Tag Archive | World War II

Camp Butner’s Namesake, Henry Wolfe Butner

On March 13, 1937, Maj. Gen. Henry Wolfe Butner, a native of Surry County and commander of the First Artillery Brigade in World War I, died. Butner received the Distinguished Service Medal and the Silver Star among other commendations for his wartime service.  He was also briefly the commander at Fort Bragg.

An Army camp named in Butner’s honor opened in August 1942. Located on approximately 40,000 acres in Granville, Person and Durham counties, it served as a combat infantry facility and site of training exercises for nearly 30,000 soldiers during World War II. The rolling farmland terrain was used for a range of exercises, including rehearsals of gas attacks, the use of camouflage and river crossings. German and Italian prisoners of war were brought to Camp Butner where they served as cooks and performed various duties.

Italian POWs at Camp Butner during World War II. Image from the N.C. Museum of History

Italian POWs at Camp Butner during World War II. Image from
the N.C. Museum of History

At the war’s close the temporary quarters were bulldozed, and most of the land was returned to its former owners. Today, the grounds house a variety of state and federal facilities including several mental health facilities, multiple correctional institutions, state-owned farms and a National Guard training facility.

Read more in North Carolina and the Two World Wars from N.C. Historical Publications.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

Merci Train, Symbol of Franco-American Friendship

A Merci Train reception ceremony in another state (location
unkown). Image from the National Archives

On February 8, 1949, North Carolina’s Merci Train car, filled with gifts of gratitude from French citizens, arrived in Raleigh. The French train, with 49 cars—one for each state at the time, plus one for Washington, D. C. and the territory of Hawaii to share—was sent in response to the American Friendship Train. That train was sent to France by the United States the previous year, and consisted of 700 boxcars filled with relief supplies.

North Carolina's Merci Train car on display at the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer

North Carolina’s Merci Train car on display at the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer

The French train cars, built between 1872 and 1885, were designed to hold either 40 men or 8 horses each—thus their nickname, the “Forty and Eights.” The boxcars had been used during both World Wars to transport troops.

North Carolina’s boxcar, filled with hundreds of gifts, was received officially in Raleigh by Governor Kerr Scott. The occasion was festive, with a ceremony and parade to welcome the unusual offering.  Following the ceremony, many of the gifts, ranging from toys to textiles, from household items to valuable artifacts, were kept at what is now the North Carolina Museum of History. Others were distributed around the state to libraries, school, and other museums.

Today the Merci Train boxcar is restored and on exhibit at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer.

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William C. Lee, Maverick and “Father of the Airborne”

Airborne troops training at Laurinburg-Maxton Air Force Base during World War II. Image from the N.C. Museum of History

Airborne troops training at Laurinburg-Maxton Air Force Base during World War II. Image from the N.C. Museum of History

On February 5, 1944, William Carey Lee, the “Father of the Airborne,” suffered a heart attack that ended his military career.

Born in Dunn in 1895, he volunteered for the United States Army during World War I. After the war, he remained in the army and was assigned to the Chief of the Army’s office in 1939 in Washington, D.C. There he became part of a maverick group of army officers advocating for the development of an airborne army infantry force.

The Army authorized the development of a test platoon of paratroopers, and placed Lee in charge. When the Amy raised two airborne divisions, Lee received command of the 101st. He oversaw its development and training and was instrumental in getting airborne and glider operations going at Camp Mackall and Laurinburg-Maxton Army Air Base.

The inclusion of the airborne divisions in the Normandy Invasion in June 1944 was a direct result of Lee’s work. Nevertheless, he was unable to participate due to the heart attack.  However, the members of the 101st Division, the Screaming Eagles, were ordered to yell the name “Bill Lee” as they departed their transports over France in the early morning hours of D-Day.

Lee died in 1948, and is buried in Dunn.

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Flying Ace George Preddy, Christmas Casualty

An image of Preddy from the Preddy Memorial Foundation

On December 25, 1944, Greensboro native George E. Preddy Jr., the top P-51 Mustang ace during World War II, was shot down by friendly ground fire.

Preddy was a barnstormer pilot before the war. He tried three times to become a naval pilot but was rejected because of health problems. The Army Air Corps accepted Preddy, placing him on a waiting list for a cadet class. In 1940, he joined the National Guard, and he received his wings in December 1941.

In July 1942, Preddy was involved in a midair collision during training. Following a three-month recovery, he returned to the United States, and was eventually assigned to a squadron that was sent to Great Britain. He shot down his first plane in December 1943.

In April 1944, his squadron received the P-51 Mustang, and Preddy became the 487th’s temporary commander. He downed six planes on a single day in August of the same year, earning himself a Distinguished Service Cross—the nation’s second highest award—in the process.

Preddy was shot down during the Battle of the Bulge while flying in his plane, the Cripes A’Mighty, in pursuit of a German plane. He is buried at the Lorraine American Cemetery in France.

Read more in North Carolina and the Two World Wars from N.C. Historical Publications.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

George Watts Hill, Tar Heel in Cloak

An image of Hill from Preservation Durham

On October 27, 1901, George Watts Hill was born to a prosperous family in Durham. The newborn would inherit wealth, commanding a fortune earned in banking, and over time would demonstrate an abiding sense of devotion to his country.

The gathering storms of war in 1939 roused alarm in Watts Hill and led to his involvement in the secret war against Hitler. In the face of neutrality advocates, he signed onto “A Summons to Speak Out” and enlisted the support of three dozen Tar Heel businessmen, educators and journalists on behalf of intervention in Europe. In March 1942, he joined what soon became known as the Office of Strategic Services.

Hill’s administrative experience made him invaluable to the OSS’s “Wild Bill” Donovan who placed him in charge of the camouflage unit and devices central to the work of spies, such as disguises, fake uniforms and passports and listening equipment. After the war Hill returned to banking but also played roles in health care reform, desegregation and, as a UNC trustee, the overturn of the Speaker Ban. He died in 1993, the year that UNC named its alumni center for him.

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Frank Armstrong of Twelve O’Clock High Fame

On August 17, 1942, Frank Armstrong led the first daylight bomber attack by the United States. He flew over Axis territory in occupied France and earned the Silver Star, a military honor for valor.

A native of Hamilton, in Martin County, and a graduate of Wake Forest College, Armstrong enlisted in 1928 as a flying cadet. He received and conducted bombardment training and, in 1940, witnessed the Nazi blitz bombing of London.

Armstrong’s involvement in the war did not end with the 1942 campaigns. In 1943, he led the first U.S. raids over Germany in a B-17 “Flying Fortress,” and, in 1945, he flew some of the last bombing raids over Japan targeting oil depots in a B-29. His official military biography states that he “led the first and last heavy bombing raids of World War II.

In 1948, Beirne Lay, Jr., who had served alongside Armstrong in the bombardment team in Europe, collaborated with Sy Bartlett to publish Twelve O’Clock High! The authors made clear in the foreword that Colonel Frank Savage, the novel’s central character, was based on Armstrong. The 1949 film version of the book was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture.

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For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

Camp Butner and Axis Prisoners of War

Soldiers at Camp Butner in 1947. Image from the N.C. Museum of History

Soldiers at Camp Butner in 1947. Image from the
N.C. Museum of History

On August 4, 1942, Camp Butner, a 40,000-acre military training facility, officially opened. The camp spanned parts of Durham, Granville and Person Counties and was large enough to accommodate more than 30,000 troops.

As the war progressed, Camp Butner’s mission evolved to include the housing of prisoners of war. It served as one of two principal prison camps in North Carolina. The other was Fort Bragg. Italian prisoners were the first to arrive. Their numbers swelled to roughly 3,000 in time. They remained at Camp Butner until Benito Mussolini’s regime dissolved in September 1943, and German prisoners soon took their place.

Lt. Kurt Rossmeisl. Image from the Toledo Blade

Lt. Kurt Rossmeisl. Image from the Toledo Blade

Camp Butner’s prisoners attempted a number of escapes, but only one can be considered successful. On August 4, 1945, Lt. Kurt Rossmeisl, a German linguist, donned plain clothes and dark glasses before calmly walking out the camp’s front entrance. Considered by some to be the “most dangerous” of the nation’s escaped prisoners at the time, Rossmeisl remained at large in the U.S. until he surrendered in Cincinnati in May 1959. That year, the Toledo Blade ran a six part series by Rossmeisl in which he describes his escape, his new life in Chicago and his eventual surrender.

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USS North Carolina Launched

The USS North Carolina being christened on June 13, 1940. Image from the State Archives

The USS North Carolina being christened on June 13, 1940. Image from the State Archives

On June 13, 1940, the USS North Carolina (BB-55) was launched at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, beginning a highly decorated career. Commissioned on April 9, 1941, the ship became the first of ten fast battleships to join the fleet in World War II. The North Carolina and her sister ship, Washington, comprised the North Carolina Class of battleship.

At the time of her commissioning, the North Carolina was considered the world’s greatest sea weapon.  Armed with nine 16-inch guns in three turrets and twenty 5-inch 38-caliber guns in 10 twin mounts, the North Carolina proved a formidable weapons platform.

The North Carolina in the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1941. Image from the State Archives

During World War II, the North Carolina participated in every major naval offensive in the Pacific theater, including the Battles of Guadalcanal, Marshall Islands, Luzon, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, earning 15 battle stars along the way. In all, the USS North Carolina carried out nine shore bombardments, sank an enemy troopship, destroyed at least 24 enemy aircraft and assisted in shooting down many more. Although the Japanese claimed six times that the USS North Carolina had been sunk, she survived many close calls and near misses, and by war’s end, had only lost 10 men in action and had 67 wounded.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

World War II Prisoners of War in North Carolina

POWs captured from the sinking on U-352

POWs captured from the sinking on U-352

On May 9, 1942, the U.S. Coast Guard sank German U-boat 352 off the Outer Banks. Thirteen German sailors died and 33 were plucked from the water. They were taken to Fort Bragg and confined as prisoners of war. During the course of the war thousands of POWs—mostly German and Italians—were captured and sent to camps in North Carolina.

Most POWs were brought to North Carolina from abroad. Fritz Teichmann was a member of the German Luftwaffe (the air corps) and was captured in Sicily in July 1943. He was held as a POW at Camp Butner in Granville County. Giuseppe Pagliarulo, a soldier in Benito Mussolini’s Italian army, was captured in Tunisia in North Africa in May 1943 and held at Camp Sutton in Monroe.

So many POWs were brought to the state that men were sent from larger military bases to smaller branch camps. These smaller camps housed up to 500 men each and were located in 16 communities around the Tar Heel state, including Whiteville, Roanoke Rapids, Williamston and Hendersonville. From there, they were placed on compulsory work details and sent out to cut pulpwood, dig ditches, wash dishes and pick apples. Their employers—farmers, loggers and restaurant owners—knew of the camps but otherwise their presence was relatively secret.

Read more in North Carolina and the Two World Wars from N.C. Historical Publications.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

Evelyn Whitlow, Army Nurse

An image of Whitlow from the N.C. Museum of History

An image of Whitlow from the N.C. Museum of History

On May 7, 1942, Evelyn Whitlow was among the 77 Army and Navy nurses captured following the fall of the Philippines. The Whitlow family of Leasburg, in Caswell County, saw six of their 12 children (four sons and two daughters) enter the service during World War II. Evelyn B. Whitlow was the first of the family to join the military. In May 1940, she enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) as a second lieutenant. Whitlow was serving as a nurse in the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941.

Known as the Angels of Bataan and Corregidor, the captured nurses were the first group of American women taken as prisoners of war. For three years she remained in Santo Thomas, a Japanese internment camp outside Manila, until being liberated on February 3, 1945. After the war, she left the ANC, married a fellow POW from Santo Thomas and moved to California. Whitlow died at the age of 78, in 1994.

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For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

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