Chapter 4 MILITARY SERVICE--CAMP SEVIER, SOUTH CAROLINA

rustic training

During the summer of 1916, the National Guard of North Carolina was called into service, organized, brought to full strength by recruitment, and began training; housed in the students' buildings on the college campus, and across the road on the State Fair grounds. I was already a corporal in 1916 (and a lieutenant in the summer of 1917) assigned to the Raleigh Company.

I did not have to go anywhere during the summer school recess, 1916 and 1917. Right on the home ground. The new recruits were given physical examinations as well as examinations by a psychiatrist from the mental hospital in Raleigh. I stood by to watch this medic do his study. When he pointed his pencil as the line of recruits passed, my job was to write down the man's name. Sure enough the one man he spotted was the one man we previously had trouble with. How he spotted him out of 50 or more men after only one hour's examination is difficult to understand. This man had failed the examination and was promptly discharged.

After our organization was completed in 1916 we boarded a train headed for the Mexican border, last stop, El Paso, Texas. Being a non-commissioned officer I was in charge of one car. In Memphis we detrained and put on a practice drill and parade, for exercise and to receive the applause of the citizens of that city. At El Paso we had to build our tent camp, from scratch, on the wide open prairie land several miles from town. Our cooks, who were not well trained, had to cook what the Regimental Supply Officer had purchased--meat, fried potatoes, and black coffee. No milk was available. As a change from this routine! twice a week, we had added: What? Fried onions! My stomach again rebelled from the meat as it had rebelled when a child. The battalion medical officer gave me some pills to help digest the meat. This helped me. Fruit, green vegetables, and milk were available only in the city, miles away. I was able to visit there almost every week-end drank milk, and beer too. Five cents a glass. During week days we drilled long and hard. Thousands of troops were there. Horse cavalry troops drilled and kicked so much dry desert dust it blotted out sunshine by day and at night settled on our pyramidal tents. The dust even filtered through the canvas tents onto our army cots.

Officer's quarters

We were on the Mexican border, certainly not to guard against the Mexicans. They had no troops facing us. I know because I put on civilian clothes and crossed the border into Juarez, Mexico several times. We were now in training just in case the powerful German military machine would not wish to stop at the Atlantic Ocean shore of Europe. John J. Pershing had of course, crossed the border to chase the Mexican bandit Francisco Villa, but this was really a side show. As the end of summer 1916 drew to a close I became concerned that we might continue on the border into fall. What about registering in September, my senior and last year at North Carolina State? Getting a B.S. degree was far more important than being a drill sergeant or company clerk.

I filed a request for a three months leave to enter North Carolina State College as a senior. My company C.O., Albert Cox, approved; Battalion C.O. approved; and Regimental C.O. also approved. But it had to go on up to the Brigade C.O. My application was returned disapproved. The movements of my request took time. It was already September. Never give up. Next I made another application for a two month leave of absence through the same chain of command. Same result. Don't give up now. My next application was for one month leave. It was approved! What if I had to return to camp at El Paso from Raleigh? Travel time (railroad) back and forth took six days. It was a gamble.

I registered very late at North Carolina State and began to make up the three months lost time in classes. Next there was a break for me. A War Department news release was printed in the Raleigh newspaper. All troops on leave of absence should not return to the border but rejoin their units at their home stations for disbandonment or words to that effect. I was able to complete my senior year and received a B.S. degree in Chemistry in June.

As everyone knows war was declared by Congress against Germany (following a plea by President Woodrow Wilson) on April 6, 1917. The 3rd North Carolina Regiment, however, was not called into Federal Service until the summer of 1917. Before the call-up came, the Adjutant General of North Carolina called me to his office. Would I accept a commission? Naturally, I had no other prospects anywhere. My first commission--a Second Lieutenant. It was largely because I had a college degree. Other officers in Company B (except the Captain) came up from the ranks like me. But no college education. After being again brought up to an increased new full strength by the recently passed "draft law" we were sworn into Federal Service and sent to Camp Sevier, Greenville, South Carolina.

The draft law was such that single men would have to serve, but married men could be exempt. So a single young man, when his number was called, promptly married a (any willing) girl, and thus was exempt at the time he reported for service. This was a travesty on equal justice but the fault lay in how the law was written.

Prior to going overseas, WW1.

At Camp Sevier the 30th Infantry Division was organized and trained for combat duty, and saw action in the front lines in France and Belgium during WWI. My book, Experiences in the Great War, @ 1975 gives this history, which need not be repeated here. However, some things not covered in that book will be given.

At Camp Sevier there were over 20,000 troops in training. The people in nearby Greenville went all out to entertain us when we were off duty on week-ends. Dances were put on once a month for officers and men. Local girls were outnumbered. I met a very attractive girl, Helen Morgan, who had many suitors or dance partners. So did other girls her age. Robert Young, like I, from State College, and a newly promoted 1st Lieutenant was one of her partners. He was very handsome, a football star and was a Presbyterian, as was Helen's family. Nevertheless, on one occasion Helen asked me to see her father, which I did. He was a well-known lawyer and also President of a local bank. I told him my mother was from Greenville. He knew about the Keenan family. At one time in the past he said they owned about one-half the land area of Greenville.

He and I seemed to relate well to each other. However, for the life of me, I could not ask him for Helen's hand in marriage, much as I wanted to. I had no job to return to after the war; my family was poor, I may be killed in the war, or return a cripple or an invalid. How could I support her in married life? These thoughts were not conveyed to her father. No doubt Helen was disappointed I had "chickened out." How stupid of me. Every girl there was getting married to a soldier. Why not she? In spite of my stupidity or caution in the talk with her father, Helen and I corresponded constantly during the war. I even sent her a captured German helmet. Also a hand written commendation letter to me from Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, Commander of the Fifth British Army.

This was the first time in my life I had been in love. No other girl could take her place. Before returning to the U.S.A. after the war I had met girls in France, Belgium, London, and even in Belfast, Ireland. Some very beautiful, but with me it was no go. I was in love with the one and only. Edgar Allen Poe described her better than I can. Helen was my Annabel Lee. “For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams ....” It was an ideal that my own life could be as free from sexual experiences as I hoped my future wife would be. We would share the joy and happiness of our first intercourse together. Physically I was capable of such mating, but psychologically--no. My childhood and religious training prevented me.

All through life this inhibition has been with me-not 100% in middle life of course. There was another factor which should be mentioned at this point-religion. I had been alienated from the Roman Catholic religion because of my mother's problems, but I never mentioned it. My future wife was not going to suffer because of a stupid edict by a celibate Pope. Nor could I, her husband, stand by and join in this unnecessary suffering. I definitely had to pass up beautiful and available Catholic girls because of this bias. Thelma Phelan, who later married my first cousin in Charlotte, was only one of these. Another bias affected me. If a girl was free with her sex toward men in general I lost interest in her at once. My ignorance of the actual world in which we live was abysmal. Later in life I was to learn that such perfection or ideal rarely existed. The facts of real life came to me the hard way. Previous to meeting Helen I had corresponded with other girls including Doris Jenkins, Ahoskie, North Carolina, who lived at times with her step-mother and father (a farmer), and at other times with her sister, Rae, Mrs. Manly Curtis. More about Mr. and Mrs. Curtis later.

Back to Camp Sevier, South Carolina. One of the many draftees inducted into service and assigned to Company B and put into my platoon had a problem. The supply sergeant had the job of issuing a rifle to each soldier so he could train with it. This man refused to accept his rifle. The sergeant reported it to me and I reported it to the company commander, Captain Walter Clark, Jr., a lawyer. He told me to have the man, two witnesses, and his assigned rifle brought before me. As his commanding officer I gave the soldier a lawful order. "Take the rifle." He refused. Before making out the form and charges against him for Courts Martial, I had a long conversation with him, hoping the charges could be avoided. He was a very religious southern Baptist, which of course did not exempt him from military service. He knew this. He would not use the rifle to kill another human being, not even to protect his own family. He was not afraid of losing his own life. He would be willing to go out in front of our lines, during battle, to repair our barbed wire, or do any other hazardous job. I believed him. Nevertheless, he refused a lawful order to take the rifle. Sorrowfully I signed the charges against him, hoping the Courts Martial boards of officers would consider his honesty and give him a light sentence. Not so. Our Division Commander, General Faison, was strict. He picked the officers who tried the case and approved the sentence. I was not called before the court as a witness. Later I learned he was sentenced to ten years of hard labor in Fort Leavenworth prison.

Camp Sevier, S.C. in preparation for WW1, 1917. Author at right.

One thing has always bothered me about this case and that is this man had a wife and family. He told me so and I believed him. Why was he, a married man, selected, I asked him. He replied that a member of the draft board was quite interested in his wife! Why did the draft board, in this western North Carolina district, select him instead of a single man? Were there not enough single men? Why was the draft board not properly supervised?

One thing not covered in my book Experiences in the Great War, previously mentioned, is my sojourn in England. After receiving a German machine gun bullet through my right forearm, October 19, 1918 (three weeks before the Armistice) I had to walk many miles holding the broken right arm with my left arm, in order to reach an ambulance station. An ambulance appearing 2-3 miles in the rear of our front lines would be promptly blown to bits by German artillery fire! This was war. From a Casualty Clearing Station I went on by ambulance to a seaport, Le Havre, and from there to a British London hospital, The name of which escapes me. Since only my arm was in a sling I was fully ambulatory and joined the celebration in London streets on Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. Everyone was congratulating everyone in sight. An Australian soldier saw my American Army uniform, and grabbed both my hands and yanked. His congratulatory welcome nearly caused the bone in my right arm to be re-broken. I painfully retreated away from Piccadilly and back to the hospital let the millions celebrate without me.

During my sojourn at the hospital I was told a visitor asked to see an American. I was the only one in the ward. At the reception room a woman introduced herself as Mrs. Brandt. She was a "Gordon" from Georgia, married to an Englishman. Would I like to visit their country place in Kent? Naturally I was pleased. They had a vast country estate in Kent and also a town house in Kensington, London. Very wealthy family.

When our American Embassy in London heard I had been recommended for the British Military Cross they started the ball rolling. On December 19, 1918, I was admitted to Buckingham Palace and this decoration was presented to me by King George V, along with other recipients of this medal. Two admission tickets to witness the presentation were given. I gave my two tickets to Mrs. Jean Brandt and her twenty year old daughter. They were pleased to visit His Majesty's Court; few even in England have this privilege. Recently, April 1976, my wife Virginia, grandson, Scott, 13, and I flew the polar route, Los Angeles to London, in route to visit Scott's father, R. Bruce Williams, stationed at La Spezia, Italy on a contract with NATO. Our travel agent had planned the trip including hotels during our five day stay in England. Imagine our surprise at staying at a hotel in the Kensington neighborhood of London where I had been a soldier guest at the town house of the Brandt's almost 58 years before!

We also went to Buckingham Palace to witness the Changing of the Guard, with thousands of other tourists. Queen Elizabeth II was not in residence on that day. Nostalgia for me. Excitement for Scott and Virginia. While in England we also traveled by rail to Totnes in Devonshire, to see the ruins of Berry Pomeroy Castle, built by Raulf de la Pomeroy after the battle of Hastings in 1066. Raulf was a direct ancestor of Virginia and Scott. I have no such long ancestry recorded. See my feeble paternal Chart, Williams Chart, or my paternal mother's chart, Foster-Penny chart.