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Portraits of War: Jacob T. Currie

Jessica A. Bandel

Halifax County native Jacob Thomas Currie was employed as a special officer at the Victor Talking Machine Company—a popular manufacturer of records and audio playing equipment like the Victrola—when he was called upon to register for the draft under the Selective Service Act. He was called up for service in early 1918 and reported for induction into the army on March 29, 1918.

Following a one-month assignment with the 153rd Depot Brigade, the twenty-six-year-old reported to Company D of the 309th Machine Gun Battalion and was promoted to the rank of corporal. In May, the battalion and the rest of its division—the 78th—shipped out for England and completed advanced training with the British military before moving on to France.

After serving in support in the push on St. Mihiel, the division moved on to its first true combat test in late September: the Meuse-Argonne offensive. The operation carried on right up to Armistice Day, November 11, but Corporal Currie would not be there to celebrate the new peace. Company D’s captain, Willard L. Smith, apprised the Currie family of their son’s fate in a letter sent after the war.

On the morning of October 25, Smith recalled, Company D was laying down suppressive fire upon the German front in preparation for an infantry assault from a point northeast of the city of Grand Pre, France. The Germans responded in force, sending shell after shell into the American lines. One of these shells struck Currie’s position, killing him and another man instantly and mortally wounding a third.

Currie’s commanding officers reached out to his father (his mother had preceded him in death) with the standard, almost impersonal condolences received by many next-of-kin at the time. William’s son was “an efficient non-commissioned officer, and a good soldier,” they wrote, whose “gallant” death proved an “inspiration to all of his comrades.”

But it is the letter of Currie’s 1st sergeant and close friend, Henry Reitmire, that captures from the soldier’s perspective the immense sorrow that follows the loss of a beloved comrade: “In your letter you refer to me as a friend of said Corporal Currie; you are mistaken, we were not friends, but more than that to one another—we were what you call Buddies, meaning the man with whom you would share your last cigarette, your bed, and confide your troubles to.”

Corporal Currie’s remains were returned to Enfield for burial in August 1921. He is interred beside his parents in Elmwood Cemetery.

Interested in learning more about the 78th Division? You can access a book on the division’s World War I experiences here at no cost. You can also find a collection of photographs of eighty-seven of Halifax County's World War I veterans on the State Archives of North Carolina’s flickr page.