Honoring Wayne County’s WWI Dead: Grover Summerlin

James Grover Summerlin
Grover Summerlin, 1918. Taken in Goldsboro by A.O. Clement.

Grover Summerlin of Mt. Olive was one of the last casualties of WWI

James Grover Summerlin was born on May 18, 1892 in Mount Olive, the son of Jesse Giles (1848-1929) and Martha Caroline Grant (1856-1941) Summerlin.

The 1900 United States census lists his home in Indian Springs. The household recorded in the census data was crowded to say the least, although not unusual for a rural Southern family of the era. The inhabitants listed (all Summerlins) were: JG 51, Martha 43, George W  24, Charles A  61, Mary M 19, Martha E 17, Avery W 15, Jessie A 13, Lilly F 11, Joseph 1, James G 4, Sarah A 6, Lamual D 4, and Effie P 1.

Two months after the United States officially entered World War I, Grover registered for the draft just after his 25th birthday. His draft card states that he was an unmarried, self-employed farmer of medium height and build with blue eyes and black hair.

For almost a year he remained a civilian, until May of the following year when he was called up and inducted into the US Army. From Wayne County he was sent to Camp Sevier, near Greenville, SC and assigned to Company 24 of the 156th Depot Brigade for basic training.

81st division shoulder sleeve insignia
81st Division shoulder sleeve insignia

Sometime in July of 1918 Grover finished basic training and was assigned to Company K of the 321st Infantry Regiment, 81st Division, known as the “Wildcats”. On July 31, Grover and his unit boarded the British transport ship City of Glasgow at the Port of Philadelphia, bound for Europe. In September of the same year the ship sank in the Irish Sea, the victim of a German u-boat.

After several weeks of further training, the 321st was sent to the frontlines in northeastern France. This area had been the scene of constant battles since the beginning of the war in 1914 and consisted primarily of the kind of trench warfare so commonly associated with the conflict.

321st infantry
From The History of the 321st Infantry, published in 1919.

Beginning September 26, 1918, Summerlin and the rest of the 81st Division, took part in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, part of the last major Allied operation of World War I. On November 11, 47 days after the operation began, Grover and the rest of Company K was near the village of Grimaucourt. German resistance was fierce and while advancing towards the enemy, Grover Summerlin fell dead, killed instantly by a machine gun bullet.

Grover Summerlin graveEven more tragic is the fact that the war ended on the very same day at 11am. Grover died just a few hours short of the end of one of the deadliest wars in human history.

He is buried in Plot D, Row 23, Grave 29 at St. Mihiel American Cemetery in Thiaucourt, France near three other Wayne County men killed in World War I- Nathaniel K. Thornton, Frederick L. Casey, & Ezra A. Mayo.

Click on any image below for a slideshow.

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