Honoring Wayne County’s WWI Dead: Gaston Dortch

Gaston Dortch portraitGaston Lewis Dortch was born February 18, 1893 in Goldsboro to William and Elizabeth. He had two brothers, Hugh & Redmond, and four sisters, Elizabeth, Mary, Anna & Helen. The family lived at 212 N. William St., near where the post office downtown now stands.

His father was a United States Marshal and his grandfather was William Theophilus Dortch, a well respected lawyer. Gaston attended both UNC and NC State and after graduation followed in his father’s footsteps as a marshal. He was assigned to the Raleigh district, led by his father.

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Wayne County Veterans’ Spotlight: Edgar Bain

Edgar Hope BainEdgar Hope Bain was born in Goldsboro on January 20, 1884 to Theodore Howard (1855–1906) & Susan Elizabeth (1854–1925). His father was an insurance salesman and chief of the Goldsboro Fire Department. He married Agnes Louise Hobbs (1894–1978) and they had one child, George Edgar (1913–2000).

In World War I Bain was assigned to the 119th Infantry, part of the 30th Division. For his bravery in combat on October 9, 1918 he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in 1919.

BAIN, EDGAR H.
Captain, U.S. Army
119th Infantry Regiment, 30th Division, A.E.F.
Date of Action: October 9, 1918
Citation:
The Distinguished Service Cross is presented to Edgar Bain, Captain, U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in action near Busigny, France, October 9, 1918. Advancing under heavy fire with orders to pass through the front line company, Captain Bain found the troops he was to relieve 1,000 yards from their position, falling back. Rallying them, he personally led the troops in advance, under terrific fire, assaulting and capturing the assigned objective.
General Orders 81, W.D., 1919
Home Town: Goldsboro, NC

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Honoring Wayne County’s WWI Dead: Miles Faison Harris

Killed in action July 18, 1918

Faison Harris, News & Observer, October 18, 1919
Only known photo of Faison Harris, from the Raleigh News & Observer, October 18, 1919. The original has not yet been located.

Miles Faison Harris was born February 18, 1897 in Benson, NC to Miles S. (1860-1926) and Rebecca Ryals Harris (1872-1928). Just a few years after his birth the family moved to Goldsboro where Faison’s father worked as a blacksmith.

The 1916 Goldsboro city directory lists the family address at 112 S. Slocumb St. The house no longer stands but would have been near the intersection of Slocumb and Chestnut Streets. Faison’s father owned a blacksmith shop at 215 N. Center St. (today an empty lot across from City Hall) while Faison worked at the Goldsboro Steam Laundry at 142 S. Center Street. His draft registration card from June of 1917 lists his employer as the Durham Hosiery Mills at 101 E. Ash St.

In July 1917 Faison joined the North Carolina National Guard in Goldsboro. Soon after the guard was federalized and transferred to the newly created 30th Division, where he was assigned to Company D of the 119th Infantry Regiment as a mechanic.

His unit left for France on May 12, 1918 from Boston on the British steamship SS Laomedon. By July 17 the 119th Infantry found itself in and around the northwestern Belgian town of Poperinge, just a few miles from the French border. The town was only one of two in Belgium not occupied by Germany during the war, making its defense critical to the Allied war effort.

On July 18, Company D took up a position on the East Poperinge Line where Faison was killed in action. His exact cause of death is unknown; his service card simply states “KIA”. He was likely killed by either machine gun or artillery fire.

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Remembering the Forgotten Dead of a Forgotten War

Sidney Wyatt Hinson was one of the over 18 million dead of World War I

Sidney Hinson portrait taken at Clement Studio, Goldsboro, NC, 1917
Sidney Hinson portrait taken at Clement Studio, Goldsboro, NC, 1917.

Born April 23, 1896 in Wayne County, NC, Sidney Hinson was the oldest son of Council, a carpenter, and Fannie.

Sidney joined the North Carolina National Guard on April 1, 1916 at almost 21 years of age and was assigned to the local Company D of the NC 2nd Infantry. His unit was sent to the Mexican border near El Paso, TX later the next year, where they spent several months patrolling the border during the Mexican Revolution.

Entering the fight in France

After the American declaration of war against Germany and Austria-Hungary on April 2, 1917, Sidney’s National Guard unit was called up and he was assigned to Company D of the 119th Infantry Brigade, 30th Division, nicknamed “Old Hickory”. The 30th arrived at the Liverpool docks on May 18, 1918 and France two days later.

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North Carolina National Guard on the Border

30th Division logoIn a previous post I covered the 30th Division, 119th Infantry of World War I but there were some images that were left out and I couldn’t resist posting them.

Many of men of the 30th came from the great state of North Carolina and I profiled a few of those men from my home in Wayne County. The common thread for many was their National Guard service leading up to the war.

Birth of the US National Guard

The US regular army in the 18th and 19th centuries was a small force numbering only in the tens of thousands. In 1914 that number was just 98,000 men. From the Revolutionary War through the 19th century the United States relied heavily on local, volunteer militia forces under the authority of each state. This system was flawed to say the least.

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World War I & North Carolina: 30th Division, 119th Infantry

30th Division logoOne hundred years ago, the First World War entered its final, bloody year. Four years of conflict left 8.5 million soldiers and 7.5 million civilians dead.

For almost three years the US stayed out of the conflict but unrestricted warfare by German submarines in the Atlantic Ocean drew America into the fight on April 6, 1917. Before the declaration of war, the United States had just 200,000 troops, including the National Guard. By the end, over one million men had been sent to Europe and several million more mobilized for service.

North Carolina National Guardsmen, just back from deployment to the Mexican border, were sent to South Carolina in preparation for action in Europe. They, along with former guard units from South Carolina and Tennessee, were folded into the Regular Army as the 30th Division. Their nickname, “Old Hickory”, honored President Andrew Jackson, who had close ties to all three states. There were four infantry regiments within the division. One of those, the 119th, had a large number of volunteers, draftees, and former guardsmen from Wayne County, my birthplace in eastern North Carolina.

Camp Sevier, S.C., March 8th, 1918
Camp Sevier, S.C., March 8th, 1918

After a few months of instruction at Camp Sevier, near Greenville, SC, the 30th shipped out and arrived in Calais, France on May 28, 1918. They were assigned to the British 2nd Army to replenish their ranks, decimated by nearly four years of fighting. After a month of further training, the men were sent to the front-line trenches on July 2 at Ypres, Belgium, near the French border. Control of the area had been contested for almost four years. For Joe Thompson, the death and destruction he witnessed was overwhelming. Thompson was born in Wayne County in 1900 and had just turned eighteen when he was made a wagoner for the 119th Infantry. His unenviable task was to drive supply mules to the front at night. He recalled that the area was,

…a graveyard as big as Raleigh…The English
had lost a million soldiers. There was a smoke
haze in the air from the gunpowder…and
that’s what it was, the jaws of hell, to tell you
the truth. That was Ypres, Belgium.

 

Zeno Hollowell periscope Ft. Bragg
Officer training at Ft. Bragg, NC 1917. Zeno Hollowell of Goldsboro, NC at far right.

The terrible conditions were not confined to combat. Food was not always available, especially when artillery bombardments prevented resupplies, and what nourishment troops did get was limited mostly to watered-down stews, with horse meat if they were lucky. Every man was infested with lice and the rats outnumbered men in the trenches. They grew to enormous sizes feasting on the bodies of dead soldiers. On top of all of this misery was the constant threat of diseases, primarily dysentery and the flu. Over 2 million troops on both sides succumbed to disease during the conflict.

Despite the difficulties, the men of the 119th spent the next two months slowly pushing back the German lines and on September 1 were rewarded with a break. The rest was short-lived however and they were back in the fight near Bellicourt, France on September 23. The battle of the following week would prove to be the beginning of the end for Germany and her allies. Their last defensive position, the Hindenburg Line, was a roughly 75 mile long system of large trenches about 6,000 yards deep and reinforced with barbed wire, machine gun nests and artillery. If breached, German forces would have nowhere to regroup and be forced to pull back to Germany.

Just before 6:00am on the 29th, the order was given to begin the assault on the German line. With smoke from artillery and machine gun fire limiting visibility to five yards, groups broke apart leaving many men to wander by themselves through the battlefield. Many Germans, demoralized and beaten down, happily surrendered, but not all were ready to give up. Wayne County native Brodie West learned this the hard way. In the smoke and confusion he was separated from his squad and wound up directly in front of a machine gun nest. Under heavy fire he assaulted the position by himself, silenced the gun, and returned with 37 prisoners. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for heroism.

Gaston Dortch obituaryThe 119th was pulled off the front-lines on October 2 and given a short rest before being sent out again to pursue retreating German forces. The 17th-19th were especially intense; enemy artillery fire, including mustard gas, rained down on the troops. On the 18th, Lt. Gaston Dortch of Goldsboro was killed by an enemy shell as his company assaulted the town of Ribeauville. Unfortunately for Dortch, the 119th was pulled from the front the following day; it was their last action of the war.

At 5:00am on November 11, 1918, Germany accepted an armistice that ended hostilities in Europe. The 119th, and the entire 30th Division, was detached from British service and returned to American command. It was not until March of the following year though that they would return to the United States. Between the 6th and 10th of April, the men of the 119th were finally mustered out of service at Camp Jackson, near Columbia, SC.

The war haunted many of the men of the 30th Division for the rest of their lives. Although fiercely proud of their accomplishments, they expected their sacrifice to usher in a new age of peace across not only Europe but the entire world. The reality was that the same nations would fight yet another terrible war on many of the same battlefields just two decades later. The pain was even more acute for veterans whose children served in WWII, including Company K commander Captain Zeno Hollowell of Goldsboro; his oldest son William served in the Army Air Corps. Luther Hall, a veteran of Company A, summed the sentiment of many, saying in a 1984 interview, “…you can’t make peace by fighting.”

For all soldiers serving during WWI, there was a better than 50% chance of becoming a casualty (killed, wounded, or taken prisoner). Over 4 million US troops served and of those, 7.1% became casualties. North Carolina lost 2,375 men, with a further 3,859 wounded. An incredible 90% of Austria-Hungary’s 7.8 million troops became casualties. While every nation in the war suffered, no one suffered quite like the French. An area larger than North Carolina was destroyed by four years of constant fighting and a generation of young French men was nearly wiped out; six out of every ten between the ages of 18 and 28 were killed or permanently maimed.

Wayne County, NC Men of the 119th Infantry, 30th Division

 

For a history of the 119th Infantry compiled by veterans shortly after the war check out this file from the University of North Carolina.

There is also a great compilation of interviews of North Carolina WWI veterans published by the NC Office of Archives and History and available in paperback from Amazon.

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