The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

December 5, 2011

Remembering the Veterans of World War I

Monica Flemming

TARBORO — Friday, November 11, 2011 was Veterans Day. It was designated to commemorate the service of all men and women in the armed forces. It is always on Nov. 11 because it was at 11 am on the 11th of November, 1918 that the armistice was signed to end World War I.

    We have no surviving papers from 1911-1919 so we don’t know details of who served, who died, and what the folks at home were doing during this first major war of the twentieth century. However, two items were given to the Edgecombe County Memorial Library that reveal a little to us. 

The first is the M.S. Brown photograph collection, that librarian Pam Edmondson is still cataloging.  In it she found a series of photos that appear to be a welcome home celebration for those who served. Tarboro went all out sometime in the spring of 1919 after the influenza epidemic had closed many schools, churches and public gatherings during the fall and winter.

From the images, the men and women returned to a large structure that crossed Main St. near Church St. It was symbolic of the Arch de Triumph in Paris. It spanned the entire street and under the arch was a large banner that said Welcome Home! There were shields with American stars and stripes, an American flag and wreaths symbolizing victory on either end.

The celebration must have been a big one as the street is crowded with both spectators and soldiers. Other pictures in the collection show a parade, a spread of tables on the common, and a sign from the Coca-cola company owned by Brown that promised free drinks to soldiers and sailors.

The second item was a booklet brought to the library by Frankie Powell, wife of Curtis Powell.  This little jewel is titled Edgecombe and Nash Counties in the World War.  It was published in 1921 as the Soldiers and Sailors edition  by the American Publicity Bureau of Maryland.

This booklet lists all the men both black and white that served from Edgecombe and Nash counties during the war. The list is 20 pages and has a hundred names on each page so approximately 2,000 men served in the war between 1916 and 1918 from the twin counties.

Space is not available to print all those names, but if any readers want to know if their family members are listed, just go to the library and look at the list.  However, I will list all those on page 45 as those are recognized as Decorated and Making the Supreme Sacrifice.

The Decorated soldiers were only two Samuel Rufus Brown and Spencer Hart both were awarded the Croix de Guerre. This award from France – meaning Cross of War – recognized supreme bravery in the face of the enemy.  If anyone knows the story of how these men earned this special combat medal, please share the details with us.

Those who died in the service during the war are listed as either died or killed in action with very little details. But we should remember them all for fighting for freedom.

Those who died or killed in action were Willie H. Bryant, Lester Marion Crisp, William R. House, Glen Kincaid, Randolph Pittman, Tiney Eason and Oscar Webb.  (Note the local American Legion chapter in Edgecombe County is named for Tiney Eason who is buried in the Old Town Cemetery behind Howard Memorial Church.)

Those who died in France were William Redmond Coleman, Joseph Henry Gay, Henry C. Rawls and William Whitaker.

Others listed included Jesse W. Burgess killed in sawmill, Perry Lucas died of pneumonia and the followed died  with no details given, Leslie Harris, Bat Lewis, Zeb Lane, Thomas Brink, and Ned Watson.

Not included in this booklet is one man that was made known to me by a researcher in France.  In a book titled Deaths of American Expeditionary Forces 1917-1918 is an image of private Charles Barnes of Rocky Mount. He is listed as being Killed in action and according to my source is buried at Flanders Field, an American cemetery in Belgium where 368 Americans are buried, having lost their life in the fight to free Belgium in World War 1.

The booklet of Edgecombe and Nash Counties in the World War has much more information than just the names of those who served. It includes ads of local businesses that supported the veterans, stories of community organizations, and even some memories of some veterans.

There is a little article by Mrs. R.M. Davis titled “the Edgecombe Library” and she described the public library in Tarboro opening in July 1920 in “a nice large room over the First National Bank.” The bank donated the space and the furnishings and the collection had just over 1,000 volumes along with daily papers and seven magazines.

The new library  was open every day and according to the article was “well patronized” with the most popular checkouts in the fiction section. The annual fee for a library card was $2.50.  The librarian was quoted, “We have something to be proud of and is worthy of the most hearty support of the entire town.”

Other articles described the work of the Red Cross in the area, both the Edgecombe and the Rocky Mount chapters.  The Rocky Mount chapter was organized in June 1917 and by the end of the war in 1918, there were 31 branches in Nash County.  The Edgecombe chapter was organized in May 1917. More will be shared next month about the active folks in the local Red Cross chapters.