “First Division Casualty Company.”

Cpl Johnie Vereen, who served with the 1st Division from the beginning (6th Field Artillery) and Pvt Alvin Milliken, who joined the 1st Division (7th Field Artillery) in August 1918, likely did march in the parades.

Willie White returned home to Shallotte. According to the 1920 Census, he was working as a blacksmith at a fish factory. He married Julia Hemmingway and raised one son, Kenneth Welch White.

William Thompson White passed away on October 29, 1969. He was laid to rest in Chapel Hill Cemetery in Shallotte, joined a few years later by his wife. A military flat marker is shown.

In 2002, his son passed away. His obituary is shown in the Findagrave link as follows:

Kenneth Welch White

SHALLOTTE – Kenneth W. White, 72, of Shallotte Avenue, SW, died Thursday, September 12, 2002 at his residence.

Born in Brunswick County on February 20, 1930, he was the son of the late William T. and Julia Hemmingway White. He was predeceased by his wives, Videll White and Marlene White. After his retirement from the N.C. Department of Transportation, he owned and operated K.W. White Trucking Company and delivered the Wilmington Morning Star Newspaper for many years.

Surviving are two sons, Kenneth Dale White, Shallotte, N.C. and Steve Allen White and wife, Teresa, Holden Beach, N.C., two daughters Cathy W. Sibbett and husband, Jeff, Ash, N.C. and Julie Anne White, Shallotte, N.C., two step daughters Karen S. Westmoreland and husband, Wade, Swansboro, N.C. and Shawna Stanley, Shallotte, N.C., six grandchildren, Kelly Prestipino, Alex White, Chelsa Sibbett, Kara Westmoreland, Jessica Barnes and Damion Purvis and his closest friend, Harry W. White, and two great-grandchildren.

Funeral services will be conducted Saturday, September 14, 2002, at 1:30 p.m. in the Brunswick Funeral Service Chapel by the Rev. Brent Evans. Burial will be in Chapel Hill Cemetery, Shallotte, N.C.

The family will receive friends from 6:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m., Friday, September 13, 2002 at the funeral home.

Active casketbearers will be Wayne Smith, David Moore, David Danford, Ricky Danford, Chris Hargis and David Edwards. Honorary Casektbearers will be Harry White, Marvin Watts, Curman Arnold and Roney Cheers.

Source: The Society of the First Division (1922) History of the First Division During the World War, 1917-1919. Philadelphia, The John C. Winston Company.

If you would like to help us honor William Thompson White 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

Comments Off on WWI Profile: William Thompson White 1892-1969

Filed under Honor a Veteran, Veteran Profile

WWI Profile: Forney Boston Mintz 1892-1960 (Part 1)

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.

Source: Photo from Adams, John Wesley; McCollum, Lee C. Our Company. Seattle, Lumberman printing co. 1919
Forney Boston Mintz
Mill Branch, Brunswick County, NC
U.S. Army
Sergeant

Served:
January 9, 1918 – January 8, 1929
Overseas:
April 6, 1918 – April 28, 1919
Wounded: August 15, 1918; September 27, 1918

Awarded Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star,
Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster

Due to the amount of documentation about Forney Mintz, along with his multiple medals and association with a famous event, his WWI Profile will be posted in two parts.

Forney Boston Mintz was born and raised in Mill Branch, NC. He was the third of four brothers, all serving in WWI.

Forney was the first brother to enlist in the US Army in 1913 at age 21. His enlistment, found in Ancestry, shows his height was 5′ 5 3/4″. He was transferred to the Army Reserves on January 8, 1916, then returned to active duty on August 22, 1916.

Half brother Samuel Leob Mintz enlisted in 1916; brothers Martin Newman Mintz and Owen Ransom Mintz were drafted.

All four brothers served overseas. Like Forney, Martin and Owen were wounded. WWI Profiles have been posted for Martin Newman Mintz and Owen Ransom Mintz.

Leob and Forney made a career in the Army.

Forney was the only soldier from Brunswick County to serve in the 77th Division. He was assigned on September 5, 1917, to Company A, 308th Infantry, 77th Division. At that point he had been promoted to Sergeant.

The 77th Division, first called the Metropolitan Division but popularly known as the “Statue of Liberty Division” due to the insignia shown, was organized from New York City draftees. Most of the enlisted men were recent immigrants or were poor working class from the streets of New York City. This gave rise to the popular theory that fighting from a young age for food and other attributes acquired on the streets contributed to their survival in the Argonne.

Soldiers from 25 different nationalities were part of the division, reflecting the melting pot of NYC.

“The recruits represented all races and all creeds – men who had only recently been subjected to the pogroms of Russia, gunmen and gangsters, a type peculiar to New York City, Italians, Chinamen, the Jews and the Irish, a heterogeneous mass, truly representative both of the varied human flotsam and the sturdy American manhood which comprise the civil population of New York City.”

One of those members was songwriter Irving Berlin, then age 30. Berlin who was already famous, wrote and produced a musical show called “Yip, Yip, Yaphank” about the experience of training at Camp Upton.

The show featured the song “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in The Morning” which Berlin performed. The song related how the Soldier hated the bugler who woke up the troops each day.
Source: World War I draftees from New York City made history in the 77th Division

Photo source: Library of Congress; Lady Liberty striking the Kaiser
Sgt Mintz trained with the 77th Division at Camp Upton, one of the two military bases on Long Island. The other was Camp Mills, where the 42nd Division was assembled. (Recall that the 42nd Division included many Brunswick County men.) Both divisions captured the hearts of the citizens of New York.

The photo below is included in “Our Company” a book about Company A of the 308th Infantry. This photo was used to isolate Sgt Mintz, pictured at top of page. Sgt Mintz is in the second row, fourth from the right.


The book is in rhyme form. About Sgt Mintz, the book includes the following:


On April 6, 1918, Sgt. Mintz sailed on Lapland for France. The 77th Division was the first draftee division to arrive in France and the first to take front line positions.

By the end of August, the division had losses equal to nearly one third of its strength.

In early September, the Regiment was moved to the Argonne Forest as part of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was the largest and deadliest battle in US military history, involving 1.2 million American soldiers. It occurred at the same time influenza was raging, claiming lives in Europe and back home. The 308th had been continually in the front line from June 20th until September 15th. Facing the Argonne Forest, the 77th Division was positioned at the left flank of the American forces, with the 308th Infantry at the extreme left. The exhaustion from continuous fighting, the pandemic, and the soon to be exposed left flank all contributed to the tragedy that followed.

To the 77th Division was assigned the task of direct attack through the forest. After the first day, this Division operated alone within the confines of this forest, and fought its way through its entire length.

On the night of September 25th, the Infantry of the 77th Division quietly moved into the front line.
~ History of the 77th Division

The battle began in the early hours of September 26, 1918, through a dense fog. That day, Pfc Louis “Lolly” B. Doerr, from our World War I Wall of Honor, was KIA. He served with the 302nd Engineers of the 77th Division.

The “Wilderness Battle” of the Great War had begun. Overcoats and blankets had been discarded and very limited amounts of food were carried by each man.
Through a tangled jungle of trees, clinging vines and thickly braided brush, through swamps and muddy morasses flooded by constant rains that were falling, over steeps and across wild valleys, through the mud and the wet and the cold, the unfaltering soldiers of the 77th Division were obliged to push on day after day, against invisible machine guns, against trenches concealed by foliage and underbrush, against positions whose forward areas were perfectly protected by numerous lines of barbed wire and chicken wire interlaced among trees, against an enemy who could not be seen to be fired at and who could only be nosed out and routed by attacking parties that crawled along the ground and scouted from tree to tree until they could engage him in hand-to-hand combat.

Told to “push forward without regard to flanks”, by October 2, six companies of the 308th Infantry, commanded by Major Charles S. Whittlesey, along with one company from the 307th Infantry and two companies of the 306th Machine Gun Battalion, penetrated a gap in the German trenches and advanced to a ravine at Charlevaux Mill. At this point, a total of about 700 men were cut off and surrounded on all sides by the Germans and remained there for five days. Food and medical supplies depleted, men were lost one by one, shot while trying to find food or water or retrieve supplies dropped in the area, fallen by illnesses or effects of no food and water, or died of wounds.

Communications were a problem. Runners couldn’t successfully deliver messages, so homing pigeons were used. In one incident, when the battalions were being hit by American artillery, a homing pigeon sent a famous message to stop the barrage and became a hero.

“Five days later, 194 survivors walked out of the ravine and into history…”
~ Robert J. Laplander

WWI Profile: Cher Ami 1910-1919

Cher Ami (“dear friend”)
US Army
Served:
1914-1918
Wounded: October 3, 1918
Awarded Croix de Guerre Medal with a palm Oak Leaf Cluster

Cher Ami carried the famous message back to headquarters.

We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heavens sake stop it.

While the artillery had discovered their mistake minutes before Cher Ami returned, she nevertheless became a hero. She had been shot through the breast, blinded in one eye, and had a leg hanging only by a tendon. 77th Division medics worked to save her life. Her leg could not be saved, so a small wooden one was carved for her.

When she died in 1919, Cher Ami’s body was mounted by a taxidermist (who discovered the male pigeon was actually a female) and put on display at the Smithsonian Institution.

Sgt Mintz had been wounded on September 28. Was he a member of the Lost Battalion? He did not appear on the Lost Battalion list. Robert J. Laplander, the world’s leading historian of the Lost Battalion and WWI Centennial Commission’s Managing Director of Finding the Lost Battalion, was contacted to confirm. No, Sgt Mintz was not a member of the Lost Battalion.

“Sergeant Mintz was rescued from the field after he was wounded by Private Stephan Wondowlowsky [a Polish immigrant living in Brooklyn] of Company A, who dressed his wounds and carried him back to a safer area, from which Mintz then rounded up the two prisoners and headed back to a first aid station behind the lines. His combat days were pretty much behind him after that, although he did return to Company A and was with them for the final drive to the Meuse River and returned home with them on April 28th, 1919.”

Three members of the Regiment were awarded the Medal of Honor for their service during the First World War. Two of these men, Major Charles W. Whittlesey and Captain George G. McMurtry, were recognized for their actions during the “Lost Battalion” period while in command of the units trapped in the ravine. Additionally, seventy-five members of the Regiment were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and a further two the Croix de Guerre.

Sgt Forney B. Mintz was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The following citation accompanied the award.

“Forney B. Mintz, Sgt. Co. A, 308th Inf., for extra ordinary heroism in action near Binarville, France, Sept. 28, 1918. Sgt. Mintz, in command of a platoon, worked his way through the enemy rear guard and captured 5 machine guns and an ammunition carrying party. Although badly wounded when an organized position of the enemy was encountered, he made his way back to request reinforcements and brought with him two German prisoners from whom valuable information was obtained.”

Throughout its service in France the 77th Division sustained 10,194 casualties: 1,486 killed and 8,708 wounded.

The story of the Lost Battalion was one of the most talked about events of World War I. It even made its way into a soldier’s diary. Diary of a Rainbow Veteran (source listed at bottom) entry of October 9, 1918, includes the following.

The division that is now getting the “razz” is the 77th (New York). Their emblem is the Statue of Liberty. Now since the lost battalion has become famous, all the other divisions say that this insignia represents a French mademoiselle carrying a torch and looking for the lost battalion.

The WWI Profile of Forney Mintz will be continued next week.

Sources:
Adams, John Wesley; McCollum, Lee C. (1919) Our Company. Seattle, Lumberman printing co.

Laplander, Robert John (2017). Finding the Lost Battalion: Beyond the Rumors, Myths and Legends of America’s Famous WWI Epic. Waterford, WI: Lulu Press.

Sherwood, Elmer W. (1929). Diary of a Rainbow Veteran. Terre Haute, IN: Moore-Langen.

History of the 77th Division (1919). NY: 77th Division Association

If you would like to help us honor Forney Boston Mintz 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.

Comments Off on WWI Profile: Forney Boston Mintz 1892-1960 (Part 1)

Filed under Honor a Veteran, Veteran Profile

WWI Profile: Jesse Lee Fayette Inman 1891-1935

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.

Source: Soldiers of the Great War, Vol. II
Jesse Lee Fayette Inman
Freeland, Brunswick County, NC
US Army
Private

Served:
May 27, 1918 – May 9, 1919
Overseas:
July 31, 1918 – April 25, 1919
Wounded: September 29, 1918

Jesse Lee Fayette Inman was born and raised in Freeland, NC. A partial family tree is located in FamilySearch. Jesse’s brother Joel “Joe” Robert Inman also served in WWI.

Jesse’s WWI Draft Registration shows he was single, living in Ash, and working on the family farm.

Jesse and his brother Joe were ordered to report for duty on May 27, 1918, along with 35 other men from Brunswick County [Source: Ancestry]. Included in the 37 were John Hillery Caison, David Bertram Frink, and Zade McLoud Williams (NC WWI Service Record not found). Jesse, John, David, and Zade were sent to Camp Jackson, SC, to train with the 81st Division, but transferred to the 42nd Division in August. (His brother Joe Inman was honorably discharged with a Surgeon’s Certificate of Discharge in September, classified as 33 1/3% disabled.)

Jesse Lee Fayette Inman and John Hillery Caison became replacements for Company A, 168th Infantry, 42nd “Rainbow” Division. David Bertram Frink was assigned to the 166th Infantry and Zade McLoud Williams to the 167th Infantry, all with the 42nd Division.

Previous posts described the formation and training of the 42nd Rainbow Division, along with the months in France up to August 17, 1918, when the Rainbow Division, victorious in many battles, was finally given a chance to rest and resupply. Replacements such as Pvts Caison, Inman, Frink, and Williams arrived to serve with the battle hardened troops. Those drafted at a late date such as these men were typically not trained and never even held a rifle before boarding ships to France. They were given uniforms and sent overseas quickly, which earned them the gruesome nickname “Cannon fodder.”

Pvt Caison’s WWI Profile described the St. Mihiel Offensive, the first all-American offensive of the war, along with casualty totals. Pvt Inman was reportedly “slightly wounded” during the operation on September 29. No details are available.

On October 1, 1918, the 42nd Division withdrew and went south. They were a shock division now, elite troops, and must wait until they were needed.

Note: Source information for the diary entries can be found at bottom. Corporal Sherwood served in the 67th Artillery Brigade of the 42nd Rainbow Division from April 12, 1917 until May 10, 1919.

This gang doesn’t act like lambs going forth to slaughter. In fact, we are happy that the Rainbow is going into the line.

We turned into blankets early to the sound of a fierce cannonading from the distant battle front, and in my sleep I dreamed, not of war, but of home and loved ones waiting there, of those at home who really suffer and endure more of the mental agony than we who are in the midst of the war.
~ Diary of a Rainbow Veteran, October 3

Along the way, when troops ask their outfit, they sometimes respond with pride, “Rainbow.”

This always has the desired effect of creating a wholesome awe and respect among the bystanders who watch us pass, and many are the remarks of encouragement and references to our past victories addressed to us.
~ Diary of a Rainbow Veteran, October 4

As they started for the front, the destruction around them was devastating.

In our path lay the four-year-old trenches and defenses of both French and German. What a picture of desolation! We came into what had been a great forest, now shorn of life. What few trees remain standing are naked, burnt and scarred. Gas has killed every living thing.

Our engineers are busy building bridges across this forsaken country, for shell holes are so thick that a gun or even a cart can’t start across it without upsetting. In fact, it is all a foot soldier can do to walk across it.
~ Diary of a Rainbow Veteran, October 6

The 84th Brigade (167th Infantry of Pvt Frink and 168th Infantry of Pvt Inman) relieved the 1st Division in the front lines north of Exermont on October 13, 1918. Their attack began at 5:30am.

The Rainbow attack today netted four kilometers and a great number of prisoners, but our losses exceeded a thousand. For the first time since we have been on the line in this drive the fog cleared away today and a great rainbow emerged from the clouds. Our men regard this as an omen of good luck, and shout to each other encouragements and orders to press on.
~ Diary of a Rainbow Veteran, October 15

I talked to a sergeant whom I had known back in Lorraine. He told me that replacements had filled the great gaps in the lines of the old regiments until only non-coms and a few officers remained of those who had come across with the Division.

He said the new men were filling the places well and got right into the spirit of the Division.
~ Diary of a Rainbow Veteran, October 17

The captain read an order this morning to the non-coms of the battery stating that since our infantry has been so terribly shot up it will be necessary for each artillery outfit to furnish 68 privates, seven non-coms, and one officer to go into the line as infantry on the next advance. …every man volunteered to go over the top with a rifle and doughboy pack.
~ Diary of a Rainbow Veteran, October 22

Replacements are coming in regularly now to fill up the gaps in our ranks caused by losses in action. At first the men of this outfit hated the idea of rank outsiders getting into this volunteer outfit, but of course it has to be done. Then we are Americans after all, and all have one purpose – to win the war; so we have assimilated the green drafts from the States and find that, generally speaking, they make good soldiers.

The new men bring into the outfit news of the States and what the folks at home are doing. They also bring along various training camp songs and jokes.
~ Diary of a Rainbow Veteran, October 24

The 42nd Division broke through the Hindenburg Line in that area and were relieved on October 31 by the 2nd Division. Troops of the 42nd still held the front line but the 2nd Division passed through the lines and attacked the morning of November 1.

The hard-boiled Rainbow infantry doesn’t like the idea of letting the marines make the attack. [November 1]Many Rainbow doughboys pressed on in spite of orders to hold up and let the marines filter through.
~ Diary of a Rainbow Veteran, October 31/November 1

The Division moved further north, past the areas that had seen years of fighting.

The villages we now occupy are not demolished and ravaged by war like most of the communities we have been used to seeing along the front. Aside from a few bullet marks and an occasional shell hole, these are peaceful looking villages and hills. These villages had been occupied since 1914.

The French peasants were overjoyed. They hung out of their windows hastily made replicas of “The Stars and Stripes” and wept and laughed and sang.
~ Diary of a Rainbow Veteran, November 4

The enemy was in full retreat. The 42nd attacked once more from November 7 until November 10 when they were relieved by the 77th Division, ending their participation in the war. It is not known whether Pvt Inman was in combat during that time.

The air is charged with expectancy today, as we await word of peace.

At eleven, the great rumble of artillery and small arms was stilled.

Eleven o’clock!

How strangely solemn, almost painful to ears long accustomed to the din and tumult of the front!

Our men seem strangely silent. Our thoughts in this hour of triumph cannot but turn to those missing comrades who have shed their blood yielded up their lives for America.

We think, too, of their sorrowing mothers who will have no sons to welcome home.
~ Diary of a Rainbow Veteran, November 11

The 42nd Division had suffered nearly 15,000 casualties during the war. Its total days of combat has been claimed as the highest of all American divisions during the war at 264 days.

Their service not complete, they were chosen for the Army of Occupation and began marching for Germany on November 20. The first troops crossed into Germany on December 2. They remained there until they left to return to the US.

Pvt Inman left Brest, France, on April 18, 1919, with the other members of the 168th Infantry [Source: Ancestry]. On May 9, 1919, he was honorably discharged.

Jesse Inman returned to his family in Waccamaw Township (1920 Census) to continue farming. He married Virginia Dare King the next year. The 1930 Census shows him living in the same area with his wife and working on his own farm. There were no children.

Sadly, his wife passed away in 1931 at age 26 from an embolism after surgery. Jesse also passed away at a young age, 42, in 1935. They were both laid to rest in New Britton Church Cemetery in Ash, NC. No military honors are shown.

Sources:
Reilly, Henry J. (1936). Americans All, The Rainbow at War:Official History of the 42nd Rainbow Division in the World War. Columbus, OH: Heer.

Sherwood, Elmer W. (1929). Diary of a Rainbow Veteran. Terre Haute, IN: Moore-Langen.

Thompkins, Raymond S. (1919). The Story of the Rainbow Division. NY: Boni & Liveright.

World War I American Battle Monuments Commission (1944). 42d Division Summary of Operations in the World War. Washington DC: GPO.

If you would like to help us honor Jesse Lee Fayette Inman 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

Comments Off on WWI Profile: Jesse Lee Fayette Inman 1891-1935

Filed under Honor a Veteran, Veteran Profile

WWI Profile: John Hillery Caison 1895-1984

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.

Source: findagrave
John Hillery Caison
Supply, Brunswick County, NC
US Army
Private

Served:
May 27, 1918 – April 8, 1919
Overseas:
July 31, 1918 – March 21, 1919
Wounded: September 23, 1918

John Hillery Caison was born and raised in Brunswick County, NC. His younger brother, James Cline Caison, and brother-in-law, Herman Dan Fulford, also served in WWI. There is a partial family tree in FamilySearch.

His WWI Draft Registration card shows he was single, living in Supply, and working on the family farm.

John was ordered to report for duty on May 27, 1918, along with 36 other men from Brunswick County [Source: Ancestry]. Included in the 36 were Jesse Lee Fayette Inman, David Bertram Frink, and Zade McLoud Williams (NC WWI Service Record not found). All four were sent to Camp Jackson, SC, to train with the 81st Division, but transferred to the 42nd Division in August.

John Hillery Caison and Jesse Lee Fayette Inman became replacements for Company A, 168th Infantry, 42nd “Rainbow” Division. Jesse’s WWI Profile will follow this one next week. David Bertram Frink was assigned to the 166th Infantry and Zade McLoud Williams to the 167th Infantry, both with the 42nd Division.

Previous posts described the formation and training of the 42nd Rainbow Division, along with the months in France up to August 17, 1918, when the Rainbow Division, victorious in many battles, was finally given a chance to rest and resupply. Replacements such as Pvts Caison, Inman, Frink, and Williams arrived to serve with the battle hardened troops. Those drafted at a late date such as these men were typically not trained and never even held a rifle before boarding ships to France. They were given uniforms and sent overseas quickly, which earned them the gruesome nickname “Cannon fodder.”

During the 42nd’s rest in Bourmont area, changes were made. General Douglas MacArthur had been made a Brigadier General and placed in command of the 84th Infantry Brigade, which included the 167th and 168th Infantries. Pvts Caison and Inman served in the 168th. The men from the 168th were originally National Guard members from Iowa. With ranks depleted from the heavy fighting, replacements had to be accepted.

Note: Rosters of Brunswick County veterans and Organizations of the Divisions can be found on the World War I Army/Marine Division Roster webpage.

Excerpts below taken from The Story of the Rainbow Division, source listed at bottom.

Replacements, those freshly arrived, untried soldiers at whose advent the veteran survivors of hard battles look askance, and without whom no division could continue its career as a division, came to the Rainbow in great numbers. The gaps in the ranks were filled. Lost and battle scarred equipment was replaced by new, up-to-date fighting material. The Rainbow Division, in a sort of new Camp Mills, having found its fighting spirit in the field, now was being made over—getting its second wind, so to speak.

The WWI Profile of Herbert Burnell Ward (5th Division) described their next battle. It was the first all-American operation of the war: St. Mihiel. Fourteen American divisions were gathered for the operation: 1, 2, 4, 5, 26, 42, 82, 89, 90; Reserve: 3, 35, 78, 80, 91.

The Rainbow Division had started forward on August 30. Moving always at night and resting during the day in inconspicuous places (for the attack was to be a surprise) it marched about one hundred and twenty kilometers to the Foret de la Reine. There it went into camp in shelter tents. It became a division of mud-dwellers, lying quietly in the sticky black muck all day and wallowing about in it through the night, for by daylight no movement of men or transportation was permitted.

Rain fell steadily and the roads became horrors. Through the downpour and the absolute blackness the men of the 117th Supply Train and the 117th Ammunition Train struggled forward inches at a time with the deep mud sucking their trucks back and the pitch-dark roads seeming to fall away beneath them. Nearly always about twenty-five per cent of all the Rainbow’s transportation was stalled impotently in the mud and wrecking crews were at work day and night.

Soldiers of the 167th Infantry (42nd Division) dug in near St. Benoit on the Meuse River during the St. Mihiel offensive in September 1918. (National Archives)

The attack began on September 12. Brunswick County men Pvt Jimmie Griffin from the 2nd Division had been killed by sentry the night before, while Cpl Herbert Ward from the 5th Division was KIA that day.

The Germans were taken by surprise.

Intelligence found on captured prisoners showed that the Germans did not expect the attack during the rain, and that they considered it a rather mean thing to do—an advantage that would not have been taken by the French and British.

The Germans retreated to the Hindenburg Line, which they thought was impenetrable. It too would be defeated soon.

Under constant fire from the German artillery, the Rainbow Division remained in place, sending raiding parties out to keep the Germans unaware of the Army’s plans elsewhere. The 42nd remained in the area until October 1.

Pvt Caison was severely wounded on September 23, while the Division remained in the area. It appears that he did not return to combat. During the operations, Pvt Caison’s 168th Infantry reported 61 KIA, 30 Died of Wounds, and 289 Wounded.  Pvt Inman was also wounded during these operations (WWI Profile to follow this one next week).

Source: Ancestry.com. U.S., Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1939 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.
Pvt Caison returned to the US with other casualties from North Carolina on March 6, 1919, from Marseille Embarkation Camp, as shown in the passenger list above. There are no details of his severe wound or if he was recovering from that one or a new illness/injury, but his status is indicated as “B2” which means he could no longer serve in combat. That seems to indicate his injury was disabling but there was no disability at discharge reported on his NC WWI Service Record.

According to the 1920 Census, John returned to Lockwoods Folly to the family farm. When his father died, he remained with his mother (1940 Census). There is no record of him marrying.

John Hillery Caison passed away in 1989 and was laid to rest with his family in Holden Beach. A military flat marker is shown.

Sources:
Reilly, Henry J. (1936). Americans All, The Rainbow at War:Official History of the 42nd Rainbow Division in the World War. Columbus, OH: Heer.

Sherwood, Elmer W. (1929). Diary of a Rainbow Veteran. Terre Haute, IN: Moore-Langen.

Thompkins, Raymond S. (1919). The Story of the Rainbow Division. NY: Boni & Liveright.

World War I American Battle Monuments Commission (1944). 42d Division Summary of Operations in the World War. Washington DC: GPO.

If you would like to help us honor John Hillery Caison 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

Comments Off on WWI Profile: John Hillery Caison 1895-1984

Filed under Honor a Veteran, Veteran Profile