WWI Profile: John Rivers Smith 1898-1956

John Rivers Smith lies in an unmarked grave in Smith Cemetery in Southport, NC. Census records including him with his wife and children have not been located. As a result, more details and historical records than usual are presented below in order to link him to his descendants and preserve the details of his WWI service.

NC WWI Service Card
John Rivers Smith was born in Southport, son of Robert Calvin Smith and Eliza Jane Galloway. In the 1900 Census, his father is listed as a carpenter.

The 1910 Census shows that his family lived at 318 Rhett St. Another WWI veteran, Robert Leroy Stratmon, was his neighbor. Robert Leroy Stratmon died while serving in WWII.

John’s parents are listed as “baker” and “assistant baker.” Attempts to discover if they operated a bakery inside their home were unsuccessful.

Previous posts introduced the Students’ Army Training Corps and his fellow corps members from Southport, Oliver Banks and Elmer Davis.

Like Oliver and Elmer, John did not become eligible for the draft until the registration of September 12, 1918. His draft registration shows he was employed as a cook in Southport.

John Rivers Smith’s signature on his draft registration:

Oliver, Elmer, and John met the physical and educational requirements of the SATC, volunteered, and were accepted. All three served in the SATC at Negro Agricultural and Technical College (now NC A&T State University) in Greensboro. Read the previous posts linked above for details.

John was honorably discharged on December 12, 1918.

No additional census records could be located for John. However, his family’s 1930 Census record shows his sister Marion Jane Smith had married William L. Davis in Southport and was living in Chadbourn, Columbus County, NC. Their sister Katy Ruth and mother Eliza lived with them. William Davis worked as a fireman at a railroad and Marion ran a filling station. Marion was described as attending school. As the 1940 Census shows, she eventually completed four years of college.

William Lee Davis was also a WWI veteran. His service card from Georgia is shown at right. Click to enlarge. He was born in Tennessee and was a resident of Savannah, Georgia (at least one son from a previous marriage was born there). Corporal Davis served stateside in the 425 Labor Battalion.

The 1940 Census indicates that William continued working for the railroad as a fireman. As mentioned, Marion’s educational level is shown as 4 years of college. Marion’s and John’s mother Eliza was still living with them. Katy Ruth was not and efforts to find records for her were unsuccessful.

Nephew John Robert Smith, age 8, also lived with Marion and William. Quite a few records exist that indicate this is John Rivers’ son. These include not only John Robert’s records listed in the paragraph below, but John Rivers’ son Charles Fredrick Smith‘s records and his wife Bernice McBride Smith Gore‘s records.

John Robert Smith’s birth record lists his father as John Smith. His Social Security Application and Claims [Source: Ancestry] shows his father as “John R Smith” and mother “Bernice McBride” and birth date and place as August 23, 1931, and Chadbourn, NC.

[Note: The 1930 Census indicates William L Davis was born in Tennessee. The 1940 Census shows him born in North Carolina but shows that John Roberts Smith was born in Tennessee. John Roberts Smith’s birth record verifies that he was born in Chadbourn, NC. The assumption is a transcription error on the 1940 Census: William L Davis was born in Tennessee (see his WWI Service Card above) and John Roberts Smith was born in Chadbourn, NC (see his birth record above).]

John Rivers Smith’s WWII Draft Registration of February 16, 1942, shows he was living in Chadbourn, Columbus County, employed by Columbus Manufacturing Company. His wife Bernice Smith was listed as his nearest living relative.

He was described as 5’7″, 148 pounds, with a scar in front of his right ear.

On November 7, 1943, John’s and Bernice’s son, Charles Fredrick Smith, was born. His death certificate from 1993 lists his parents as John Rivers Smith and Bernice Smith Gore, which shows Bernice remarried after John’s death. Her obituary found on her findagrave page shows there were additional children with John Rivers Smith as well as stepchildren from her second marriage. A complete list is unavailable.

John’s and Marion’s mother Eliza passed away on July 30, 1943, and is buried in Smith Cemetery. The specific location of her gravesite is unknown.

John Rivers Smith passed away on September 30, 1956, of stomach cancer in the VA Hospital in Fayetteville. His death certificate lists his father and mother as Robert C. Smith and Eliza Gallaway, and his wife as Bernice Smith. He was laid to rest in Smith Cemetery in Southport. The exact location of his gravesite is unknown.

His sister, Marion Jane Smith Davis, passed away in 1969 and was also buried in Smith Cemetery. Her death certificate lists her former occupation as teacher. The exact location of her gravesite is also unknown.

John’s sons and wife were laid to rest in Belvue Cemetery in Columbus County, NC. His son William David Smith passed away after 9 days in 1938. Charles Fredrick Smith passed away in 1993. His son 2nd Lt John Robert Smith served in the Korean War and passed away in 2001. His wife, Bernice McBride Smith Gore passed away in 2012 at age 96.

To view this or an earlier profile or snapshot 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.

If you would like to help us honor John Rivers Smith 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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