Tag Archives: Military Collection

Jack Benny USO Show Photographs, August 1945

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

Snapshot of comedian Jack Benny, wearing a leather trench coat, pictured standing in front of the steps of Schloss Wilhelmshöhe

Snapshot of comedian Jack Benny, wearing a leather trench coat, pictured standing in front of the steps of Schloss Wilhelmshöhe—the U.S. Military Government district headquarters—in Kassel, Germany, around August 1945. Benny was on a six-week USO show tour of U.S. military posts in Europe with Ingrid Bergman and Larry Adler. [WWII 73.B5.F5.3], Military Collection, State Archives of North Carolina.

The Military Collection at the State Archives of North Carolina would like to share an interesting find discovered while processing a new collection. Robert J. Pleasants of Wake County, North Carolina, served in the U.S. Navy from 1932 to 1934; in World War II with the U.S. Army with the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) from 1944 to 1946 in Europe; and is believed to be the longest-serving Wake County sheriff (1946-1978).

From May 1945 to March 1946, Pleasants was stationed in the Kassel District of Germany, under the U.S. Office of Military Government during the occupation of Germany. He was in the Food and Agriculture Section, responsible for managing and developing food and agriculture supplies, assisting with the growth and planting of crops, and dispersing food to the peoples of Germany in the midst of a massive food shortage at the end of World War II.

Snapshot of movie actress Ingrid Bergman (middle, sitting) and world-famous harmonica player Larry Adler (left, sitting), sitting in a U.S. Military Government car.

Snapshot of movie actress Ingrid Bergman (middle, sitting) and world-famous harmonica player Larry Adler (left, sitting), sitting in a U.S. Military Government car for the Kassel district in Germany around August 1945. The car is parked next to Schloss Wilhelmshöhe, the U.S. Military Government district headquarters. Bergman and Adler were on a six-week Jack Benny USO show tour of U.S. military posts. [WWII 73.B5.F5.4], Military Collection, State Archives of North Carolina.

I am in the midst of processing, organizing, describing, and preserving Robert Pleasants’ papers. During the processing of a collection, you never know for sure what you are going to find, whether it be a rare document, a personal letter, or a just lot of collectible postcards from another country. You never really know the historical significance of the materials until you go through them systematically, in order that researchers end up with a collection that is arranged to allow easy access and described well enough for people to find all sorts of things they may be looking for.

While working on Pleasants’ papers, I came across several photographs that I had to do some research. Pleasants himself typed descriptions on the back of the images after the war, but you still have to check. Turns out they are three photographs of Jack Benny, movie star Ingrid Bergman, and Larry Adler (one of the world’s best harmonica players). The three performers were in Kassel, Germany, in August 1945 as part of the Jack Benny USO Show, which was conducted over six weeks throughout the summer of 1945 as a morale boost to the wearied U.S. troops in Germany.

Robert Pleasants, as an officer in the U.S. Military Government’s offices in Kassel, helped tour Benny, Bergman, and Adler around in military vehicles while they were performing for the troops there. These three photographs show the three individuals in candid moments around the time of their performances, and offer us a look at a remarkable period in the history of WWII.

Snapshot of movie actress Ingrid Bergman (right) and world-famous harmonica player Larry Adler (left), sitting in a U.S. Military Government car

Snapshot of movie actress Ingrid Bergman (right) and world-famous harmonica player Larry Adler (left), sitting in a U.S. Military Government car for the Kassel district in Germany around August 1945, shown while they were signing autographs. The car is parked next to Schloss Wilhelmshöhe, the U.S. Military Government district headquarters. Bergman and Adler were on a six-week Jack Benny USO show tour of U.S. military posts. [WWII 73.B5.F5.5], Military Collection, State Archives of North Carolina.

Join Us for World War I Social Media Day on April 11

Seven smiling French and American soldiers

Seven smiling French and American soldiers. From the George W. McIver Papers, World War I Papers, Military Collection, State Archives of North Carolina. Available online through the NC Digital Collections.

The Smithsonian is coordinating a World War I social media day on April 11, 2017. On that day, they plan to host Q&As, pop quizzes, and other online events while joining with institutions like the Presidential Libraries and the National Park Service to post content related to World War I. A schedule of events is available through the National Museum of American History’s website.

The Smithsonian has also invited other libraries, archives, and museums from around the world to join the discussion on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms using the hashtag #WorldWar1. The State Archives of North Carolina (@NCArchives) and the State Library of North Carolina (@ncpedia) plan to take part, as do several of our sister institutions from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, including the NC Digital Heritage Center (@ncdhc), Wilson Library (@WilsonLibUNC), and the North Carolina Collection (@NCCollection).  Other Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (@ncculture) institutions will likely participate as well, which means there should be quite a bit of North Carolina content available on that day.

So please join us on Wednesday, April 11 to learn more about World War I!

Alfred Fowler and the Vietnam War

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

Snapshot of Alfred Fowler standing next to an artillery gun in a bunker in Vietnam

VW 1.B2.F12.1: Snapshot of Alfred Fowler standing next to an artillery gun in a bunker in Vietnam at an unknown location in June 1968, during his service with B Battery, 321st Artillery, 82nd Airborne Division, U.S. Army. Photograph sent to his wife Cynthia Fowler with a June 23, 1968, letter. From the Military Collection at the State Archives of North Carolina.

In honor of Black History Month, the Military Collection at the State Archives of North Carolina wants to feature one of its most important collections from the Vietnam War—the Alfred Fowler Papers.

Alfred Fowler was born on September 26, 1942, in Whites Creek Township in Bladen County, North Carolina. His parents were John Edd and Laney (Shaw) Fowler. Alfred’s mother died when he was five years old, leaving him to be raised by his father, with whom he was not very close. Alfred’s mother gave birth to nine living children, the oldest of whom—Mary Lee—worked to raise Alfred and his siblings. Growing up, Alfred was very close to his youngest sister Mabel.

Alfred Fowler would meet Cynthia L. Bryant while the two were in New York in the 1960s. Bryant was from Sanford, North Carolina. Alfred Fowler married Cynthia in August 1966, and they remained in New York until January 1967. In January 1967, the couple moved to Sanford, and lived with Cynthia’s parents on South Horner Boulevard.

Alfred Fowler worked at the Cornell-Dubilier Electronics plant in Sanford prior to his service in the Vietnam War. Seattle-founded Cornell-Dubilier, a pioneer in producing capacitors for radios and other electronics, opened a Sanford plant in 1955. Fowler worked in a laboratory at the company testing its products.

Prior to moving to North Carolina, Alfred Fowler had attempted to enlist voluntarily in the U.S. military, but was rejected three times by the military—likely due to his having high blood pressure. When the Fowlers relocated to North Carolina, however, Alfred received his draft board notice about six months later on July 3, 1967. Partly due to the Fowlers’ recent relocation, Alfred would receive draft notices from three different local draft boards between August and October 1967, as different localities were trying to claim him for draft quotas. He received his final draft notice, which indicated his date of induction would be in November 1967.

Alfred Fowler was inducted into the U.S. Army as a private on November 28, 1967. He entered basic training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in December 1967, where he remained until February 1968. Alfred was assigned to the 2nd Platoon, Company E, 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade, in the U.S. Army Training Center at Fort Bragg. He would be transferred to Fort Sill near Lawton, Oklahoma, arriving there between February 9 and February 10, 1968. While at Fort Sill, Fowler was a member of Battery E of the 3rd Training Battalion at the U.S. Army Training Center-Field Artillery command. It was during his nearly three-month stay at Fort Sill that Fowler learned how to operate a variety of field artillery guns, which he came to utilize in the jungles and mountains of Vietnam.

Certificate for Alfred Fowler’s Bronze Star Medal

Certificate for Alfred Fowler’s Bronze Star Medal. From the Military Collection at the State Archives of North Carolina.

Serving with Battery B of the 2nd Battalion, 321st Artillery Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, Alfred Fowler was sent to Vietnam with his regiment between the end of April and the first week of May 1968. He was promoted to corporal by July 3, 1968. Fowler’s overseas service ended in April 1969 after a year-long term in Vietnam. While in Vietnam, Fowler’s artillery unit participated in regular firefights with the Viet Cong. Upon returning to the United States, he was transferred to Fort Carson in Colorado—rather than his preferred location of Fort Bragg—sometime in May 1969. Fowler served at Fort Carson until being honorably discharged from the U.S. Army on November 26, 1969.

Alfred Fowler returned to work at his job with Cornell-Dubilier, and would attend Central Carolina Community College in Sanford for a couple of years. Fowler’s family recollects that he suffered mood swings and mental distress from his service in Vietnam, believing this to be what today is identified as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He never would openly discuss his service, shielding his family from the horrors of what he experienced in Vietnam. Alfred had changed quite a bit upon his return from service, and the letters he wrote from Vietnam indicate some of the struggles he was going through during combat.

Since they had been newlyweds when he left for the U.S. Army, Alfred and Cynthia Fowler would have to relearn to live with each other, facing the challenges of adjusting to the drastic personal and cultural changes of the late 1960s as an African American couple in North Carolina. The Fowlers would remain together until Alfred’s death on July 17, 2004. He was buried at Sandhills State Veterans Cemetery in Spring Lake, North Carolina.

You can learn more about Alfred Fowler from his collection, the Alfred Fowler Papers (VW 1) in the Vietnam War Papers of the Military Collection, that contains more than 180 letters written between him and his wife during Fowler’s service in the Vietnam War.

You also can currently see Alfred Fowler’s Vietnam War Army uniform on display in the North Carolina Museum of History’s “Call to Arms” Gallery on the Third Floor of the Museum in the Vietnam War section of the exhibit.

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.

Interpreting the North Carolina World War I Service Cards

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

World War I service card for William Crittenden

World War I service card for William Crittenden.

The North Carolina WWI Service Cards are now available online for free through the joint efforts of FamilySearch and the State Archives of North Carolina. These cards were originally prepared after World War I by the U.S. War Department for use by the North Carolina Adjutant General’s office. The WWI Service Cards report on men and women who claimed residency in North Carolina and who served in official military capacities—including nurses, medics, and chaplains—during World War I. The cards include such information as name, military service number, home town, age or birth date, place and date of induction, units in which served, ranks held, dates of overseas service, and date of discharge from active military service.

However, the cards can be difficult to interpret, as numerous individuals were involved in creating the cards, and several different formats of both cards and information were used by the War Department. Also, the cards were created as two separate sets based on division of military branches. One set of cards includes individuals who served in the U.S. Army, U.S. Army Air Service (or also called the Army Air Force informally at the time, which is the precursor of today’s U.S. Air Force), and U.S. Marine Corps. The other set of cards includes the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard. This is important to understand, as there are different abbreviations and formats for the different card sets. Navy and Coast Guard service cards are large and contain more detailed service information than those of the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps.

At the time of the War Department’s production of the cards, they created a 13-page list of abbreviations and their meanings as utilized on the cards. The State Archives is posting this list so that the public can understand the service history more completely when they access the online cards. Even with this list of abbreviations, it is still confusing to understand the context of the service history. In the course of my work with the Military Collection at the State Archives, I have had to learn how to interpret the cards’ information accurately, and would like to share a tutorial on using the cards.

Continue reading

North Carolina World War I Military Data Now Searchable Online

[This blog post comes from a Dept. of Natural and Cultural Resources press release – you can find other press releases on www.ncdcr.gov.]

World War I service card for James Alston of Wake Forest, N.C.

World War I service card for James Alston of Wake Forest, N.C.

RALEIGH, N.C. – Nearly 100 years ago, thousands of North Carolina men shipped out to Europe to serve in the Great War. Who were they? Where did they come from and how did they serve? Who were the men and women who served at home and overseas?

A searchable database of North Carolina’s World War I service cards, compiled after the war, is now available online at Family Search (familysearch.org) and can help answer those questions.

Using data from cards maintained at the State Archives of North Carolina, the database, searchable by name, includes place and date of induction, residence, and place and date of birth for officers, enlisted men, nurses, medics and chaplains who served in an official military capacity during World War I. Branches of service include the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. The actual service card is viewable through the database and contains additional information such as rank, unit, overseas service date and date of discharge from active military service.

“These service cards serve as a fundamental resource for those wishing detail about 80,000 North Carolinians who served their country during World War I,” said Matthew Peek, Military Collection archivist at the State Archives. “The searchable database created by Family Search makes our records freely accessible to everyone as we head into the 100th commemoration of American’s entry into World War I.”

The project is part of North Carolina’s official commemoration of the centennial of America’s entrance into World War I.

“The State Archives preserves many World War I archival records and we are pleased to partner with Family Search to make this military information easily accessible,” said State Archivist Sarah Koonts. “As the 100th anniversary of America’s involvement in the war approaches, we’ll be working with other divisions within the department to create programs that honor those men and women who served our country.”

World War I created the modern world by undermining European aristocracy, shifting national borders, industrializing warfare and expanding the public realm of women, among other effects. North Carolina emerged from this first global conflict less rural, more worldly, and better equipped to serve the nation through industry, military installations and shipbuilding enterprises at our ports.

The North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources’ World War Centennial Committee will oversee the state’s official Commemoration of World War I. For more information and to learn more about commemorative activities, please visit our website at www.ncdcr.gov/worldwar1. To learn more about the collection, please visit FamilySearch’s Wiki page at http://bit.ly/2emn8ZK. Search the database itself at https://familysearch.org/search/collection/2568864 and then take a look at the original service cards created by the North Carolina Adjutant General.

About the State Archives of North Carolina

The State Archives of North Carolina State Archives collects, preserves, and makes available for public use historical and evidential materials relating to North Carolina. Its holdings consist of official records of state, county and local governmental units, copies of federal and foreign government materials, and private collections.

About the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources

The N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (NCDNCR) is the state agency with a vision to be the leader in using the state’s natural and cultural resources to build the social, cultural, educational and economic future of North Carolina. Led by Secretary Susan Kluttz, NCDNCR’s mission is to improve the quality of life in our state by creating opportunities to experience excellence in the arts, history, libraries and nature in North Carolina by stimulating learning, inspiring creativity, preserving the state’s history, conserving the state’s natural heritage, encouraging recreation and cultural tourism, and promoting economic development.

NCDNCR includes 27 historic sites, seven history museums, two art museums, two science museums, three aquariums and Jennette’s Pier, 39 state parks and recreation areas, the N.C. Zoo, the nation’s first state-supported Symphony Orchestra, the State Library, the State Archives, the N.C. Arts Council, State Preservation Office and the Office of State Archaeology, along with the Division of Land and Water Stewardship. For more information, please call (919) 807-7300 or visit www.ncdcr.gov.

Night of the Living Bit Rot and Other October News

It’s Halloween, which means it’s a good time to remind you to prepare for the Bit Rot Apocalypse.

This short film was created by State Archives staff as part of Electronic Records Day, along with several blog posts. They are among the many new items available online this October, including:

Several recent posts from our records management blog may be of interest to History For All the People readers:

In other October news, last week the State Library of North Carolina announced that NCpedia is getting a new look. They invite members of the public to help test the redesigned website and give their feedback.