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Veteran Gains U.S. Citizenship in 1921

Jessica A. Bandel

When twenty-one-year-old Emile Emanuel Waslawik joined the United States Army in October 1913, he had only been in the country for three years. The Poland born man attended basic training at Columbus Barracks in Ohio, and was assigned to the 22nd Infantry. He caught up with his new regiment at Texas City, Texas, in March 1914. Following President Woodrow Wilson’s war declaration in April 1917, the regiment reported to New York and New Jersey to secure and guard the ports in each state. Most of the regiment would continue to perform the monotonous responsibilities of guard duty, but a few men—Waslawik included—were called upon for greater service.

In the summer of the 1917, American command ordered the 22nd Infantry to select three officers and four hundred enlisted men for immediate service overseas. The men were chosen based on highly-sought skillsets, like horsemanship, drivers training, and mechanical abilities. Why Waslawik was selected remains unclear, but it might have been due to a command of a European language or familiarity with the customs and culture of that part of the globe. Regardless of the reason, Waslawik joined the other picked-men in making the Atlantic crossing in August.

Available records don’t provide any detailed information on Waslawik’s war service, so we have no insight into the kind of war experience the young man had. By January 1920, however, we do know that now first-sergeant Waslawik was stationed at a military prison in Coblentz, Germany, where he served as a guard, remaining there until late July 1920 when he finally boarded a transport ship for home. 

Upon his return to the United States, Waslawik completed one more year of military service. An honorable discharge followed in August, 1921, ending Waslawik’s eight-year career in the army. He then petitioned the United States government for citizenship under new naturalization laws passed in 1918 and 1919, provisions that extended citizenship to foreign-born veterans of the First World War. In his application, Waslawik also asked the government to change his surname from Waslawik to Wesley, a request that was granted.

Wesley and his wife Margaret, whom he married while stationed in Germany in April 1920, remained in Black Mountain only a short time, relocating to Clarion, Pennsylvania, with their young daughter Grace Eva sometime before 1930. He secured work as an oil gager—one who samples and tests oil quality—with the Valvoline Oil Company in East Butler.

North Carolina must have made some kind of impression on Wesley, however. We lose him in the historical record after 1942, but he turns up again in 1975, the year of his death. At some point in that thirty-three-year-span, Wesley returned to the Old North State and settled in Southport. He died on Bald Head Island on September 13, 1975, and is interred in the National Cemetery at Wilmington, a veteran’s headstone marking his final resting place.