Tag Archives: military history

New Camp Butner German POW Collections Available

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

German prisoner of war postcard from World War IIThe Military Collection at the State Archives of North Carolina is excited to announce the availability of two new collections documenting German prisoners of war (POWs) and one Italian POW at Camp Butner, N. C., during World War II. By the end of 1943, nearly 50,000 Italian POWs were held in 27 camps in 23 states, including at Camp Butner in North Carolina. German POWs would come to Camp Butner by the fall of 1943 after Rommel’s defeat in North Africa created a large number of German war prisoners. The POWs at Camp Butner built various structures, including a church, and had their own camp newsletter in German entitled Lager Fackel. Many of the POWs worked in small satellite camps throughout central North Carolina, being contracted out to farmers and other businesses for home front work.

Letter from German prisoner of war during World War II.The Camp Butner POW Correspondence Collection is composed of seventeen letters and postcards written by one Italian and four German prisoners of war (POWs) who were imprisoned at Camp Butner, N.C., from 1943 to 1945 during World War II. The correspondence is written in Italian and German, respectively, and is not yet translated. The bulk of the correspondence was written by Werner Trötschel and Friedrich Vodak of Germany. Trötschel’s correspondence includes letters and postcards from when he was initially a POW at Fort Bragg, N.C., before he was assigned long-term to Camp Butner. The collection is one of the largest-known groups of Camp Butner POW correspondence in North Carolina.

Another new collection is composed of one original 20-page issue of the German-language POW newsletter Lager Fackel (or “Camp Torch” in English), created by German POWs imprisoned at Camp Butner, N.C., during World War II. The newsletter was printed between 1945 and 1946. This issue is Volume 2, Issue 9, dated February 1946. It was owned and read by German POW Ernst Lüers while he was imprisoned at Camp Butner in 1946. The newsletter was subtitled in German “Wochenzeitung der deutschen Kriegsgefangenen des Lagers Butner und seiner Nebenlager,” translated as “Weekly newspaper of German prisoners of war Camp Butner and its subcamps.” The newsletter had such columns (loosely translated into English) as “From the Historical Consciousness,” “Press Review,” “Reconstruction in Germany,” “Free Time Design,” “The Green Light,” Sports at Camp Butner,” Letter Cold [?],” and “Riddle Corner.”

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New Amateur World War II Guadalcanal Films Online

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

Lunga Beach (Guadalcanal), Summer 1943 [WWII 40.MPF1]

From the film: “Lunga Beach (Guadalcanal), Summer 1943 [WWII 40.MPF1],” part of the Military Collection at the State Archives of North Carolina.

The Military Collection at the State Archives of North Carolina is excited to announce the availability online of two original short amateur films from World War II. The films, shot by Daniel D. Price of Mount Olive, N.C., were made while Price and his friend Bill Carroll were stationed with the U.S. Army Air Forces’ 38th Air Materials Squadron on Lunga Beach on the island of Guadalcanal in 1943. The rare films are original, unedited amateur footage of island life in the Pacific Theater during World War II from the perspective of a North Carolinian.

The amateur 16mm footage was shot in the summer and fall of 1943, while Price was camped and working along the Lunga Beach Fighter Strip. There is a black-and-white film shot in the summer of 1943, and a very rare color film shot in the fall of 1943. The black-and-white film shows men swimming on Lunga Beach, sitting in tents, and providing paid laundry operations for fellow servicemen; various U.S. Air Force planes on the Lunga Beach Fighter Strip; and other scenes around the camp.

The color film was taken by Price and Carroll during an excursion from Lunga Beach to Cape Esperance on Guadalcanal in a U.S. Army jeep. The film shows the men traveling in the jeep until it gets stuck in a muddy creek. It also shows the interior of Price’s Air Force supply parts depot Quonset hut, with Price himself visible in the film. The original films are a rare look at the life of a North Carolina Air Force serviceman in the Pacific Theater during WWII.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of these films is Daniel Price himself, who worked with the Military Collection to describe every scene within the films he shot in 1943. Price’s crisp memory recalls detailed information about the scenes—including names of men pictured in the films—in films which Price had not seen since they were shot in 1943. This rare footage has been digitized, and the original 16mm film reels preserved, through the generous support of a Basic Film Preservation Grant by the National Film Preservation Foundation.

Both films are available online through the State Archives’ YouTube page, with complete scene descriptions included.

We hope the public enjoys seeing these unique pieces of WWII history. A detailed finding aid for the films is available in the State Archives’ public Search Room in Raleigh, N.C.

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.

Troop Returns Digital Collection Complete

[This blog post comes from Olivia Carlisle, Digitization Archivist at the State Archives of North Carolina.]

The Troop Returns Digital Collection is now complete via the North Carolina Digital Collections. This collection includes lists, returns, records of prisoners, and records of draftees, from 1747 to 1893. The majority of records are from the Revolutionary War North Carolina Continental Line. Records dated after the Revolutionary War primarily deal with the county and state militia troops.

troop_returns_blog_post_2_picture

“Return of the North Carolina Brigade of Foot commanded by Brigadier General Hogun.” Troop Returns. Military Collection. State Archives of North Carolina.

Unique Items included in the latest upload:

  • The commission of William Darlet as 1st Lieutenant of the 1st Regiment of the North Carolina militia in 1815
  • Documents include Militia Regulations from 1808
  • An accounting of militia troops in the United States versus the state/territory

For more information on how the Troop Returns are organized and what may be included please see the first blog post on the collection, or consult the digital collection landing page. To view the items in the collection in a list format, please see the Troop Returns finding aid.

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.