Tag Archives: letters

Weldon Burlison – a North Carolinian at Pearl Harbor

[This blog post comes from Matthew Peek, Military Collection Archivist for the State Archives of North Carolina.]

Last known piece of correspondence from Weldon C. Burlison in November 1941, before he was killed at Hickam Field on December 7, 1941

Last known piece of correspondence from Weldon C. Burlison in November 1941, before he was killed at Hickam Field on December 7, 1941.” From Weldon C. Burlison Papers, WWII 58, WWII Papers, Military Collection, State Archives of North Carolina.

On December 7, 2016, as the country commemorates the 75th anniversary of the tragic loss of life during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the State Archives of North Carolina’s Military Collection has recently acquired a small set of original correspondence and newspaper clippings that document the life and death of one of North Carolina’s first reported casualties at Pearl Harbor. Weldon C. Burlison of Yancey County was stationed at Hickam Field with the 22nd Materièl Squadron, U.S. Army Air Corps, when he was killed by Japanese aircraft who bombed and strafed with gunfire the field and facilities there.

Weldon C. Burlison (also spelled “Burleson”) was born on November 25, 1911, in Yancey County to Henry Wilburn and Minnie Bell Burlison. By 1920, the Burlison family was living in Jacks Creek Township in Yancey County, where Weldon’s father worked as a farmer. Weldon Burlison was raised in Yancey County, and attended Clearmont High School in Burnsville. He attended Maryville College in Tennessee and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on August 16, 1934, serving four years in the Marine Corps. Burlison went through his basic training in the Headquarters Detachment at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina.

Between 1934 and 1938, Weldon Burlison served in Marine Detachments at various stations and aboard various U.S. Navy ships at the following locations: Boston Naval Yard; Norfolk Naval Yard; Honolulu, Hawaii; Charleston, South Carolina; New Jersey; the Atlantic coast; the Pacific coast; various locations in Asia; aboard the battleship the USS Colorado (BB-45); aboard the destroyer the USS Fairfax (DD-93) at the Panama Canal Zone; aboard the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CV-3); aboard the destroyer the USS Taylor (DD-94); and aboard the troop transport ship the USS Henderson (AP-1).

Between 1939 and early 1940, Weldon Burlison would re-enlist in the U.S. Army Air Corps after his honorable discharge from the U.S. Marine Corps. Until December 1941, Burlison was primarily stationed at Hickam Field in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He was serving in the 22nd Material Squadron. Starting in August 1941, Burlison was stationed at Barking Sands, Hawaii, where he and 60 men in his party were ascribed the task of constructing new U.S. Army Air Corps barracks for the new Army Air Corps’ Barking Sands Landing Field, which would operate as a new airfield for bomber plane operations.

Prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Weldon Burlison was writing to friends and family members, including a childhood friend from Yancey County who was living in Skillman, New Jersey—Elsie M. Edwards. Elsie and her husband Ellis Edwards even visited with Burlison in the late 1930s when he was stationed with the Marine Corps in New Jersey. The Edwards couple wrote to Burlison, and Elsie would even have some of her female friends write to him at his request. Burlison referred in his correspondence to Elsie Edwards as “Chick” or “Chickie,” while she called him “Snook.”

On December 7, 1941, Weldon Burlison was stationed at Hickam Field at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. A total of 51 American airplanes were on the ground at Hickam Field, the headquarters of the Hawaii Air Force; a flight of 12 Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bombers was expected to arrive that morning. At Hickam Field, Japanese Zero fighters and Val dive-bombers strafed and bombed the flight line and hangars, concentrating on the B-17 bombers. The B-17s arrived unarmed and low on fuel during the attack, with most succeeding in landing at Hickam, at which point they were attacked on the ground. The second wave of the Japanese attack struck Hickam at 8:40 A.M. and by 9:45 A.M. the attack was over. Nearly half of the airplanes at Hickam Field had been destroyed or severely damaged. The hangars, the Hawaiian Air Depot, and several base facilities—the fire station, the chapel and the guardhouse—had been hit. A variety of casualty numbers have been reported over the years for the losses at Hickam Field on December 7, 1941. The U.S. Air Force reports that personnel casualties included 139 killed and 303 wounded.

On the morning of December 8, 1941, after hearing the news about Pearl Harbor and knowing where Burlison was stationed, Elsie Edwards wrote a two-page, heart-breaking letter to him, hoping that he was safe and alive. Elsie began her letter by saying, “Of course I have a million things on my mind these days. Right now the uppermost thought is ‘I wonder if Snook is safe, if he’s really all right’.” After noting that Americans had abandoned plans for Christmas in order to pray for those military personnel at Pearl Harbor, Edwards wrote, “And let me tell you Weldon, I am one of your many friends who is praying for you!” She would finish her letter by saying, “I don’t know of very much to say right now. I can’t even be sure you will receive this but I hope you do.”

On Wednesday, December 10, 1941, within just a few days of Pearl Harbor’s attack, the U.S. War Department had officially notified Weldon Burlison’s parents of his death. The notice for Burlison’s death was printed on the next day—December 11, 1941—in his hometown newspaper The Yancey Record, published in Burnsville with the front-page headline: “Weldon Burleson Is First War Casualty.” Weldon Burlison was the first reported war casualty for World War II from western North Carolina, and one of the first reported North Carolina casualties from the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. Sometime during the week following Pearl Harbor, a family member of Weldon Burlison or Elsie Edwards who lived in Yancey County mailed two newspaper clippings to Elsie Edwards in New Jersey to let her know of Burlison’s death. The letter Edwards mailed to Burlison on December 8th would be transferred to multiple military mail locations in the chaos following Pearl Harbor. After the envelope was marked with “Deceased” by the military, the letter was returned to and received by Elsie Edwards on February 12, 1942—a date she wrote on the back of the envelope.

Weldon C. Burlison died with the rank of Private, but would receive a posthumous promotion to Corporal. He was initially buried in Plot 3, Row S, Grave 62, at the Schofield Barracks on Oahu, Hawaii. After World War II, Burlison was disinterred in 1947, and reburied in the United States Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., on November 14, 1947. Burlison is buried there in Section L, Grave No. 8153-C. Over the years—due to misspellings and little available information—Weldon Burlison has often been overlooked as a victim of the Pearl Harbor attack, but not by those in Yancey County, where his name is engraved on the Yancey County Veterans Memorial in Burnsville as “Weldon Burleson.” The State Archives of North Carolina hopes that this collection will expand research into the sacrifices of North Carolinians on December 7, 1941, and bring recognition to one of our state’s unsung military heroes.

Newly added World War I material

With the anniversary of the United States involvement in World War I approaching, here is a list of material recently uploaded to the World War I digital collection:

History of the North Carolina Council of Defense: 1917-1920, v.1-3, Joseph Hyde Pratt

In an attempt to garner a united national support for the United States’ involvement with the World War I effort, the U.S. Congress created the Council of National Defense with the passage of the Army Appropriation Act (39 Stat. 649) (also called the National Defense Act of 1916) on August 29, 1916. The Council of National Defense was a presidential advisory board that included six members of the President’s Cabinet: Secretary of War Newton D. Baker (chairman of the Council); Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels; Secretary of Agriculture David Houston; Secretary of the Interior Franklin Lane; Secretary of Commerce William Redfield; and Secretary of Labor William Wilson. The Council’s responsibilities included “coordinating resources and industries for national defense” and “stimulating civilian morale.” As President Woodrow Wilson said of the Council: “The Council of National Defense has been created because Congress has realized that the country is best prepared for war when thoroughly prepared for peace.” The work of the Council grew more significant when the United States entered World War I in 1917. The federal government held a conference on May 2, 1917, in Washington, D.C., to facilitate the organization of state councils of defense, to which Joseph Hyde Pratt, state geologist, was appointed to represent North Carolina. The federal government used the conference to ask state governors to create their own local councils of defense to support the national war effort, with the goal being to cooperate with other state councils and the federal government in organizing and directing the resources of states, making them available and effective for national use. The state councils would also recommend changes in state laws to state legislatures, with the goal of the changes aimed at increasing the nation’s ability to respond to the needs of the war effort. At the start of America’s entrance into the war, the Council coordinated resources and industries for national defense; stimulated civilian morale; coordinated the work of state and local defense councils and women’s committees; and later studied problems of post-war readjustment of soldiers to civilian life and reconstruction of the nation’s infrastructure. The Council of National Defense ceased its operations in June 1921. The History of the North Carolina Council of Defense, 1917-1920, written and compiled by Joseph Hyde Pratt, provides detailed information about the purpose, organization and inner-workings of North Carolina’s Council of Defense.

Red Cross histories: Anson, Beaufort, Bertie, Brunswick, Burke, Chatham, Cleveland, Cumberland, Currituck, Gaston, Guilford, McDowell, Moore, Onslow, Orange, Pitt, Randolph, Stanly, Vance, Wake, Watauga, Wayne, Wilkes.

John B. Exum, Jr. correspondence, 1918-1919

Correspondence written by John B. Exum, Jr. while he served during the war. Exum, Jr. writes almost exclusively to his mother about where he is stationed, what the conditions are like where he is, if he has seen any Wayne County boys, and what he is experiencing in Europe during his service.

Thomas P. Shinn, war diary, 1917-1918

Thomas “Jack” Pinkney Shinn, born in Cabarrus County, North Carolina and raised in Kannapolis, served in World War I as an Army infantryman. Shinn recorded his experiences and unit’s movements through the end of 1918 in this diary. Accurately capturing the life of an Army soldier on the frontline during the Great War, Shinn provides the personal insight of a North Carolinian faced with soldierly monotony and the horrors of the trenches.

James G. Lane, correspondence, 1918

Correspondence written by James G. Lane while stationed stateside during WWI in 1918. They include letters written to his sister, Bessie E. Lane, his father, and his grandfather, about his experiences in the Navy and his views on the war in Europe. Lane held the rank of Quartermaster First Class (Aviation), and was stationed stateside at various U.S. Navy training installations throughout his service.

Isham B. Hudson, war diary, 1918

Isham B. Hudson’s war diary contains short entries covering his military unit’s movements throughout France in the fall of 1918. He notes his role in the Battle of St. Mihiel in September 1918 briefly in reserve forces, and discusses hearing the news of the Armistice that ended World War I on November 11, 1918. More than half of Hudson’s diary details his experience in terms of weeks documenting his role with the Allied occupation of Europe from December 1918 through April 1919. The back of Hudson’s diary features short poems he wrote and those he took from other sources, as well as names and information on friends and fellow soldiers.

Military Collection Receives German POW Correspondence

[This blog post was written by Matthew Peek, Military Collection Archivist for the State Archives of North Carolina.]

Example of one of the nine original postcards and letters from World War II German POW Werner Trotschel

Through a private donation, the Military Collection in the State Archives of North Carolina has recently received 9 original postcards and letters from World War II German POW Werner Trotschel, who was imprisoned at Camp Butner and Fort Bragg in North Carolina. The items date from 1944 to 1945, and are written entirely in German (apart from portions of the mailing address). The correspondence was censored both in America and in Germany. Four postcards and one letter were written at Camp Butner, and two postcards and two letters were written at Fort Bragg. This is the first collection of North Carolina-related German POW materials to be received by the Military Collection.

Example of one of the nine original postcards and letters from World War II German POW Werner Trotschel

The Military Collection will be seeking assistance in the near future to have the correspondence translated, with the correspondence and translations available for research in the State Archives’ public Search Room. Eventually, the State Archives will work with the Camp Butner Society to have scanned reproductions put on display at the new Camp Butner Museum in Butner, North Carolina.

Governor Samuel Johnston Correspondence Digitized, Available at North Carolina Digital Collections

Select correspondence of Samuel Johnston have been digitized and are now available as part of the historical Governors’ Papers at North Carolina Digital Collections.

Letter from Pres. George Washington to Gov. Samuel Johnston, October 2, 1789.

Letter from Pres. George Washington to Gov. Samuel Johnston, October 2, 1789. (Call No. G.P.17)

Johnston served as North Carolina’s sixth governor from December 1787 through December 1789. While governor, he presided over the North Carolina convention that ratified the United States Constitution in November 1789. Johnston also oversaw the arrest of John Sevier and the collapse of the separatist “State of Franklin,” as well as negotiations with Cherokee and Chickasaw Indians over land rights. Included in the collection are two letters signed by President George Washington. The finding aid to Samuel Johnston’s correspondence can be viewed here.

For more information on Samuel Johnston, check out these NCpedia articles:



Information about many of Johnston’s North Carolinian correspondents can also be found at NCpedia:

Martin Armstrong: http://ncpedia.org/biography/armstrong-martin
J.B. Ashe: http://ncpedia.org/biography/ashe-john-baptist
Francis Child: http://ncpedia.org/biography/child-francis
Benjamin Hawkins: http://ncpedia.org/biography/hawkins-benjamin
Egbert Haywood: http://ncpedia.org/biography/haywood-egbert
James Hogg: http://ncpedia.org/biography/hogg-james
Joseph Martin: http://ncpedia.org/biography/martin-joseph
Charles McDowell: http://ncpedia.org/biography/mcdowell-charles
James Robertson: http://ncpedia.org/biography/robertson-james
John Sevier: http://ncpedia.org/biography/sevier-john
William Skinner: http://ncpedia.org/biography/skinner-william
Montfort Stokes: http://ncpedia.org/biography/governors/stokes
John Swann: http://ncpedia.org/biography/swan-or-swann-john
John Tipton: http://ncpedia.org/biography/tipton-john
James White: http://ncpedia.org/biography/white-james
Hugh Willamson: http://ncpedia.org/biography/williamson-hugh

Governor Richard Dobbs Spaight Correspondence Digitized, Available at North Carolina Digital Collections

Select correspondence of Richard Dobbs Spaight have been digitized and are now available as part of the historical Governors’ Papers at North Carolina Digital Collections. Spaight served as North Carolina’s 8th governor from 1792-1795. Notably, he was the first native-born governor of North Carolina, and the first to convene the General Assembly in Raleigh.

Proclamation delivered by Richard Dobbs Spaight at New Bern, NC, May 25, 1793. Call no. GP Box 20, Richard Spaight.

Proclamation delivered by Richard Dobbs Spaight at New Bern, NC, May 25, 1793. Call no. GP Box 20, Richard Spaight.

His collected correspondence cover the period of his governance, which was punctuated by war in Europe between American allies France and England. Although President George Washington had declared the United States a neutral party to the conflict, strong support for France manifested in North Carolina’s seaport towns, particularly Wilmington, which caused considerable frustration for North Carolina’s government and militias. Spaight’s correspondence also reflect other issues of the time including: ongoing negotiations over repayment of Revolutionary War debts owed to the federal government by the state; continuing border disputes with South Carolina; efforts to quell Cherokee uprisings in the western regions of North Carolina; and state laws pertaining to stolen slaves. The finding aid to our Spaight collection can be found here.

Additional information about Richard Spaight can be found at NCpedia:

Spaight famously died from injuries sustained in a dual with John Stanley. Some consider it “the most notorious affair of honor in North Carolina history.” Read about it here:

Information about Spaight’s notable North Carolinian correspondents can be found in these NCpedia articles:

Henry Potter: http://ncpedia.org/biography/potter-henry
John Haywood: http://ncpedia.org/biography/haywood-john-0
Willaim Henry Hill: http://ncpedia.org/biography/hill-william-henry
Benjamin Smith: http://ncpedia.org/biography/governors/smith-benjamin
George Hooper: http://ncpedia.org/biography/hooper-george
Henry Toomer: http://ncpedia.org/biography/toomer-henry
John London: http://ncpedia.org/biography/london-john
Edward Jones: http://ncpedia.org/biography/jones-edward
William Richardson Davie: http://ncpedia.org/biography/governors/davie
Joseph Graham: http://ncpedia.org/biography/graham-joseph
Sam Ashe: http://ncpedia.org/biography/ashe-samuel
William Duffy: http://ncpedia.org/biography/duffy-william

World War I Soldiers’ Correspondence Added to North Carolina Digital Collections

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 P. Killette

Sgt. Wiley P. Killette (Call no.: MilColl.WWI.PC.62)

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 T. Skinner

Pvt. George T. Skinner (Call no.: MilColl.WWI.PC.60)

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 W. Smith (Call no.: MilColl.WWI.PC.51)

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.

First Wednesdays – “…so dark a crime…”

[This is a cross-posting of a post by Bill Brown on our NC Civil War 150 blog.]

By the winter of 1863, the burden of the conflict was taking its toll on the population of North Carolina. The First Conscription Act removed the majority of the white male population between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five, and effectively undercut the agriculture production within the Piedmont and Western North Carolina. Conscription also had the reverse effect in destroying the support for the war within the state. The very population needed to harvest crops in the fields was now called upon to fight in bloody engagements in Tennessee and Virginia. The stress of the war coupled with shortages of basic commodities needed for food and clothing served only to inflame the discontent within the state. Despite apparent successes on the battlefield, the war was being lost on the home front.

This internal stress was turning the home front into a battlefield for the survival of the Confederacy. With their families suffering, men were refusing to join the Confederate Army, and were resisting any attempt to force their enrollment. Confederate officials now faced the need to employ force to fill ranks of depleted regiments, and assert the authority of the new nation within areas in open rebellion against it. This collision of desires led to the spilling of blood within the communities throughout the state.

Within Madison County, North Carolina, pre-war political and social strife led to open warfare. Men began to leave their communities to hide from Conscription officers and to steal from stores that refused to sell them the basic goods needed to preserve their harvest. In addition, bands of Unionists began to use Madison County, specifically the Shelton Laurel area, to conduct military operations against Confederate forces and governmental offices in Western North Carolina and East Tennessee. To counter that threat, the Sixty-fourth North Carolina Troops was organized to patrol the community and reassert Confederate authority.

In January 1863, a group of men raided Marshall, the county seat of Madison County, to obtain supplies for their families, that was previously refused to them. During the raid, these men also broke into a number of houses, including those belonging to governmental officials and officers of the Sixty-fourth North Carolina Troops. Governor Zebulon Vance appealed to Confederate Brigadier General Henry Heth, the departmental commander, to send troops to suppress this lawlessness. General Heth ordered Lieutenant Colonel James A. Keith to mount an operation in the Shelton Laurel area to break up these roving bands of Unionists and to reassert Confederate authority. Lt. Colonel Keith’s regiment had lost a number of men to desertion, and it was believed that these deserters were hiding out in the Shelton Laurel area. After intimidating a number of families, Lt. Colonel Keith captured a group of men and boys ranging from the ages of 13 to 56, and started to move them toward the Confederate authorities in East Tennessee. After several prisoners escaped during the night, Lt. Colonel Keith ordered the remaining prisoners, thirteen in number, to be shot and buried in the Shelton Laurel community.

News of the massacre slowly began to seep out of Western North Carolina to Governor Vance. In a letter dated January 31, 1863, Solicitor for the Eighth District, Augustus Merrimon, wrote to Governor Vance concerning the end of the “Laurel expedition,” and informed him that “a number of prisoners were shot” and that he hoped that these rumors were untrue. Merrimon confirmed that the rumors were true in his second letter to Governor Vance dated February 16, 1863. As solicitor of the region, Merrimon interviewed sources to confirm the killings to Governor Vance, and requested to prosecute Lt. Colonel Keith and others of his command for murder. Vance had reason to believe Merrimon, since he was a personal friend and former law partner in Asheville, North Carolina. Vance appealed to Confederate Brigadier General Heth over the atrocity committed in North Carolina, and vowed to prosecute those responsible. By April 1863, Lt. Colonel Keith resigned from the Confederate Army claiming that his ability to command was being compromised by his fellow officers. Keith later claimed that he acted on the verbal orders of Confederate Brigadier General Heth to not take any prisoners from insurgents in the county.

By 1864, further events in the war soon overshadowed the massacre that occurred in Madison County. Brigadier General Heth ended the war as a divisional commander in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Lt. Colonel Keith went into hiding after his resignation, and was arrested after the war for murder, but escaped the Buncombe County jail on February 21, 1869. Keith was proclaimed innocent by the North Carolina Supreme Court, due to the application of U.S. President Andrew Johnson’s Amnesty Act of 1868. He later escaped to Arkansas, and no longer took an active role in public life. As U.S. Senator, Augustus Merrimon attempted to obtain pensions for the surviving widows of the victims, but his efforts were defeated in committee. To this day, descendents of the men and boys killed in January 1863 still live in the area in and around Shelton Laurel.

Please attend our free “Second Mondays” lecture pertaining to the Shelton Laurel Massacre on Monday, February 11, 2013 from 10:30 am to 11:30 am in the Auditorium of the Archives & History Building at 109 East Jones Street, Raleigh, NC.