Editorial: Remembering local heroes from WWI

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 31, 2019

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Sept. 29, 1918 was a big day for Allied Forces fighting in World War I.

They broke through the Hindenburg line, pretty much spelling defeat for the Germans in that war.

While great for the overall war effort of the Allied Forces, it was a sad day for Davie County — for North Carolina for that matter. Three Davie residents lost their lives in that battle, among 3,000 who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their countries. There were casualties from 85 of North Carolina’s 100 counties.

Privates Ben C. Ellis of Advance, Ernest McCulloh of Mocksville and Charles Fletcher Jordan of Cooleemee never made it home. Before he left for war, Jordan’s father had given him a Bible. It came home with the body, soaked in blood.

They were members of the National Guard, part of the 30th “Old Hickory” Division that included guardsmen from North Carolina, Tennessee and South Carolina.

That battle, and those who fought in it, through miles of trenches, holes and barbed wire, through fog and never-ending smoke and gas, was never given due credit. But that is changing, as a monument honoring the Old Hickory division is being erected in northern France.

Anyone related to these three men, or any others who fought in the battle, are asked to visit the website www.ncww1monument.org to register. In addition to support, organizers are trying to gain as much information as they can about those who served in the 30th Division.

That day, Sept. 29, 1919, is considered the second bloodiest day in North Carolina history, only behind July 2, 1863, when North Carolinians fought in the Battle of Gettysburg.
Doughboys from other states eventually joined the division, swelling its ranks to some 27,000 men. Ninety-five percent of the men in the 30th Division had American-born parents, a rarity at that time. Old Hickory also contained the most North Carolinians, and its soldiers were awarded more Congressional Medals of Honor than any other division.

Just imagine the horror they witnessed, the cruel conditions they endured. Communication was a problem. They even used dogs and pigeons to relay messages. It caused the men to sometimes find themselves near the front lines with no real plan of attack.

Col. Sidney Minor wrote: “The thunder of all ages seemed to break at once, the earth trembled and the flashes of hundreds of guns in the early dawn gave it all a fearsome aspect… Our men gambled with death and plunged into no-man’s land.”

The barbed wire was in three rows, each 30 to 40-feet across, woven together to resemble a mass of vines and briars. There were six trench lines, 6,000 yards across, that included concrete machine gun emplacements.

Fog was dense, and the barrage created enormous amounts of smoke. Officers lost control. Many of the doughboys lost their sense of direction.

“The success of the attack now depended upon the individual,” Minor wrote. “Companies pledged themselves even if only one man were left. We were determined to leave an open road … and win. Perhaps they were working their way to death or capture, but turn back? Never.”

Everywhere, there were dead men — on both sides. Dead horses. Many were injured, with nowhere to go.

It wasn’t a piece of cake before that battle, for that matter. Only every other man received a water bottle. Food rations came from the British, and were not much. Lice covered their bodies. There was nowhere to bathe or get into fresh clothing.

It’s difficult to imagine the horrors these young men must have experienced. Most likely were farmers, and while they knew how to handle a gun, they had never been forced to use that deadly force against another human being.

But they fought on, valiantly and bravely.

And now — finally — a monument is being erected in their honor.

It’s another reason to be proud to be from Davie County.

Mike Barnhardt is editor of the Davie County Enterprise-Record.