Honoring Wayne County’s WWI Dead: King David Simmons

King D. Simmons, News & Observer, October 18, 1918
Only known photo of Simmons, from the October 18, 1919 News & Observer.

Missing in Action October 3, 1918

King David Simmons was born April 8, 1893 in the Dudley area to William Frank (1857–1940) & Sarah C. (1864–1930).

He had ten siblings- Mallie (b 1885), Charles Thomas (b 1887), Ida Eliza Simmons Brewington (1890-1981), Lola (b 1894), Fannie (b 1895), Henry Garner (1896-1918), Iva (b 1898), Archie (b 1899), Tinie M. (b 1900) & Odessa Simmons Brock (b 1906).

Draft

Simmons registered for the draft on June 5, 1917. His draft registration card states that he and his family were tenant farmers one mile southeast of Dudley on the land of Brantley Smith of Mount Olive.

Instead of his signature, the draft official signed his name and King placed an “X” to signify his mark. The 1910 census states that he could read but not write.

The card lists his race as “Indian” but the draft official inserted a note stating “Party has always passed as a negro”. In the 1910 census King’s father Frank did self-identify as “mulatto”.

King Simmons draft card 1 King Simmons draft card 2

WWI service

Although he registered for the draft in June of 1917, he was not inducted into the Army until August 1, 1918. Seven weeks later he set out for France aboard the transport ship Teucer from New York City.

King D. Simmons WWI service card WWI transport ship Teucer 1906

Above: WWI service card of King David Simmons (left) and the transport ship Teucer (right).

His first, and only, assignment was to Company B of the 344th Labor Battalion. These units were primarily manned by black soldiers and consisted primarily of menial labor. Segregation was strictly enforced and very few African American soldiers became infantry soldiers, the exception being the 92nd Division. Emmett Scott, a journalist and highest ranking African American in the Wilson administration, wrote in 1919 that:

noncombatant units, known as Stevedore and Labor battalions and the like, to which latter class of military service Negro soldiers, at the beginning of the war and regardless of their educational and special qualifications, seemed to be disproportionately assigned, if not completely doomed.

Death

King died on October 3, 1918 but there are unanswered questions concerning his death. He has no gravestone; instead, his name is listed on the “Tablets of the Missing” in the chapel of the Suresnes American Cemetery near Paris. His service card states he died from pneumonia but if so, why was no body buried?

1 thought on “Honoring Wayne County’s WWI Dead: King David Simmons”

  1. This is my great-great Uncle David. When he died my Great Great Grandmother Sarah received a pension from the Army. With the pension she sent her Granddaughter, Prettlophine Simmons Jackson to college at St. Augustines College in Raleigh. Prettlophine was King David’s niece through his brother, Garney Simmons (misspelled Garner above). My grandmother “Prett” was orphaned at the age of 2 due to the influenza pandemic at the time. Her father died the same year as his brother David. Because of Uncle David, my grandmother received an education, her children did also including my mother, Valerie Gail Jackson-Reynolds. My grandmother sent me to St. Augustines in 1990, 50 years after her own graduation from there in 1940. Thank you Uncle David, for taking care of generations beyond the grave. Your death was not in vain. Love your great, great, grandniece, Mia.

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