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?

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