Dinner, Derby, & Dance this Saturday

Tickets still available. Call now!

May 4, 2019 (Saturday) 4:00 – 9:00 pm
Fundraiser: Dinner, Derby and Dance
New! Click to view program/handout
Click to view flyers
Location: Caswell Beach Town Public Facility Building
Hat contests, 50/50, Churchill Downs Betting, Blind Pool, Raffle for a Cause, Mint Juleps & much more!
Music by Trilogy & Three to Get Ready.
Catering by Turtle Island Restaurant & Catering

  • Call 278-7584 for tickets

Beautiful themed baskets to benefit the 1918 Fort Caswell Rifle Range have been assembled.

Read more about the baskets here.

All proceeds from the event will be used to continue the preservation of the 1918 Fort Caswell Rifle Range, an Official National WWI Centennial Memorial; and to help publish the book through the Honor a Brunswick County WWI Veteran program that began in 2017.

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WWI Profile: John William Lancaster 1895-1988

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 Marilyn Aldridge Swain, granddaughter.
John William Lancaster
Grifton, Pitt County, NC
US Army
Private
Served:
October 5, 1917 – March 31, 1919
Overseas:
May 10, 1918 – March 22, 1919

John William Lancaster was born and raised in Supply, Brunswick County, the only son of seven children. A partial family tree is located in FamilySearch.

The 1910 Census, where he was reported as 14 years old, shows he was working on the family farm in Supply. The neighboring farms included boys his age such as Herman Dan Fulford, Samuel Goodman Fulford, and John Hillery Caison, all wounded during WWI. With 60 men from Supply who served in WWI, the community and their generation clearly felt the effects of the war.

Willie’s draft registration from 1917 shows he was single, now living in Grifton (Pitt County), and employed by E.W. Causey for farming. (His name was written as “Willie” in the signature.)

Willie was ordered to report for duty on September 18, 1917, [Source: Ancestry] then sent to Camp Jackson, SC, for training. Although the date he and the men arrived at Camp Jackson was recorded as October 7, his final acceptance did not occur until November 16, 1917. Only four of the 19 men were recorded as having a final acceptance at this date.

The most likely explanation may be found in Carl Jefferson Danford’s WWI Profile, which described the quarantines occurring in Southern camps at this time. Because many men were living in isolated areas, when they joined together in camps, illnesses which had otherwise not circulated were suddenly active and spread easily. Measles, in particular, is extremely contagious. It often leads to pneumonia, which was the cause of death for Carl Danford. It’s possible that Willie had contracted measles or mumps and needed to recover before his final acceptance.

Checking the other three men who were drafted with Willie and experienced a month delay until final acceptance, the NC WWI Service Cards of (Craven County men) William T Atkinson, Lee J French, and Joseph C Grady show they spent time in the infirmary. Despite Willie’s NC WWI Service Card not indicating time in the infirmary, it is the likely explanation. Like all historical documents, the service cards have been shown to have inaccuracies.

Because of the delay while in the infirmary, all four men were not assigned to infantry like the other men ordered to duty at the same time, but were placed in the Medical Detachments in sanitary trains/ambulance companies. Their survival of what was likely measles may have spared them the fates of Willie’s neighbors mentioned above, all serving in the infantry. However, we know from Robert Guy Farmer’s WWI Profile that the cause of death during WWI, either serving in the military or not, was most likely from influenza. (Of the 2,370 NC military deaths, 1,542 died of disease; 13,644 non-military NC deaths were reported from influenza. That’s over 12,000 more deaths from influenza while safely at home.)

Pvt Lancaster was a member of the Medical Detachment for the 115th Machine Gun Battalion.

Headquarters Company and Medical Detachment of the 115th Machine Gun Battalion; March 25, 1919
[Source: NC Archives]


In the photo above, Pvt Lancaster is in the second row, seventh from the left. The 115th Machine Gun Battalion was in the 30th “Old Hickory” Division, the division which included most Brunswick County men. To read more about the experiences of the division, start with Samuel Claudius Swain’s WWI Profile.

Boarding SS Haverford in Philadelphia on May 11, 1918 [Source: Ancestry], Pvt Lancaster and the 115th Machine Gun Battalion began the trip to France.

Haverford was named for a suburb in Philadelphia and was launched in May 1901. Beginning in 1915, the ship was used for British troop transportation. In 1917, it was damaged by a German U-boat torpedo. After six months of repairs, in April 1918, it was again damaged by a German submarine. Pvt Lancaster and the 115th Machine Gun Battalion boarded it the next month.

After the war, it returned to passenger service and was scrapped in 1925.

Source: National Archives

This photo from the National Archives shows a soldier in the 115th Machine Gun Battalion. Pvt Lancaster served in the Medical Detachment for the battalion. There is little information available online regarding the training and duties. Enlisted men were chosen to provide treatment of casualties in the trenches or carrying the injured men to company aid stations.

After the war ended, on March 10, 1919, Pvt Lancaster sailed on USS Finland from St. Nazaire, France, to Newport News, VA, arriving on March 23, 1919 [Source: Ancestry]. He was mustered out on March 31, 1919. The Field Artillery of the 30th Division had sailed with Pvt Lancaster and the machine gun battalion, but most of the 30th Division did not depart France until April 1 due to a last minute change to send the division to land at Charleston, SC. This left most of the 30th Division very disappointed.

Source: NC Archives
The 115th Machine Gun Battalion’s Banner is now in the care of the NC Museum of History.

Almost immediately after returning to America, on May 4, 1919, Willie married Oran Thelma Sellers in her home. According to the 1920 Census, they settled in Wilmington while he worked in furniture sales.

Ten years later, the 1930 Census shows three children, John, Jr, Victoria (“Vickie”), and Jessie. The family now resided on Dry Street in Southport, with John a grocery store merchant.

Sadly, his wife Oran Thelma Sellers Lancaster fell into a diabetic coma at age 38 and passed away on August 18, 1937. She was laid to rest in Sabbath Home Baptist Church Cemetery in Holden Beach. Her obituary was published on the front page of The State Port Pilot on August 25, 1937.

Funeral Services for Mrs. Lancaster
Funeral services for Mrs. John W. Lancaster, 40, who died at her home here Wednesday morning, were conducted Thursday afternoon at 2 o’clock from the cemetery at Sabbath Home Baptist church, six miles southwest of Supply. The services were in charge of the Rev. A.L. Brown, pastor of the Southport Baptist church.

The death of Mrs. Lancaster, wife of one of Southport’s leading business men, was unexpected. She had been ill only four days.

In addition to the husband, Mrs. Lancaster is survived by three children, John, Victoria, and Jesse Lancaster, four brothers, C.L., R.E., Hubbard and Yates Sellers, all of Brunswick County, and one half-brothers, E. Sellers of Whiteville; four sisters, Mrs. W.J. Sellers, of Supply; Mrs. J.W. Hewett, of Southport; Mrs. J.N. Lancaster, of Supply, and Mrs. B.K. Caison of Southport and one half-sister, Mary Lou Sellers of Whiteville.

Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese on December 7, 1941. Within a few weeks, their son, John, Jr, enlisted in the US Navy, serving throughout WWII. When the war ended, this was published in The State Port Pilot on December 12, 1945, page 3.

Expected Home
John W. Lancaster, Jr., son of Mr. and Mrs. J.W. Lancaster of Southport, was one of the 2,000 high point Navy veterans who arrived in San Francisco the first of this month aboard the USS West Virginia. The West Virginia left Pearl Harbor on November 23rd as a part of the “Magic Carpet” fleet. It is understood that young Lancaster will have received his discharge and return home this week.

Note: At the end of WWII, Operation Magic Carpet was the 14 month operation to return almost 8 million Allied military personnel home. USS West Virginia made three trips from Hawaii to transport veterans home. “High-point” personnel were those first in line for discharge, while “low-point” personnel were the replacements.

On July 3, 1988, at age 92, John William Lancaster, Sr, passed away. The following was published in The Brunswick Beacon, July 7, 1988, page 4-B.

John William Lancaster, Sr.
John William Lancaster, Sr., 92, of Route 1, Supply, died July 3 at his residence.

The funeral was held July 5 in the Brunswick Chapel of Coble Wardsmith Funeral Service, Supply, with Rev. Franklin Myers and Rev. Weston Varnam officiating. Burial was in Sabbath Home Baptist Church Cemetery.

Born in Brunswick County on Oct. 3, 1895, he was the son of the late Jessie L. and Victoria Holden Lancaster. He owned and operated a general mercantile store in the Holden Beach area for many years. He was a World War I U.S. Army veteran, serving in France during the battle for the Hindenburg Line.

Survivors include his wife, Mrs. Susie Clemmons Lancaster of the home; a son, John W. Lancaster Jr. of Supply; three daughters, Mrs. Victoria Aldridge of Southport, Mrs. Jessie Walker of Wilmington and Mrs. Geraldine (Jeri) Hatcher of Supply; 11 grandchildren; 12 great-grandchildren and four step great-great-grandchildren.

Source: Findagrave
John William Lancaster was laid to rest in Sabbath Home Baptist Church Cemetery with military honors.

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

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

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

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WWI Profile: John Daniel Eriksen 1888-1961

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.

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

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

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

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

Trudy shared the following.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Southport’s Sea-Going Mayor Extends Welcome to Visitors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many items were donated by local businesses.

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

Baskets are divided into categories or themes, such as:

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

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

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WWI Profile: Frederick Arnold Willetts 1895-1972

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Library of Congress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fred Willetts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


PDFs:

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New sign installed at rifle range

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

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

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

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

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2019 April 6th WWI Commemoration and Roll Call

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

Click here to view program: 2019 April 6 Program

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

The Roll Calls

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

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

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

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

More photos coming soon!

A special thanks to these local high school students:

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

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

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

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WWI Profile: William Edgar Willetts 1890-1972

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Library of Congress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On June 14, 1918, Cpl Exum wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

William E. Willetts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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