In our ongoing project to showcase the involvement of North Carolinians in World War I, we have been uploading lots of new items to our North Carolina Digital Collections. The most recent batch of additions includes images and transcripts of correspondence from private collections donated to the State Archives and held in our Military Collection. The letters, written by soldiers to their loved ones, recount daily life at training camps, admit to bouts of homesickness and “the blues,” and tell the stories of ordinary soldiers on the Western Front. Below are brief descriptions of the four soldiers whose letters are featured in this release.
Sgt. Wiley Pearson Killette (1894-1951), of Wilson (Wilson County), North Carolina, served in Company H, 322nd Infantry, 81st “Wildcat” Division of the U.S. Army during World War I. He was the son of Leanne Elizabeth (Pearson) and Edwin Franklin Killette, Sr., who was the mayor of Wilson at the time. While serving in the United States, Wiley was stationed at Camp Jackson, near Columbia, S.C, Camp Sevier, near Greenville, S.C., and finally Camp Upton, N.Y. He was sent to Europe in July 1918, and the Verdun Front in eastern France in October 1918. Killette was wounded in battle on November 9, 1918 and hospitalized in Bordeaux, France, but was officially considered missing-in-action until January 1919. In February 1919, he was hospitalized in Chaumont, Haute Marne, France due to a chronic injury unrelated to the war. He returned to the U.S. in April 1919, where he was stationed at Camp Merritt, N.J. until being out-processed at Camp Lee, VA, in May 1919.
Edwin Franklin Killette, Jr., (1897-1941) of Wilson (Wilson County), N.C., served as a landsman electrician general in the U.S. Navy during World War I, and was based at Hampton Roads and Norfolk, Virginia. He was the younger brother of Wiley P. Killette, and the son of Leanne Elizabeth (Pearson) and Edwin Franklin Killette, Sr.
Pvt. George Travis Skinner (1890-19??) of Kinston (Lenoir County), North Carolina, served in Company B, 105th Military Police Battalion, 30th “Old Hickory” Infantry Division of the Army National Guard during World War I. For training, he was stationed at Camp Sevier near Greenville, S.C., then Camp Mills in New York. He was deployed to Europe in May 1918 where he was stationed in northern and western France behind Allied lines. In his letters to his family, Skinner is steadfastly optimistic about the end of the War, but also philosophical about the War’s short and long-term effects. He fondly describes the French countryside and food, and his opportunities to visit Paris and Versailles. But in other letters, he recounts the complete devastation in war zones and the desperation expressed by German POWs. He returned to the United States in early 1919.
Cpl. Earlie Wright Smith (1892-1974) of West Durham (Durham County), North Carolina, served in the Headquarters Company, 317th Field Artillery Regiment, 81st “Wildcat” Division of the U.S. Army during World War I. While stationed at Camp Jackson, near Columbia, S.C., and later Camp Mills in New York, he wrote letters to his sweetheart, Adna Byrd (1893-1990) of Broadway, N.C., whom he later married. Smith was promoted to the position of Telephone Corporal in July 1918, and served in north-eastern France from August 1918 to May 1919. For more information on what exactly a Telephone Corporal is consult the Drill Regulations for Field Artillery, 1911, and the Field Artilleryman’s Guide, 1918.
The finding aid for the Military Collection, World War I Papers, Private Collections can be found here. In addition to correspondence, the physical collections include photographs, postcards, souvenir booklets, telegrams, notebooks, and newspaper clippings. Additional letters from soldiers and volunteers who served in the United States and Europe during World War I will be released in the coming weeks.