WWI Profile: William James Gordon 1891-1930

William James Gordon
Southport, Brunswick County, NC
US Army
Private, First Class

March 29, 1918 – April 9, 1919
June 10, 1918 – February 11, 1919
Wounded: November 4, 1918
Gunshot wound

Photo source: 92ndinfantry.org.

William James Gordon was born May 29, 1891, in Southport, Brunswick County, NC, the son of Franklin H. Gordon (1855-1939), a public school teacher (and first black educator in Brunswick County), and Nannie Gordon (1860-1943). His father is buried in Smith Cemetery in Southport. His father’s headstone shows William had two siblings, Cenelius and Frank. The locations of his mother’s and brothers’ gravesites are unknown.

Note: The John N. Smith Cemetery in Southport was named by the Wilmington Foundation as the most threatened historic site in the Cape Fear region for 2017. The 1918 Fort Caswell Rifle Range is on this list as well. The Friends of Fort Caswell Rifle Range support the recovery and restoration of this important cemetery.

William was married on June 4, 1912, in Southport to Evelyn Frink (1891-1957). His 1917 WWI Draft Registration shows he was married with a 4 year old son. He is listed as a laborer working in Philadelphia. His son, William James Gordon, Jr. (1913-2004) had a very distinguished career in education like his grandfather, served his country like his father, and is buried in Lebanon National Cemetery in Kentucky.

As the previous WWI Veteran Profile recounted, William was honored with a position in the 365th Infantry, 92nd Division, along with William Frederick Brooks, who sadly had died of meningitis days after the infantry left for France, and Robert Bollie Stanley, all from Brunswick County.

Before leaving for France, the 92nd Division chose their insignia and nickname. The 92nd was nicknamed the “Buffalo Soldiers” in honor of African American troops who served in the American West after the Civil War. The patch is shown above.

Company H of the 365th Infantry, which included Pvt Gordon and Pvt Stanley, embarked at Hoboken, NJ, on June 10, 1918, and reached Brest, France, on the 19th day of June, 1918. The camp was established at Bourbonne-les-Bains, a small resort area in the northeast of France, about 60 miles from the front. They immediately began an eight week period of intensive training in offensive and defensive tactics.

On July 6, 1918, Pvt Gordon was promoted to Private First Class.

Photo source: 92nd Division WWI History.
This map shows the approximate location of the front lines in western Europe when the 92nd Division was deployed.

The soldiers of the 92nd and the 93rd infantry divisions were the first Americans to fight in France.

In August, they took up positions in the St. Die sector, where they received their first contact with the enemy. They fought with honor through many engagements on the Meuse-Argonne front and won numerous awards from the French.

Photo source: net.lib.byu.edu/estu/wwi/comment/scott/Stn06.htm
October 29, 1918: Pvt Robert Bollie Stanley (Pfc Gordon’s fellow soldier from Brunswick County) was reported missing.

November 4, 1918: Pfc Gordon was wounded.

November 11, 1918: The armistice between the Allies and Germany was signed.

In the 365th’s final battle, there were 43 Killed in Action or Died of Wounds, 583 Wounded, and 32 Missing, most of whom were killed or succumbed to wounds. Of the three initial Brunswick County soldiers in the infantry, Pvt William Frederick Brooks died of disease before leaving the United States, Pfc William James Gordon was wounded, and Pvt Robert Bollie Stanley was missing.

On February 25, 1919, Pfc Gordon boarded the U.S.S. Nansemond with other sick and wounded soldiers. He was discharged from the Army on April 9, 1919.

William passed away in 1930 from heart disease [source: ancestry.com]. His death certificate lists a contributory cause to his death as “paralysis left side due to bullet wounds received in world war.”

He was laid to rest in Smith Cemetery with his father. A military headstone was requested in 1937 and remains there today.

In the years following the war, the 92nd Division gained fame as records of their accomplishments slowly became known. The November 7, 1942 edition of Baltimore Afro-American, p 20, published this account from General John J. Pershing:

The 92nd Division has been, without a doubt, a great success. And I desire to commend both the officers and the men for the high state of discipline and the excellent morale which has existed in this command during its entire stay in France.

The 92nd Division continued their gallantry in World War II, after which segregation in the military was ended.

Most of the information gathered was from E.J. Scott, author of The American Negro in the World War, Chapter XI, which quoted the work of T.T. Thompson, Historian of the Famous 92nd Division.
Another excellent reference is the website http://92ndinfantry.org/

If you would like to help us honor William James Gordon 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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