Tag Archives: World War II

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.

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.

Military Collection Intern Discovers Important WWII Battle of the Atlantic Document

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

The Military Collection at the State Archives of North Carolina is in the middle of a multi-year project to reorganize and provide better description for its World War II collections for its 75th anniversary. Mostly collected by the State Archives during the war, WWII material has been collected continuously since 1945. Every collection holds a connection to North Carolina’s role in military history and the involvement of its residents in military service.

For the summer of 2016, the Military Collection is hosting an intern as part of a project supported through the North Carolina Department of Administration’s Youth Advocacy & Involvement Office (YAIO) State of NC Internship Program. The internship project is to process, preserve, and describe WWII collections held by the Military Collection.

YAIO Military Collection intern Rebecca Mullins

YAIO Military Collection intern Rebecca Mullins.

While reorganizing a collection of U.S. Coast Guard papers, YAIO Military Collection intern Rebecca Mullins found an important document tucked in a miscellaneous file of “Personnel Duty Logs and Operational Records” for Ocracoke Lifesaving Station on Ocracoke Island, North Carolina. In this miscellaneous folder was a three-page, typed document simply titled “Case of Y.P.-389.” The document, created on 1940s tissue-style typing paper (with its brittle edges and faded, typewriter ink text) would prove to make more of a stir for Military Collection Archivist Matthew Peek in a twenty four-hour period than the collection had in its entire eleven years of being housed in the State Archives. The document is a minute-by-minute case report by the Ocracoke Coast Guard Station of the sinking of YP-389 by a German U-boat in June 1942.

The boat in the document, the YP-389, was originally a steam trawler called the Cohasset, until it was requisitioned by the U.S. Navy in February 1942 for service in WWII. With the addition of one 3-inch, 23 caliber gun and two 0.30-caliber Lewis machine guns, the newly named USS YP-389 entered federal service on May 1, 1942. Modest in size, the YP-389 was manned by 24 men. The vessel was ill-matched as part of what has become known as the Battle of the Atlantic when, on the fateful morning of June 19, 1942, the German U-boat U-701 attacked YP-389.

As described in the Tar Heel Junior Historian magazine by author Kevin P. Duffus in his article “When World War II Was Fought off North Carolina’s Beaches,” U-boats “presence in American waters was not intended for ‘show’ but to help win World War II for Germany. The abbreviated name ‘U-boat’ comes from the German word unterseeboot, meaning submarine or undersea boat. However, U-boats were not true submarines. They were warships that spent most of their time on the surface. They could submerge only for limited periods—mostly to attack or evade detection by enemy ships, and to avoid bad weather. U-boats could only travel about sixty miles underwater before having to surface for fresh air. They often attacked ships while on the surface using deck-mounted guns. Typically, about 50 men operated a U-boat. The boats carried fifteen torpedoes, or self-propelled ‘bombs,’ which ranged up to twenty-two feet long and could travel thirty miles per hour.”

“Case of Y.P.-389” document

“Case of Y.P.-389” document, from the Military Collection of the State Archives of North Carolina.

When the YP-389 was attacked in an area off the North Carolina coast referred to as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” it sent out a distress message, as recorded by an unidentified U.S. Navy officer at the Coast Guard’s Ocracoke Station on the document discovered in the Military Collection:  “0235 [2:35 A.M.]:Y.P.-389 Called all ships in Fifth Naval District saying she was being shelled off Diamond Shoals.” The time for the initial distress call on this document contradicts official military reports of when the YP-389 was attacked, typically listed as 2:45 A.M. The document also shows interesting pieces of information about the YP-389 crew after the initial attack, and information about the rescue ships’ attempts: “0346 [3:46 A.M.]: The C.G.C.-462 [Coast Guard Cutter-462] reported that she had sighted gun flashes on her port bow and was proceeding, but had seen nothing in the last five minutes.” The document goes on to describe the search and rescue mission for the YP-389: “0513 [5:13 A.M.]: C.G.C.-481 and 462 ordered to carry out search for survivors or wreckage.”

After Rebecca Mullins conducted further research into the event surrounding Y.P.-389, she discovered that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), had surveyed the wreck site in the 1970s, but the NOAA’s Monitor National Marine Sanctuary was unable to identify the wreck as the YP-389 until 2009. NOAA’s work on identification of Battle of the Atlantic sites and sunken U.S. merchant vessels will result in a Battle of the Atlantic nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.

Military Collection Archivist Peek sought the assistance of the North Carolina Office of Archaeology, which connected the Military Collection with the person in charge of NOAA’s work on the YP-389. The Military Collection has provided scans of the document for NOAA, and NOAA will be utilizing this case report of the YP-389 held by the State Archives of North Carolina in its application for the National Register. The work supported through the YAIO State of NC Internship Program this summer is making such discoveries possible in relation to North Carolina’s WWII history.

New WWII-Era Military Comic Acquisition Holds Mysteries

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

Part of a four-page comic book story called, “Lesson Learned,” about WWII U.S. Army Air Force aviator Maj. Paul Johnson of Smithfield, North Carolina

Part of a four-page comic book story called, “Lesson Learned,” about WWII U.S. Army Air Force aviator Maj. Paul Johnson of Smithfield, North Carolina.

The Military Collection at the State Archives of North Carolina recently acquired, through a private donation, a four-page comic book story called, “Lesson Learned,” about WWII U.S. Army Air Force aviator Maj. Paul Johnson of Smithfield, North Carolina. The story’s introduction notes: “In A.A.F. language, a ‘buzzer’ is a pilot who can’t resist zooming his plane low over a field. Here is the hilarious story of Major Paul Johnson—Reformed Buzzer.” The story relates the exploits of Johnson buzzing his hometown of Smithfield, and subsequently getting in trouble with his commanding officer. Later, we find Johnson in the Southwest Pacific with the 5th Air Force, involved in bombing missions against Japanese locations. On one buzzing attempt of a Japanese airfield, Johnson’s B-24 Liberator bomber is shot and damaged by Japanese anti-aircraft artillery, and he has to find a way to land his plane. His fellow servicemen all think he is trying to buzz the American airfield, when he is actually trying to get assistance for a potential crash landing. The story concludes with a moral lesson to be passed on to future pilots.

We need the public’s assistance in identifying information about the comic. Was this a regular comic book series, a World War II-era U.S. military comic for service individuals, or a post-World War II comic? When was it published? Was Major Paul Johnson real, and did this event happen as described in the comic? If you or someone you know might be able to help identify information about this comic and its story content, or if you have military materials such as letters, photographs, training manuals, military ephemera, or other archival materials connected with North Carolina’s military heritage, please contact the Military Collection at (919) 807-7314, or e-mail at matthew.peek@ncdcr.gov. After the comic is researched, identified, and preserved, it will be made available for research in the Search Room of the State Archives in Raleigh, N.C.

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.